Sunday, August 29, 2004

2004 Tour Napa Valley / Napa Century, 100 miles Ride Review

The contestants were Rick, Peter, JB, and me. Weather forecasters were predicting temperatures in the upper 90’s so we all decided we should get going as early as possible to avoid the heat. Check in opened at 6am so we planned to start the drive to Napa at 5. I picked up Peter at his house at a quarter of; there was a huge full moon just above the horizon and I knew it would be a special day. Then we went to JB’s house – actually it was so dark we went to the wrong house and woke up one of his neighbors by mistake (we thought he had overslept so we kept ringing the doorbell – oops!). So we added JB’s Atlantis and Rick’s Trek to my roof rack and took off. Four bikes on top of a mid-sized sedan – quite a site. It was crowded but I really liked how it looked and you can see up through the sunroof to keep an eye on the cargo. I’ve got it so that the bikes alternate facing front and rear and the handlebars are millimeters away from the spokes of the rear wheel on the adjacent bike. Anyway, we’re cruising along the Benicia Bridge when suddenly BANG!

It was like that BANG in Apollo 13 where you don’t know what happened but it’s gotta be bad. I looked in the rear view mirror expecting to see a bike bouncing along in the freeway lane – there was none. JB looked up through the sunroof and said with a quiver in his voice “My bike’s missing.” Peter looked up through the rear windshield and said “No, it’s still there!” I put on the 4-way flashers and crawled to a stop at the first safe place near the toll plaza. JB’s Atlantis had been mounted facing the rear, with the fork clamped on the rear rail but we hadn’t tied down the rear wheel in the tray. The bike flipped over from the wind, pivoting on the fork mount, and the brake hoods had slammed into the rear windshield in a weird sort of hand stand. But there was absolutely NO DAMAGE to his bike, either of the adjacent bikes, or the car! None of us could believe such a thing could happen without some kind of consequence, but it had. Well, that got the adrenaline going!

Pulling into the Veteran’s Home in Yountville, I could see why they closed registration early– at 6am the parking lots were already almost full. There was a huge line of cars waiting to get in and many of the riders had already started their journeys. We were fortunate to get a place near the exit of the dirt lot and we all rode to the registration area about a half mile away. The club was very efficient at getting us checked in and our official start time was 6:37. Since Rick didn’t get registered and wouldn’t be able to eat the rest stop food, he packed a hundred miles worth of water and calories into his back-country style Camelbak. He had spaghetti in a baggie, bread, ClifBars, Hammergel, fruit, and pretzels; very ambitious.

Leg 1: It was quite cool and foggy at this time in the morning but we knew we’d need sunscreen and no one brought any arm warmers. The first few miles were along a frontage road next to Highway 29 and we could see dozens of cars with bikes on them heading to the start. We turned off onto Mt. Veeder Road and everyone settled in for some tough climbing in cold weather. We hooked up with a big group of mostly Wheels of Thunder club riders but I didn’t like their traffic skills so I bridged up to a smaller group ahead that was going about the same pace. That group fell apart but I kept climbing and stayed ahead of my other three riding buddies past the summit to take the first KOM points. Rick caught me in the section before we got to the first rest stop but then we missed a turn and did a bonus mile so we got there about the same time that Peter and JB did. The rest stop was at some farm house and there was an exhibit of custom bikes by Inglis and even an antique, tiny car.

Leg 2: JB left the rest stop early and it looked like that was going to be his plan for the whole day – minimizing rest stop time for an early finish. Rick left before Peter and I did but we didn’t notice. This was going to be a mostly flat-to-rolling section headed up-valley so I started looking for a good group to ride with. There were a couple of false starts with packs that didn’t work out but then I saw a Duro and a guy with a French National Champion’s jersey on and worked in with them. We three poured it on and it was sweet hammering with these guys. After one of my pulls in front I dropped back to find we were suddenly a group of seven and we were ALL working together perfectly. We went from 100 rev pulls to 50 since we had more guys now and we got even faster. I was the only one with hairy legs but any doubts about my pace line skills were quickly squashed because I was clearly holding my own. So we seven worked it all the way to the second rest stop where things splintered apart. I’d gone 48 miles so far and it was only 9:30. The rest stop was at Lake Hennessey and it was well-stocked and not too crowded, but I did lose a cleat cover in there somewhere. I saw Jay from the Wednesday night ride here and we talked briefly. I ate some banana halves, a bagel, and some Chex mix, re-grouped with Peter and headed out with a huge group of Benicia Cyclists. I think it was at this rest stop that JB forgot both of his water bottles – Rick gave him his spare when he realized it.

