Archive for the ‘Ride Reports’ Category

GFNY Mont Ventoux: A Legendary Race

I’ve done the GFNY Championship in NYC four times. I’ve done a double century (200-miles) in one day. I’ve cycled up Stelvio in Italy. I’ve ridden GFNY Italia, Tour of the Battenkill and Tour of the Catskills with the infamous Devil’s Kitchen climb.

None of this could prepare me for GFNY Mont Ventoux.

Mont Ventoux is epic. And she’s a beast. With many nicknames including the Bald Mountain, she’s featured periodically in the Tour de France. GC hopes can be sealed or shattered at its summit. Weather is entirely unpredictable. (It was 36C at the base three days before the event – and four days before that there was snowfall on the summit.) Winds are notoriously strong and the climb is absolutely brutal. And she’ll throw everything at you in attempt to break you; to assure you don’t reach the summit.

The "beacon" at the top of Mont Ventoux

The “beacon” at the top of Mont Ventoux

There’s a weather tower on the top that serves as a beacon to those riding nearby (and seen from nearly the entire GFNY Mont Ventoux course.) But I didn’t think it was a beacon, I thought it was a middle finger saying, “There’s no f–king way you’ll get your @$$ up here! You can try, but you will fail.”

I wouldn’t listen. I succeeded.

Since she was giving me the middle finger for the entire eight hour ride, I figured I owed her some in return…

F–k you, Ventoux!

But I’m getting ahead of myself, because, of course, there is so much more to this story. Let’s go back to the beginning and first look at the course:

GFNY Mont Ventoux

On paper, this doesn’t look so bad; but a closer look shows that the total elevation and the climb up Mont Ventoux are two very real challenges. And the three climbs before Mont Ventoux don’t look too bad until you do the math and see that you’ll have virtually climbed Mont Ventoux before reaching the base of that climb! (The three preliminary climbs total almost the same elevation as the Bald Mountain herself.) And while this is true, it’s a really nice way to set up the course: do the first climb, recover; do the second, larger climb, recover; do the third even larger climb, recover; attack Mont Ventoux. If you aren’t ready when you get to the base of the mountain, you may as well abandon.

The Start

Our hotel was just a few blocks from the starting line and since the gun was at 7:30 AM we didn’t need to get up super early. An alarm at 6 AM allowed plenty of time for morning prep, a full breakfast and a short roll out to the starting line.

My "Wilson" shot...

My “Wilson” shot…

The mood as we staged was really friendly and relaxed. We knew there was a short “neutral” start to get out of the city center safely, so folks weren’t too amped up. However, even with the neutral start at GFNY Italia the peloton launched into a frenetic pace around 40kph and I was among a not so small group that was dropped before the neutralization was finished! This made me a little nervous, but GFNY Italia has nothing close to Mont Ventoux waiting on the course, so I was hoping the start in France would be more reasonable as folks paced themselves to the big climb. Thankfully, I was right.

Justin leading me out. I wouldn't see him again until I reached the hotel.

Justin leading me out. I wouldn’t see him again until the hotel.

The Preliminary Climbs

For about 10km the peloton rolled at a reasonable pace out of Vaison-la-Romaine and into the countryside. I was with a large pack of riders, probably right near the middle of the full race compliment. It was very comfortable, except that the first climb simply comes up way too soon.

Why do we start climbing so soon?!?

But before I get to that, here’s a short digression. Each bib had the rider’s name and flag of their home country in addition to other information like category and course distance. This is a really nice touch, especially for an international field. I could address riders by name and, for me, more importantly, I knew if I could communicate with them in English.

Bib #5

Bib #5

Now, I have to rant just a little. If you are sensitive to political incorrectness or stereotyping, please skip this next paragraph!

<BEGIN RANT>
The French. Oh, boy, the French! As a country, they are so hospitable and welcoming. And they’ve got such great food and wine. But on this race, they were the most irritating riders on the course. Two things happened that I consider unacceptable in a road race. First, whenever I was in a paceline, the riders rotated. And every time I can remember a French rider getting to the front, they immediately pulled off. They never took their pull. Maybe some did, but none that I saw and it really started to bother me. Second, this was not a fully closed course, so there were recreational riders on the road with us. Ok, that’s fine. However, on many occassions I was isolated (riding alone) and after passing a recreational rider, they’d get on my wheel. I was like, “SERIOUSLY?!?” I’m not winning this race, but I’m in a bike race and you are going to draft me just to save yourself a little effort?!? Absolutely absurd!
<END RANT>

Whew! Now that I got that off my chest…

The first climb is not a bad climb – about 5km with a 5% average grade and very little variation.

It should have been a piece of cake, but it just comes up so soon (at least mentally) and at 5km in length, it’s quite long by local standards where I ride regularly. In fact, it’s more than half the distance of the longest local climb! I didn’t exactly struggle, but my goal was to really take it easy on the preliminary climbs. At the same time, it’s a balance – taking it too easy would lead to more of a push on Mont Ventoux, so perhaps getting over these faster wasn’t a bad idea. Either way, by the time I was really calculating my plan, I had found a natural rhythm.

Passing one on many, MANY, vineyards on the course.

Passing one of the many, MANY, vineyards on the course.

I was in the small ring, but only about the 17 in the rear, so I knew I had lots of gears left for the harder climbs. This was definitely something I thought about beforehand – don’t use any of my easiest gears until I’m on Ventoux! That part of the plan I did execute successfully. But when I later heard that Justin didn’t even go to the small ring until the big climb, I was a bit jealous. Then again, he’s about 20% faster than me in these events, so it’s crazy to compare us and our riding strategies.

Around a switchback through one of the old towns

Around a switchback through one of the old towns

Each climb took us through spectacular old towns with lots to look at and take our minds off either the current pain or the pain we expected to feel on that final ascent. The old buildings, the beautiful vistas and the winding roads were absolutely spectacular. And each town had at least a few locals cheering us on – it was terrific!

IMG_20160626_094400964

The Mont Ventoux summit always looming over the course.

The second climb was much like the first, but a little shorter. I realized that in my mind the preliminary three climbs were each longer than the one before, but that wasn’t true – they were just higher. So the second climb was really a nice ride – more great views and more old towns.

The best thing about these climbs was that they were “mountain pass” roads in that they went up, and then right back down. Each climb was rewarded with a beautiful winding descent on roads that weren’t perfectly smooth, but were virtually pothole free. This meant that I could really bomb the descents and I twice approached 70kph which is among the fastest I’ve ever descended.

One of the narrow, winding descents. And the terrific view.

One of the narrow, winding descents. And the terrific view.

The third climb had the same 4.5% average but was quite a bit longer at 12km and a couple of short kicks that were steeper including a few switchbacks. But then again, it’s called Col de L’Homme Mort, or “Dead Man’s Hill,” so there must be more to the story. Once again I found my rhythm and made my way up the mountain. Many riders would pass me on the climbs, but I would pass many of those same riders on the descents and I later found myself in much of the same company as I was in the first 10km. I was feeling good about my pace overall.

After the third preliminary climb is the road to Bédoin and the base of Mont Ventoux. The course in this section is mostly false flat (slightly uphill) along the valley floor. However, when I entered this section, I was greeted with a brutal headwind. I’m roughly 90km in and feeling great when suddenly I’m pushing hard just to move forward at a snail’s pace. I was hoping the wind would pass, but it did not and the next 10km or so really tore me up. I was pacing myself so well, leaving as much as possible for the mountain climb to the finish, but now a 1.5% incline was killing me because of the wind. It was very demoralizing.

My signature pose. While I was still feeling strong.

My signature pose. While I was still feeling strong.

Just when I was beginning to crack mentally, a group of eight riders pulled up to me. There were three Italians at the front and they immediately noted that I was an American riding an Italian bike:

“American? On De Rosa?” they asked.

“Oui, oui!” I replied (I was thinking in French, not Italian, but they got the point.)

“For you, we work!” And they signalled me to get into the paceline.

I got some similar attention at GFNY Italia and I’ve really come to respect riding the De Rosa in Europe. But this was different – just when I was hitting a wall, they pulled up and saved me. I dropped into the paceline and they pulled me for 5km+ and then we were passing through the valley vineyards of Bédoin and beginning the Mont Ventoux climb. I waved a hearty thank you to the Italian leads and international group I was with and pulled off to do my own thing on Mont Ventoux.

The Bald Mountain

With some help from the Italians, I reached the base of Mont Ventoux somewhat refreshed. Overall, the three preliminary climbs are a perfect setup for the mountain climb. At the base of Ventoux are farms and vineyards – and a perfect view of the weather tower at the top, looking very, very, far away. The climb begins very gradually and just 1km or so in there was a fountain, so I stopped to fill a bottle and take in some nutrition.

The Mont Ventoux forest is a mental game, and a hard one to win.

