Monday, October 13, 2014

Everyone knows it’s windy!

Ride Report on the Martin's Tour of Richmond 2014

Last Saturday was the Martin’s Tour of Richmond, an annual timed gran fondo put on by the Sports Backers organization; they put on a bunch of outdoor athletic events for the RVA. This was the third annual rendition of this ride and it keeps getting bigger and better every year!

This year’s event provided four different length rides, twenty nine, fifty eight, seventy eight, and one hundred one miles. There were over 1,400 riders signed up this year for all of the rides and I decided to do another century ride along with 392 other crazy people; the century had the largest number of participants.

The courses changed this year so that all riders began and ended at Richmond International Raceway, a famed NASCAR track. One of the cool parts of this ride is that it includes taking a lap around the race track before reaching the finish line outside. Looking at the course cue sheet and online profile, it appeared that the
This is RIR, Bubba!
new course would be much flatter than in the past and that was comforting to me as the last century I attempted, the annual Tour de Cure of Northern VA, I’d had to abandon to avoid killing myself in the Blue Ridge mountains when my legs were gassed. The online information would turn out to be inaccurate, of course, as my bike computer showed it having 50% more elevation change than the old course. 

Even so, it was a really wonderful course.

Instead of riding solo as I did last year, two friends planned to join me on the ride. Greg #1 would be riding his first century after taking up rode biking in the past year while Greg #2 would be returning to ride with me after dusting me by about an hour in the first event, two years ago.  Neither of them had as many base miles as me this year and expected to suffer, predictions that proved to be accurate.

Even though I had more miles in than past years, I was feeling anxious about the ride probably due to the Tour de Cure fiasco in June. The expectation would prove to be inaccurate as I felt strong the entire day.  Lucky for the Gregs!

Preparation is the key to something…sanity, probably.

I took time during the week to perform a tune up on Fast Eddy, cleaning off some road grime, cleaning and degreasing the chain, and then lubricating it, again. The result was that the bike felt great and shifted perfectly all day long. Mechanicals on a long ride just make the ride seem that much longer and, so far, I’ve managed to avoid one every big ride. I think it’s because I over prepare, which is totally unlike me; I’m not usually a belt and suspenders kind of guy but cycling is different.
Fast Eddy

I’ve also changed saddles this summer to a Brooks Classic hard leather model and the results have been excellent. With about 500 miles on it, I seem to avoid all the numbing that I’ve experienced in the past. I was looking forward to the century ride to see if that would remain the case.

Early start on a beautiful day

The scheduled time for the century riders was 7:30 and we all arrived, checked in, and were lined up in time for the playing of the National Anthem.  Right on time, the lead riders rolled out with their police escort leading the way. Their plan was to finish in about 4 hours. Their actual time was 4:30 due to the headwind that we all had to punch through over the last 40 or so miles. (More about that later.)

The rest of the riders moved smoothly out through the starting gate and we headed out on to Laburnum Avenue towards the city. The first seven or eight miles took us through the streets of the city, through the Fan neighborhoods and finally down a long hill where we hit 36 miles an hour just before crossed the James River for the first time on the Huguenot Bridge.
The newish Huguenot Bridge

The first of seven rest stops was placed in a shopping center parking lot at the bottom of that hill and we were going so fast, I’m not sure any riders stopped; most didn’t realize it was there until they were past it.

We turned onto Riverside Drive, a gorgeous winding road that parallels the river and it’s my favorite part of the Tour! The road is quiet and fairly untraveled, rises and falls along the river with some sweeping curves, and the early sun was coming over the trees making for some beautiful views. There were dozens of photographers set up along this part of the course taking advantage of the early morning light and our suffering (some of the hills are very steep so there are some stiff, short climbs) to show fascinating juxtaposition in their frames.
Riverside Drive

There are also some beautiful neighborhoods that we rode through and many people were out on their front porches or lawns, sitting in lawn chairs, drinking coffee and ringing cowbells and cheering us on. Little kids were waving and cheering, everyone was smiling and enjoying the weather (70 degrees and sunny) and it just makes for a great ride!

