May 31, 2011

Mt. Hamilton Road Race report

This race was full of obstacles. Any race that starts with an 18.5-mile climb (even considering the two short downhill sections) is considered tough in my book, not to mention nature’s other gifts to make this one of the toughest one-day races I’ve done.

The E4 field of about 60 lined up at a leisurely hour of 9:10 a.m., and after some usual instructions, we were off. The .6-mile neutral promenade turned into an immediate but gradual uphill. The pace started out as manageable, and I didn’t really have any problems hanging with the main pack for the first 6-mile portion of the climb. Somewhere in the middle of that first section, two guys locked bars and went down pretty much right in front of me, which caused me to unclip to make my way around them without piling on to the mess.

After the two-mile downhill, the middle 3.2-mile climby section began. There was a small gap that developed on the descent, but it all came back together at the bottom of the climb. Around mile two of three of the middle section, I started to slowly get unglued from the pack. I made a couple of surges to rejoin the pack, but ultimately, the pace was a bit much and the rift between me and the main pack grew. I finished the middle section of the climb and recovered as much as I could on the downhill leading up to the last 6-mile climb.

I picked up the pace and started picking off other riders who were dropped from our field. About two miles into the climb, I got on a wheel of a Webcor rider who was setting a pace that was probably just a touch slower than what I could have done, but we were catching people, I didn’t want to totally blow up on the climb, and I wanted to have someone to work with once I made my way down from Hamilton, so I sat on his wheel for three miles. Along the way, we picked up two more riders, and proceeded to make our way toward the top. With one mile to go, I got on the front and started pulling at a slightly higher pace, and very quickly, it was just the Webcor guy and I. Oops!

As I looked down the switchback, I saw Isaac coming up behind us (he fell off the back when he overcooked a corner due to mechanical on the first downhill he had to pull out due to a mechanical) and was happy to see him because it looked like we’d have a pretty strong chaser group forming. With about 500m to go to the top, I picked up the pace some more, and the Webcor guy fell off the back. Then it all started getting very interesting.

The first half a mile of the 4.4-mile descent is relatively gradual, but then it gets crazy steep and very twisty. I’ll be the first to say that I’m not the greatest daredevil descender there is. I’ve gotten much better over the last year, but the backside of Mt. Hamilton was a bit more than I could handle technically. There were more 180 switchbacks then I could count and I just couldn’t find my rhythm. On one of the corners, I really overcooked it and went off the road into gravel, which did it’s job and I ended up crashing shoulder first into the ground. I felt as if I were tackled by a linebacker. I jumped up, moved my shoulder around to make sure nothing was broken, threw my chain back on the big ring and proceeded to descend.

In the meantime, Isaac, the Webcor guy and a couple other riders passed me. I figured that I’d rather take it slower than risk another crash and proceeded cautiously. At this point, I had a minor cut on each of my legs, but the cuts produced a fair amount of blood that dried onto my legs as I was finishing the descent, so as I would pass people, they would either give me funny looks, or ask if I was okay. The shock of the fall, combined with the relative inactivity of the legs for the remainder of the descent resulted in minor quad cramping as I hit the flat section. Luckily, a bit of spinning worked that out of my system. 

Not too long after the descent, I caught the Webcor guy, who told me that Isaac was about 30 seconds ahead, that was the last I saw of him. I charged forward into the headwind and caught Isaac and another guy after a strong effort. They were trading pulls at the front, and I told them that I needed a few to recover from the bridge and then I’d take up my share of work.

The three of us continued to work together and picking up more and more people along the way. At one point, there were five or six of us and we tried to get into a rotating paceline, but that almost resulted in disaster, so by natural selection, the single-line paceline was the MO. I took a pull, then Isaac took a pull, and we were whittled down to just 3 or 4 guys. We’d continue this way for quite some time, making good pace, until we hit one large roller at around mile 38 or so and I, for some inexplicable reason, decided to shift into my small ring and dropped my chain. Of course, at the time I had no momentum to get it back onto any ring, so I was forced to stop and get it on manually and the while watching my little groupetto drift further away.

With the chain back on, it was time to chase down the group again. They always seemed within reach, but the headwind was just too much to close the gap. I passed one rider from our field at the side of the road with cramps, then another (this one was from our group) and I could see Isaac and another Webcor guy up ahead. Soon they would disappear from my view as the headwind proved to be just a bit much.

With only flat/downhill sections of the race left, I continued to press on in no-man’s land. Then I turned around and saw a Tri-Valley Velo guy coming up behind me, so I slowed my pace just a touch and waved for him to come up to my wheel so we could work together in the wind.

Soon we were working well together and he was taking very strong, very long pulls. A that point, I thought to myself that if we ended up coming to the line together, I’d wouldn’t contest it against him for the strong work he was doing on the front. We eventually caught another rider, who seemed very beaten down. He would rotate to the front, but not for very long and at a much slower pace. I was okay with that, actually. I wasn’t racing for places or points any longer and just wanted to finish the race and stay out of the wind as much as I could, so whoever was blocking it, fast or slow, I was happy. I was still pushing a very strong pace when I went to the front, but I was okay with soft pulls, as long we kept the group together.

It was my turn on the front once again and I was pulling hard and coming up to a roller. Then, out of the blue, the Tri-Valley guy attacks and goes off. I think to myself, “WTF? Why would you attack a groupetto that is maybe coming in for mid-30s placement?” That seemed like a very asshole-like move to me. I was at my limit when he attacked, so I could not immediately counter, but he never went very far. I continued pulling and eventually caught a Hunter racer (I actually met him at Panoche, but forgot his name. Shame on me.) [Edit: I was quickly reminded that his name was Dom.] and we proceeded to work together. When I caught him, he seemed to be gassed, but then once I took a pull, he got to the front and made a monster effort to bridge us back to the Tri-Valley guy who was now working with a masters rider from another field.

Once we bridged, I wanted to make sure the Tri-Valley guy doesn’t go anywhere from the group, so I told the Hunter racer to sit on his wheel. I knew that if we gave him time to rest, he’d attack again.

Through rotations and things of that nature, the masters rider was on the front, I was sitting second wheel and the Tri-Valley guy was somewhere in the back. I reached down for a drink and as I was bringing the bottle to my mouth, he attacked again. “Oh, hell no!” – I thought to myself. I took my drink, put the bottle back and shot right up to his wheel. At this point, we had somewhere between 2 and 3 miles to the finish and I was determined to ride his wheel until the time was right and then beat him to the line.