As the climb heads into the forest, everything changes. What was a casual, countryside ascent suddenly becomes a threatening challenge. There are trees everywhere, yet somehow there is practically no shade. For one of the first times all day, and for a mentally long stretch, there was no more view. And no visual indications of progress – just turn after turn in the trees with more and more climbing. Most of the forest, and a fair stretch beyond, hover between 9% and 11%. In fact, there’s a stretch of about 10km that never goes below 8.5%. The only savior? Very few kicks beyond 12%; as if that’s comforting.

Stone road markers along the climb

Stone road markers along the climb

The only indications of progress while in the forest, other than the feeling that I was ascending, were the stone road markers indicating elevation, grade and distance to the summit. I was mostly keeping my wits about me, and at least I was passing a few riders, so I knew I was making some progress. At one point an older woman (recreational rider) passed me with ease and I was quite startled – until I realized she was riding a bike with a motor.

Does the forest ever end?

Despite all the legend about the barren, lunar landscape at the top of Mont Ventoux, I found the forest the most difficult. Perhaps I’d have felt differently if it were snowing, raining, windy or if there were searing heat. But on this day, the mental game being played with the forest was the toughest for me. Worse, still, as the forest starts to thin, it still takes seemingly forever to finally clear it. The wind gets stronger, the trees fewer and further between, but still many blind turns before full exposure and a clear view to the summit.

I was also having an issue with my gears. With a compact crank and an 11/29 in the rear, I have good gearing for long climbs. But when I was in the 27 or the 25 (second and third easiest) gears, they were slipping. So I found myself shifting between the 29 and the 23 which is a pretty big gap. I did much of the climb in the 29 and felt that the 27 would have been a better choice. C’est la vie!

The beauty of the Beast

The beauty of the Beast

And once there’s a clear view to the summit, everything changes. Suddenly, progress is notable and there’s a real goal in sight. But at the same time, while the grade declines slightly, it’s rarely under 8%, there’s more wind, and the visual progress, while notable, is painfully slow. Still, while my time doesn’t reflect this, the top portion of Mont Ventoux was my favorite part of the ride. Every moment on that mountain felt sacred and suddenly the entire race felt like the Bucket List challenge I’d originally planned. At this point all the suffering to get here was all worth it.

My pilgrimage to the Tom Simpson memorial.

My pilgrimage to the Tom Simpson memorial.

With just over 3km left I stopped briefly at the final aid station – Chalet Reynard. I got my last boost of food and water, and began the last stretch to the summit. With 1km left is the Tom Simpson memorial where I had to stop to pay my respects. Tom Simpson died on Mont Ventoux at this location during the 1967 Tour de France. He was severely dehydrated, but his death was more a result of his doping attempts which caused his poor judgment leading to death. I walked up the ten steps to the memorial which seem painfully difficult to climb at this point, left a water bottle for him, snapped the photo above and continued my ascent.

The summit is finally within reach!

The summit is finally within reach!

I went no faster on the final 3km from Chalet Reynard, nor on the final 1km to the summit, yet this last stretch felt much easier. Perhaps just having the finish line approach was enough, but also the ride atop this sacred mountain was beginning to wash over me.

Crossing the finish line just minutes ahead of my eight hour goal.

Crossing the finish line just minutes ahead of my eight hour goal.

When I crossed the finish, I could not throw up my hands and I could not celebrate for the camera. I simply pushed with my last effort over the line and coasted to the spot where they were presenting the medals. I cried for a moment realizing the magnitude of this accomplishment and the history of this place. I was exhausted, but so incredibly pleased to be on this summit. And to have gotten here by bike

Maggie and me at the summit - 1912m

Maggie and me at the summit – 1911m

The Great Descent

The summit was chilly and windy, but tolerable. There was a bag waiting for me with a vest and full finger gloves; I donned them both and began the ride down to the valley.

The race is over, but the fun has just begun!

The race is over, but the fun has just begun!

The first few turns were awesome – the wind was moderate, the road was clear and the switchbacks had lots of room. I was able to let loose and really fly downhill. It’s not often I want to see the profile of a descent, but this one is worth a look:

However, the fun ended about a third of the way down the mountain when the wind really kicked up and I was getting tossed around the road noticeably. I tried to refrain from braking too much, trying to trust the bike to remain true; but this was hard at 60kph+ with turns and traffic coming the other way. It was definitely a hairy ride down, but still pretty fun.

Once at the base, there’s anoth 10km+ to Vaison-la-Romaine where the race started and where my hotel was located. That was a tough stretch – windy, flat, busy roads and I was clearly quite tired. When I finally got to town I was less than 100m from my hotel when a car left me too little room and I went over the curb and crashed. I was fine, but the bike was a little messed up, so I carried it to the hotel figuring I’d pack it in the bag and deal with it back at home.

Conclusions

GFNY Mont Ventoux is a legendary ride. Anyone who watches the Tour de France and does these sportives should put this on their bucket list. The riding in Provence is lovely and the towns welcome cyclists with open arms.

A huge shout out to Nicolas and Lucie, the organizers of this event. There is a standard set by Uli and Lidia at the GFNY Championship in NYC that must be upheld by each of the GFNY World organizers. But Nicolas and Lucie really go beyond! The expo, the “parade of nations” and the concert leading up to the race are really well done and lots of fun. And the race itself? Well, maybe Nicolas and Lucie are blessed to have one of the best routes in the world. But the work they need to put in to get all the permits and pull off race day so perfectly – well, that’s monumental. And you need to experience it for yourself.

Campagnolo GFNY 2016 Race Report

dDespite being 5:30 AM, it wasn’t as cold as I’d expected on the lower level of the George Washington Bridge. The weather forecast called for a chilly day so I expected the bridge to be windy and cold; but with the breeze in check, the line up for the 7:00 AM start wasn’t too bad at all. Would this be a good omen of the day to come?

I had made it clear in my last post that I was on a mission with a goal time of 6:30. In my three years prior I came in at 7:12, 7:07 and 6:44 – a nicely positive trend. And my training this season was solid, so I felt that improving my time yet again was quite attainable.

From the starting line to the base of Baby Bear, I executed my plan perfectly. I moved from group to group, taking advantage of speedy pace lines where I’d otherwise have had to work much harder. And, unlike last year, in one of the naturally windiest spots through the Haverstraw waterfront, I remained well protected that entire time. I took it easy over Baby Bear (as always) and made it to the base of Bear Mountain at my target pace. I then ascended Bear Mountain comfortably and reached the summit at nearly the same time as I did last year. Since I took a long stop there last year and moved on quickly this year, I felt I’d gain about ten minutes there alone.

_ThinkingMan

I even had time on the ascent to “strike a pose” for the camera!

I then descended Bear Mountain in what I’d later learn was my best time ever, saving about two minutes there alone. And by the time I reached Mott Farm Road, I was ten minutes ahead of my previous pace, so right on target for this year’s goal. Mott Farm is a tough few miles, but it went smoothly and I was soon beginning my ascent of Gate Hill Road (Andrea Pinarello Climb) around mile 60. Despite most riders’ hatred of this climb, it’s my personal favorite. The undulations and steep pitches allow me to hammer each one and then get a (very) brief recovery before the next one.

However, today would not be a good day for me on Gate Hill. I ascended in about the time I needed, but it started to rain on my climb. Thinking it would pass, and not wanting to stop to put on my vest, I rode through. This would turn out to be my biggest tactical error for the day! The rain didn’t let up until I was at the top of Gate Hill, and while it wasn’t a hard rain, it was enough to soak my arm warmers and much of my body. The Willow Grove descent from Gate Hill is well paved, has practically no turns, and I had no riders nearby to contend with, so I attacked the descent and got another PR. (Unlike Bear, though, saving time on Willow Grove is a matter or seconds, not minutes.)

My pace was terrific! But I just paid a dear price flying down Gate Hill – I was shivering. I was without knee warmers and suddenly my knees were struggling with the cold. Next up was Overlook (Cheesecote) and I thought I’d warm up on the climb. Instead, the skies remained dark, the winds picked up, and my body was betraying me. I spent that entire climb on the verge of leg cramps and lost a lot of time there. Plus, I couldn’t attack the descent – it was just too cold.

sportograf-77466571From there to the aid station in West Nyack, I struggled. These fifteen miles really did me in and even though I took only a brief stop at the aid station, the distance remaining (20-miles) and time to make my goal (1-hour) were too much to overcome. I could do a one hour sprint on flats at 20-mph, but there were two more climbs (State Line and Dyckman) plus plenty of small rollers in the way.

I did make up some time during the final stretch, and I, again, attacked Dyckman setting up a half mile sprint to the finish. But, alas, when I crossed the line at 7:07, it was not the race day I was hoping. I still had a great time and I learned a lot about dealing with the conditions. A handful of my friends crushed their goals, and another handful were in my court – beaten by the conditions. It’s interesting to see who wins and who loses when factors beyond your control take over.

