Studio Velo rides Levi's Gran Fondo

Monday morning and my legs still feel like somebody hit them with a stick.  The cause?  Another great ride with 7,499 of my close friends on Saturday.  Levi's Gran Fondo is a great event that raises a lot of money for local Sonoma County charities and offers up some awesome roads for participants.

This year the weather was a bit iffy, though only for those doing the full 100 mile route.

I have done all 3 of Levi's events.  They get a lot bigger every year, but without becoming a complete cluster.  The first year had 3,000 riders.  Last year, 5,000.  And this year?  7,500 riders.

The SV crew rolled up to partake in the fun.  We all arrived too early.  They have the registration so well sorted that there were no lines despite the number of riders.  Parking was a breeze.  The critical time seems to be 630am, when all of a sudden lots of cars show up simultaneously and things get a bit crazy.  Next year, I will sleep another 30 minutes.  The upside of being early was extra time to hang out and chat with the many SV riders in attendance, some of home I had never met.

Justin "Jens" Curtis was on fine form in the pre-ride, as always.  He was sounding pretty raspy.  I thought it was attempt to be sexy for the ladies, but it turns out he was merely deathly ill.

Thanks to the guy driving the Clif Bar truck, who went beyond letting us pillage the assemblage of nutritional goodness and actually helped us loot the truck.  You need lots of calories for the Fondo.

Lots of cycling celebrities show up.  Pros, former pros, has-beens and never-weres (that's me). 

Here is one for the ladies...Dr. McDreamy shows a little podium bulge (courtesy of @podiuminsight).

Special thanks to Capo who allowed many of us staged in the VIP area at the front of the melee.  Not intentionally, mind you--I just name dropped my way in.

There are two stressful segments of the ride.  The first 10 miles and the last 10.  In the opening 10 miles, riders jostle for position and try to move up to the front.  The pack takes up the whole road as terrified motorists seek shelter on the shoulder.  It is like Critical Mass, but without angry slackers.  Slight miscues are magnified radically and panicked braking occurs.  Further back in the group, it is probably a complete sh*tshow.  There are no pics from this part of the ride because I dared not remove a hand from the bars.

Around mile 10, we hit the first significant hill on Graton Road and the pack sorted itself out in a hurry.  All of the hairy-legged hangers-on attacked backwards as the front group took shape.  Of course, "this is not a race".  It just happens to have a start line, finish line, timing chips, and lots of strong riders attacking frequently.  It waddles, it quacks, but it is not a duck.

I was determined to make it into the front group this year, but I was already sitting too far back as we hit the Graton Road hill.  Despite cranking 391 watts for over 7 mins, I only made the second group, which chased hard (with JD from Capo driving the train like a madman) but could not regain contact and we eventually just settled into a fast rhythm to prepare for the fun of King Ridge.

At King Ridge the weather started to go wonky on us.  A heavy cloud system meant a nice warm start, so I had left my vest in the car.  Thankfully, at the last minute, I had put some embrocation on my old, creaky knees.  More for the style of it than any perceived need, of course.  Smell fast, go fast.

For extra speed, apply to chamois.

As we climbed the ridge, it started to rain.  Not a problem on a long uphill slog, but a big issue for the screaming descents ahead.  The first rains of the season lift the oil up out of the crevices on the road, creating incredibly slick conditions.  And, of course, it gets cold.  And my vest was in the car, where it was safe and dry.  I did not want to carry an extra 150g of vest on the course, because, well, you know, "it is not a race".  At least I had some arm warmers.  Getting wet and dirty is why you don't wear white shoes after Labor Day, no matter how much faster they are. 

My Fondo plan was to ride super hard to the rest stop at Tin Barn, after King Ridge.  Then I would regroup with the rest of the SV crew and have a more relaxed pace to the finish line.  Part 1 of the plan went decently well--I thrashed myself on King Ridge, including descending with a couple of locals who were seemingly oblivious to the fact we were riding on an ice rink.  I gave them enough room that if they went down, I could adjust my trajectory to fall on top of soft flesh instead of hard pavement.

The Tin Barn rest stop was the first opportunity I took to sample the awesome fare that Levi et al provide.  PB&Js, roasted potatoes, fig bars, chips, EFS, Coke...basically all the stuff you need.  Did I mention you need lots of calories?

I got my obligatory pic with Levi.  No, I am not 8 feet most mountain goats, Levi is a small dude.

I hung out to await my friends and the onset of hypothermia, while decimating the PB&J supply, until Levi himself advised me to wait for the next stop, where even greater deliciousness awaited.  Sometimes it seems like the Fondo is an excuse to consume mass quantities. 

Rest stops are like a netherworld of time suck.  As soon as you are getting ready to roll, another friend shows up and you wait again.  This process will actually repeat itself ad infinitum until you just say screw it and roll.  The cooler temps this year meant less patience.

Karen's run of bad luck continued.  Remind me not to stand near her during lightning storms.  She had been given some "better" wheels by a friend.  Her rear hub started tearing itself apart on King Ridge and by Tin Barn expert mechanic Chris Reed diagnosed the howling sound as an imminent hub explosion.  They have mechanical support at the rest stops, but are not equipped to defuse a ticking hub bomb, so Karen SAGed it back to Santa Rosa.

Finally, Chris Reed, Bryce R, Justin C, honored guest Brian from LA and I got going.  The next stretch of road, Meyers Grade, is the hardest of the ride for several reasons.  It starts with a very steep descent--so steep that you cannot slow down once you realize you are going too fast.  Add the first rain of the season and a metal bridge roadway into the mix and you have guaranteed carnage.  Sure enough, a rider just in front of me hit the deck hard on the dodgiest corner.  We were going the same speed, but I had a couple of elements in my favor.  First, I was running low pressure in my tires, so I had a bigger contact patch.  Second, I was riding in the tire tracks, not in the middle of the lane.  The middle is where the oil is--don't go there.