I don’t generally make it a practice to attack a group of the back of the field for no gain (places/points) and think it’s unsportsmanlike to do so (others may disagree), and beating the guy to the line would simply be payback, and I was a bit pissed off, too. I could sense that the Tri-Valley guy was working extra hard with 1K to go and with 500m to go, all of my quads and hams started to cramp. I clenched my teeth and with 300 meters to go I jumped for the line. The only person to stay with me was the masters guy who wasn’t even in my field, so I didn’t care. As I crossed the line, I pulled a Vigil and dropped the f-bomb. Not because of any sort of excitement, but because my legs were in such pain I’m still surprised they didn’t completely seize up and made me fall over.

I thought I finished somewhere way in the back of the field, but as it turned out, I was 27th out of 59 racers who started. Given the crash and the mechanical, I’m not too disappointed in the result, but there’s still a lot of work to be done on my climbing if I’m going to keep up with the lead pack of this race next year. 

May 26, 2011

Half way there

Here in California, the road race season starts with the Mt. San Bruno hill climb on January 1, and ends sometime in early October with a couple crits or circuit races. For me, the road season ends the last weekend of September with Everest Challenge, so this week effectively marks the half-way point.

Being half way done with the season, I think it’s a good time to take a look back at how it’s been going and see if any adjustments need to be made going forward. I feel that the season started out very well for me with some strong performances in early races and a fourth place at Madera. The hard block of training I put in early in the year definitely paid off, and not doing my first race until late February, in hindsight was a good call.

Then I got injured doing a double century in SoCal, which required me to take some time off and let my Achilles tendonitis subside. It never really fully subsided, but I got it to a point now where I can manage it enough to still train and race hard without being in too much pain during and after.

Another thing that I have noticed is that my legs and body definitely don’t feel fresh anymore. More important races are coming up and I’m now taking a slightly different approach to my workloads to make sure I have enough time to recover before weekend races. I still go hard during intervals and indoor training, but I’ve backed off from back-to-back interval days, and I no longer do hard three-day blocks. Instead, after each hard workout on the bike, I take a day off, or I spin easy the next day. Then, there is another hard training session or a race. I’ve noticed that at this point in the season, I can’t recover as quickly as I was able early on. This is only normal as the long-term stress (a.k.a., fatigue) continues to build. The reduced volume definitely makes me feel more refreshed for races and I feel my body slowly “recovering” from the early season workload. On future non-race weeks, I will likely go back to three-day blocks, however, to ensure I don’t lose fitness as I gain that “refreshed” feeling.

There are only two road races left until we get to mid-August – Mt. Hamilton this Sunday and Pescadero in mid June. I will taper for both per the above and hope for the best out of my body and legs. The rest of the weeks ahead will be filled with crits and circuit races until mid-August comes and the road races resume.

After Pescadero, when the crit and circuit race period will come along, I plan on resuming the higher volume training weeks to balance out the lesser demands of these 40-minute to an hour races. I didn’t really like crits before, but after having done a few, they are growing on me, and maybe once I figure out a strategy that works for me in those, I can pick up some points (fingers crossed).

Looking further ahead, August will be a very hard month, as I’ll be killing myself getting ready for Everest at the end of September. September will be a month of careful tapering to make sure I show up at Everest in top form. I finished 25th there last year in E4s and this year I’m hoping to crack top 10. I won’t really know if that will be possible until I do this ride to prepare. If I’ll be able to swing it in around 10 hours (down from 12 last year), top 10 will definitely be within reach. If not, then I’ll just go as hard as I can and see where I end up, a.k.a., the usual plan.

There’s definitely some exciting stuff coming up in the second half of this 2011 season and I’m looking forward to the hard training and racing that lie down the road. So stay tuned! 

May 23, 2011

Panoche-pacolypse race report

There are probably a lot of race reports out there where riders have done everything right and ended up winning, well this one is completely the opposite of those. This report describes what happens when you bring good legs to a race and then combine them with stupidity and bad luck.

Panoche Valley road race in Elite 4s is a 55-mile race – 27.5 miles out and same distance back. The course starts out as nearly flat (with slight uptick) for the first 10 miles, then climbs gradually for the next 10 miles, then drops down for 7.5 miles and reverses itself.

We started off in a smallish field of less than 20 and were moving at a pretty ridiculously slow pace for the first few miles. On one of the first rollers at about 3 miles into the race, I attacked and no one came with. At that moment, I should have stopped and rolled myself back into the field. Instead, I got a bigger lead and stayed off the front for the next 7 miles or so. At some point, I probably had about 1k on the whole field, but right past the 10 mile mark, where the race began to climb, I saw them catching up to me. Soon, a Chico Corsa guy would pass me and invite me to continue working with him, something I intended on doing.

Just as he passed me, I must have ridden over some loose gravel or sand, or something that gave me the sensation that I had a flat rear wheel. I quickly stopped, jumped off and grabbed my rear wheel – turns out it wasn’t flat and neither was my front one. By this time the main field had caught the Chico Corsa guy and they were all in front of me. I jumped back on and tried to chase on quickly, but while I was still going up the roller, the group dropped down a brief descent and quickly disappeared from view. I continued to chase hard knowing that if I caught them by the turnaround, the race could be salvaged.

I passed the feed zone at mile 20 and grabbed a bottle of water, which was only half full (WTF?). Then came the 7.5 mile drop with a very strong tailwind. I was in 50x11 the whole time spinning and going 30+ to catch the group. With about 1k to go to the turnaround, I saw them ahead of me and as I approached the turnaround within the 200m mark, they were just past it on the way back. “Great!” I though to myself, “only about 300m to bridge. I can do this!”

Then came the turnaround point, which for some crazy reason was placed in the middle of a ton of gravel. Partially because I was desperately trying to catch on and carrying too much speed, and partially because I wasn’t as cautious as I would normally have been, I went down hard in the gravel. I jumped up immediately, but due to the shock of hitting gravel, my body was shaking and it took me 5 tries to clip my right leg in. Then as I got on the bike and clipped in my left, realizing that in the fall, my cleat twisted significantly and my toe was now pointing toward my front wheel. I did my best to straighten that out in the first few pedal strokes, but there was only so much force I could apply without unintentionally unclipping.