Campagnolo GFNY #4 (for me) is in the books. I love the challenge each year and I’ll certainly try again next year to race against myself and get a new best time. In the meantime, I’ve got lots of shorter races with Team CRCA/GFNY and I’ve got a trip to France in six week to tackle the Bald Mountain at GFNY Ventoux! In cycling, there’s always another opportunity; and another challenge to look forward to after each race ends.

See you on the roads!

 

Double Century on the Putnam Trail

You know what hurts most the day after a long ride? Subway seats and subway stairs – two things I pretty much cannot avoid on a typical day. (I guess technically I could stand on the subway, but finding and taking a seat on the subway is a competitive sport. And, clearly, I’m competitive and can’t step away from a challenge.)

Which (kind of) explains why I rode 200-miles the other day. A lot of folks (and Tracy many, MANY, times over the last few days) have asked, “why in the world would you want to do that?!?” That’s a hard question to answer. Partly because I see a challenge and want to prove that I can do it. Partly because the challenge itself is fun (I’ll explain in a moment). And partly because, well, what’s life without a good challenge and some competition mixed in?

2015-08-23 21.47.28By The Numbers

Here’s a quick summary of the ride in numbers. I took a photo of my Garmin screen at precisely 200-miles for vanity sake, the end of the ride was a little further and the full numbers are below.

  • 201.9 miles = Total Distance
  • 14 hours and 14 minutes = Total moving time
  • 16 hours and 48 minutes = Total elapsed time
  • 5:05 AM = Start time (over an hour before sunrise)
  • 9:53 PM = End time (over two hours after sunset)
  • 12 blocks = Scariest part of the ride (Walnut Street in Yonkers)
  • 5,273 = Calories burned
  • Countless = Calories consumed

More on “Why” (and how could this be FUN?!?)

Believe it or not, I really enjoy long rides – the longer the better. Something happens on long rides where time and effort don’t seem as linear as they do normally. At some point, time seems to pass in blocks and becomes very relative to the ride itself. At the same time, my body responds with stronger output without the feeling of terribly strong input. All the while, I find the ride meditative and when I’m on a long ride it seems to be the only time I ever clear my mind completely. And with a clear mind comes interesting observations; I only fully appreciate my surroundings in this state. It’s, well, blissful.

That’s half the story. The other half is the challenge; I mentioned this above and I can’t stress it enough – I love a good challenge. Most cyclist share this feeling and it’s often what keeps us going. In 2013 my first GFNY was a big challenge. In 2014 it was climbing Stelvio and doing at least one century every month. In 2015 it was to beat a goal time at GFNY and begin circuit racing with CRCA. As this season progressed, I added the idea of completing a 200-mile ride after an interesting discussion about Everesting (which may be on the docket for 2016).

Everesting is an interesting challenge. As with most endurance rides, it combines mental and physical obstacles to result in a unique goal. The concept is a simple one – find a hill and cycle up and down that hill as many times as it takes to ascend the height of Everest. For the locals, the best option is Bear Mountain and it would take 24 repeats to “summit” Everest. This will take somewhere between 16 and 20 hours in total. My friend Steve said, “even if you can physically do this, do you have any idea how your mind would react to 20 straight hours of one activity?” He then challenged me to take a 20-hour walk. I opted for a long, flat ride with the theory that if I can do what amounted to almost 17-hours on level ground, then maybe I can do the same (or more) on a hill. But if I can’t do a flat 200-miles, there’s no hope in attempting to Everest.

The First Century

One problem with long rides that start and/or end in the dark, especially for me living in NYC, is logistics. Routes need to be meticulously planned to assure enough light and navigable roads in the dark to assure safety. I’m also a fan of starting in the dark when you are fresh and doing so as early as possible to (hopefully) finish near dusk. Sadly, many river crossings, with the George Washington Bridge being most notable, simply don’t open early enough. This limits the route options, so I selected a route through the Bronx and Yonkers to get to the Putnam Trail. The trail is about 45-miles long and relatively flat, so two full “laps” gets close to 200-miles. Add in the ride to/from and, viola – Double Century.

The early ride was mostly uneventful as I knew the route and I got to Elmsford on the trail easily enough. Here I met up with Rob who rode the better part of the first 100-miles with me. I really appreciate that I had the company. Despite the meditative results of riding solo, conversation and companionship can be a real help along the way. Towards the end of the first century, Rob was going at a very reasonable pace, but I was pushing to keep up; had he not been there, I’d likely have slogged it out at a really slow pace for far too long. It was also nice to stop for “lunch” (at 10:00 AM) and be able to sit with someone and BS while feeding the furnace for more of the ride.

11927826_1192931347387060_3483966429634978901_oFood versus Fuel and Resulting Energy

Speaking of feeding the furnace… I carried a lot of fuel with me on the ride. Most if it was my now favorite Maple Syrup but I had some Accel Gels and some Amrita bars as well. I also carried several Nuun tablets to add to the water I’d buy at local stores along the way. I also stopped for two actual meals which are less about energy (fuel) and more about satisfaction (food). I personally find that the hardest thing about a long ride is feeling “satisfied” with food intake. Gels and maple syrup can provide enough calories and energy, but I reach a point where I need some “real food”. So I stop and do just that – eat a real meal.

Beyond that, I learned a few things on this ride. First, the Trailside Cafe has an amazingly simple yet perfect smoothie of peanut butter and banana with rice milk. They call it the “Perfect Pair” which highlights that they understand cyclists. I had two of these over the course of the ride and the only thing that would make it better would be a shot of espresso for some caffeine.

Caffeine. I try not to focus on caffeine (other than an honest coffee before or during the ride.) But on the back half of this ride I had two Starbucks Mocha drinks and I really felt like these gave me a huge boost.

The Second Century

Every endurance athlete knows that there’s a “dip” somewhere along the course of the event. The dip is a period of time where the athlete struggles and isn’t sure that they can finish. For me, it typically happens around the 65% complete mark of a competitive century ride. The challenge is to minimize the dip and move into “the zone” which so often follows. During this ride, I hit the dip around 95-miles as I was turning back to do my second lap. And it lasted about 30-miles. It was tough; really tough – but mostly mental. Looking at my stats after the ride, I didn’t really slow down, it just felt like it. The dip is definitely a mindset and can be overcome.

After that, I was soaring and it was a little bizarre. From mile 125 until about 180 I felt like I had just started the ride. I felt fresh, aware, exhilarated! It was really awesome. I kept my pace high during this time because I kept thinking it was too good to be true. It wasn’t, and I finished pretty strong because of entering this zone.

My only issue came during the last 15-miles. While it was only dusk, the trail got dangerously dark due to the tree cover, so I had to use an alternate route to finish. I had planned for this, but my Garmin didn’t behave and I ended up navigating more from memory than maps. The problem was that the section of Yonkers I had to pass through had lots of hills and wasn’t familiar to me, so it was a challenge. I stopped to check Google Maps and found a road I had taken in daylight that was comfortable, so I headed there and turned south. What followed were the scariest dozen or so blocks I’ve ever cycled…

I was on Walnut Street for those familiar with Yonkers and it’s not a nice area. On this evening, there were crowded sidewalk parties with SUV’s pumping music from the street. Party-goers kept getting in front of me, taunting me and running along side me. (But not like in the World Tours.) I just tried to focus and keep moving. Eventually this section was done and I was on my way into much more familiar territory in the Bronx. You know you were in a bad neighborhood when you are celebrating your arrival in the section of the Bronx near Van Cortlandt Park. Sure, there’s hoodlums there, too – but I’m familiar with these hoodlums!

Conclusion

Routing a long ride and timing it based on daylight and road conditions is a challenge – and part of why I chose to ride to the Putnam Trail. But adversity is also part of the challenge and I’m thrilled with the outcome. I do want to try to Everest next year. While I’m unsure if I’m up to the physical challenge, I know I’m up to the mental challenge, so why not give it a go?

Also, when I stopped, I interacted with folks on social media and that was super motivating. Thanks to everyone that participated, albeit virtually, in this ride. Especially Shannon who kept tossing various encouragements throughout the day and through different channels – each was a bit of a surprise!

Reservoir Reconnaissance

Four bike dorks go out for a ride… Yeah, I know, sounds like a bad joke. And, well, I guess in a way it is. But to us, it’s pure bliss. It was an absolutely gorgeous day outside, I hadn’t seen Rob or Shannon in quite a while, and there was a route promised that was completely new (to me, at least.) Added bonus – Rob brought his friend Scott along as well and the four of us had a great day.

The route was based in Westchester, so I had to start early, ride north through Van Cortlandt Park and the South Country Trail to meet them in Elmsford and ride from there. (PSA to those that ride this way – the “mud bog” at the start of the trail has been filled with loose gravel. Tough on a road bike, but better than mud filling your cleats if you want to walk this section.) Rob’s route took us on a tour of five Westchester reservoirs and it was a really beautiful ride. We went out at a pretty good pace, but we didn’t have to work that hard and it just felt great to ride. And to ride in some beautiful country with quiet (and occasionally fresh paved) roads.