Once you cross the slick metal bridge, you are faced with a nasty climb.  It is the hardest climb of the route, but gets little publicity, overshadowed by King Ridge and Coleman Valley.  It is only 1.6 miles at an average grade of 8.2%, but you hit it when your legs are stone cold.  The result is an immediate flooding of lactic acid into the muscles.  Awesome.

It was around this time that "Jens" began to feel poorly.  He had not puked on himself yet, so I knew he had at least another 80 miles in him.  At the top of the Meyers Grade climb is the Ratna Ling Buddhist retreat.  At this point you had better hope that your legs reincarnate in a hurry, because the next 10 miles is "rolling".  And by rolling, I mean uphill.

We stopped at Tom Ritchey's ranch for lunch.  They had a full deli set up there, but I did not make it past the volunteers offering up pre-made sandwiches right at the entrance.

Jaguar print is PRO. Matching the frame to the shorts is superPRO.

Paul gets a sandwich.
Excuse me, miss, your seat tube is missing.

As with all the rest stops, it goes uphill from Ritchey's place to put the zap in your cold legs.  It was here that my carefully laid ride plan started to unravel.  Bryce was feeling frisky, and Reed was not helping matters.  Jens decided at this point that he had suffered enough, and dropped off to hang out with Mrs. Jaguar Print Shorts.

We passed a sign warning of an 18% downgrade for the next 2 miles.  Of course, the next 2 miles were mostly uphill....apparently they put the sign in the wrong place; or, maybe, they have a sick sense of humour.  Finally we started the very fast descent down to the coast.  47 mph is a bit more interesting in low visibility.  This is a good time to point out that on Friday night, I cleaned my brake tracks and pads to make sure that when I grabbed a fistful of brakes, something was going to happen.

Reed, Bryce, Brian and I formed up into a solid paceline and motored down the coast.  Brian is basically Dolph Lundgren's twin (except Dolph is Swedish).  While he suffered quietly on the climbs, he dropped a big Norwegian hammer on Hwy 1.    Along the way, we picked up (and usually dropped off) a few passengers.

"I will break you!"


This year Levi added the option of doing the dirt climb up Willow Creek instead of Coleman Valley.  I am all about riding dirty, so we made the left turn after Jenner for 7 miles of big fun.
This is where the real fun starts.

L to R: Chris Reed, Brian, Bryce.  Not pictured: the bear.

The surface was mostly really good, except for some interesting gravel pits where they were doing some road construction.

This was the most fun part of the ride for me.  Dirt just makes it more interesting, and we took it at a gentlemen's pace.  Dolph was going to drop off the back, until I mentioned that there are bears.  Big ones.  That seemed to give him a few more watts.

Yeah, I rode right through the bear poop.  Yuck.

The crux of the Willow Creek climb is a steep bit that hits 20%.  You have to keep your weight perfectly balanced--too far forward and you spin the rear tire and fall over.  Too far back and you wheelie and fall over.  Bryce stood up (nooo!) and managed two complete revolutions of the rear tire without actually moving, and somehow managed to stay upright and get going again. 

Back on to the pavement and off to Occidental.  We made a last stop for water, as Brian was dry.  Apparently being a giant Norwegian is thirsty work.  Oh, and he had lost both his bottles on a rough patch of King Ridge.

I don't have any pictures of the final 10 miles.  It was all I could do to hang on as we motored in at ludicrous speed.  We picked up Justin again (the dirt option is slower than Coleman), who did not seem excited to see us, and probably wished we would just leave him alone instead of demanding that he hop on the train.

The final stretch in on the bike path is always a bit sketchy as you mix in with the riders from the shorter routes.  "Passing on your left!"  "Passing on your left!"  "Uhm, no, your left!"  "Your other left!"  You get the idea.

A final burst of wattage, and we are done.  98.6 miles and 7,657 feet of vertical, using 5,363 calories (more than made up for by copious eating along the way).

Now it is time to continue the eating.  Gerard's Paella is the hot option for the post ride refuel, but the line was really long, so I hit the Fork Catering truck.
There is lots to see at the post-ride festival.  Carbon bikes, cool steel bikes, wood bikes.

I had not expected to see a donkey and miniature horse that ride in a minivan.  They are part of Forget Me Not Farm, one of the charities that Fondo supports.

And with that, I am spent.

Would it be worth it....The infamous RGR

Sometimes a ride, a race, is seen not through the eyes of the narrator, the spectator, but the eyes of the racer, the rider himself, the one who suffers, the one who lives the experience. Below is an inside look at a team, a true team of racers, who through grace and teamwork, experienced and thrived in this year's 2011 West Coast Rapha Gentlemen's Race. 

By Josh Flexman

Rolling up, rolling out.  Destination was the RGR (The Rapha Gentlemen’s Race) just outside Portland Oregon.  The car ride up was persistent but jovial. 

The crew.  Racers, racers to be, and something in between.  The six of us enjoyed the company, talked work, talked food, watched movies, took naps.  Something was in the air about us though.  Something we knew was looming ahead, but could not yet define or predict.  Subtle nervousness, angst. 

Ok so there was some heat up there this weekend.  Foggy, cool Mill Valley was shrugging her shoulders in the rear view, sorry guys, good luck...

 Our first ride of the weekend took us along some of the meandering rollers and flats of Southern Oregon, just outside Grant's Pass.  Beautiful country, sweet warm air.  After the near 2 hour warm up we dipped into the Rogue River for a quick float before continuing the journey north.  Spirits up, heads up. The balance was still there, always the balance of the next day.  The company, the jokes, the bikes, the vacation all held in balance by what we all knew would be effort of the unknown next day. 