By the time I was done dealing with all of that, the field was out of sight and I would have to chase them into a crazy headwind. I was going 30+ for the last 7.5 miles of the out leg, and now I would have to repeat that in reverse at about 14-15mph. At that point, I realized that I would probably not catch them on my own, and I had no one else to work with, so I ended up chasing anyway, alone for the last 27 miles, into a headwind, with a crooked cleat. I never really let up until about 5k to go because you never know what could happen to the main field and in addition to all the screwups, I didn’t want to be angry at myself for having let up too early.

To make matters worse, I was out of water and got another bottle at the same feed station. However, about 2 miles past the feed, there was a big lip on a bridge that I bunny hopped. The bunny hop was a success, but upon landing, the full bottle I had just gotten earlier flew out of my cage (the first time this has ever happened with these cages in 2+ years). [Edit 5-24-11 - Upon further inspection, the bottle cage actually broke with the bottom breaking off. That's actually the 2nd time that happened.] The last 17 miles I had to ride on two gulps of Accelerade I had left over in my other bottle.  I finished as the “lanterne rouge” (also a first):  dehydrated, with a sore/bloody hip from the crash, a twisted cleat, a broken Sidi clasp (on reorder) and a torn pair of bibs (also on re-order), not to mention a heavily bruised ego (however small mine might be).

Many mistakes made, some bad luck had and things definitely could have workout out much better. But “could have” and “would have” don’t apply to racing, so I won’t even go there. Lessons learned, hoping for a better outcome on Hamilton this Sunday.  The saddest part of all of this happens to also be the silver lining – the legs felt damn good, I just didn’t put them to good use. 

May 20, 2011

So you've doped ...

Just as I barely finished reading the gazillion page Landis interview, we get hit with another gem from another disgraced cyclist, Tyler Hamilton. And what do all the disgraced cyclists do when they out themselves as former dopers? That’s right, drag everyone else under the bus with them, or at least try.

I’ll briefly restate my position on doping for those who missed the longer explanation the last time. It’s the cheating I have a problem with, not doing things to your body to perform better. Everyone should be able to do whatever they want to their body and it shouldn’t be any of our business. But when it’s done to cheat, that’s when it becomes a problem. Of course, there is the issue of the free-rider effect and evening the playing field, but I’ve already talked about that before.

First about Hamilton. Tyler Hamilton doped, got busted and received a lifetime ban. Now he wants to tell it all and claims that the truth will set him free. What pisses me off about all of these statements is that he’s absolutely full of crap. He made lots of money riding, won an Olympic gold medal, became famous and lived the life he always wanted. I don’t believe for a split second that he regrets doping because without doping, we probably wouldn’t even know who Tyler Hamilton is.

The most egregious of these statements is always (and everyone says this): “I’m sorry to have hurt my family and loved ones.” Really?! Are we supposed to believe that? You injected yourself with EPO, rubbed on testosterone, had blood transfusions and you wife, parent, significant other, close friends never noticed any changes, needle holes, mood swings, etc.? Yeah, I’ll believe that right after the Rapture happens tomorrow.

You did all those things, Tyler Hamilton (and others like you), for fame, money, personal gratification and a full barrel of other reasons. You’re not sorry that you doped, Tyler Hamilton, you’re sorry that this whole thing ended up blowing up in your face and now everything you “worked” for is marred for the rest of your life and every achievement you ever had on a bike will have an asterisk next to it. Had you never been caught, you wouldn’t have been sorry for a single damned minute.

But while Tyler Hamilton might be done doing blood transfusions, that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t stand to profit from it. What does every caught doper do once he’s out? That’s right, go on TV to talk about other alleged dopers and promote an upcoming book. So which is it, Tyler Hamilton? Are you sorry for doping and hurting your loved ones, or are you still trying to make money from the wrongs you’ve committed? If the former, every penny you make of whatever crap someone ghost writes for you should go to charity. If the latter, please stop trying to stuff your BS down our throats about how sorry you are.

Now about Lance and the rest of them. Cheating has been going on in the pro tours since their inception. I don’t know what methods Anquetil, Merckx, Indurain or Hinault used to boost their performance, but I’m loath to believe that they all rode clean. In fact, the only world renowned former pro that I do believe rode completely clean is Greg Lemond, and only because while the Discovery Channel was busy studying Lance Armstrong, it was a well known fact that genetically, Lemond was far more gifted than Armstrong and had enough to win clean in a field of dopers.

I don’t hold any grudges against Lance, and I don’t have any animosity toward him. In fact, I have a lot of admiration for Lance and I’m a big fan. I love watching him compete and maybe one day I’ll get a chance to chat with him about a thing or two (but not this). It doesn’t really bother me that he doped because everyone did it, which doesn’t make it right, but it also means that he wasn’t exactly pulling bread off anyone’s table. The whole professional cycling scene set a high barrier to entry for those who wanted to ride clean, not just Lance. If there’s anyone/thing to despise, it’s the system, not the individual athletes.

What really bothers me is the amount of doping that was undoubtedly covered up by the UCI in order to save face and to keep the sport popular. It is very probable that at some point in the 2000s, the UCI realized that it could only keep the lid on this for so long and that they would have to either come clean and face disgrace, or start systematically throwing riders under the bus, banning athletes for doping and completely change how business is done. I’m glad the change came because I do feel that more and more riders are now riding clean – something that undoubtedly boosted the sport’s popularity. I am, however, somewhat sorry for those who were collateral damage in the cleanup process. I say “somewhat” only because they were after all cheaters.

To all other famous pros who will probably never read this: If you want to come clean, do so, but not because you want to drag someone else under the bus, and don’t tell us you’re sorry, we know you really aren’t. 

Stage 4 of Tour of California in (mostly) pictures the cancellation of the first stage and the shortening of the second, this one was going to be epic, and it didn't disappoint. The rides would race from Livermore into San Jose via Mines Rd., over the backside of Hamilton and up the evil Sierra Rd. to the mountaintop finish. I rode this route within DMD just a few weeks ago, so I know exactly what they had ahead of them, though I can certainly appreciate the fact that riding this route is not quite the same thing as racing it. Crowds lined Sierra Rd. to watch the finish and many familiar faces were in attendance, too many to list, in fact. 

Dragging myself + ~10lb backpack up the evil Sierra Rd. [Source]
Incidentally, in case you are curious which is tougher: going up Sierra Rd. with a 10lb backpack full of beer, sandwiches, schwag, some warm wear and other stuff, or going up it without all that stuff but after having ridden 155 miles and climbed 15k. I have to say that the latter is much, much tougher.