The route took us way off the beaten trail and seeing this trout fishing sign made me think we were way out in the country. We weren’t all that far from the city, but I got a kick out of this either way. I guess it would have been more compelling if we saw some trout. Or a bear. Or a fox. No such luck on this ride.

We had to take a few major roads to get from point to point, yet even the busy roads really weren’t all that bad. When we were on the quieter roads we were able to ride and chat a bit. I learned that Scott rides from Tarrytown to NYU Medical Center every morning in the dark – and that he organizes midnight rides which I may have to find a way to join sometime. His route to work may also solve a routing problem I’ve been having for an early morning start, so we’ll see. I didn’t even know that there’s a path across the Henry Hudson Bridge that connects to the Husdon Greenway. Great stuff!

Scott had a deadline, so he couldn’t stay for the full ride. And late in the ride Shannon realized that he could easily turn off in order to get home without taking the train. Well, it seemed easy, but as you can see here, it took two guys looking at maps on their smartphone and one ex-sailor navigating by the stars to figure out the complicated route change needed to get Shannon home. (In truth, all we had to do was get to a particular intersection where Rob and I turned left and Shannon turned right, but leave it to us to make it way more complicated.) At mile 85 for me, we were basically passing Rob’s house so he invited me over for a quick burger, which was incredibly appreciated. His wife and daughter were so sweet when I showed up unexpectedly. Just goes to show that when you ride with good people, the circle of good people around you just continues to grow.

 

After thanking everyone for the burger and friendly banter, Rob took me a bit of the way to be sure I knew where I was going. Then I headed back down the trail and through the park. But since we spent the day enjoying the reservoirs and the High Bridge was originally part of the Croton Water System, I decided to try a new route and finally cross the High Bridge. It’s absolutely beautiful and such a pleasurable way to cross from the Bronx to/from Manhattan. And after an uneventful return, I ended up with a solid 108 mile ride on a great day. Awesome!

And, Shannon, since you asked… Here’s the power of pure maple syrup. And just in case you want a second opinion.

Tour of the Catskills (and the infamous Devil’s Kitchen)

26353[1]For 2015, I decided it was time to try Tour of the Catskills. I (very briefly) considered the stage race before many of my trusted cycling friends quickly talked me out of it. There were lots of good arguments, but the very best one was along the lines of, “taking on Devil’s Kitchen after 65-miles is bad enough, but after two additional days, well, at least try it in the road race first!” So I signed up for the Gran Fondo and crossed my fingers that the Devil would be kind on August 3rd.

The week leading up to the race was very odd. There were a number of conflicting emails from the organizers about changes in registration and start times. Included in these emails was also the note that, starting in 2016, there would only be the road race on Sunday (no more stage race.) None of this was much of a concern to me other than assuring that I showed up on time. But it also turned out that our start time was nearly 11:00 AM when we thought it was going to be around 9:30. The original time was already pretty late in the scheme of bike racing – but 11:00 AM was pretty much unheard of! And in August, well, sun and wind await those foolhardy enough to delay their start times.

TOCRoute_zpsd0dbe2d2[1]The course seems manageable when you consider 77-miles and a bit over 5,000 feet of climbing. But there are a few twists. First, “rolling hills” in the metro New York area are typically 5%-8%, but in the Catskills, there are very few modest slopes and even the shortest climbs are typically at or above 10%. Second, the matter of wind (more later). And, third, well, there’s no avoiding the inclusion of Devil’s Kitchen in this course. Looking at the elevation profile here, I’m sure you can pick it out at mile 65. It also throws the rest of the profile completely out of whack – sections that look flat are typically full of small but steep rollers that simply don’t show up in this scale.

Devil’s Kitchen is one hellacious climb. A very good climber that I ride with once said, “some hills are not meant to be climbed on a bike and that’s one of them.” While the photo below (from 2012) doesn’t even begin to do it justice, it is a sample of the Devil’s Kitchen climb. For locals that I ride with, imagine doing nearly the full elevation of Bear Mountain, but in HALF the distance. Yep, that’s the Devil. And even that doesn’t indicate that practically each pitch of the climb is over 14%. The climb undulates, and believe it or not, every time it “flattened” to about 9% I was so incredibly thankful. NINE PERCENT!

But I’m getting ahead of myself since there were 65-miles to ride just to get to Devil’s Kitchen. The first 20-miles are relatively flat and after setting out from the start with my friend Jerry, we got into a group of six riders and pacelined for a solid 15-miles. We were going really strong, when… I ran over some rusty metal thing and got a flat. Jerry stopped with me, but the other four continued on. I changed the flat pretty quickly and, of course, SAG arrived right as I was putting the wheel back on. Jerry and I worked together to pass two groups before getting to the first KOM and then we went into “conserve” mode hoping to save our legs for Devil’s Kitchen.

Once in Prattsville, there’s a section of climbs about 10-miles long and, again, since everything in the Catskills is steep, this section takes a toll. After those climbs, we stopped at the first feed zone and had the pleasure of watching the pro peleton pass through while we hydrated and fueled up. Man, they were FAST!

Departing the feed zone was the backside of all those climbs – a descent about 5-6 miles long. If it weren’t for the spotty road conditions, that descent would have been amazing, but moving at 45-mph requires that you avoid the potholes! After the descent is a long slog of rolling road through beautiful, but practically abandoned, countryside. When passing through the open fields of large farms so late in the day, the wind started to really become a factor. I also found this section tougher than I should have. I don’t know why, and it doesn’t matter, but I was struggling a bit while Jerry was chugging along.

Let me take this opportunity to give a shout out to Jerry who made the 65+ miles we road together so enjoyable even when I was struggling. Jerry is a really strong guy, and he has to be since he’s a pretty big guy, too. But no matter how hard he is working to raise his power to weight ratio, he’s an all around gentleman and just a terrific guy. We had some great conversations along the way, a few good laughs and, thankfully for me, he was feeling strong so I could suck his wheel more than I should have. Without Jerry I would have gotten to Devil’s kitchen much later and with much less energy. Thanks, Jerry!

Around mile 55 we turned south onto a state road with good pavement and a broad shoulder. I got pretty excited that this was going to be a 5-mile “recovery” stretch before the approach to the big climb. Well, it might have been just that, if it were 10:00 AM. But at 3:30 PM on a hot summer day, the atmosphere was getting unsettled and the wind began to whip up. Those five miles went from a recovery to a huge drain. Turning off the state road, the marshal said, “the feed zone is just ahead!” Jerry and I were both relieved – until we realized that “just ahead” in the Catskills is another 3-miles!

At the second feed zone we fueled up while “mentally preparing” for Devil’s Kitchen – as if that’s possible. And then, we set out to tackle the monster…

TheKitchen20112After a few miles of gentle incline, Platte Cove Road, a seasonal road that is closed in the winter and known to cyclists as Devil’s Kitchen, comes into view. It’s narrow, has bad pavement, and looks like a vertical wall. Of course, it’s not a wall. It’s worse. After almost 70-miles of riding together, Jerry and I agreed that Devil’s Kitchen is a personal matter. I set out just ahead of him fully expecting to see him grunt past me at some point. The first pitch immediately hits 16% and only 0.3 miles into a 2.4 mile climb, I’m dying! After each pitch, I tried to catch my breath on the “flats” (9%) and this worked a few times, but eventually, I had to stop on one of the flats and catch my breath. Jerry caught up to me for a short moment and then I proceeded up one of the steepest sections.

At the top of that section there’s a sharp right turn and several folks cheering us on. I stopped there (as others did as well) and almost immediately the pro peleton was approaching, so this turned out to be perfect. (The pros had a longer course with a loop, so they passed us twice.) It was great to watch the pros on this section as they were panting as much as I was (although they were still moving) and there were a few walking. After the pros I continued on and finished the climb in about 45-minutes. At the top I was proud to say that, while I did stop, I didn’t walk, and therefore I pedaled every inch of the climb.

After the climb, I slogged through the last five miles – really the only time all day that I rode alone. Riding alone is create during training, but not great on race day. It was a tough and lonely final five miles. But, alas, I finished the course, proceed to my car and headed out for a burger and beer with friends.

Final Thoughts on This Event

This was a strange event – some things were awesome, others were terrible. Quick summary:

PROS

  • Terrific course
  • Amazing challenge in Devil’s Kitchen
  • Motos and SAG were EVERYWHERE (Motos went back and forth and were highly visible
  • Controlled intersections (granted, there’s only like six of them on the whole course!)