Leg 3: Lots and lots of gradual climbing in this section. I was starting to feel a little muscle fatigue so I decided to back off and recover just a bit since we had some hard climbs ahead. Almost the whole distance was on Pope Valley Road and even though I had turned it down I was still passing almost everybody. Finally near the third rest stop a fast group came by and I rode the final couple miles with them. The riders leaving the rest stop were going the other direction on the same road and when Peter showed up he said he had seen JB heading the other way. This was the official lunch stop and the 100km riders were here too – the place was wall-to-wall road cyclists, the lines for the porta-potties were long, and the lines to the sandwich tables were long too. I certainly didn’t feel like standing in line long enough for a cheese sandwich so I snuk up and grabbed some gorp, filled up my water bottles and split. Before I left though, I saw Jay again and he invited me to go with him and his buddy but I passed.

Leg 4: Ink Grade – the signature climb of the Century; long and steep. I felt strong but I restrained myself because I knew this climb from the two times I’ve done this ride before. Within the first mile there were people off their bikes walking, and others weaving all over both lanes. I really admired the less experienced riders who were gritting their collective teeth and grunting it out. There were also some lunatics making up songs about how their quads and glutes were on fire (to the tune of nursery rhymes… I won’t elaborate). The road was painted with cycling encouragements too so it was painful but fun. About half way up I could hear some loud Rolling Stones music and it turned out there was a secret rest stop at the summit where you could get a sno-cone, but I passed. There was some more rolling terrain after the summit and it was there that I caught up to JB and Rick just getting back on the road – JB had gotten a flat and then screwed up his repair so he had to fix two flats and they’d been on the side of the road for twenty minutes. I rode with them for a while but then bombed the descent and the rest of the flats to the final rest stop at mile 85. We all grouped up here and the complaints started to come out: JB’s feet hurt, Rick was getting sore, Peter was getting stiff. I was feeling all those things too but kept them to myself… I always try to not whine. JB took off while I was in line for the porta-potty but assured us we’d catch him because he was going to go slow. At this rest stop I saw a couple of Diablo Cyclists that usually do the Wednesday night ride (Paul and Tom I think) and they said they were having a good day too.

Leg 5: Only 15 miles to go but it was down valley with a strong headwind and lots of traffic. Rick and I worked together pretty well but we were both getting worn out. At one point he told me to go ahead with another guy so I wouldn’t ruin my average speed but I figured staying with Rick was a better idea. The PhotoCrazy guy was at mile 98 and he took these photos of us:

So JB finished the ride first but I think I finished the strongest. The post ride party included a barbeque, a band, and a few exhibitors. The picnic area was packed with riders and volunteers and I again saw how it would be difficult to handle more than the 2,000 riders that were allowed to register. The line for the Gardenburgers was the shortest though because most people were waiting for some kind of grilled chicken so I got to buzz right through. I guess I wasn’t as hungry as I thought though because I wound up throwing away some pasta salad and bananas that I didn’t have room for. We saw Sarkis at the finish – he and some buddies did the 100km ride on their fixed gear bikes!!! I also ran into one of the guys from the group of seven that I was with going up valley; he recognized me and we agreed that that was a sweet paceline. The way home was blissfully uneventful.

Ride statistics:
Distance: 101.8 miles
Total Climbing: 5,000 feet (per web page)
Ride Time: 5h 49m
Total Time: 7h 04m
Average Speed: 17.5mph
Total Climbing: 5,000 feet

Food consumption (by memory)
Pre-ride: Big bowl of oatmeal and a ClifBar (a check-in freebie).
Ride: One grenade (five servings) of banana Hammergel, five bottles of tropical fruit Cytomax, four bottles of lemon-lime Accelerade, one bottle of plain water, assorted bagels, muffins, gorp, Chex mix, PB&J on white, and fruit.

Ride Review:
Route: A+ (this is the most beautiful place in the state to bike ride)
Roads: B (most were fine but some are badly in need of repair)
Organization: A (these guys know what they’re doing)
Food: A- (the water at some of the stops had that rubber hose/band aid taste)

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