Monday, July 28, 2014

Rapha Gentlemen's Race Colorado 2014

When two or more worlds collide, I want to be in the middle of it...and then I need to tell the story.

Today the Rapha Gentlemen's Race (RGR) was held in Boulder, CO. This means that people I know and apparel I put a lot of pride into came to Boulder, a place I've spent countless hours riding and racing my bike. CU Boulder is my alma mater, though I didn't know about bikes back then.

Yes, it's too bad I squandered college years studying in a cement, soul-less building without discovering the bike; yes, I'm trying to make up for lost time.

A Gentlemen's Race is long, challenging, and involves significant dirt sections. Teams of 6 race together and compete to arrive back at the after-party first. The start is staggered (with the fastest expected team leaving last) and each team begins alone. The drinks are colder and the BBQ is hotter for the first hearty souls to complete the very long and difficult day. The most important part: everyone must finish together. Teammates are quite likely to be inseparable friends for the rest of their lives whether they knew each other going in that morning or not.

The Rapha Gentlemen's Race offered teams incessant climbing, glorious views, all kinds of dirt roads, fun technical sections, and enough challenge to test the will of teams to complete it together. 
I've really gotten into dirt riding fairly recently and am on a team complete with awesome women (the Ride Studio Cafe Expedition Team, #xteam for short) that focuses on these kinds of events. We would have traveled to Boulder together had the timing been better with an upcoming XTeamer wedding (yay! family visits, and a very special HUP camp all at the same time).

Michele, Patria, Cathy, Sara, Jenny, and Julie are the RSC Expedition Team. I borrowed their strength for the day to help me through.
The race left from Skratch Labs, which is drink mix Ride Studio Cafe features on our shelves. That's a lot of coolness and intertwining of good people and things in one place.

This morning I got to the start line early enough to see the teams departing, say hello to those I know from Rapha, and check out the roads for myself.

Racers organize at the starting line with Derrick Lewis and Hillary Benjamin of Rapha keeping everything running smoothly.
Of key importance, was to see Dave Wilcox of the RSC Endurance Team since it's been a long time (or seemingly so) since he moved from Boston to Oregon to work at Rapha. It wasn't just because of the espresso he was serving...or the cookies and water he popped up with on the road later in the morning...but all of those sure were nice.

Way too early in the morning, Dave serves up espresso and Le Tour is happening in the background. It's a bike party!

Boulder isn't the same place I left, and I'm not the same person I was back then so I can't tell what has shifted in cycling culture in the area. I don't know if it has shifted. The race scene I got to know before when I lived here was mostly positive, and I liked the part of it that I saw. (I was active in it, showing up to almost every race on the calendar). But the skinny-tire, road-racing crowd is a small part of the whole of cycling. I've gotten a much broader view of cycling culture, in its numerous forms and sub-cultures, these past few years in Boston. 

Derrick receives a gift and some generous words from this San Fran team before they began. True sportsmanship. Or bribery.
Today I was impressed by the good attitudes and pleasantness of everyone. Is the allure of an all-day suffer-fest organized by Rapha what brings out a pretty terrific crowd? Maybe the mere mention of Gentlemen in the title of the race sets the tone. Either way, it felt very similar to the start of the 2011 East Coast Rapha Gents Race. I didn't expect that.

Jumping ahead to the first ~5 miles, I encountered these guys. This is too funny not to share.

It has been ~6 years since I departed from the Colorado race scene so I figured I wouldn't know anyone who showed up to race. It was odd at first to feel like I was showing up to a standard Boulder crit and not see a familiar face. It felt odd, in general, to be attending a race at all. Not too long in, though, I spotted Steve H, one of my former teammates on Twin Peaks. Twin Peaks was my first team (circa 2005) and Steve was the youngest member at that time. Good to see him, all grown up (still looks the same) and married to a lovely lady now...and he is one of the few who is still road racing.

2nd to left is Steve. Also shown are Josh, Lana, Vince, Jenn, and I very wound up on race adrenaline after the CU criterium in spring of '06 (I think).

The Rapha Continental Team (from the East Coast) are ready to roll and look quite pro.

Back to the start. I brought everything I needed from a GoPro camera to pockets full of food to all of the stuff I'd need if I had a case I decided to ride the same roads as the RGR. Considering the Seven Evergreen I was riding and my confidence in Continental 4-Season tires (nice and plump at 28c and very durable/puncture resistant), I didn't expect anything would go wrong that I couldn't deal with. But there was no way to imagine what was upcoming during the day.