CONS

  • No timing chips (seriously!)
  • Disorganized event before race day
  • Late start (this, alone, discourages me to the point that I’ll pass next year – I didn’t get back to NYC until 1 AM)
  • Feed zones had AWFUL water – smelled so bad I almost went without more water

Crash, Rash & Burn

Today was an interesting ride, to say the least. First I cancelled a “touring” ride because temperatures approached 100F and that ride was going to be long and totally exposed. Then I set out at 6:30 AM with Omar and Gavin for a relatively routine ride to The Orchards. The goal was to get back near noon to avoid the worst of the heat and we only missed by 45-minutes, but what happened in between was worthy of a narrative, so here it is.

Crash

Our first 20-odd miles were pretty ordinary – nice pace, casual conversation and heavy air, but nothing crazy since we started early. But then we reached a heavily trafficked merge, and I made a costly miscalculation. For those local riders, where Greenbush briefly merges with 303 before heading up to Bradley, that’s the merge. For others, basically we merge onto a two-lane roadway very briefly, but without much of a shoulder the merge needs to be carefully calculated. Omar was leading, and slowing as he looked back over his shoulder at the traffic. I, too, looked back and noted that there were too many cars to easily merge and looked forward to find that Omar reached the same conclusion. But I didn’t slow down enough and was right on his wheel, so I jammed my brakes. My front wheel locked and I went head over handlebars. A few things about this crash:

  • Thankfully, Omar was still rolling ever so slowly, so I didn’t land on the back of his bike.
  • According to Gavin watching this unfold, I never let go of the bike.
  • I naturally “tucked and rolled” so my contact with the pavement was relatively gentle – at least I didn’t hit my head.
  • Gavin would have found the perfection of this crash more entertaining if he wasn’t worried about next hitting me and going down. (He did not.)
  • I came away with some notable road rash but little more – and no bike damage.

After the crash I realized the almost comical progression of events immediately after a crash:

  1. Am I conscious? Is anything on my body severely broken? (By the time I thought this I was standing, so the answers were obvious. And I number this ZERO on purpose – it happens subconsciously.)
  2. How’s my bike? Is my bike OK? I really hope my bike is OK! (It was.)
  3. How about my kit? Did I tear my kit during the resulting road rash. (Remarkably, no damage. Only my cheap-@$$ sun sleeve was torn.)
  4. How about my helmet? Can’t ride if I cracked my helmet. (Helmet was fine.)
  5. How about the rest of me? Am I hurt? Am I bleeding?

(I challenge you to find a road cyclist that lists #3 before the others. If we’re conscious, we must be OK.)

Rash

By now the “rash” part of this equation should be obvious – road rash. My lower leg took on a few shallow lacerations, my inner leg must have clipped the chainring and had a small but swollen bruise and my elbow took the worst of it – about a 2″ section of shallow but complete skin removal.

Once realizing that I was in pretty decent shape, we decided to proceed to Toga bike shop which was already on the route and would likely have disinfectant spray. None of us had just water in our bidons, so the only cleaning was using the torn sleeve, but that at least helped remove the grit and some blood. Turned out Toga was still closed, so I cleaned up in the rest room at Rockland Lake.

Along the way I made a funny observation – this was my first road rash since I started shaving my legs, so I was going to test the theory that it makes for easier, less painful cleaning and better healing. I can confirm the first part, but it’ll be a few weeks on the second.

Burn

11751885_10102515976215346_2754584496988269131_n[1]There were three instances of burn involved in today’s ride and the first was self-inflicted. We decided to ride up Little Tor and since I’m preparing for Devil’s Kitchen climb at Tour of the Catskills in two weeks, I decided to do this in the big ring as a sort-of simulation. (I know that nothing can simulate Devil’s Kitchen other than, well, Devil’s Kitchen, but we take what we can.) I did the bottom half in 50/23 and the second half in 50/27. Omar took this photo after the first turn and I’m already dropping back. (I’m barely noticable in the distance at the very left of the frame.) I have no idea how much longer it took me, but I made it. Undoubtedly the hardest climb I’ve done to date. Tower Mountain was naturally worse, but with the heat, this took the prize.

And that leads to the second burn – the heat. Man, it was a scorcher out there today! And with the crash and a route change, we were out a little longer than planned.

Burn #3? Cleaning my woulds. ‘Nuff said.

It was still a great day on the bike, but definitely a story I wanted to share in detail.

 

A “Super Century” (161-miles) on the Putnam Trail

Croton Bridge 2Today was the Three Bridges Century ride that I enjoyed so much last year. But, alas, I could find a way to get there, so I decided to do my own century ride. Then I decided to set out on more than a century with the goal to at lease beat my previous longest ride of 140-miles and a stretch goal of a Double Century (200-miles). In the end I did 161-miles and my legs could have done more, but I miscalculated a few things that I will know better for last time. And, in the end, it was a really terrific ride, so that’s what matters.

First, logistics… I originally planned to leave right around sunrise at 5:30 AM but later figured that 6:30 was early enough. Then a fellow rider said he’d join me for 100-miles if I started at 6:45 AM. No big deal there, happy to have the company. I also estimated that I could average over 16-mph for a 6-hour century and a 12-hour double. While my legs might have been able to handle that, the Putnam Trail has lots of casual traffic, so we could only average closer to 14-mph. When you add in breaks, that’s about a 16-hour ride and we’d be out of sunlight way before that. So even if I started at 5:30, I’d probably need a headlamp and I didn’t have one. Not to mention that the trail gets dangerously dark even around 6:00 PM due to the hills and trees to the west.

Croton Bridge 1So when Gavin and Alberto met me for the first of two laps, I hadn’t figured out the math (yet) and originally set out for the Double Century. We started on Broadway in order to hook up with the trail in Van Cortlandt Park. Then the trail is about 3-miles of packed dirt and, in a few spots, mud – some of which is barely navigable on a road bike. We got through it, but this isn’t s great way to start a long ride – muddy, tense and slow. We picked up the pace when we reached the pavement, but with the long ascending false flat over much of the northern route, we realized that our street averages wouldn’t apply here. After only about 30-miles I already conceded that I wouldn’t do 200-miles, but aimed for 150-175 instead.

Croton Bridge 3We motored on enjoying the notably non-urban scenery and saying hello to lots of friendly people. (And screaming ON YOUR LEFT to a few knuckleheads with earbuds in that couldn’t hear us when we announced ourselves at a civilized volume.) One of the highlights of the trail is the bridge over the Croton Reservoir. It’s probably the most photographed spot on the trail and we, of course, stopped on the bridge to take many photos including this one of folks in a rowboat. Such a peaceful scene! Much of the trail is peaceful other than the fact that it can get really bumpy in sections and that was another miscalculation. To do a super-long ride, smooth pavement is greatly preferred since the body part that generally hurts the most after a long time in the saddle is, well, the body part that is in the saddle! And if that part keeps getting abused by the bumps, well, it makes for a long day.

Speaking of saddles and adjacent body parts… any road cyclist that does distances is familiar with chamois cream and I can’t emphasize enough how important this can be. And one of my proper calculations was bringing an extra portion of chamois cream that I used around mile 110. It made a huge difference. Another proper calculation was that I brought an extra set of gloves to wear after the first ones got nice and sweaty and slimy. Again, huge difference. Next time – I’ll add a second pair of socks. All easy to pack and all make you feel fresh over the miles.

IMG_1563After 50-ish miles we reached the end of the trail in Brewster, got snacks and water, and headed back south. This section has the only real hill on the trail, and even it isn’t that bad. The first time over it was rather pleasant (but I felt much differently on my second lap when it was mile 115.) On the return trip, we stopped at a place called the Trailside Cafe and I really recommend this to anyone looking for a meal off the trail. It’s right off the trail in Yorktown Heights, it’s laid back, they are super friendly to cyclists and there’s nice outdoor seating. Oh, and they make killer smoothies in addition to wraps, paninis, salads and stuff like that.

We finished lunch and I did a little back of the envelope math. Accounting for current pace, a few additional stops and some padding time in case I slow down, I was looking at about 165-miles if I wanted to get home before dark. So I rode on southward with Gavin and Alberto to Briarcliff Manor before turning back for my second lap. So here I am just past mile 80 and heading back away from home. No matter how hard I tried, this was a psychological obstacle that challenged me for about 15-miles. Hot, sweaty and tired, I was wondering why I wasn’t riding toward home. But I guess like any long ride, there’s always a section that feels like it will never end, but it does – and this was that section. From about mile 95 until I reached Brewster again at 110, things felt good again and I was enjoying the ride.

In Brewster I ate a slice of pizza (I couldn’t resist), drank a Yoohoo and filled up the bidons. The next 10-miles were tough if only because they included the one notable hill. It was a hell of a lot harder this time! Once over the hill, I really got into a rhythm and was actually pacing at my fastest speed of the day. I was surprised by this but then realized that despite my fear that the trail would get more crowded late in the day, it was actually quite empty allowing me to motor on with little in my way.

