Sunday, November 8, 2015

Tour of Richmond 2015 – Ride Report

Official Logo
Flattus interruptus

I’ve probably been on two dozen big rides since I started road cycling a few years ago. Not once, on any of those, did I sustain a flat tire. I’ve come upon a bunch of people suffering them, even stopped to help a few, but never had one myself. That all changed in this year’s Tour of Richmond.

Later start means cooler riding conditions

With the UCI World Cycling Championships
Gone but not forgotten!
taking place in late September, the Tour of Richmond was pushed back two weeks later than its traditional start on the first Saturday in October. I was thankful for that! The last couple of years have provided rather warm afternoons (mid-90s, one year) and no one enjoyed riding into a hot headwind.

In addition to cooler temps, I was also backing off my normal distance. I’ve ridden the century route the last 3 years and was planning to do the same when I signed up in May. Unfortunately, work and life got in my way creating a great deal of travel sans bike and this put my mileage way down compared to the last three years. I typically have 1,500 miles in by the time this ride rolls around. This year, I hadn’t even cracked 1,000.

In addition, I was traveling the week before the ride and not arriving home until after midnight on Friday. With a 7:30 am start for the century, and having to drive 40 minutes to get there and check in, I didn’t see my making 100 miles on 3 hours of sleep. Instead, I changed my entry to the 60 mile course, a metric century and with a 9:30 start time I figured I’d be fine.

Training? We don’t need no stinking training!

With so few miles this year, I figured I’d better get out the prior weekend for some rides just to be sure I could manage. On Saturday, I drove down to the new Capital
Finally a reality!
Trail in downtown Richmond. It officially opened a week earlier and provides us with a paved, multi-use path from Richmond to Jamestown (the original capital of the Commonwealth) a distance of 52 miles. It is a beautiful ride, with gently rolling hills, lovely trees, some water views, and a spectacular view of the Richmond skyline on your way back into town. My plan was to ride for45-50 miles and see how I felt.

The ride was uneventful and provided me with the chance to look at the trail, check out the various parts of it, and get some miles on my legs. It was also a lovely day and I felt so great I managed almost 50 miles and felt great when I finished. I figured the Tour would be fairly easy for me.

On Monday, MB (who has “retired” and is doing volunteer work these days) and I rode down to Trail for a about a 90 minute ride. I used it to loosen my legs up from Saturday’s ride and it was another lovely day. It also put me in a proper frame of mind for having to get on a plane that afternoon and fly halfway across the country for the week.

After the ride, we loaded the bikes up and headed home. I hung them both in our storage shed after giving them a quick wipe down and headed off to work.

Off to the Ride

My flight home on Friday night was not only on time, it was early by about 20 minutes. (This is so rare, you can’t even imagine.) I considered this a good omen for the next day.

I got up early Saturday, ate breakfast and dressed with a plan to get to the start area (Richmond International Raceway) by 8:45 for the 9:30 start.
Bubba's paradise

When I went out to grab my bike, I noticed that the rear tire was flat. This isn’t unusual but it usually takes a few weeks to happen. I grabbed my floor pump and re-inflated it before carrying it out to the car. I also threw the pump into the car as a matter of habit; I do that at these big rides just in case someone needs it.

Loaded up, I headed to RIR and arrived about 45 minutes prior to the start where I walked to the registration desk and picked up my number and timing chip. Before unloading the bike, I pinned the number on my jersey and got dressed for the cooler weather. The predicted high was 60 for the day and it was starting around 40 so I donned arm and leg warmers.

I walked around to the back of the Subaru to get my bike off the rack and realized the back tire was flat again. I squeezed it with my right hand and immediately found the problem as a staple that was sticking out of the tire pierced my thumb, right under the nail. (Pain – high. Blood – flowing nicely.)

Bike skills are us
Not actually me

I swore at the pain and the bleeding, and sucked my thumb for a minute to get it to stop. (Also to stop whimpering.) Once it did, I carefully removed the wheel and prepared to fix the flat. I have a saddle bag that holds 2 fresh inner tubes, tire levers, a multi-tool and a CO2 pump along with a frame pump in case the CO2 runs out. (Floor pump coming in handy; glad I packed it!)

After identifying where the staple was, I pulled off one side of the tire and removed the flat tube. I relocated the staple and began to remove it when it broke off on the outside. I reached inside the tire and felt where it was poking in and would cause another flat. I needed to remove it but didn’t have a pair of pliers to do it. Time for creative thinking or, at least, what passes for it with me.

I first tried grabbing it with my thumbnail and pulling it out. That resulted in shredding my thumbnail and restarting the bleeding. Next, I tried pushing it back out through the tire wall using the fattest thing on the multi-tool but it kept slipping off. Finally, I took the tire completely off the rim, turned it inside out, and pulled it out with my teeth.

(Keep in mind, this is happening in a parking lot with hundreds of other cyclists watching me as they walk past. How I did all this without swearing a blue streak is beyond me. I’ve been working to become more accepting and Zen about things but I desperately wanted to throw the wheel for distance.)

Finally having removed the offending puncture creator, I ran my hand around the rest of the tire to ensure there weren’t any others hiding in there. Finding none, I reinstalled it on the rim and grabbed a fresh tube and shoved it inside the tire. I grabbed the pump out of the car and began to inflate.