We arrived in Portlandia in the dark; nourished and  hydrated.  Things were on schedule.  The wake up time was 6am.  Could we sleep?  Some maybe?  My night would be a mixture of both dreams and wall staring.  Typical and expected.

Dirt roads change the way you ride a bike.  Especially a road bike.  In my head I was preparing for some dirt roads.  I have ridden dirt roads many times before on my road bike.  I did a lot of training camps in West Virginia where dirt  was expected and welcomed.  Gear down...b*tches. Slow and steady. Grade up.  This is what I was thinking before this race.  This is what I was telling myself as we drove mile after mile to the start line passing countless "pavement ends" signs:  It's just going to be gravel connectors.  Ok some climbs too, and maybe some steady false  downhill flats.  But it's just a long ride, just a long social ride, a promotional stunt, a "Gentlemen’s" race...

But what I really knew (and perhaps only knew) going in to that said race was its length: a 130 miles.  That is long sure, but I have raced 80+ countless times, whats an extra, ummm 40...?  Some level of heat we were un-acclimated to... Thanks Mill Valley.  Dirt roads.  We all ride mountain bikes...  The wild card was this;  something very unique to bike racing and riding, something that may not immediately register as familiar to many, even very experienced bike racers: This was a pure team event, nothing counted if one of our guys didn't make the full course.  We were tied together--- all day long.  Bound by this unspoken trust that each would do what was needed to get to the finish line.  Our time was clocked by the last finisher of the team.  No support, no sag, no shallow end.  Just steady grinding.  Steady chipping.  How far down does the well go today for this SV team.  Today it went DEEP.

The environment was beautiful.  Rolling green hills, trees on the edge of deadly thirst, leaves desperately holding on to red summer.  Bugs, blue sky, lots of energy.  There is a level of awareness one has about their environment as they start to dig into a big day on the bike.  It is as if the beauty is holding you in the palm of its hand.  Slowly closing, less light comes in, less sounds, more uncertainty.  There must always be the respect.  Beautiful yes, forgiving no.

The ride started and ended with a steep dirt, deep gravel driveway.  When we rolled out down the road, already passing the day's first flat (unknown team), nerves began to settle, and acceptance set in. 

Eat drink, drink eat, drink, drink, eat, eat. Heat.


So far so...well...ok I will use the word good here, reluctantly.  We got passed by the Rapha Continental team about 6 times in the first 40 miles.  Each time they flatted we would roll by, steady, in control, and driven.  When we flatted, they rolled by us, no hi, no bye, just “flatted again?” 

First real climb of the day at less than an hour in burned a match.  Everyone starts with a book of matches.  The size of your book depends on what you have prepared for, what your body is willing to do, and what your mind expects.  As we crested the climb, and I looked down at the Garmin, a feeling of fear washed over me so fast, so determined.  It was a confident and aggressive fear. Mile 20? No it can't be.  Something was wrong with the computer. 110 miles to go, no way. It’s can’t really be this hard the whole way.

There were so many times when I looked at one of my teammates with the intention of asking how they were feeling and then decided it was unnecessary.  So many details of this ride are peripheral.  They exist somewhere, at some time, but are just for us, just for the sufferers.  We all experience these moments, the beats the breaks, the ups the downs, the peaks and valleys.  They all exist in the balance.  This ride was so hard because we are so rarely called on to go this deep.  So many moments of doubt and surprise.  Joy and heartbreak.  It was so hard because we all knew the same thing.  The other guy wearing the same jersey as I am, will not stop.  So therefore, neither can I. 

The roads disappeared beneath us.  Mile after mile.  The rocks, the dust.  Dying and rebirth.  Round every corner, the feeling of anticipation.  How long can this climb really be?  Hard climbs.  Long dirt gravel climbs.  8 mile gravel false flats are soul destroyers.  

My muscles started revolting at or around 70 miles in.  The fatigue pounds at the door.   Kicking at the dusty broken, splintered door.  We stand inside, huddled together, heads high, all taunting it.  Hobbs almost beckoning.  "I dare you," he mutters. Not yet. The eyes around me said no, so I said no.  The energy was still there, always there.  Scott made sure, Hobbs made sure, Tom made sure, Eric made sure, Justin made sure.  I breathed it in.  Fatigue underestimates.

At this point we are all in, chips down, minds melting.  We peddle, and wonder what the hell we are doing.  Crashes surround us, blood, broken bikes, broken bones.  Cars blaze by.  Car back, car back.  Hobbs has the directions as if the course was his Sunday ride.  Scott is never too tired to encourage and ground the ups and downs throughout each and every mile. The contagious disease of optimism fighting back.

This ride, this race, this “Gentlemen’s” race, was—in light of the challenges—a perfect (well, relatively perfect) display of teamwork and tenacity...  We had a steady, predictable team of riders.  Everyone was looking one step ahead.  4 flats. 4 pro flat changes.  Calm leadership. Determination.  Desire.

Of course there were moments where doubt collapsed on our heads .  Every time a person pushes the limit, or checks what the limit is, there will be these moments.  Checkpoint at mile 105 was this moment for me.  Broken people littered the area.  Bikes in the truck, bikes on the ground.  Sun hitting so hard.  Bastard sun. Water bottles are now dusty abused, hated. I recall grabbing the brakes as if it was the end, feeling the surrender, and coast to a stop.  I can't lift my leg over the bike, I stand there, hunched over the bars, and staring at the menacing dirt road ahead pitch up around the corner.  The “team” doesn’t miss a beat. I am pulled back from the edge.   Scott, gets my bottles, fills them up and dumps cold liquid on my head and on my legs and says, “you are going to get back on the bike and start pedaling, now do it… I believe in you.”  So I do.  It works.  I am in disbelief.  Skeptically  force things back together. 