Ultimately, I did 161-miles (details below) and I wish I had more time. My legs were tired, but not finished and, mentally, I wanted to continue. But, again, you need to be prepared for your conditions and I simply was not prepared to go another few hours into the dark. Maybe next time…

Ride to Conquer Cancer – NY Inaugural Event

The Ride to Conquer Cancer supporting the Cancer Research Institute isn’t an entirely new event, but 2015 marked the inaugural event in New York. It’s touted as a 2-day ride of over 150-miles for both athletes and enthusiasts. And, I do agree, that anyone who can ride a bike should consider this event. It’s no walk in the park, but it’s supported in a way that makes it possible for many more than the usual athletes.

By the Numbers

  • 129: miles cycled over two days (actual)
  • 145: miles cycled by me (I rode to/from the start/finish)
  • 7,500: vertical feet climbed (according to my Garmin)
  • 260: riders participated
  • 1.7M: funds raised in USD (INCREDIBLE!)
  • 30: pounds of camping gear on my back during 16-mile round trip to/from event
  • Countless: bananas eaten at rest stops
  • Infinite: inspiring stories shared among riders

Before the Ride

Leading up to the ride weekend, I was committed to raising at least $2,500 in contributions. This is my only significant criticism about the event – many similar events have much lower minimums. I’m not faulting them for raising the bar, but I can say that I know a lot of people that passed on this event for this reason alone. And I’ll likely pass on this event in the future if it remains the same. Shame, really, as it’s a fantastic event.

2015-06-05 16.20.47That out of the way, let’s talk about all that was awesome – and there was plenty. I was overwhelmed by the support I received from friends and family. And I was especially surprised by the support I received from the team I work with everyday in my day job. They recognized that cycling is my passion and cancer research is a good cause – and they came through when I was struggling to reach my goal.

Fundraising aside, I didn’t do much training for the event. But I’m an obsessed cyclist, so I could get away with this. Instead, having not camped in about 25-years, I focused on getting some gear and figuring out how to handle that more unknown factor for me. I found some great gear on clearance at REI and outfitted myself inexpensively. But then I had to deal with the logistics of getting the gear to the event. The event transports gear from start/finish to/from camp, but getting to/from the start/finish is up to the riders. For most, this isn’t a problem – just get in the car. But for a New York City native like me without a car, it gets tricky. Being only 8-miles from the start/end point, I decided I could ride with all the gear on my back. And while this was quite a challenge (especially for the 2-miles I was in traffic on Broadway) it worked out just fine.

Saturday

2015-06-06 06.43.58The weather for Saturday morning called for rain, then overcast, then clear as the rain departed – and the rain SHOULD have been over before I got up at 5 AM. However, as I left my apartment for the ride to Tibbett’s Brook Park for the opening ceremony, the skies opened up and there was a downpour. I waited a few minutes, added a rain vest to my kit, grabbed rain gloves and made a second attempt. By now the downpour had stopped, but a steady rain just more than a drizzle continued. My ride to the park was going to include a dirt (mud) path (bog) through Van Cortlandt Park, but with the rain, that was no longer an option. Thankfully, I had plotted an alternate route as I knew the path might be mud. Unfortunately, this route was untested and proved to include a few tough roads through the Bronx. When I got to the park the rain had (mostly) halted but you can see on my vest the results of wet and grimy streets.

Damp and chilly, but hardly uncomfortable, I enjoyed the continental breakfast and the company of other riders at the opening ceremony. There were a number of speakers, from sponsors to survivors, before we started and all of them added to the awesomeness of the event. Each told a story of inspiration and hope by either having survived, fighting to survive or working to help others survive this terrible thing we call cancer. At this point there was as much mist in the air as could be found in the eyes of the participants.

2015-06-07 07.31.17As 7:30 AM arrived, we were off – and the riding was great. I took my time on Saturday despite my ability to go faster. Instead, I treated Saturday as a social ride and I talked to as many people as I could. I met Joel, an actor who was riding for a friend. I met Jennifer who works for sponsor Bristol-Myers Squibb looking for cancer cures everyday. Jennifer was also riding for her friend Nick who had succumb to a heart condition recently. And I met Maribel – pictured here with her trusty Brompton bicycle and Brooks saddle. Brompton makes an amazingly versatile and durable folding bike, but made for distance it is not. Riding that bike, and her being a breast cancer survivor, may have made her the most inspirational person I met on the ride.

I stopped at every rest stop and talked to many different people. The diversity of riders and their stories was the most interesting and rewarding part of the ride.

Camping

2015-06-06 14.28.22After almost 75-miles of soggy riding, I arrived at camp relatively dry as the sun had finally appeared and was drying things out quickly. There was a dramatic final mile of riding to get to camp in Ward Pound Ridge Reservation – as the tents came into view at eye level, the road turned sharply upward. Riders who were tired and longing to reach camp began wondering if this was a joke as we rode higher and looked down upon the camp we appeared to be passing! But then there was a turn and a descent into camp making for an exciting and dramatic entrance into the finishing gate. Chris, our terrific MC, was there congratulating folks on day one and calling out names as they crossed into camp.

The roughly 200 little tents were quite a sight, but first I parked my bike and headed for a cold drink – then I hunted for my gear and located my tent. I contemplated the fact that I’d be sharing the tent with a complete stranger, but took solace in the fact that he was likely thinking the same thing and anyone that was doing this ride had at least a few things in common. (Hopefully snoring wasn’t one of them!) I then unpacked enough of my gear to get out of my cycling kit and take a shower (the mobile shower truck was a real godsend at camp!) Right after I returned from my shower in shorts and a t-shirt, my roommate (tentmate?) Brian arrived in his cycling kit. Before the small talk I learned that he had two flats and needed to seek out a new tire to prevent more flats tomorrow, but otherwise he seemed normal and friendly enough. While he was gone I got my side of the tent partially set up and took in some afternoon activities before dinner.

2015-06-06 13.52.43

Once I’d gotten my fill of a pretty darn good meal (considering we were at a camp site) Brian returned having gone back to town for a new tire and finally showered and gotten comfortable. We shared stories while he had his dinner and connected with another rider, Joel, to socialize for the rest of the evening. At around 7pm the entire camp was jostling for the little mobile bandwidth available to either live stream the Belmont Stakes or at least get the results. The camp erupted when we learned that there was, in fact, a Triple Crown winner!

Brian and I returned to the tent to get ready for the night around 8:30 PM. He was a somewhat more experienced camper than me and even he was taken aback by the tent size. It wasn’t uncomfortable, per se, but allowed for no room to store gear in the tent. If it wasn’t for a few of Brian’s tips, I wouldn’t have found the camping to be as enjoyable as it was. For example, he noted that EVERYTHING will get wet overnight, so plan accordingly. Since we couldn’t put gear inside, I put mine in a trash bag outside and found it much dryer in the morning than others. He also noted the slope of the ground so we were sure to have our heads on the (slightly) higher ground while we slept. Most importantly he suggested butting my Sunday cycling kit in my sleeping bag so it would be warm when I put it on in the morning. When “lights out” occurred at 9 PM, I immediately noted that a tent has no sound buffering qualities; it didn’t matter if Brian snored or not – you could hear snoring from many different people many tents away.

We soon learned that nearby at John Jay High School there was another charity event – Relay For Life. Also a benefit for cancer research, the basic idea is that teams run a relay race on a track overnight. Teammates can rest/nap periodically, but someone on the team is on the track at all times. So the event had music and an MC blaring all night. At first I was annoyed, but when I learned what the event was, I found it really interesting. I may ride long distances all the time, but the only way you’ll find me running more than a 5k is if my life depended on it. In this case, folks were running (just like we were cycling) because the life of others who can’t run/ride depended on it. Sobering, for sure.

Sunday

Snuggled in a sleeping bag, in a tent, in a campground, can be really relaxing and enjoyable. Being so close to a newly introduced roommate and listening to an MC all night isn’t quite as relaxing. Yet at some point I feel soundly asleep, because when I was starting to wake up in the morning I heard the MC announcing the 4 AM breakfast. I probably slept a solid 6-hours. Not bad. And as I was coming to I noticed Brian was opening the tent flap and I was thrilled to see that he was awake since, well, “nature called” and I would have certainly woke him if I tried to exit. One of his tips was to push the tent flap outward as unzipping to assure the dripping water stays outside the tent. I’d surely have been cold and wet without his experience.

2015-06-07 07.12.52We both returned to our sleeping bags rather quickly as it was 42F with a Real-Feel of 37F since it was super damp out. The forecast called for an overnight low of 52F, so we were slightly unprepared. But, alas, another hour and half in the sleeping bag was perfect and once the sun came out at 5:20 AM the damp cold burned off quickly. It was a comfortably chilly 60F when the course opened at 7 AM. And despite the cold, it was beautiful at camp and spirits were high with the anticipation of another great day of riding. And, today, in the SUN!