I added a Revelate Mountain Feedbag to the bike to allow for spare battery and phone to be very accessible on the handlebars. It was going to be necessary to charge the Garmins (the 810 and 1000), too, so that had to not disturb the ride when having cords reaching across from battery to Garmin. I wanted to access the rear saddle bag only if it rained, to save time since I was going to need savings on time anywhere I could get it.

Standing at the start line before I rolled out, Derrick gave me and Ride Studio a very nice introduction. And Hillary made sure I had rice cakes in my pockets. Everyone was so great out there!

This was the logic: ride until I couldn't pedal any longer, come back for the party. I have done a Rapha Gents race before (I didn't complete it due to scary weather), but I had someone helping me pedal (I was on a fun tandem team, 2012 edition). Doing it on my own power and alone this time changed the game. Here's the riveting story of that one.

Thoughts of doing similar rides with others gave me so many teammates and wonderful thoughts for the day, I never felt alone even when I was so, so alone. Thinking while riding alone is one of riding's greatest treasures. 

I started at about 7:30am where there were quite a few teams on the road and quite a few left to start. That allowed for me to see the other teams as they passed me on their way up Flagstaff Mountain, the first of many climbs of the day. I thought that was going to be the one I'd have to dread. Oh no, no, no.

On the roll out to Flagstaff Mountain on Baseline Road, dark skies ominously loomed overhead. I was secretly congratulating Rapha for ordering proper Gentlemen's Race weather. The cloud cover proved valuable for keeping temps down during the day.

The River City guys cruising up to Flagstaff, looking confident.

Stop on Flagstaff, not a great time to have to stop and wait for a green light on a climb like this.

Too much data from Garmin?
The Gamins were necessary and I wouldn't have been able to get through the course nearly as smoothly and cleanly had it not been for them. Though the cue sheets were well done, it's hard to pull out a cue sheet. A few turns were in the middle of 30+ mph descents. However, should I really be looking at this data? It seems like I've done what most people would be happy to complete in a day, yet there are 97 miles remaining, I'm doing a 9% climb, and traveling at 3.8 mph.

Getting through a ride like this involves mental toughness, not just good legs, and a beating heart. Dealing with 5 other people adds complication. Yes, there are others to motivate if you need it, but keeping a group of 6 together and riding at the same pace is not easy. I saw some great photos from this race of guys giving their teammates pushes. That is awesome and a secret to being a successful team. 

I think these are the Velo News guys, but I could be wrong. More smiles and hellos. 

There's a woman on this team, though I don't recognize her, she looks very strong, in the pro kind of way. I know Meredith Miller was out there with a team of women, though I didn't see them during the day. Meredith was one of the most prolific Instagrammers out there. Good stuff.

Colorful and smoothly pedaling up the mountain, the guys looked good so far.
Team Ritte/Sports Garage was well-formed and the guys seemed to be having fun on the climb.

It was cool to see Steve and Craig roll by. It was also really neat to hear someone shout my name and it wasn't Steve...Craig had remembered me from the Twin Peaks years. So a grand total of 2 people were out there that I knew from Boulder.

The guys flying up the hills. I wouldn't see them until the end of the day. 

The race treated them well if their after-attitudes were any indication. They finished and I understand there was a reasonable number who couldn't, but I don't know yet how teams came in.

A Pioneer dirt Road... This needs to be ridden!
There was only one "mistake" in the route...we should have had to go up this dirt climb. The last event RSC did with Rapha in June was a road & dirt road ride called the Pioneer ride for Pioneers Day where we celebrated the original bike racers from the ~1900 - 1940 era. Today's ride had to be tougher than a stage in the Tour de France.

Bicycle Haus: a train on Flagstaff. Based on my internet research, it looks like they may have traveled from Arizona. Then again, I could be mistaken.

Ringers from Boulder Cycle Sport. These guys ended up coming in first, though they had started last. 

I got cafe recommendations in Nederland from Alan. If I messed up his name, my apologies. My brain was toast at the end of the day. This had to be the nicest race crowd ever. I was pleased to hear they won since I was worried they compromised their time to talk to me.
The first dirt of the day was Gross Dam Reservoir. It was all things a dirt road should be: smooth dirt with views. Fast and fun. I was feeling good and keeping everything in check at the same time. My legs couldn't have felt better (surprise since they were lead yesterday).  My heart rate was my concern. It goes up much higher here than I'm used to. Though I didn't feel short of breath (another big surprise), I know where my heart has to be for me to sustain a 8-10 hour effort...and Lactate Threshold is definitely too high.