The second rest stop was in one of these and we stopped long enough to refill bottles, grab a couple of snacks, and hit the portable john.

As we crossed the river again over the Lee Bridge and headed into Shockoe
Are you home, Gov?
Bottom, Greg #2 started speeding up. I held his wheel and we left Greg #1 behind as we accelerated up a couple of hills and flew past the Governor’s Mansion. Our speed continued to creep up and I wondered if Greg had a lunch date and was planning to be early or something. There was no sign of the other Greg at about mile 25; we thundered on, heading east and out of town.

Suffering begins early

About mile 30, Greg finally started to fade when he was pulling so I took over and told him to just hold my wheel. I pushed us on until the next rest stop at mile 34. As we stopped, Greg said he was starting to suffer. I told him not to worry, I still felt strong, and just to let me break the wind for him. In only a couple of minutes, Greg #1 who we had dropped a ways back, rolled in and joined us.  He had hooked up with a couple of others and gotten a pull to catch us. We stretched, refilled, re-snacked for about 15 minutes and finally headed back out. (Stops that are this long are tough for me as my legs start to tie up and I have to work to loosen back up when I get back to riding. Anything longer can really be brutal.)

We rolled along for another nine miles or so and then came to the next rest stop at a fairly large park with lots of young families enjoying the day. We stayed there for about ten minutes this time and then headed off. Greg #2 was quietly suffering, trying to hang on until he felt better. That’s the key to riding a long event, I’ve decided. No matter how you feel, good or bad, it won’t last so just keep spinning the pedals until it changes or until you get to the end, whichever comes first.

We had one more twelve mile section until we got to the aid station at mile 55. I knew this one was key because the station after it was twenty miles away and we’d be turning back toward town and into the wind.  The ride up to this point had been fast (over 18 miles an hour average) and quiet, a sure sign the wind was at our backs. It was important, in my mind, that the stop there be a good one in order to set up the next section of riding.

But we still had to get there and this section had its own identity including a couple of long gentle climbs and some spots where we turned into the wind so we got a taste of what our future held. The road itself held some rougher sections giving it the consistency of a cobbled road; very uncomfortable to my hands and wrists but I gutted through it.

We finally came over the last rise and rolled into the aid station. Greg #2 immediately climbed off his bike and lay down in the grass. Greg #1 took off his shoes to give his aching feet a rest. I went and grabbed snacks for everyone before refilling bottles and stretching my back and legs. I couldn’t believe how good I still felt; strong, full of energy, and ready to get after it. It felt like I’d only ridden about twenty miles!

After about a 25 minute rest, we saddled back up and headed off. I kept stretching the entire stop in an effort to keep my legs loose and it seemed to help.

The hills make you stronger, the wind just makes you angry.

The next twenty miles were a combination of lovely and painful. The road wound through a number of farms, dead flat and into a 12-15 mph wind. I kept my body position low and just focused on spinning the pedals, managing to hold about 13 mph. The Gregs were unable to hold my wheel and fell off but I wasn’t going to stop if I could help it.

Between farms, the road would rise gently into some trees bringing some coverage from the wind but then adding a slight incline. I preferred this because I was able to hold a higher speed with less effort.

These two scenarios traded a couple of times and then the road rolled along between some marshy areas on one side and some housing developments on the other. About mile 69, we came around a curve and a nasty hill rose up in front of me. I downshifted to my smaller front crank and started up at a good speed, working my way through the rear cassette until I got to the 2nd smallest cog. And then, I just put me head down and spun the cranks as evenly as I could, trying to not to go into the red zone. (This hill turned out to be about a mile with an average 5-6% grade. That’s nothing for the pros but for this old fart, it’s more than enough climb; one spot got to about 12%.)

I finally crested the hill and looked behind me. The Gregs were nowhere in sight as I regained my ability to breathe normally. I continued on for another fifteen minutes and rolled into the aid station. I was still feeling remarkably good, especially considering this last section, but I needed some nourishment. I’d pounded a couple of power gels during the last 90 minutes but now I wanted something to chew.