Chris Horner of Radio Shack smiling, or suffering as he absolutely kills it up this climb.
Levi Lepheimer and Ryder Hesjedal were hot on Horner's heels, but not for long.
And look at who's chasing them. A. Schleck, R. Southerland, T. Van Garderen and T. Danielson (I think). Some of you might also recognize some faces in the background.

I think the expression on this man's face shows just how much they all suffered up this climb.
Big George Hincapie wasn't too far behind, but that was definitely not his day. I don't know who that SaxoBank rider is, but cool inc!
Some more suffering faces. There were many.
Oh, and who's that there in third position? It's Jens Voigt! Turns out he rode that thing with a broken scaphoid bone from an earlier crash. That's the bone on the inside of your thumb, for the non-doctors in the audience.
Two things here: one, this BMC rider looks like he just crawled out of a coal mine; two, I would have totally slugged that speedo wearing douche. Actually, someone almost did, I just don't have that shot.
Looks like Paul Mach of Bissell (please correct me if I'm wrong).
And there's the three time world champ Oscar Freire.
And there's everyone else who couldn't (or didn't have to) make it up Sierra Rd. as fast.
There's Taylo Phinney and Ben Jacques-Maynes in the front row. Or is that Andy? How do you tell the twins apart?
And there they go!

May 16, 2011

Modesto Road Race report

It’s May and it hasn’t rained in quite some time, so I was genuinely surprised to see rain in the forecast for the weekend. I figured my luck of dry races had finally run out and I’d have to race in the rain. I narrowly escaped rain at Cantua, snow at Snelling and was happy to have dry skies at Merco (the A.M. flight was not so fortunate). As late as Saturday night, the forecast for Sunday morning was still at 70 percent rain and I thought I was doomed.

I picked up Isaac at 4:30 in the morning and we began our journey to Modesto. I don’t exactly know which directions I was looking at, but I clearly overestimated the time it would take us to get there and we were at our point of destination a few minutes before six, which allowed plenty of time for food, setup and warm-up for an 8 a.m. start. As we neared the race start, it appeared that no rain would be in sight, which just further reaffirmed my belief: meteorologists in the Bay Area are as good at predicting the weather as the Tenderloin hobos are at predicting the end of the world (which by latest predictions is happening on 5/21/2011, so have your affairs in order!).

My legs were feeling fresh (it was rest week), having only been on the bike twice with one moderate and one easy effort, but my Achilles was aching a bit, so I popped a couple ibuprofen and put on an elastic “brace” over my sock to make it feel better. The warmup felt very good – the watts were there, the legs were there and HR seemed to be moving up and down as necessary.

Sunday being the last day of rest week, I had absolutely no pressure on myself to perform in this race. I know this might be a foreign concept to some, but I don’t race each race to win. There are races I target and I want to do well, and then there are races that I race to learn, to suffer, to gain fitness, etc. For me, Modesto was going to be a race to sit in the pack and see what develops. I wasn’t going to work to make any opportunities happen, but if one presented itself, I wasn’t averse to taking advantage of it. I was also concerned about my Achilles, so I wanted to stay with the group while putting out as few watts as possible. Interestingly, it appeared that most of the Cat. 4 field came into Modesto with exactly the same strategy, as the race moved nowhere.

The course was a 9-mile loop that we had to do 7 times for a total of 63 miles. The loop also had 10 right angle turns in it, which on paper made it seem more like an oversized crit. A unique thing about our field at Modesto was we had Lisa of Metromint line up with us and I think Isaac and I were both secretly rooting for her to school some of the Cat. 4 guys. She did a great job hanging in there through lap 5 (and not just sitting off the back either). She was forced to race with guys because there were no women’s fields at Modesto. The reason there were no women’s fields at Modesto is that it ran at the same time as the Kern County Women’s Stage Race, which was cancelled due to low participation by … wait for it … the same promoter! I know there is a word for this, but it doesn’t readily come to mind.

Almost immediately after the whistle, a Davis guy went into a solo break and no one even moved a muscle to counter, join or chase. We just proceeded to clip along at about 22 mph while the poor guy killed himself in the wind and eventually rolled back into the field. Moreover, a few miles into the race, two Chico Corsa guys also went into a break, with the exact same reaction from the rest of the field. That’s pretty much how the whole race went. Every lap there would be a small break that went out for a couple miles at the most and ended up being pulled back into the field.

Fast forward to lap four. We’re riding along and I just happened to pull up to Isaac, who was having a chat with John Becker of Mike’s Bikes (talking strategy, as I later learned), when all of a sudden, pssssssshhhhhh – Isaac’s rear wheel flatted and he was out of the race. Very unfortunate, as unlike me, he was actually looking to make something happen in that race. Laps four and five went about the same. In lap six, attacks started to come and I quickly realized the fatal flaw of my “sit in and observe the race” strategy. Due to inactivity, my leg muscles had become so stiff that responding to these attacks, or rather the field accelerations as the result, was doable, but quite painful as it felt that I was pushing way more watts than I probably was. In hindsight, I should have put a few digs in here and there just to make sure the blood was properly flowing – lesson learned!

As previously, no attacks stuck and we were about to start lap seven. As dilution to our boredom, due to the snail-like pace of the peloton, we ended up being passed by a number of fields, which even further added to the mess. On lap seven, Dan Velasco, a rising star on Mike’s Bikes for whom this was the last race in the 4s, put in an attack. As luck would have it, I happened to be sitting right on his wheel and figured I’ll counter and if we get a gap, I’ll work with him to make it interesting. No one wants to let a break go on lap seven, so everyone just rode our wheels for a bit and came together. Just then, Dan’s teammate John put in an attack, which I also countered, this time with a more defensive posture. Some Chico Corsa riders came to help and the whole field was once again a unit going into the last couple of turns.

With two turns to go, we were once again being passed by another field, but this time, instead of pulling over, the group decided to accelerate, which created all sorts of problems as now there were two fields going into the finish in close proximity. With that confusion and the pulling over, I ended up in poor position going into the final turn and couldn’t find a wheel to drag me to the front when things got speedy. I followed one guy through a hole barely wide enough to get my bars through, but he exploded on the way to the finish line and proved to be of no assistance.

It was a “meh” kind of race, with a “meh” kind of result, but everything I set out to accomplish I did – no new Achilles problems, didn’t get dropped or crashed, and I learned something new. Panoche Valley is happening next Sunday and I’ll be looking to do something special there, so stay tuned. I’m also very excited about getting back to a normal training schedule starting tomorrow. Even though it looks like hill repeats might be a bit wet.