Dave Wilcox was out driving the Suffer mobile. Skratch was out, too. This is a gas station in Coal Creek Canyon at mile 20. Cookies were served up and water was cool and generously poured. A short descent here was just wonderful. So far, so good.

Miles 20-40 were good, though it's safe to classify it as the toughest 40 I've ever done. Coal Creek Canyon is fun to ride. I remember doing intervals with my coach, Julie Hudetz (watch that link - she is exactly this, so hard core and such positive energy) there. Can you see why, when I raced, she was the first person I'd call at the end of a race no matter how bad or good? That gave me think that at one time, I climbed fairly fast, but never as fast as the best in Colorado. Okay with me, I'm an "all arounder"...not great at any one thing, but more likely to survive a sufferfest is how I like to look at it.

The Gap Road was awesome and came after Coal Creek. Then, another climb that I've been scared of so had avoided was Magnolia. Turned out not to be bad at all. There was a large portion of Magnolia that wasn't part of the route, so it might get ridiculous elsewhere. Whew - saved for now.

Though I felt good, miles 20-43 took more time than I'd imagined it'd take. I was a little worried about having enough water to get to Nederland and a good cafe.

Fuel here: Iced mocha, Naked Juice, and Vitamin Water as well as a fresh bottle of water.
I sat and ate, Ned was full of people. A good scene to be sure. I drank all I could and got calories via the Naked Juice which has worked very well for me in past ride situations (like the Best Buddies Century a couple of months ago where that's all I "ate" to fuel the full ride).

Total bottle count at this point: 5 water bottles of water with Skratch Labs added for electolytes and calories, and these drinks here.
Time: 4.5 hours riding time elapsed.
Weather: Just a little too hot at this time, the sun had come out. No storms yet.
Feeling: Very good.

The video above is on Sugarloaf mile ~50. That took me back to a race there. The only thing I could think of there was of Amy D, a super climber, and I remember her leaving the whole field (except Alison Powers) in her dust. I suffered in that race and I swore then to ride Sugarloaf until I became friends with it.

I am now friends with Sugarloaf, though I wasn't fast, it was fun. Secret: use the right gearing. When I raced here before, I was using a full-sized crank and 25 or 28 max teeth in the cassette. That was a whole different time! My Evergreen bike has a compact 50-34 crank with an 11-32 cassette. Absolutely ideal...

I've never seen such good views in the Boulder area...the key is to climb high enough to buy such vistas.
Miles 50-60 were also good. All systems were go. Now, over the 1/2 way point, it would be easier to talk myself into finishing. Besides - I know how far up I am at this point, there has to be ~20 miles of pure descending to look forward to. Doing the math, that makes the rest of the ride look more feasible.

There was lots of dirt and then there was something called the "Escape Route." This is around where the dirt descending got sketchy and it was far safer and easier to roll faster out of my comfort zone than try to brake. The discs worked great, but the loose dirt doesn't let a bike brake on a steep section no matter what.
Great dirt!

This is the last time I saw riders who were doing the RGR. After this, the road turned to very technical dirt, rocks, and it was in an absolutely gorgeous setting, albeit very isolated. I should mention that there wasn't any cell reception before or after Nederland so calling for help had it been necessary wasn't an option.

I didn't get photos of the really technical stuff, this is section just before it. Quiet and peaceful to be sure.

A storm is close will it get?
 The storm brought some rain, which felt very good. Fortunately, the lightning was in the distance and never got too close. Elevation: ~7700 feet here.

Calm before the storm.
I paused for a moment, then just moved slowly through the rocky stuff. Since I was the only person out there and likely the last person to be there that day, taking it easy and being safe was top priority.

Somewhere near this time, between mile 65 and 70, a stomach disaster hit. I had ample food in my pockets and I *could not eat.* The Vitamin Water (that I have always enjoyed on rides and have never had problems with) became undrinkable. I was running low on the water with Skratch Labs and I was getting a little worried. It's probably best that I didn't know how bad my stomach was until later as I might have panicked. I also started coughing, it felt deep.

Taking a break at mile 70.
I donated some of my food to the ants running around. It made me so sick to even look at it, I preferred not to be carrying it. I've never felt this kind of stomach distress before. Still, even with the stomach stuff and I was sure I had to be dehydrated, my legs were doing okay. My shoulders were quite tired from the technical riding and steering the bike.

So, time to re-evaluate the ride. Need to make it back, riding back is the only option. Haven't come this far to get in a car. Will I walk? Whatever it takes now.

