Tuesday, June 22, 2010

2010 Terrible Two, Part II

Chuck Bramwell data from slightly shorter 2003 route

The start of the Terrible Two is incredibly organized. How do you possibly open "reg" 20 minutes before it's mandatory for riders to be at the start line ready to go? Well, the answer is you lay out each rider's number in alphabetical order on tables so each can pick his up without waiting in a line. Then you have a separate table for pre-ride drinks, another for gel flasks from sponsor Hammer Nutrition, and a third table for bagels. And have a big box of pins.

It all went well, and I felt like I had plenty of time in hand having ridden the 1.5 miles from my hotel to the start to arrive at 4:55 am.

On the start line, I was slightly chilly but not too bad. I had on a mesh tank-top, a long-sleeve undershirt, arm warmers, a short-sleeve jersey, a vest, shorts, and knee warmers in addition to socks, shoes, and short-fingered gloves. This seems like overkill, but I really don't like the cold, and the forecast was for cool temperatures all day. Many of the riders had long-fingered gloves, but I usually do okay with short-fingered until it's below 50F as long as I keep my core warm.

The Pace Car
Considering I was in a peloton of 260 sleep-deprived double century riders, things were surprisingly smooth. I started too far back, so picked up positions as I went, hoping to stay ahead of any splits which might separate me from the pace-car as it led us to, and through Santa Rosa, tripping lights as it went. Having cleared the city, the car pulled over, and we were on our own.

I noticed Webcor riders at the front as we approached the first climb, out of Bennett Valley.

Bennett Valley
As soon as the climb began the Webcor guys turned up the gas. I felt fine, but a glance at my Powertap showed 340 watts, around 80 watts over my threshold, and surviving was all about staying under threshold. I let the group go, climbing my own pace.

Despite the modest nature of the 500 foot climb, things completely shattered behind that lead group. I wasn't climbing particularly fast relative to others, but I was able to converse easily, whereas most others I found myself near were breathing hard. They would pay for their hard effort later, I felt. I may have been only 7/15 in the Diablo E3, but I was confident of my climbing in this more endurance-oriented crowd.  Climbing wasn't my weakness here; endurance was.

The descent from the summit of the Bennett climb was unmemorable. Soon after, we hit Trinity, a climb tough enough to make John Sommerson. It's around 1400 vertical feet, somewhere between Old La Honda and Kings Mountain Road, but over much less distance.

Early on, I saw "El Grillo" written in faded paint on the asphalt. Good stuff: the Tour of California used to do this climb. I lamented the recent crackdown on road paint by organizers.

The day before, I'd swapped my 50/36 for a 50/34, giving me a low of 34/26. I'd want it, I figured, on Skaggs and later @ Fort Ross. But I was already parked on the bottom floor here. I told myself it wouldn' t wear out: my legs would appreciate the kind treatment later. The gear was rubbing a bit, so halfway up I stopped and turned the limit screw a quarter turn and things were good.

We'd been warned about the descent of Trinity. Every year, people go into corners too fast and don't come out. I was two spots behind a guy whose rear derailleur had been rubbing his spokes when he'd climbed. Up ahead the sign warned of a sharp right turn, 15 mph. He went in fairly hard, then boom and he was down. I skidded to a stop behind the rider ahead of me.

His tire was completely unwrapped from his rim. I and the other rider who'd stopped checked to see if the guy could move. He didn't want to. I retrieved his sunglasses, and warned descending riders of his presence in the road. I wanted to see if we could move himself out of the roadway, when a pick-up truck approached from above. We waved it down, and since things seemed under control, I continued on.

Napa Valley
A short climb over Oakville Grade and we descended into what is some of the most spectacular scenery anywhere: Napa Valley. Mist hung over the hills, obscuring some of the vibrancy the scene, but it was nevertheless still stunning.

I was in a good paceline with David Strong, an ex-Webcor rider now on the Santa Rosa Cycling club. He rode a blue steel bike with pink elephants decorating the entire frame. I asked him about it, and he answered something having to do with overcoming obstacles in life.