Pizza? Did someone say pizza????

The Gregs rolled in about 4 minutes behind me and found me standing in front of one of the tables eating slices of Papa John’s. It was the best pizza I’ve ever eaten, proving that hunger really is the best seasoning! The Gregs grabbed a few snacks, laid down, removed shoes, stretched, and got something to drink.
Yeah buddy!

I ate pizza. I probably killed one entire pie by myself. (A delivery of 20 had just shown up and it was hot and delicious.) I also drank my fill of water, had some Powerade, and refilled my bottles. I felt good knowing that there was only about 27 miles to go.

After about 35 minutes, I dragged the Gregs to their feet and we mounted our bikes and headed out. Almost immediately, we passed a woman riding a unicycle. Turns out there were 3 of them entered in the rides including one doing the century. As long as they made the time checks, they were good to ride and, from what I could tell, they would meet those times easily. I felt for them having to ride into a headwind with nowhere to hide from it although this woman’s uni had a set of aero bars on it!

One more stop and then we’re heading home!

The next session was flat with some gentle rollers with the continuing headwind. I lead the Gregs nearly the whole way and we held together well. We rolled into the stop and I pleaded with them that we keep it short so I didn’t stiffen up. They agreed.

I checked my phone and realized I had multiple calls from MB. I had turned on my RoadID app at the last rest stop, as we’d agreed, so she’d know my whereabouts. It has a function in it where it sends an “ecrumb” to her via text that allows her to
Never ride without it!
track me by my smart phone. Evidently, the service was so bad out where we were (rural New Kent County) that it registered me as not moving for a long time and sent her a warning text that I hadn’t moved for 5 minutes. She had been trying to track me down as a result. Once I got her, she let me know that the signal had finally moved and she wasn’t worried anymore. The Gregs overheard me telling her we were on Studley Road and they yelled that, “the road was named for me” since I’d been dragging them along. I signed off and we prepared to head out.

As we hit the road, Greg #2 took the lead saying he was feeling better. I tucked into his wheel and we rolled off and pulled away from Greg#1 again. We kept this pace for the next 40 minutes or so and climbed the second to last hill towards RIR. Greg is a really good climber and he started pulling away from me.

We turned onto the last road and climbed the last hill with Greg dropping me steadily. I started to catch him at the last traffic light but he swung the left turn and took off again, down the hill towards the entrance gate.

I pounded my way down it as best I could and turned into Gate 7 which has a pretty stout hill. I stood up to climb it and my left calf immediately cramped painfully. I sat back down and kept spinning my way to the top of the hill and continued on course to the track entrance, by way of the tunnel, to take my victory lap.

Low Speed NASCAR

I rode up into the infield and followed the ribbons out to the track surface for my lap in the opposite direction of cars driving on it. The official photographer was stationed at the end of the straightaway to take everyone’s picture and I smiled to show that I wasn’t actually dying. (I haven't gotten the picture yet but will add it later!)

I rode back into the infield, down the tunnel, past the two ladies who cheered their heads off for everyone that came by, and then around the outside of the facility and back to the finish line, stopping the timer at 7:59:04. (Actual riding time according to my bike computer was 6:23:41; the lengthy stops really killed my overall time.)

At the finish line, volunteers were handing out small bottles of Powerade and cups of chocolate milk which was incredibly delicious! Great idea and thanks to the volunteers!


The temperature was perfect for the ride, highs in the upper 70s with broken clouds and sun. The wind was the big story with a second half headwind of 12 – 15 miles per hour; it made for a tough day but I felt good about taking it on.

The volunteers were amazing, as they always are, friendly, encouraging, and smiling. The law enforcement personnel were out in huge numbers and did a remarkable job at keeping us safe at every intersection. (I understand that one officer was hit by a driver out on the road and I hope he heals quickly!) The course was well marked, easy to follow, and a joy to ride.

In short, the 2014 Martin’s Tour of Richmond was an absolute success!

Next year, Richmond has the UCI World Cycling Championships in September so we’ll be riding the Tour of Richmond in celebration of those. If you get time, come join us for either or both!