Miles 105 to 130 were 97% dirt, most of which seemed to be up hill.  We past so many people at this point. Surviving and at the same time thriving.  The f*%$king Garmin laughing in our faces.  Distance: 119, 119, 119, 119, 120... Justin power walking past other walkers one of the ‘final’ climbs.  Power he found somewhere deep.  Justin is in charge now. 

Eric and Tom were so strong, so steady.  I borrowed strength from them.  It was going to be over soon, we were for the first time in the race in first place?  Maybe,.....  but that was all it took.  That maybe ignited us.  One last flat, 300 meters from the end of the dirt.  Flat fixed. Scott was on it.  Rolling on.  So close now,  F you Garmin you can’t stop us now.  126......  127. 128. Rollers...ouch.  Last right turn on the dirt.  Pass a girls team furiously.  Sorry girls you are getting put into a tree if you contest this. We are finishing this now.  The last 200 meters of the course was steep, uphill with a single track paralleling it to the right.  Dismounted the bike to get over the ditch.  Left leg malfunction, dragging the bike, looking back.  Hobbs yelling help, Justin just straight in trouble.  Blur, bluuuuurrrrrrr .

No field sprint, no arms raised, no kissing sponsors or podium girls.  None of these things; but something else.  I would lie if I said I knew it all along, "sure no problem boss, you can count on me..."   We all made it happen today, we all spread ourselves thin, across 10 hours. 

The wave of relief rinsed off our dust covered abused bodies.  Everything was worth it now.  The end. 

Rapha Gentlemen's Race 2011

Once again, our contributing author Chris Hobbs writes a superb piece on what it means to suffer in the Rapha Gentlemen's Race.

While I was sleeping, somebody replaced my legs with two pieces of deadwood.  This may be a consequence of my extreme fortune at participating in not one, but two of the hardest one day cycling events in the US in the last two weeks.

You may have read my Leadville report, and it is regarded by many as the hardest one day race around. Yesterday, along with my teammates, I did the Rapha Gentleman's Race near Portland. This outlaw ride (it is not officialy a race, but rather a strangely coincidental ride with a finish line and a stopwatch), is put on by the nice folks at Rapha. Rapha makes high quality apparel and ridiculously hard race courses. Pummeling your fans into submission makes for high brand loyalty (don't ask me why, but it seems to work).
This is the most expensive item in the Rapha catalog.

In fact, Scott and I agree that the RGR this year was every bit as hard as Leadville. It wasn't supposed to be, it just kind of turned out that way. It is a curious byproduct of a 130 mile course with approximately 40 miles of gravel roads, tons of climbing, and a race director's highly optimistic assumptions regarding average speed (hint for next year, Slate--the speed you can drive it in your car is not necessarily the speed I am going to ride it on my bike). In fact, the Leadville and RGR courses were remarkably similar--Leadville probably had a bit more dirt, but, of course, on a full suspension mtb it felt a lot nicer.  I registered similar energy expenditures and total vertical (12k) for both.

This was the 3rd RGR NW (there is now an East Coast RGR as well), and Studio Velo has sent a team to each one. Scott, Tom and I were veterans from two years ago. Joining us were Dr. Eric, Justin and Josh.
L to R: Justin, Josh, Eric, Scott, Chris, Tom

It is worth mentioning that the team each year is not selected based on who will go the fastest, but rather on who will be fun to ride with, and is unlikely to die on the course (because that gets awkward). Each year's team has featured a range of abilities, but a uniform dedication to having a good time. Being a Rapha Whore never hurts either when it comes to selection.
So Pro. Josh makes sure the legs are silky smooth before the start.

Teams at the RGR run the gamut from Cat 1/2 elite squads to the fun loving degenerates of Team Beer (who have penchant for wine tasting en route). I think there were 6 women's teams this year. Cyclocross pro Ryan Trebon even made an appearance on a team composed of freakishly tall gentlemen (and brought his cyclocross bike, proving he had inside information).

This year, 26 teams lined up for the start in Banks, outside Portland. The start is handicapped using on a sophisticated formula based on the team's resume, previous results, and the whim of the race director. The format is basically a 6 man team time trial. Your time is based on the last member of your team to cross the line. This year we started 20th of the 28 teams. We got an early taste of how the day was going to go with single track right out of the start gate, followed by a couple miles of gravel roads.

When I looked at the parcours online, it did not look so hard. Lots of climbing, but nothing sustained over 8%. We were told to expect some dirt. Okay, no problem. I like dirt. 130 miles should take us close to 7 hours. A fun day out.  Of course, Leadville took so much out of me that I only started to feel normal again on Friday.

No one is quite sure how much gravel we actually did, but we are confident that we spent more than half our ride time on gravel, so it was probably around 1/3 of the total distance. Almost all the climbs were gravel. More importantly, almost all the descents were gravel. The sheer amount of dirt totally changed the complexion of the course and made the RGR brutal.  It just wears you out.

Flats, crashes, breakdowns both mechanical and mental. It was all on show over the 130 miles. I think only 7 teams finished the full course (others missed the cutoff and were spared the final 25 miles of dirt). Few teams finished intact. Many elite riders cracked.

I am immensely proud of our team and what we accomplished (which you will have to read further to find out). The RGR is not won by the strongest riders, but by those who work best together. In all three years, the Studio Velo team has been a model of cohesion and cooperation. The only times we were not together were when there was a strategic reason to split up--usually when there was a flat, and we sent riders up the road to the next store to be ready with water and supplies. When we could (which was not that often), we formed a tight paceline.