The group was very useful: each rider pulling. When my turn came, I gave it my usual 100 pedal strokes. One guy was ramping it up each time he pulled: not too bad, though, because he increased the pace gradually. David's pulls were a bit weaker than most, but it wasn't as if were in a race, trying to hold a gap or chase down a break. It was all fine. And quite valuable for me: free speed.

Eventually we hit the Geysers climb at mile 70. This is the first of three of the major challenges in the Terrible Two: 16 miles in three segments, the first substantially longer than the latter two, separated by short descents. It sustains around 8%, steep by most standards, but easier than most of the other climbs here.

I stopped to pee, then later to remove my long-sleeve undershirt which I wrapped around my waist. It was getting warm. A relief, as from the foggy forecast I'd feared it was going to be damp and cold on this exposed road.

Geysers gains only around 2600 feet, but given my increasing fatigue, it seemed even longer. Eventually, though, it ended, as all climbs do. I always seem to fade at around mile 80, and here I was at mile 86: 114 left to go.

But I've been in this situation before, and I knew if I watched my calories and hydration, I'd be good.

I dropped my long-sleeve undershirt, my third water bottle, and my knee warmers off at the rest stop for delivery back to the start. I still had my mesh undershirt and arm warmers with my vest in my jersey pocket, so would be good even for the anticipated coastal cool air. Without further delay, I rolled out. David, whom I'd dropped on the descent, had made a quicker stop, and was ahead. He soon pulled out of sight, which was too bad given what happened next.

Wrong Turn
David had warned me of the poor conditions on the descent of the Geysers, and I was being a bit too careful in the corners. The road surface was excellent, actually.

I'd somehow forgotten this part of the course, even though I'd been here twice before. David hadn't been warning me of this road, but the one which follows.

I relaxed a bit and continued my descent. Until, that is, I came to the gate. I absolutely didn't remember the gate.

There was a station there with a guard. I asked him if other cyclists had been here and he said no. I asked if I could have taken a wrong turn and he said the previous turn was 15 miles back. That had to be wrong, I told myself. I was just on the course! I hadn't passed any turns coming down....

But the only thing to do was to turn back. I felt good, fully recovered from my earlier fatigue, as I climbed the gentle grade I'd already descended. Of course, I wasn't at all pleased about turning the Terrible 2 into a Terrible 2.x, no matter how small the x.

About a mile and a half along, my paranoia increasing, I came to the turn. There it was: road signs, "TT" marks painted on the road. How I had possibly missed it was a total mystery. Maybe because it was shaded.

Later I checked Google Maps and discovered I'd descended Geysers Resort Road, adding 2.6 miles to my day's journey.

I continued on this alternate road. This was the one David had warned of. It carried very little car traffic, and with good reason. It's got it all: cattle guards, unpaved segments, single-lane.... a real back-country road.

Soon I was joined by two other riders. We worked together fairly well, trading pulls.

As the descent ended, the road opened up a bit with consistently good pavement. We picked up some other riders along the way, until a longer paceline caught us and we were together again. A lot of the riders I'd dropped on the Geysers climb, or with my quick rest stop visits, were back. One I recognized from the 1999 Terrible Two, and he seemed surprised (and maybe embarrassed) I'd remembered him: 1999 seems like such a long, long time ago.

The paceline made quick work of the remaining miles to lunch. We were at mile 112 of the course, mile 115 for me. Sure, I was a bit tired, but so much better than in 2005, where going into the ride with a small cold, I'd suffered in the damp chilly conditions and collapsed at lunch until I was able to get a ride back to the start. That failure had been hovering over me ever since. And here I was, finally able to put that behind me. From here on, I was covering ground I'd only succeeded in covering in my first ride here, 11 years ago.

I treated lunch as a rest stop rather than a lunch stop: water and Endurolytes only. I'd been using water in one bottle, Sustained Energy in the other, much the occasional fig bar for something to chew. It was time to start adding the Enduralytes.

In and out was around 60 seconds. I rolled out knowing a considerable challenge was just ahead: the much-feared Skaggs Springs Road.

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