P.S. If you enjoy reading my blog, vote for it here in the Road Category – you have to fill in the blank next to other. Thanks!

May 11, 2011

In the clouds (it's cloudy up there)

That’s how I feel my training has been in the last month and a half. Just looking on paper, everything seems okay. The miles are there and the hours are there, but I feel like a major component is missing, or at least starting to slip – focus.

I partially blame my Achilles tendon injury because it resulted in some unscheduled time off and inability to train with the intensity I’ve been used to since January. It certainly doesn’t feel any better since I kind of pushed my limits last weekend with a ton of climbing and a pain-in-the-ass race on top of it. This week was scheduled to be rest week and is so far being faithfully observed, as I haven’t yet been on the bike. But tomorrow is an organized bike ride up Mt. Tam in honor of Bike to Work Day (which is kind of ironic, because I’ll actually be riding in the diametrically opposite direction from work), but I plan to cruise as easy as I possibly can without annoyingly holding everyone up at the top.

A rest week is a good week to think about training because it’s a perfect time for pushing the reset button and getting things back in order. I haven’t been able to do any serious hill repeats and I don’t even remember the last time I did short/sprint intervals outdoors. I guess the only regular part of my training has been showing up to M2 once a week, but that’s not the whole training, only one component of it.

Starting next week, the focus will be on reuniting volume and intensity while caring for an injury and prepping (tapering) for my A races that are just around the corner. I’m assuming all of those things will be possible together, but I guess I’ll find out. The next month or so should ideally look like this:

The next two weeks are going to consist of hard efforts with no less than 48 hours in between to let the legs properly recover and taper for Panoche and Mt. Hamilton (I imagine this one is absolutely not fun to enter with less than fresh legs). The following week will be absolute body destruction, culminating with the Sequoia double metric on Sunday, which I will be doing for time – aiming for a sub 7 hour finish. I’ll be shooting for a total of 300 miles that third week before going into another rest week that will perhaps end with a couple of crits.

The following four-week cycle will actually look nearly identical, as I’ll be tapering for Pescadero and Spring Hill, then hitting it hard the following week and entering a week of rest with Death Ride (so it will be more like 6 days of rest) in there. Because it looks like the stage race I was planning to do in July is not going to happen, I will probably be racing crits and circuit races the rest of July as a break from road racing and to hopefully pick up some more form for the final stretch of road racing in August and September (and maybe even some points).

Looks good on paper, now to put it into practice.

May 9, 2011

Cruisin’ to the coast and the Berkeley Hills Road Race report

Before I get into the meat of this blog, I’d like to devote a few words to what happened during today’s stage of the Giro d’Italia. As many of you have heard, Leopard-Trek’s rider Wouter Waylandt crashed on a descent and sustained fatal injuries. My deepest condolences go out to his family, friends and team. It made me sick to my stomach to hear the news of his passing. I was actually watching the live broadcast of the Giro this morning, but stepped away during the moment of the crash and luckily wasn’t subject to what I hear was a gruesome visual. This is a dangerous sport and today served as a very grim reminder of that fact. Be safe out there! I thought that Bike Snob NYC did a great job summarizing my thoughts on this, so please give him a read here.

Ride to Waddell

Now then, as hard as the transition may be, on to this weekend’s biking adventures. 

I haven’t ridden with my friend Mike in a long time. In fact, the last time we rode together was Levi’s Granfondo in 2010. Then ski season came along and he became mostly unavailable on the weekends. With the ski season now officially over, I called him up to see if he was up for a ride on Saturday. He was, but also wanted to get down to Waddell (a few miles north of Santa Cruz) to watch some of windsurfing’s best duke it out on Cali waters. I guess to the windsurfer types the event was the equivalent of watching Armstrong and Cantador going up against each other in a hill climb or something. I was planning on racing Berkeley Hills on Sunday and wanted a couple of hours on the bike with a few leg openers. Over the phone, we agreed that I would come to his place on Friday, spend the night, we’d get up early in the morning and do an hour or so in South Bay before driving to the ocean.

The other part of that plan was an MTB ride with kids followed by a dismount and hike to a waterfall near Waddell. After questioning Mike about the terrain, I decided to leave my MTB at home and grab the cross bike instead. 

When I got to Mike’s house, our ride plans have been somewhat altered. Instead of riding for an hour in South Bay, we were going to leave the house at 7 and head to Waddell on our bikes, while everyone else would head there by car. We estimated that it would probably take us around 3 hours. However, I got a bit suspicious after the route we mapped out with Google map’s bike routing said it would take us over 7 hours to get there by bike.

We rolled out of the house on schedule and after about 20 minutes of easy pedal through Saratoga, we came upon our first obstacle, the 6.5 mile climb up highway 9. I’ve been up this climb several times (in fact, it was the first climb I’ve ever done in California) and I knew that I could take it easy and do it in about 45 minutes. I had a race the next day, remember? Mike was taking it even easier, as this was his second time on the bike this year and we finished the climb about 5 minutes apart and proceeded to drop down to Route 236. This was a very, very quick descent as we were bombing it down and pedaling all out. The only thing that held us somewhat back was the fact that parts of the road were very wet due to the fog dropping from the trees like a rain shower. I ended up averaging almost 32mph on the 6-mile descent (good enough to be in the top 10 on Strava).

After the fun descent, we rolled over a couple more very mild hills, which of course were followed by more fun descents. We stayed on 236 through Boulder Creek until it was time to turn onto Jamison Creek Road. As we made the turn onto Jamison Creek, the road began to climb gradually with slopes of between 2 and 6 percent. I was going conservatively keeping in mind that I have to race the next day. Then, all of a sudden, for the first time in my cycling life, a dog charged at me while I was passing a house. It was an old, fat chocolate lab, so I wasn’t really worried about it biting me as much as I was worried about it knocking me over, so I accelerated up the hill as quickly as I could and the dog very quickly gave up the chase. It also didn’t chase Mike at all, which I found odd, but good.