When someone was struggling, they were pushed. There is no point to finishing with any energy left--if you have extra, you give a few watts to a teammate. Interestingly, I never saw another team pushing their teammates.  I guess I should not be surprised that the women's teams were the only other teams I saw that were really working well together.

The RGR is not Thunderdome.  Six riders enter, and six must leave.  Otherwise you are suffering for naught.  Many teams finished with 4 or 5 riders because they failed to understand that.

We got off to a relatively slow but steady start. How do you pace yourself for 130 miles? Best to err on the side of conservatism. We rolled by the first victims of a flat within a mile of the start. Not long afterwards, the Rapha Continental team came charging by, as they would a number of times during the day.

We did a long dirt loop and then headed south on asphalt towards the first fueling stop in Cornelius. Along the way, a party train of 5 teams formed up, lead by the Rapha Continental, who seemed intent on hammering when they weren't fixing flats or getting lost.  This was a great opportunity to tick off some miles at high speed, but was derailed when we suffered our first flat of the day. We sent 3 riders up the road with the Party Train to have food ready.  The Plaid Pantry in Cornelius was apparently not warned that a horde of sweaty lycra-clad hooligans would be descending on them to buy water and snacks, so the first stop took a while.

Off again, without the train now. The Rapha Continental came storming by again, and proceeded to make 2 wrong turns in 5 miles. Well, they are all about exploring.   My second Garmin was given to us by the organizers and had the race route programmed into it, and we slavishly obeyed the machine.  As a bonus, having 2 computers in the cockpit was intimidating to the other teams. 

The next part of the race gets a bit hazy in my memory. Lots and lots of gravel. Bouncing bouncing bouncing. Try to eat and drink whenever possible. Through the first checkpoint and around a long loop with a big dirt climb that was so steep that many walked it. Justin and I were really struggling up that climb--Justin because it was nasty and steep, and I because I was pushing him. An Audi rider came storming up from behind and without a word put his hand out and helped push us to the top--classy. I would repay the favor later in the day when one of their riders cracked.

At the next checkpoint, we saw our first carnage of the day--one of the women had gone done in a gravel corner and separated her shoulder. While she was laughing about it, the shoulder slipped back into place--apparently what they say about laughter being the best medicine is true.

We went down the next steep gravel descent, and passed another scene of carnage. Incredibly, one of the Embrocation ladies, who had been on the ground, came flying past a few minutes later. Ballsy. A few minutes after that, we passed her again, sitting on the ground after her second crash in 10 minutes. A little too ballsy.
Typical "road" surface

We were very conservative on the descents. The risks of crashing or flatting rise exponentially with speed.  We had no crashes (but a whole lot of "whoaaaaahh"), and only suffered 4 flats.  I can only assume that Rapha has secretly cornered the market on innertubes and brake pads in Portland, because the course consumed many of both.
One of the smooth bits

Hours passed, and the miles ticked off very slowly.  By about 80 miles in, all the handicaps had been made up and we were racing mano a mano.  We hit the final checkpoint at 105 miles in good position, within sight of the strongest teams.  At this point I was not feeling so hot.  Legs were toast.  Ass was beaten to a pulp.  It was hot and I was dehydrated and had a migraine.  But my personal hell was relatively mild.  Josh, our sprinter, had been cramping for over an hour.  Dr. Eric suffered through the middle of the race but really seemed to enjoy himself on the climbs.  Tom and Scott did not seem to notice that this was really hard.
Happy faces.

Justin was hands down the man of the match. He came into the race with the least amount of fitness of our crew.  Some garbage about having a job and a family.  He was clearly suffering by mile 60.   By mile 80, he vomited, and I was pretty sure he was going to pop, but he kept digging.  At the 105 mile checkpoint, a sensible person would have just stopped, but he would not.  We went to Defcon 1 and stuffed him full of caffeinated gels.  This was followed by strange retching noises and he threw up in his mouth a couple of times.  But still, the pedals turned.  He was going to get to the line no matter what it took.  We all suffered, but Justin spent a lot of time in his own special hell.

Over the last 2 interminable gravel climbs...agony.  And then, in the last 2 miles, we came upon a women's team and had to push hard to finish ahead of them on the final steep pitch to the finish line.  He was so shot that he could not ride the last hill, but he ran it as fast as he could.

Back on to the singletrack--among the smoothest surfaces of the day, and across the line.

Wow, there are a lot of people already here.

As it turns out, the 105 mile checkpoint was only 3 miles from the finish, and most of the teams had been diverted straight to the party except for the lucky 7 or so that were allowed to complete the whole course--another 25 miles of gravel with two big climbs.  So, even though we were second across the line, after Rex Cycles (who had started over an hour before us), we still had to wait in line for beer and hot dogs.  I was too tired to protest the horrible inequity of this situation.  And, the Team Beer guys in line for the Cobra Dogs trailer graciously let us cut in--also classy.

All smiles at the finish.  Justin is sitting down because that is all he can do.

We spent 9 hours and 59 minutes out on course--10 f*ing hours of racing.  That was the third fastest time of the day, less than 5 minutes behind the elite Audi and River City Bicycles teams.  There were many teams with stronger riders, but they were not stronger teams.  My Garmin missed 10 miles of the day somehow, and still recorded 6,000 calories of effort and 12,000 feet of climbing.
Chapeau, boys.  F*ing chapeau.

Ultragen or Bourbon for recovery?  Yes.

Eating is critical in long events like this.  I ended up eating peanuts for much of the race, because I was saving my gels and bonk breakers for the inevitable rough patches we would suffer.  Real food is important.  My definition of real food does not include the nasty convenience store prepackaged hamburgers that some of the guys ate along the way.  As well as shortening their lifespan, I am pretty sure those burgers cost us 5 minutes.