While I was debating my next steps, at mile ~76, trying to talk my heart rate down (another odd thing that never happens), a vehicle trying to find its riders pulled up. These guys were super friendly, they were out there supporting a women's team trying their best to find their ladies. It's super lucky (a miracle?!) that they were on that road because their ladies were on a whole different road probably miles from there. I'd like to know who they are, because they literally saved my day. Thank you to whoever you are. Update: Team Panache found this blog post and contacted me. They are the life savers!

Elevation: 8,500-9,000 feet.

The guys gave me a full water bottle full of cool water, a pep talk about Peak To Peak highway being nearby and it gave me just what I needed to get ~4 more miles into Ward, the last food stop of the day and a favorite stop of mine since they have wonderful homemade cookies there.

This is interesting: the grade and elevation map of the route from

I loaded up on food and water in Ward. An ice cream bar, Monster Energy drink, plain water...possibly more, I don't remember. I wanted to give the guy lots of money, I was so thankful he was open. Another storm was approaching but sitting on the outside picnic table was something I made ample time for.

Maybe it'd be appropriate to mention that at this point, I couldn't eat a single bite of anything. Ice cream bar sounded good (I love ice cream on rides) until that first bite and I couldn't get it down, in fact, I got sick on it. After I got back from the ride, I did some research on altitude sickness. Yep, I had most of the symptoms. According to Wikipedia, it occurs above 6,500 feet, usually 6-10 hours after ascent and resembles "flu, carbon monoxide poisoning, or a hangover." Fun times.

My bike was still rocking the ride without any hesitation or issues at all. I am so proud of this amazing machine. And thoughts of thankfulness flooded my mind frequently during the ride since I trust it and the good people of Seven who built the frame. That is not something to be taken lightly. Same with the build, too. RSC pro mechanics Mike and Drew built the bike to withstand everything. And I've done a lot of things that would break other wheels, but these are built solidly and they ride so fast.

There is no way I could have done the ride without this bike, and considering that I have never felt comfortable riding alone off-road (so I've basically never done it), I was so thankful to have equipment that I could trust 100%. Had I gone into this scared, I'd have felt very differently about the ride.

Rob and I with our Evergreens in gorgeous New Zealand very early spring this year.
Another key reason this ride was successful is that I have done many amazing rides (see the earlier posts on this blog) with an amazing man who has taught me how to ride dirt - no easy feat, I might add since I went in to dirt riding being frightened of it. When I lived in Colorado, I stuck to the pavement and never ventured off-road. (Yes, really.) There are whole worlds behind the paved road, and Rob has very generously shared this wonderful new world with me.

Able to drink water in Ward, but not eat anything, I decided the only safe thing to do was ride "straight" back to Skratch Labs. This was about 8 1/2 - 9 hours in to the ride so even longer including stopped time. And, the storm clouds were building.

The water was enough to get me back. Strangely, my legs felt good to the end. And, my stomach stopped screaming at me so long as I didn't think about food, all was well.

The rest of the ride went very well. I cut out ~1,500 feet of climbing (that I'm fairly certain I could not have done had I tried) by heading down Lefthand Canyon instead of hitting something called Lickskillet. I heard warnings from people throughout the day about this section, so it was wise to skip it.

On Lefthand Canyon, it was weird seeing so much of the road washed out from the floods that hit Boulder in September of last year. It was also not easy to fly downhill as I usually would on that road because of the numerous dirt sections. Sometimes the road just ended and the creek was right below. Seems like it'd make for very dangerous nighttime driving.

The camera went away, I sped toward Skratch hoping to outrun the storm.

Inside the Skratch Labs office, the race began and ended just outside their door in Boulder.  Ted King was there, too. Sorry, Ted, I have no idea what you're saying here. Photo taken moments after I rolled in.
When I got to the finish line, the after-party was wrapping up. I'd been looking forward to a good, cold brew all day until mile 70, so my stomach didn't even want me to consider it. It was better that way since I got to say goodbye to the Rapha people and those I knew out there and pack everything into my car just as a torrential rain hit. That was the perfect close to one amazing Boulder riding day and the first Boulder edition of the Rapha Gentlemen's Race.

Thank you to everyone who organized the ride, provided support out there, everyone who gave me comfort and strength via good thoughts, and all of my family and friends. This was the culmination of so many years of rides and my good fortune to know so many amazing people who ride bikes...and those who don't ride, but appreciate them still. It was truly awesome to be able to be part of this.

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