The acceleration caused us to split up and I continued at my own pace up the hill until I hit a very steep switchback and thought to myself, “oh, this one has some kicks.” I was surprised, however, at how little the pitch dropped as I got onto the straightaway. And then it hit me, this pitch isn’t stopping anytime soon. For the next 1.7 miles (I know that now, but didn’t then) I continued to wind up Jamison Creek road on pitches between 10 and 20 percent with very long stretches at 16+ percent. I had two things on my mind as I kept climbing: (1) I’m going to feel this tomorrow; and (2) Mike must be hating this climb right now. See, that’s what happens when you map a route, but neglect to carefully check the topo! I was still trying to go as conservatively as I could, but when you’re going up 16 percent, you have to push some serious watts or you just don’t move forward.

After that was behind us, it was only a matter of a few minor rollers and a long, fast downhill before we were on the coast. This was the first time I was going 40mph into a corner. I was going so fast that I felt the fabric on my leg warmers vibrate. This descent was also good enough for a top 10. After a quick stop at a cafĂ© in Davenport, we had just 7 miles to go north on Highway 1 to our destination. The problem, however, was that these last 7 miles were into an obnoxiously strong headwind, but we persevered and made it to our destination in a total of 4.5 hours. Going tempo and not stopping for coffee, the ride is doable in 3.5 flat if you’re curious to try the route.

The CX ride

This was I think my second time on dirt this year (or maybe first) and it was a fun little ride with Mike’s wife and kids along. It was also a chance to spin easy after just having climbed 6400 feet in 57.5 miles. The ride was a 5.5 out and back trail that was followed by a 1 mile out and back hike to a very plentiful waterfall. Totally CX appropriate, even with some wet dirty spots.

Waterfall at the end of our bike-hike.

Berkeley Hills Road Race report

I think if you’ve just read the above, you can kind of predict how this race went for me, and I’ll be as brief as I can.  During the warm up, my legs actually felt okay, but my Achilles felt like total crap. It was aching, and painful, and just bugged the hell out of me. I was popping ibuprofen like candy and nada. The pain wasn’t the type that made me cringe, but it was definitely something that was on my mind. As I was on the trainer, I debated whether I should even show up to the start line, but figured that since I’m there “buttered” up with a number glued, I might as well.

I staged near the back as I was one of the last guys to the start line and hung out there for the first few miles of the race. I then moved up to the front to make sure I stay there when the climbing started. In the first few miles, there was a long roller (baby bear) that everyone hit very hard and I stayed with the group, but I could already tell that my legs were not where they should be as that felt very, very hard. We then hit the downhill and were going through some narrow country roads where I performed my first and only logover on a road bike. Smack in the middle of the road there was a 3-4 inch log, about a foot long, but it was right in my path. By the time I saw it, a move right or left would have caused a crash and I didn’t have enough time to set up for a bunny hop, so I did the only thing left to do, got my front wheel up, then popped my rear wheel over it and kept going.

I managed to hold onto the field over mama bear, but when it came time to the third climb, my legs could no longer hold. I got spit out the back on papa bear going into a very strong headwind. I made it over the top and started to try to chase, but papa bear has another little climb right after the initial brief descent, and that one sealed the deal – I was officially dropped. A Squadra Ovest guy caught me on that little descent and I dropped him on the next little climb while being dropped by everyone else. As I was about to make the descent, I noticed he was chasing with another rider. I sat up and let them catch me because I knew that in a group we’d have a better chance at maybe catching the field. We picked up more riders along the way and at some point had eight working in a very organized rotating paceline.

I have to say that when I got dropped, my first thought was to finish out the lap and pull into the parking lot. However, before I could even finish that thought, another one came along, suggesting that I wasn’t going to become any stronger of a cyclists if I just packed up and went home. I reminded myself that this was a C race for me, something that I would just go out and do for fun, forgetting about tapering (check there!) and rest and just riding it as hard as I could. From that point on, I was resolved on finishing the race and doing another two painful loops. Our group of 8 came undone on papa bear the second time around. And when I say came undone, I’m saying I got dropped again.

I kept on pushing along and soon enough I found another rider from our group of 8 that was dislodged from the pack. His name was Matt from the UCSC squad. As I came upon him, he was making a U-turn to go back to the parking lot, but I told him, “let’s go, only 14 miles to go, lets make this a fitness ride.” He agreed and we continued to work together. I took a very long pull initially to let him rest up and begin working with me. Results at this point didn’t really matter, so tactics went out the window and we rode like riding buddies and not like adversaries. We picked up another rider along the way, Alex from Team Roaring Mouse. The three of us would finish up the ride together, but again, I got dropped on papa bear, which conclusively proved that my climbing legs were left somewhere on Jamison Creek Rd. the day before. For the record, I suspect that I might still have some lingering fatigue from last week's double, but I'm not making excuses here - I knew what I was getting into.

Yes, I had a crappy race performance, but I rode hard, trashed my legs, had fun and gained some fitness out of all of this. Okay, so I can’t do 7000ft on day one and race well on day two – lesson learned! 

May 5, 2011

Back to the business of racing bikes

April was a good month that presented the opportunity to do something on the bike that I enjoy and that’s not racing – loooong distance rides. With Mulholland Double and Devil Mountain Double behind me, however, it’s time to once again shift my focus to racing my bike. And what better way to get back in the deep end of the pool than at Berkeley Hills RR.

Technically, this will be the first hilly race for me to test out how far my climbing has come along since last year, and as I always say, it will tell me how far I have yet to go. If Pine Flat was any indication of how well I’ll do at Berkeley Hills, it should be a good race. On the other hand, due to my Achilles issues, my training this month hasn’t been as focused or intense as in the months prior (two doubles notwithstanding), which could mean that I’ve either lost some fitness or am now more rested, or a bit of both, in which case they might cancel each other out. Then again, in a race you don’t really race your fitness, you race the field.

My plan for this race will be simple, and the same as it is always for hilly races: Stay near the front and when the lead group starts hammering up the hill, try to tolerate as much pain as possible while staying with them. Hopefully by the time the pace-drivers calm down, most of the field will be shattered and then it’ll just be between those who are left (hopefully no more than 15). This is really not the race where I want to be going into the finish in a field sprint uphill.

And then there’s my Achilles tendon, which is actually not feeling too bad lately, but I can’t say it’s back to 100 percent. It did ache a bit on DMD, but didn’t bother me at all at M2 last night or on the ride this morning. It actually bothers me more when I walk than when I’m riding – maybe I should just do less walking? Hopefully the regular icings and taking it easy early this week will leave it healthy enough to race BHRR without incident. My “A” races are just around the corner, and getting really injured is not the best of things right now. In case any of you are wondering, not racing BHRR has not crossed my mind – I just don’t function that way.

That’s it. Keeping it short today!