The RGR is an unsupported event, meaning you have to carry everything you need or buy it along the way.  My pockets were stuffed to breaking point--5 bonk breaker bars, 4 gels,  sunscreen, chain oil, multitool, iPhone, water bottle, Sportlegs pills, FastAir can.

For next year, Slate has promised something special.  I can only assume that this means we will have to run miniature golf-like gauntlet of swinging machetes, flame walls, and 60 foot gap jumps in addition to a ridiculously long and hard course.  Count me in.

More pics........

Do these jeans make me look fat?
Eric and Josh
Slate "F*ing Bastard" Olson and Penz
The Party Train going over a hill

Thank you. 

Chris Hobbs

Leadville 100 Race Report

There are few people who have the time to write great race reports so quickly after an event.  Chris Hobbs, however, seems to always make time to recap such terrific moments on the bike. Once again, Chris has produced an excellent report of our shared race experience at the 2011 Leadville 100.  Enjoy and thanks Hobbs! -- SFP.

This is going to be a long post.  It was a long race, after all.  There were so many elements that made Leadville an amazing experience that it is hard to edit them down into a coherent report.

Before I get into the specifics of my race, I want to talk about the environment at the Leadville 100. In these turbulent times, there is a lot of talk about what is wrong with America.  This weekend at the Leadville 100, I experienced a lot of what is right.

Except for the top 20 racers, riders in the Leadville 100 are not racing each other.  Rather, they are racing themselves and the course.  This creates an amazing atmosphere that is magnified by the fantastic crowds.

I passed thousands of spectators out on course, and I cannot recall a single person who did not cheer for me.  As I passed breathless riders on the long slog up to Columbine mine, they would gasp out "way to go, man!"  The race volunteers were amazing.  My crew was amazing.  The other racers were amazing.  It was a joint effort of thousands of people to get as many riders across the line as possible.

At the finish line, hundreds of people were gathered to cheer riders across the line.  Children waited along the finish straight for their parents and ran the final 100 meters with them to cross the finish line together. 

I swore to myself that if I finished under 9 hours, I would not return to race again.  But, I would if my kids were there to cross the line with me.

It was just an incredibly uplifting day, set in the context of massive suffering.

Friday morning we went to the race meeting.  Ken Chlouber, the organizer, said 3 things that stuck with me.

The first was: "If you hear rocks buzzing, squat down and start praying."  Lightning strikes are a real threat above the treeline.  Yikes, do I really want to carry that multitool?

More from Ken-

"When that point comes and you are hurting beyond hurting, you go to that well inside you.  You commit.  You keep the hammer down.  You keep digging.  You've got to believe in yourself.  You will cross that finish line."  Amen.

"I promise you that it will hurt and it will hurt bad, but only for 12 hours.  If you quit, the hurt does not go away."

One of the race veterans then spent some time with the rookies to put us at ease.
The honkin' big buckle means "when I talk about Leadville, you listen".

Saturday started early for us.  Up at 345am for breakfast and the 45 minute drive to Leadville.  Scott had not slept at all.  My support crew was already at work, leaving me a little note.

No, Kelly, you are the rockstar

With 1,900 racers, the start had the potential to be a cluster of epic proportions.  They split the start into 6 corrals.  By virtue of our good performances at the Tahoe qualifying race, Scott, Karen and I were seeded in the second corral, which was a big deal.  Other first timers were stuck at the back, and would have to deal with a lot of traffic.  We had only about 250 riders ahead of us, and most of them were really fast.

I had a timetable printed out of what times I thought we needed to hit each aid station to be on pace for 9 hours.  Why 9 hours?  Under 9 and you get a bigger belt buckle, and that was our mutual goal for the race. 

I wanted to believe it was possible, but the facts were not good.  Last year, less than 10% of the riders made it in under 9 hours.  We had not trained properly, and, perhaps more importantly, we had not spent enough time at altitude to properly acclimate.  Rookie flatlanders rarely go under 9.

But we all had one thing we are good at that would be the key to crossing the line--we can suffer, a lot.  On the line, I kept repeating one thought to myself--Believe, Believe, Believe.

The start gun went off at 630am.  It was cold on the start, and the first few miles were going to be fast, so we were bundled up.  It was a neutral rollout for the first couple of miles out of town, but we were still moving pretty quickly, which was nice, as it kept things from getting too crowded.  Some spectator dropped a flag in the middle of the road in a panic as the huge pack approached, causing some panicked braking, but luckily no one went down.

As soon as the escort truck pulled off, things got really fast, and the group formed up into two long lines.  I kept steadily moving up, improving my position for the first obstacle of the day--the climb up St. Kevin's.  I managed to touch wheels with the rider in front of me while getting ready to pass early on St. Kevin's and had to get off and run for a bit.  Jackass.  It did not really cost me anything, though, and Scott and I continued to move up on the climb.  We wanted to be in a fast group for the tricky ride down Powerline and across the valley to the start of the climb up Columbine.  There are a lot of fast sections, some of them paved, and drafting matters.

I got caught in a bit of traffic on the descent down Powerline and lost Scott.  When I hit the bottom, I tried to get a group together to chase, but they were not clear on the concept--damn mountain bikers.  I put my forearms on the bars for the maximum aerodynamic position and hammered across the gap to Scott's group.  It was not a good idea to burn a match so early, and my legs felt the effort an hour later as we approached the aid station at Twin Lakes, 40 miles in.  I had lost Scott again after getting caught behind some slow riders on a downhill single track.  I rang my bell and asked to get by, but there were too many riders to get clear. 