I didn’t plan on taking a shower in the morning, but since that was the only place to change and I did have a chill, a short, hot shower was just the ticket. I left the showers in my summer riding kit with sweats and a fleece to keep in the warmth until I was ready to ride. I was pleasantly surprised to find a hot (well, warm) breakfast waiting and took my fill of eggs and bacon before packing up my camping gear. Being an inexperienced camper, I decided to declare victory for the entire weekend when I was able to get everything back into it’s original configuration either in my backpack or attached to it. Too bad I still had to ride 70_ miles to get home – eight of those with the 30-pound gear on my back. Victory would have to wait.

Since the Day Two route was a staggered start, it was a bit more independent than Day One. And while I planned to stop at each stop to socialize, I took the ride at my pace and a bit faster than Saturday. I got out of the gate at 7:30 AM and was eating lunch by 10:30 AM. The route started with a few relatively brutal climbs (that I would begin to recognize from the awesome descents the day before) and then turned to the more regular rolling hills as we proceeded south. Still, there were more hills than the route plan would suggest and it was far from a walk in the park.

Our lunch break was at a beautiful new park in Stamford, CT. Sprinklers were watering the far side of the park while we were eating lunch. And then, SURPRISE! The sprinklers near us turned on as well. I’ve got news for the operators of this park – not only shouldn’t you run sprinklers during the peak ours people will use the park, but you aren’t supposed to water in sunlight anyway. Amateur Hour! Frankly, a light dousing of water felt nice right before the departure from the park, so I’m not really complaining. Oh, and remind me never to ride in Stamford without a police escort – the drivers there were BRUTAL!

After Stamford the route was decidedly less scenic other than Greenwich, CT and Rye, NY. In fact, the last 10-12 miles went through awful neighborhoods in Mount Vernon and Yonkers. The Mount Vernon section actually had several burnt out buildings and seemingly had more boarded up and empty storefronts than operating ones. Not only was this depressing, but it came right where the slower riders would need motivation and, instead, would sap it out of them. I hope the organizers will reconsider the route next year – especially when the Saturday ride out of Yonkers was beautiful. In which case, why take us back through its bad area?

2015-06-07 13.26.10Despite the bad neighborhoods, the final mile in Tibbetts Brook Park was terrific. Like Saturday, we rode past the finish as if being teased, but this time without a difficult incline. After passing the finish line, we swooped back around and had a nice, long stretch leading right into the finish line gate. Folks were lined up for a few hundred yards cheering and Chris was able to encourage riders from a great distance as they approached. I cam down the chute just in front of fellow rider Jay as Chris announced, “and here comes Jared in all green with his friend in tow wearing green shoelaces to match!” A fun and lighthearted finish to the ride. I spent some time socializing with other riders and their friends and family at the finish line while enjoying a well-deserved charbroiled burger and a beer. Then I strapped on the camping gear and headed home where this brutal (but short) climb was the last stretch of my ride.

Summary

For the cycling geeks, you can see all my ride data below. For them and everyone else, this was a fantastic experience and I love the format as a two day event with overnight camping. I may not do it again due to the relatively steep fundraising minimum, but I’m happy to have helped the cause and encourage others to do this – especially if you have a corporate match. The inspiring people and their stories are so amazing and truly unique; and you’ll never meet/hear them if you don’t participate.

I did this ride for three people in particular:

  • My Mom – who passed from Leukemia when I was 12-years old
  • My Sister – who is now a 5-year clinical survivor of breast cancer
  • Shannon – who was diagnosed with inoperable cancer in 2010 and given six months to live but survives. And somehow he not only wears a permanent smile, but projects it to others as well. I’m proud to call him a friend.

My story is unique, but only because it’s mine. Can you imagine how many other unique stories were on the road with me this weekend?


For the data geeks…

GFNY15 Race Report

Prelude

Scene-2My Campagnolo GFNY journey began after I did my first century ride – a completely flat one – in 2012. A friend said we should do the GFNY 2013 and the training began when the first Gruppo Sportivo GFNY group ride took place in early December of 2012. (And the morning of GFNY13 looked a lot like the one this year, only about 20-degrees colder and it rained all day.) Despite having taken to cycling over the last couple of years, I was a sloth – overweight and lazy. I was at the height of my weight trajectory – one trajectory where “height of” is not a good place to be. I was quickly approaching 200 pounds.

I had never cycled past Nyack at this point and I had never climbed any serious hills. After the first couple of training rides it became obvious – I needed to lose some weight. I began paying close attention to my food intake and began taking more and more rides. This plus the encouragement I received from Heidi, Vito and Omar (and the rest of GS-GFNY) resulted in my losing 18-pounds before GFNY13. And I maintained this new “weight state” through GFNY14 and much of the 2014 cycling season.

Scene-5Then August and September (2014) happened – the worst two months in a long time. It was a stressful period at work – and I compensated with food. I traveled a lot – and used that as an excuse to eat more food. I went to Italy where, well, you just can’t help but eat great food! I returned from Italy just over 190 pounds. No problem – I’ve got the GS-GFNY training rides all winter to motivate me! Well, winter turned out to be really tough as well – one of the coldest on record and WAY too many training rides cancelled. Sure, I rode the indoor trainer – A LOT, but it wasn’t enough. Only as the weather started to turn in late March did I finally strt losing the extra pounds. By GFNY15 race day, I’d managed to get down to 177 pounds – my lowest riding weight since I started keeping track. Things were looking up again.

Race Weekend

Despite the warm and fuzzy feelings about my weight going into the race weekend, I was still a bit worried about the lack of sustained winter training. I felt mentally ready for the race, but was entirely unsure what to expect from my body. I’d had training rides where I was floating on air and others where I red-lined my heart rate on an otherwise ordinary hill. Which body was going to show up at the starting line was anybody’s guess. Either way, I went into the race weekend with good spirits and followed my now established ritual:

  • Scene-3Friday:
    • Work the bike expo
    • Enjoy the Italian welcome dinner
  • Saturday:
    • “Sleep in” (7 AM for me)
    • Bagel and whitefish “treat” for breakfast
    • Prep Maggie and take her for short spin
    • Cook up 1-pound of pasta and 1-pound of ground chicken
    • Relax with some TV and shovel down pasta and protein all day
    • Drink lots of water
  • Sunday:
    • Wake early
    • Bagel w/peanut butter for breakfast
    • Ride to the starting corrals
    • Second bagel w/peanut butter on the bridge
    • 7 AM – go for a pleasant ride with a few thousand close friends

The Race – Part One

sportograf-59844833_lowresRace morning was comfortably cool and waiting on the George Washington Bridge for 1.5+ hours was much more tolerable than usual. I was also incredibly relaxed – almost too relaxed. When the 7 AM start arrived, I rolled out feeling really comfortable for the first time in my 3-year GFNY history. The wait time on the bridge was social, relaxed and really enjoyable. I felt no obvious anxiety leading up to the opening gun.

As planned, I stayed with some super-fast groups through River Road and dropped off at the bottom of Alpine Hill. And at that moment, my relaxation turned on me. I began the climb of Alpine and felt rather sluggish. Despite a smooth ten mile start on the flats and rollers, my climbing was more tortured than usual. I took about 8-minutes to get up Alpine when I normally do it in about 6-minutes. Not a great sign.

Scene-4Alpine behind me, I found another group on 9W and got back to the 24-mph range which was sustained most of the way into Nyack. I felt better again, but next up were a few short, challenging hills in Nyack. I climbed the very short 4th Avenue climb smoothly and felt pretty good. Then the Old Mountain Road climb went pretty well, too. And, finally, I was on Hook Mountain (Toga) and while I was spinning more than usual, I felt pretty good. Then a rider passed me an asked it I was OK. “Fine, just climbing slowly as usual,” I replied. But was I actually going even slower than I thought?

I took my first of two gels before Bear Mountain, proceeded through Haverstraw (with a VERY short stop just for a bio-break) and over “Baby Bear” at my normal (slow) pace. At the bottom of Bear, I was 15-minutes ahead of my target pace and feeling pretty relaxed. I typically climb Bear Mountain from 9w (the very bottom) in just over 30-minutes. Add a short break at the top and I’d still be ahead of pace. But the climb took me almost 45-minutes and I felt awful. Now I was really worried – if Bear Mountain, a climb I usually take smoothly was such a challenge, what’s going to happen on the steeper climbs to come?

The Race – Part Two

Scene-6Well, this was definitely a Tale of Two Races. The first half was erratic, and I was now a bit off my target pace. But somehow, after a rest at the top of Bear Mountain, I was able to turn on the gas for the second half and never let up. Maybe I just needed the rest. Maybe it was the energy of the crowd on the top of Bear Mountain. Maybe it was just a weird day for me. All I know is that I took the rest I needed, got some fuel, filled a bidon, and went on my merry way.