May 2, 2011

Devil Mountain Double Century ride report

You might want to print this one out - about 3000 words.

The day for me started at three in the morning with my alarm telling me it’s time to get up and get ready for one hell of a ride. I got out of bed, downed a 5-Hour Energy Shot and started to make final departure preparations, like grabbing my bottles from the fridge and taking breakfast items along. I was out of the house by 3:45a.m., on the way to the San Ramon Marriott from which the Devil Mountain Double Century was to start. I parked and ran to registration to get my number. After getting my number, I went to pin in on my jersey and just then the little part on the zipper that prevents the movable piece from completely sliding out fell off. After a few moments of trying to get it back on and letting Louis Garneau know exactly what I thought of him, I figured I shouldn’t waste any more time and solve the problem with the abundance of safety pins I have in the car. I pinned the bottom of my jersey together and that quick fix would have to do.

I got to the parking lot (full of other riders) about five minutes before the start, but my friends – Jay, Alex and Keith - with whom I was going to do the ride were nowhere in sight. I called Alex, but the phone went to voicemail. Thirty seconds later, they came up behind me and another 30 seconds later, we were given the go signal. We were off on our 206 mile adventure.

We started in the dark with our lights, and I have to say, I have never ridden with a sketchier group of people in my life. Jay, Alex and Keith were somewhere behind me, and I was in a middle of a group that moved around as smoothly as someone having an epileptic seizure while trying to dance to one of Madona’s hits. People were shifting sideways without looking, slowing down, speeding up, taking horrible lines through corners and not calling anything out on the road. There was only so much of this I could take so I made an effort to move myself to the front of the group. I didn’t care if I was in front of the whole field, but I knew I didn’t want to be in the middle of any large pack.

About 45 minutes into the ride we hit our first climb, Mt. Diablo. This bad boy climbs 3200 feet in about 10.5 miles. The climb itself was actually not that bad, I climbed completely within myself and covered the 10.5-mile stretch in about an hour and five minutes. However, wind was a major factor. As I started to climb, Alex, Jay and Keith were somewhere behind me. I passed a few riders and kept on climbing, the winds picked up. As I made each turn on the climb, the wind hit me from a different direction. In a couple of spots I actually had to lean into the wind just to not get blown off the road. A couple of miles into the climb, I felt as if I had gotten a rear flat, the bike started feel slow. As I looked down at my wheel, I saw Jay come around me smiling – he had played a prank on me by holding my bike back slightly. We continued to climb together, chatting it up, but in the last 2k or so, Jay started to fall behind. I didn’t think much of it because I knew he is a stronger climber and is probably just warming up or pacing himself a bit more conservatively.

The last 200 meters of Diablo are very steep, pitching up to 20 percent in parts and after already having climbed 10 miles or so, they really sting the legs. The winds at the top were insane. I waited for Jay to go the bathroom, but when I saw that he was going to get something to eat, I signaled that I would wait at the bottom where I knew it was warmer and not as windy. The temperatures at the top were probably in the high 30s and the descent that followed was probably one of the most painful experiences of the ride. I couldn’t figure out where I wanted my hands on the bars. The fingers in my cut-off gloves felt like I had submerged them in icy water and kept them there for minutes. What ended up being a 28-minute decent felt like an eternity. As I descended into Walnut Creek, I continued on before finding a sunny spot to wait for Jay. After about fifteen minutes and probably about a minute before I would have taken off solo, I saw Alex and Jay on the horizon. Turns out Jay started to come down and then doubled-back for Alex.

We took off for what would be the next climb, Morgan Territory. Our rapid start was rapidly halted by Jay’s flat; however, after a quick change, we were back at it. The three of us stuck together for a bit and then it all came apart right before the turn onto Morgan Territory. Jay and I dropped Alex on a short climb and then Jay and I lost each other in the neighborhood where some streets were apparently closed for some sort of a block-party.

Through some small streets, I made it out on the right road as I saw other cyclists funneling in from various directions. Then I made the turn onto Morgan Territory climb – the second longest of the day after Diablo at 7.4 miles, rising about 1500 feet. This climb went very easy for me, I kept passing people right and left and the fact that no one was eager to grab my wheel told me I was keeping a pretty high pace. I got to the rest stop, which was also annoyingly windy, but not nearly as windy or cold as the top of Diablo. I took off extra gear from my body and the bike and gave it to the staff to take to the Pet-the-Goat rest stop, where I would later pick it up for the final miles into the finish.

Jay was not too far behind me, and Alex pulled up soon after as well. Then, we discovered that Jay’s tire had a pretty bad tear and we would need to replace it. Luckily, the SAG vehicle that was at the rest stop had a tire, so a couple of tubes later (user error on the first try), we were off.

The descent from the top of Morgan Territory is called “the plunge” and it definitely lives up to it’s name; however, as we started to descend, we had to stop due to medical personnel being on the road, helping a downed cyclist (he looked okay from the road). We were told to get off our bikes and walk past the sight before remounting. The downhill was on. That was a very fun descent, until I was going extremely fast into an S-turn, going right first and then left into a blind corner. I came into the first part of the S really hot and used the entire width of the unmarked road. I was probably within inches of flying out. As I came out of the turn and started to bend around the second part of the S, I saw a fire truck coming at me. Luckily, I was already coming to the right side of the road to set up my next turn, so I was able to stand the bike straight and continue past the truck. This wasn’t really that close of a call as it may sound, but it definitely made me slow it down a bit. To my great surprise, two more ambulances went up the road after the truck. It must have been a very slow day in Alameda county if all that equipment was needed for one cyclist.

We descended from Morgan Territory and began to make our way toward Altamont Pass and the Wente Road Race course. Coincidentally, the race was going on that day and we would hit the course twice – once for about two miles and the second time for about five. As we hit the course, I noticed that a field of ladies was coming up right behind me and I thought it would be courteous to the racers if we pulled over and let them pass. In hindsight, we didn’t have to, as they were moving at a crawling pace (these were Pro/1/2 ladies). Soon after, the men’s Pro/1/2 field blew by us and the women’s field. Then, as the ladies took the turn toward the main climb of the course and the eventual finish line, we continued onward to Patterson Pass.

The approach was mellow with a few rollers and soon we would be dropping down to the start of the Patterson Pass road race and the ascent of the pass itself. We made a brief bio break and continued onward to the climb. Jay and I crossed what we thought was the summit only to see that after a brief downhill, another steep climb awaited – I think this is what the race description referred to as the “oh my gosh” summit. By this point, Alex had fallen a bit behind and Jay and I decided we’d wait for him at the Mines Rd. stop at mile 91. After hitting the Wente course again, we soon hit mile 91 and another checkpoint.