We had a support crew for the race--Scott's wife Rachel, friend Ed, and his wife Kelly.  While there is neutral support, having your own is much better as you can get the food and drinks that you want, and toss the gear you no longer need.  Rachel, Ed and Kelly were awesome.  The job of the crew is mostly tedium, punctuated by a couple of minutes of frantic activity over the course of the day.

Kelly and Ed, support rockstars
Rachel and Kelly
We had come through the first aid station, Pipeline, a few minutes ahead of the 9 hour pace.  But we had also been pushing harder than I thought I could maintain. I figured that I would average 140-145 heart rate for the race, and I was over 150bpm average so far, with the hardest parts still to come.

I came into the Twin Lakes and started looking for my crew.  I had not expected the aid station to be such a scene.  There were hundreds if not thousands of people lined up in two different sections.  At first I thought I had missed my crew, but right towards the end of the chaos I spotted the Capo tent where they were going to be.

Part of the chaos that was Twin Lakes.  Ed is attentively on watch for us.

 Scott was just finishing his pit stop and rolling out.

It was like NASCAR.  I stood there with arms outstretched so Rachel could spray sunscreen on me, while Ed oiled my chain and replaced my 3 bottles (Kelly took pictures).  Dump the jacket, extra gloves, knee warmers and arm warmers, but keep the vest for the long descent off Columbine.  New food for the next 3 hours, and then off to face the long climb up to Columbine mine.  Time for a Gun Check--yeah, baby, we're ready.

Our information about the course came primarily from Strava and a racer who had posted a video of his entire ride last year, and the anecdotal stories from friends and strangers who had done the race before.  Columbine was less of a monster than I had expected.  The first 2/3 were smooth fire road that ascended steadily at 8%, and I rolled it with good pace in the middle ring.  As we broke out above the treeline it got steep and nasty for the last 2 miles, but it was mostly rideable.  The biggest danger was racers descending on the same path.  Before pulling out to pass, I had to make sure that I was not going to crash head on with one of the leaders.  I spent 83 minutes chugging up that mountain, but I actually enjoyed it.  For the Velominati out there, I was Five and Diming.

As I hit the final short descent into the aid station at Columbine mine, Scott was on his way out, so I was probably 2 minutes behind.  I took my time at the aid station.  With a long descent coming up, this was my chance to eat and digest some real food, so I grabbed a PB&J and refilled all my bottles.  I also drank a full bottle there, since it is hard to drink on fast descents.  I was out of there at 4:27 or so.  The return trip is about 20 minutes or so faster than the way out, and now I was feeling very good about getting home in under 9 hours.  I felt goosebumps as my Belief started migrating from faith to fact.

The descent was fast and sketchy in parts.  With a 44x11 top gear I was able to cruise by guys running 2x10 setups.  There was a guy on my wheel for about a mile, and I let him pass as I slowed down to grab a drink.  In the very next turn, he went down.  I passed another rider receiving medical attention by the side of the road.  Good reminders that you have to be smart about going fast.

I saw Karen and Kim Ford, our other SV adventurers, climbing up as I was going down.  Karen was further back than I expected, and I would later learn that she was having a hellish ride.

Coming back through the Twin Lakes aid station was inspiring.  Every crew cheers for you.  My crew had moved further up the course to the Pipeline aid station, so I just kept rolling.  There were no groups now, just riders scattered around.  I found a guy to work with on the flats and we kept up a good pace.  Pipeline aid station was 80 miles in, but with 2 big climbs still to go, including the feared Powerline.  Another awesome pit stop from the crew, and the news that I was about 45 seconds behind Scott.

In the fast  asphalt section from Pipeline to the Powerline climb I could not find anyone to work with, so I just put my head down and kept chugging along in the TT position.  Some helpful guys on the side of the road were offering up PBRs to the racers, but I politely declined.

Powerline is where the race is usually won.  It is a steep, deeply rutted fire road that climbs 1500'.  The opening section is the most brutal, and as I rode by people walking up, I could see Scott up ahead.  We were the only two people still riding halfway up that first pitch.  I steadily made up ground, walking now, and caught up to Scott at the top of the first section. 

Shortly after I joined him, he started to bonk.  15 minutes later he was in trouble.  He had not eaten enough early on and what he had eaten was not agreeing with his stomach.  This is the hard part of endurance racing.  We had an eating plan for the race, but Scott has missed a few meals--most critically, the sandwich on top of Columbine.  For 9 hours of racing, artificial food does not cut it--your stomach goes nuts.  I burned almost 6,000 calories on the course.  Your body has about 2,000 calories of glycogen available.  The rest has to be eaten en route or provided by fat (which means going slower).

At this point we were comfortably on pace for under 9 hours as long as we kept moving.  Since I was racing with 6 Navy Seals and a Medal of Honor winner, it seemed inappropriate to leave my teammate behind.  We stopped briefly to talk about refueling strategies.  Cram him full of caffeinated gels or try real food?  Scott chose real food, and I gave him my BonkBreaker bars.  The wise choice given the state of his stomach.

Scott and I rode together over Powerline and up the next long climb.  He was feeling horrible, but toughing it out.  We were still safely under 9 hour pace as long as he did not get worse.  We stopped at the last small aid station at Carter Summit and he was able to get real food and water.  We made it over the last bit of climbing (or so I thought) and down to the final 5 mile run in to the finish.  Scott was still struggling and told me to go ahead.  We were about 8 hours in and I knew he would make it under 9 even if he stopped for a nap.

And, I had promised myself (and my friends) that I would obliterate myself on the course.  So, I popped a caffeinated gel and popped it into the Big Ring to see if I could get in under 8:15.  I ripped the last section of flat trail, thinking I was close to the finish.  My odometer had been 2 miles ahead of the official race distance all day, because of the neutral rollout, so I paced myself to explode at 102 miles.

Look hard in this video for the enormous hammer lying on the ground, right where I dropped it.