Speaking of bidon’s – that’s my 2014 bidon in this photo on the top of Bear Mountain that was shared with every GFNY15 rider (and my knee in the corner of the frame.) I told the photographer that it was last year’s edition but he liked the contrast of the black. Yet the date was awfully clear in the shot, so I’m sorry for any confusion that this has caused!

JMS-C- (1)Despite my struggle ascending Bear Mountain, my descent was flawless. (And by looking at this photo, I didn’t seem to be visibly struggling on the ascent!) I didn’t set a personal best on the ride down, but I came close. And, frankly, I hit a cluster of riders near the bottom of Perkins that I couldn’t safely pass – once we got onto Seven Lakes Drive I passed them and continued rapidly. That delay plus the terrible road conditions at the traffic circle may have been the difference. No matter, I’d later learn that I didn’t really need to make up another 10-20 seconds on a fast descent.

As I began to climb “Baby Bear” on the return trip I was a little concerned that I might slow down yet again. But this time, I took it at a smooth pace and one that was more familiar to me from my training.

JMS-D- (2)A little further down 9W and it was time for the most challenging 12-miles of the course. While Bear Mountain is the longest climb, the next 12-miles have the three “hardest” climbs. I classify difficulty in ft/mi (feet per mile) otherwise known as % grade. Where Bear Mountain averages 5.5% for a longer distance, the next three climbs are all of a higher gradient and 1-2 miles long. And one of them, “Mott Farm,” isn’t even a “named” climb on the GFNY course layout. But, believe me, it’s just as challenging as the named climbs.

I really love the challenge of these three climbs and portions of them, especially on Gate Hill, are more suited to my style. These are shorter, steeper segments that I can attack and then get a small recovery before the next kick. I love this photo in particular because it reflects how I felt at this point – cool and collected. Other’s are struggling, jersey’s open, trying to recover and I’m just doing my thing. This is when I knew I was finally racing my race and I was in the zone. Passing riders on the hardest climbs is not usually what I do, but when I started passing others here, it really got me motivated.

JMS-C- (5)Even though I’d gone effectively 45-miles on the front part of the ride without a notable stop, I always had it in my plan to make the Pomona rest stop even though it’s so close to Bear Mountain. But with the toughest stretch in between, I know I need it. And I think it prepares me mentally for those 12-miles, knowing I can push harder and then take a break really helps.

I stopped in Pomona, filled a bidon, got some fuel, and headed back out pretty quickly. I needed the mental break more than the physical one and didn’t want to lose time here. While I made up some time over the last section, I was still a bit behind my target and it was time to get moving. Thankfully, I was ready for the next stretch and it suits my strengths – relatively flat with rollers where I can really get up to speed. I was feeling great and, even knowing there’d be few groups to draft here, I headed out at 20+mph and kept a blistering pace (for me) until reaching State Line hill.

JMS-A- (2)When I got to State Line I was almost back to my target pace but here was another climb and I was still questioning which rider would show up. Thankfully, I took it smoothly – no records, but no significant struggle, either. From here I headed back into Palisades Interstate Park for the final section through River Road. On the approach, I was really impressed with the new road layout and police control – it was nice to have a protected chute into Alpine Approach.

In the past GFNY years, River Road was a mixed blessing. For the most part it suits me, but after the challenges of the 90-miles already completed, I would find some of the small climbs to be unbearable. Not today, though – I was smooth and steady through the park and on my way to a terrific finish. At this point it was all but certain that I’d set my best time. What was uncertain was if I could reach my target time – a full 24-minutes faster than last year. What was certain, though, was that I was going to leave it all out there and either reach my goal or collapse trying.

Finish-2As I completed the River Road segment at mile 97 with only Dyckman Hill and Hudson Terrace left, I did a time check and saw that I’d have to crush the last three miles to make my goal. So I attached Dyckman Hill, briefly glanced across the Hudson River from the top to find some motivation, and began my sustained effort down Hudson Terrace to the finish line. There’s one short climb called Unnecessary Hill a little over a mile from the finish line which I love to attack. This time wasn’t my fastest as I’d been really pushing for the last two miles, but it was still enough. With a target of 6:45, I crossed the finish line at 6:44:14. Victory! And after that victory? The first GFNY where I almost fell over after the finish line because I truly left it all out there and hardly had the legs, or balance, to dismount.

Final Words

GFNY Results 2015GFNY15 posed a unique challenge – a tough winter which limited training and then a warm and sticky race day. Normally the weather we had would be welcomed, but I think many riders were unprepared for such effort in the heat when there had really been no hot training days this season. Maybe this is what hurt me on the initial climbs, maybe not. But the reality of a May race, early in the season, is that the weather is almost always a factor. And, for me, the reality is that improvements in my climbing could take yet another 10-15 minutes off my time resulting in a 6:30 goal for next year. (That was my stretch goal this year and was absolutely not possible. Yet!)

I really encourage others to challenge themselves and to take advantage of the Gruppo Sportivo GFNY training rides December through May. Training with GS-GFNY made all the difference in my first year and now I’m blessed to be a part of that team and share this with others. I’m inspired everyday by the folks I’ve helped along the way – each of them has achieved a personal goal and rewarded the entire GFNY community in the process. Register now for May 2016 to secure your spot and to get into the GS-GFNY training community in spirit before we kick off on the road in December.

And in the meantime, have fun, be safe, reach new heights and I’ll see you on the road!

GFNY Results CBND 13-14

GFNY15 Course Recon Ride

With just over a week to go before the 2015 edition of Campagnolo Gran Fondo New York a few of us set out on a long, slow ride to recon the course – and what a day it was! With mild temperatures and beautiful sunshine, the 8:30 AM meet up in Fort Lee was an easy start. Five riders began the journey at 8:45 and three returned after 6:00 PM. (The other two had an evening commitment and split off a bit early.)

We skipped River Road on the ride out knowing that section well and knowing we’d have to navigate around three closed gates. (And, personally, I’d already navigated the stairs on the GWB North path, so I just wanted to ride.) The ride up through Piermont was lovely and uneventful – and here we picked up a sixth rider for a portion of the trip.

We continued up the usual route to the top of Bear Mountain without any incident and soon four of us were at the top of Perkins munching Pringles and drinking up cold drinks. I don’t think I’d ever been there on a weekday before and it was so incredibly peaceful and quiet! But then we began to wonder what happened to the fifth rider. Thankfully, I was sure that he knew his way and was either dealing with a mechanical or choose to head back early.

Knowing that we’d pass the final rider on the return if he didn’t head back, and knowing that lunch was only a few miles away, we began the Bear Mountain descent. The speed, thrill and views never cease to amaze me. After the descent we tackled “Baby Bear” (which, by the way, was getting strips of pavement to cover the worst of the potholes) and were nearing our lunch spot when we found the missing rider. Sadly, he had a double flat and then, after repair, had another and was out of tubes. Ironically, this is the rider that gave me a tube on GFNY14 after I had a similar incident, so I was more than happy to return the favor.

A little while later we arrived at the newly re-opened Cove Deli and relaxed over some sandwiches and banter about the ride so far. There was also plenty of banter about the next ten miles – the ones with some of the hardest climbs.

As lunch wound down two riders headed down 9W for their earlier return and three of us went straight from lunch to the climb up Buckberg (otherwise known as Fuckberg). I’d never gone up Buckberg so I really wanted to try it once and it didn’t disappoint – quite the challenge! I will say that I’m glad it’s not on the official course at this time.

Following Buckberg we rejoined the official route on Mott Farm which took us into Gate Hill (Andrea Pinarello) climb. Gate Hill is a long climb with many pitch changes and sweeping curves, so you never really know where it is going to end. I kind of like it for this reason and any climb with even the smallest recover “plateaus” suits my climbing style. Gate Hill ends with a very fast descent before a shorter uphill and then immediately into Overlook Terrace (Cheesecoat) climb. Overlook is the opposite of Gate Hill – once it starts, it is a relentless slog up a rough and completely exposed roadway. Even though temps were mild, this as where we all felt the sweat.

After descending from Overlook we began the roughly 20-mile stretch of somewhat flat suburban roads with mild rollers. It’s funny how difficult these little rollers can be when you’ve already done over 5,500 feet of climbing! And then, just when we thought we were out of the woods comes State Line climb on the 9W return. Ouch!

17667_10206487233570033_9124649944848607909_nFollowing State Line we proceeded to enter the park for the River Road/Hudson Terrace finish. The descent down Alpine is one of my favorites since the road was repaved last year, but then the 5-miles of relentless rollers take their toll. And at the second roundabout we may or may not have ventured up Dyckman Hill to test out the final climb on the official route. (That may or may not be me in this photo and it may or may not have been Photoshopped.)

After exiting the park on Hudson Terrace there’s one mile left to the official finish and with fresh pavement and a slight downhill pitch, it’s a great finish. There is Unnecessary Hill to content with, but I like to carry some momentum from the descent into this climb and then sprint to the top – what a great way to finish the course on May 17th!