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Thursday, July 21, 2011

"I Wasn't Afraid to Lose"

What an awesome day for Leopard-Trek and Andy Schleck. I haven't been able to see any of this year's stages of the Tour de France live, but I'm wishing that I had today.
The news reports yesterday were at best indecisive and at worst actually sneered at the young Luxembourg rider. Today only he can sneer - but that doesn't seem to be his style.

Check out the race report at cyclingnews.com, and this article about his amazing effort.

I've been watching the brothers Schleck for nearly 3 years now. It's great to see them coming into their own. Even if one of them doesn't finish in yellow - today will certainly be a day to remember, and will always be known as the day Andy dropped Alberto - and everyone else.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Death Ride 2011

Sitting at a mile above sea level, Markleeville, CA is about as unassuming a place as one could want to come across. Every time I drive through the .25 mile long business district, I wonder what glue adheres this alpine oasis to the map. Other than the pub and general store, I have no idea what form of commerce would support the 200 residents.

South Lake Tahoe, 30 miles to the north west is no doubt the daily destination for most of Markleeville's commuters, but it's not the azure waters of Lake Tahoe that lure me into this quiet mountain village.

I would likely never have noted the existence of Markleeville if it weren't for the Tour of the California Alps - Death Ride. For 1 weekend in July Markleeville's population blossoms by 1800% as 3,500 cyclists are hosted out of Turtle Rock Park for a Saturday of intense cycling.

This was my 3rd year to summit the 5 passes for a cumulative +15,000' of climbing over 129 miles. There was no question this year whether or not I would finish as there was the first year, and I lacked the drive to finish fast as I did the second year. This year my singular goal was to enjoy the ride.

Starting with a short spin on the bike and then chilling at camp in Turtle Rock Park Friday night, sleeping in a little later than the norm (4:00am rather than 3:15am), and finally riding at whatever pace suited me at the moment, I managed to pull off a spectacularly pleasant weekend. All of that was topped off with the girls coming up to cheer me and an unending procession of cyclists as we passed through Markleeville on our way to Carson Pass (#5) just after lunch.

I carpooled with Vince and Dianne Friday morning and made amazingly good time getting to the mountains. The oversized tires on V's Tacoma supposedly throw his speedometer off. I don't think the speedometer was off quite that much though.
Later in the afternoon Kevin arrived, and before evening Kipp and Mardi had rounded out our 2 camp sites.

Kipp and Mardi, who were disappointed with last year's performance finished all 5 passes this year. Kevin, who can ride 200 miles in the Davis Double, threw in the towel at 3 passes, and kicked back for a long lunch, and a relaxing afternoon with Milt and Jackie who showed up around midday Saturday with no bicycles.

Vince and I spent the majority of the morning together, but shortly before the 3rd pass he dropped back to discuss irrigation methods with a tree and we only saw each other in passing after that. I learned later that a developing wardrobe issue was becoming a pain in the butt - literally. I left with the girls promptly after finishing the ride and breaking camp, but he emailed me later to say "Hey the gel pad in my cycling shorts disintegrated causing them to bunch up which in turn caused great bottom pain, I almost didn't make it!" That's dedication to a goal.
This was #8 or #9, I don't recall, but he claims he's finished when he finishes 10 DR's with 5 summits.

Finally, Dianne pulled off a great first DR. She left at 4:25am with Kevin to start the ride in the dark. About an hour later Vince and I rode onto the course. It wasn't until nearly the top of the back of Monitor Pass (#2) that I finally caught up with her. She was toast, but still in good spirits. I expected her to bail on #3 - because if you crest Ebbets and head down the other side, there's no way out but back up. But nearly to the top of #4 - returning up the back side of Ebbets, I saw her descending from #3 toward the valley. That descent is out and back with no bus at the bottom. She had plucked up some courage and committed to the back side of Ebbets and completed 4 passes.

Next year will be DR #4 for me, though I haven't committed to 10 like Vince has. I'm not sure that my attention span is quite that long. I've determined now, however, that next year I'll be riding against the clock. My objective is to finish in under 9 hours on the bike, and 10 hours total.
This year my average speed was 12.1 - which is respectable enough.

Next year the number is 14.3.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Lakeport - Take 2

6:45 Am - Almost to the Carquinez Bridge.

Bottom of Howell Mtn. Rd. above St. Helena CA - 50 miles into the ride.

When the sign said Howell Mtn. Rd. was closed because of a slide - it wasn't joking. Like good adventurers we blew past the 3 Road Closed signs, the sign specifically stating that the road was closed to vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians, and the recently constructed barricade. Honestly I wouldn't have ventured up if Vince hadn't been there. I like adventure and all, but climbing 1100' just to find out I have to go back down and up the other way is annoying. ...I gambled - less annoying with a friend.

The multiple bicycle tire tracks in the dirt skirting the barricade promoted optimism, plus the cyclist at the bottom had claimed we could get through.

And we did...

It looked like a bomb had been dropped on the road.

I was on my way to Lakeport to visit friends for the 4th of July weekend, and Vince was looking for a long ride - both of us on our last long pre-Death Ride training ride. Leaving Martinez at 6:00 AM we made reasonably good time in the cool air. 60 miles later we parted ways at a convenience store at Howell Mt. Rd. and Pope Valley Rd. where another group of riders accompanied Vince on the loop back toward home. I struck off alone toward Middletown and the Cobb Mt. climb beyond.

The south approach to Cobb Mt. up Hwy 175 was a success this time. 2 years ago on basically this same route, Highway 175 combined with 100 degree temps and the 90 previous miles, had proven too much for me and a galvanized guard rail half shaded by a scraggly oak had become a makeshift oasis. As I powered by the spot this 2nd time, I was thankful for 90 degrees and a slight breeze.

Total trip ended up being 112 miles, in 7 hours 15 minutes on the bike. 1 mile further and 15 minutes faster than last time - just over a 15 mph average speed. Elevation gain - 4,000 - 5,000 feet. Water bottles totaled around 7 plus the Coke in Middletown and the Gatorade at the top of Cobb Mtn.

And it was fun. I enjoyed the ride considerably more with a little knowledge of the countryside and rest stops that I lacked last time. It was smoking hot in the canyons, but in general the weather was spectacular for a half day on the bike.

And when my wife and girls showed up at our friend's home 30 minutes after I did, Bec popped the leftover spaghetti from home into their microwave... to keep me out of their fridge.

Vince ended up with 110 miles for the day.