Well, Leadville has some sort of warp in the time/space continuum, because I got to 102 miles and instead of the finish line I was greeted with a steep dirt climb on to a long uphill fire road drag.  WTF?  There were signs with encouraging messages, but nothing about how far we still had to go.  I needed a finish line, not platitudes.  Back on to asphalt and the edge of town.  Can't be far now.  Up over another short climb….lots of swearing….

….and then at the crest I can see the red carpet that leads to the line (at 104 miles).


Into the 44x11 for one last time.  I am going to finish this beyotch with a flourish of pain and style.  The last 500 meters is uphill, with crowds screaming all the way.  I think I spot a last little bit of energy hiding under my left buttock.  Come here, little guy, this will only hurt for a bit.  Out of the saddle for the final rush towards the line.

Let the record show that I climbed the finishing straight in the Big Ring.  With 20 meters to go, I sat up and zipped up my jersey--104 miles of suffering deserves a Pro finish.

I cross the line into the arms of one of the volunteers who are there to literally catch the riders.  My legs seem to have lost function.  A volunteer puts a medal around my neck as another takes off my timing chip, and a third tells me to take a few deep breaths and then try to get off the bike.

I stagger into the finish area to find something to drink.  I figure that Scott is going to be 20 minutes behind me.  But, shortly after I left him, he recovered and started to ride hard--either the food got into his system or the thought of me being up the road gave him wings.
He does not look super happy coming up the last climb.....  But he finishes strong, only 4 minutes behind me in 8:27...

Karen's body betrayed her on race day, and she battled cramps and hyperventilation that left her unable to fuel herself properly, compounding her woes.  Despite almost quitting three times, she toughed it out and finished in just under 11 hours.  Chapeau.

Kim made it across the line, but missed the 12 hour cutoff for an official finish by a few minutes.  Brutal.  Our friends from Capo, Terry and JD, made it home.  JD in 9:09--ouch!  So close to the big buckle.  Special condolences to Tom from Phoenix, who missed the big buckle by a single second.  Agony!

Skip down to more pics if you don't like geeky stuff.  Unsurprisingly, I posted my highest effort levels ever.  A training stress score of 543 blows away my previous high of around 400 from the Gran Fondo.  My Strava suffer index of 342 is deep into the "epic" range.  My average heart rate of 151 was the same as I managed in the qualifier, which was almost 4 hours shorter.  Basically, I uncorked a jeroboam of whoopass on an almost perfect ride.   Here is the Strava file.....

Here are some more photos from the day…..
JD gets lubed up at Twin Lakes
Terry, did you remember to eat?
Why do they call it the Race Across The Sky?  I dunno.

Not enough can be said about how awesome the crews are.

Dropping a bit of weight before Powerline.

Ed, did you shave your chest for this race?

Eventual winner Todd Wells on his way back through Pipeline.

Consoling a racer who can go no further.

'Nuff sed.

Leadville winner 2031.

The crew's job does not end at the finish line.

Handsome devils.

This must be fun on switchbacks.

Champagne, nice.

The hardware (after a bath).

Rule #5.  Always.

Getting ready for Leadville

Your faithful correspondent Hobbs, here.  I am in the final stages of preparing to obliterate myself at the Leadville 100, along with Scott and Karen from the shop.  Scott's wife Rachel is also here to provide critical support (like drying my tears when I freak out).

I arrived in Denver on Monday night, hoping that 5 days is going to be enough to acclimate to the extreme altitude.  Apart from being able to survive 9 hours (I hope) of hard riding, adjusting to altitude is a key element to doing well at Leadville.

I brought a pulse oximeter with me, a device that you put over your finger and it measures your blood oxygen levels.  At sea level, I am at 98%.  In Boulder (5200' or so), I was at 95%.  By the time I got up to our condo in Breckenridge, at 9600', I was down to 88%.  Slow down, egghead!  What does that mean?  It means huffing and puffing walking up the stairs.

5 days is not really enough to acclimate properly, but I am hoping that by Saturday morning I am up to 95% or so.  Not likely, according to people who know these things.  Apparently you need to be at altitude for 2 weeks to properly acclimate, and 5 days may be worse than just showing up the day before.  Oh, well...I did not have the luxury of a 2 week vacation.

Instead of driving an hour each way to sample parts of the Leadville course, we are just riding around Breck and trying to relax as much as possible (well, if working is relaxing).  On Tuesday we rode the Peaks Trail, which is a fun singletrack between Breckenridge and Frisco.  We rode a slow pace but it still felt hard.
Scott on the Peaks Trail
Breck ski resort in the background
Wednesday morning I went for a ride at 630am to see what it will be like at our start time on Saturday.  I am glad that I did.  After 10 minutes, I turned around and went back to the condo to change into warmer clothing.  It was 37º.  I rode the Barney Ford and Moonstone trails up (and up) to the Sallie Barber mine.
Sallie Barber Mine

On Saturday I will be looking to mine a little silver and gold for myself.
Leadville 100: Under 9 hours belt buckle
The Prize--the sub 9 hour belt buckle.

This afternoon Scott, Rachel and I basically did the same course as I did this morning, which was fine as it has some fun singletrack.  Leadville is almost all smooth fire road, but that does not mean we should not have some fun this week.  Here is some video....

Rachel looked pretty happy at 10,000 feet....

But by the time we hit the top, not being able to breathe was starting to wear on her...

After the ride we had some awesome sandwiches at Amazing Grace on French St before relaxing in front of the laptops for the rest of the day (with a break for hot tub and beer).

We will be writing more as we have time.  For the equipment geeks out there, I will go over my equipment (hardware and software), as will Scott (who is riding a great Leadville setup).

Here are the Strava files for the rides......