Jay was saying how he wasn’t feeling so hot and had some knee pain, so I gave him some ibuprofen and we waited for Alex to pull in. We made a decision to stick together until lunch. That, however, didn’t last very long. The description of the ride between Mines Rd. stop and lunch read that it was 25 miles that rose 2000 feet. I expected a very, very gradual climb, but that was not the case.

The climb began at a relatively steep grade for the first few miles and most of the 2000 feet were gained right there. From that point on, it was either flat or gradually climbing, but I could really move on that stretch of road and passed at least a dozen cyclists on the way to lunch. At lunch, mile 115, I inhaled a pulled pork sandwich, a bag of chips, a banana or two, took some ibuprofen myself for the Achilles tendon that was now making itself felt and topped off my bottles. At that point, I was still feeling very strong and ready to press on, despite the slight Achilles heel ache. As I was about to continue, Jay arrived at lunch and made a very quick stop of it, so I waited and we took off together. We continued together for the next 14 miles until the base of the Mt. Hamilton Climb (from the backside), which would rise 2000 feet in about 4.4 miles. After filling up with water at the base, we began the climb.

The climb up Mt. Hamilton was by far my lowest point of the whole ride. By this time, whatever Jay was taking/eating was working for him and his climbing legs did what they are supposed to do - drop me. I told him that I would take this at my own pace and that he should go on. My feet felt like they were swollen, my Achilles was aching, and on top of that, there was as sharp shooting pain in the ball of my left foot which greatly restricted how hard I could push on the pedals. I was already more than 130 miles and 13.5k of feet into the ride and I knew that the next rest stop would be at mile 150, and had absolutely no intention of getting off the bike in the interim. Slowly but steadily I pressed on. The distance on my Garmin screen is in the smaller window, so it only goes up to three digits, which means when I hit 100 miles, I lose tenths of miles markers, and when my speed on a climb is reduced to a crawl, it’s very daunting to look at the same mile marker for over 10 minutes. So I switched to the screen that showed current elevation and I knew that I had to get up to 4000 feet before the start of the descent.

In pain, I made it over the top and proceeded to descend Mt. Hamilton. What I thought would be a fast 14 mile descent, turned out to be two descents with very evil, but short climbs in the middle, which just added insult to injury at this point in the ride. Beaten up, but far from defeated, I made it to rest stop five, which was a private residence, generously opened up to host a rest stop. As I got there, Jay was just about to take off and that was the last I would see him before the finish.

I took off my shoes, and began stuffing my face with bananas, and PB&J sandwiches, and chips, and a coke, and whatever else I could stuff into my body. I sat and relaxed for a few minutes, rubbing my feet to hopefully get the swelling down and get rid of the pain in the ball of my foot. I spent about 25 minutes at that stop and I needed every single second of that rest. I put on my shoes, buckled them very loosely and continued on. Ahead lie a few more miles of the Hamilton descent and some flat roads before I would hit the infamous Sierra Rd. at mile 156 or so, with already 15.5k in my legs. I remember Dan telling me about that climb when I first emailed the group about the ride. I don’t recall that he had anything good to say about it. Coincidentally, he tweeted a video of it today which you can view here. That guy is going twice as fast as I was.

After the long rest, I felt like my body and mind were once again composed to take on the last 50 miles in stride. Sierra Rd. is a tough climb, rising 1800 feet in just 3.5 miles with extended segments of grades between 10 and 18 percent. But I felt good on that climb, as good as one can expect to feel, I suppose. I was going slow, but steady and watching the elevation increase with each pedal stroke. On the one hand, steep pitches meant pain, on the other, they meant faster attitude gain and the quicker I would get to 1900 feet, the quicker the ordeal would be over. After about 50 minutes, I arrived at Pet-the-Goat, where my gear was waiting for me – boy was I happy I didn’t have to drag anything extra up Sierra. I spent no more time at the stop than was necessary to get my lights on and fill my bottles.

The next 20 miles were pleasant and fast. First, there was a four-mile descent from Sierra and then I hit Calaveras Road, which started with a wall of 14 percent for about .2 miles, but then leveled off and turned into gentle rollers before becoming a fast downhill. I recognized the last five miles of the road as the Calaveras TT course I raced last year, so the neighborhood as a whole seemed familiar. Before I knew it, I was at the Sunol train station for my last checkpoint of the day. I snacked on some potato chips – which were kept there for me by Jason Pierce, one of the volunteers and no stranger to riding doubles himself (on a fixie) – had a soda, refilled my bottles, made a quick stop at the Port-a-Johns and was off to tackle the last 25 miles of the ride.

I knew I had two more mild climbs ahead. A 4.4-mile climb that went up about 1000 feet and about a 2-mile climb right before the finish. As I hit the first climb - Palomares - the light began to quickly disappear and I turned on my headlight. Again I tracked feet climbed on my Garmin (while I could still see the numbers) and reached the top of the climb around the same time as the unit read 1000 feet. Then was a dark descent, followed by a few flat miles and a turn toward the last climb – Norris Canyon Rd.

This last climb was very, very annoying. It comes at mile 200 with 18.5k feet in the legs. For me it also came in complete darkness and at the time, I had absolutely no clue how long it was going to be. I just climbed as hard as I could to get it over with as fast as possible. Illuminating my Garmin screen, I noticed that there was a good chance that I could make it under 16 hours, which would be a nice achievement. A quick descent and a few flat miles later, I was back at the San Ramon Marriott. I checked in at 8:59pm, and considering that we left a few minutes after 5am, I was just under the 16-hour mark.

I didn’t see Jay in the room immediately, so I proceeded to sit down and munch on lasagna, salad and rolls. A few minutes later he came into the room and we exchanged our views on Sierra Rd., which I’m not going to type out here because I know my mother sometimes reads my blog. Looking at our Strava times, it appears that he arrived about half an hour before I did. Alex and Keith were still out there and we were determined to wait until their arrival. I felt that since I was the reason they were on this ride, I should stick around to welcome them in. They both arrived around 11:30, visibly beaten up, but in very high spirits after having finished one of the (if not the) toughest doubles in California. Four of us started and four of us finished, that’s a 100 percent success rate!

Read Alex’s report here.