About 20 seconds later, there was a very loud bang. I had managed to let a tiny little piece of the tube stick out from under the tire and when it pinched under pressure, it blew. At this point, I just started giggling. I was down to my last tube and hadn’t even started the ride!

I quickly pulled the tube, reinstalled the last one, and very carefully inflated it to the correct pressure checking all the while that I hadn’t set up another pinch. Finally, I had two tires that could be ridden.

Clean up and Go!

I got the wheel back on the bike, reassembled my saddle bag, jumped on the bike and headed to the registration area where I could wash my hands (and face it turns out; I had tire marks all over my nose and cheek) before heading to the starting line.
I hit the head while I was in there, just to make sure nothing else did me in, and rode over to the start line, arriving just in time to doff my helmet for the National Anthem.

I took a couple of deep breaths to calm down and regain my Zen while putting my helmet back on. Group starts tend to be a little scary even without adrenaline coursing through your veins. I needed to be calm in order to not wind up in a pileup with some other Fred.

The signal to start came and people began rolling out. I managed to stay out of trouble and get into a nice rhythm almost immediately. Within a mile, I was rolling along at a fast (for me) pace and enjoying the day.

Popular Mechanics

One thing I noticed almost immediately was that my bike wasn’t shifting properly, skipping gears going up and down. I figured that I hadn’t seated the wheel in exactly the same spot prior to the flat and that was causing mis-shifts in a couple of gears. I was able to work around it but it was a bit of irritant. I kept going.

At the first SAG stop, there was a huge crowd at the volunteer mechanic’s tent. I grabbed two snacks, refilled bottles and headed out without stopping to get the wheel re-seated. It wasn’t bothering me much and I was having a career day on the ride, averaging well over 18 mph for the first hour. I just wanted to keep going and build up as much time in the bank as I could.

(Time in the bank is a game I play in my mind on a ride. If I want to average 16 mph on a ride, I’ll try to exceed that for as long as I can. Then, if a headwind hits or a large hill gets in the way, I can still keep my average. Yeah, I know it’s weird. It’s what you do to keep your head in the right place.)

At the second SAG stop, I pulled in to the Performance Tent and explained what was happening. The wrench loosened my wheel and felt it drop into place. Then he put it up on the rack and tweaked the shifter until it shifted perfectly. As he was taking it down, he said, “Hey, your back wheel is kinda soft.”

My heart sank. I told him it was 110 psi when I left the start. He filled it back up and suggested it might be a slow leak and perhaps I could make it to the end without having to change it. He asked how far I had to go. I said, “29 miles, dude. Too far.”

I was out of tubes and would have to depend on the kindness of strangers if this one flatted completely. And I just knew it was going to happen. Only one thing to do, keep pedaling!

Standing on a corner…..

I rode out of the stop as quickly as possible. I was still having a great day and even when the course turned into a stiff wind for the last 20 miles, I felt great and was holding my speed well above where I’d been hoping to keep it.

And then I noticed that the back end felt mushy. I looked down and could see that the tire was going flat after only 10 miles. Of course. I dismounted, grabbed my frame pump and reinflated the tire. Got back on the bike and continued on, cresting the hill and starting down a mild descent. When I hit a small bump in the pavement, I felt the rim hit and knew it was over for that tube. Dammit.

I pulled over, yanked out the wheel, pulled the tire and removed the tube in less
A little help?
than a minute. (You get better with repetition, I’m told.) I stood up and held the tube over my head, looking at the oncoming riders. As they passed, I hollered, “Anybody got a tube they can spare?”

About 50 riders passed me when I saw a motorcycle cop coming towards me. He stopped and I was praying he would have some tubes but no, he didn’t. He offered to let the SAG station, less than 2 miles away now, know that I needed help. I thanked him and went back to my pleading with the velo parade.

Another 10 minutes passed and finally, someone stopped and handed me a tube from his pocket. I thanked him profusely and told him he would now have good karma for all rides for the next year. He laughed and rode off.

I reinstalled the tube, carefully inflated it and packed my kit back up. I wiped my hands off on a small rag that I remembered to pack and got ready to head off when I realized I’d been standing there for nearly 30 minutes and my entire body was now incredibly stiff from standing around. Sigh, there goes the personal best for this ride.

I swung my leg over the saddle looking remarkably similar to the Tin Woodsman from the Wizard of Oz. You know, after he’s been standing in the rain and needs to be oiled? Yeah, that was me for at least the next 2 miles to the SAG stop.

When I rolled in, the mechanic saw my dirty hands and asked if I was the guy who had a flat; he’d gone to look for me and we’d missed each other somehow. He then offered me a spare tube for my saddle bag (just in case) for the last 18 miles of the ride. Having one would mean that I’d get no further flats and that, of course, turned out to be true.

I had a slice of pizza and a snack, refilled bottles, and headed off to the finish. I was no longer feeling unstoppable on the bike; I just wanted to finish and go drink a beer.


I rolled back onto the grounds of RIR a little more than 4 hours after I started which, considering everything, was pretty amazing. I managed to average 14.3 mph despite stopping for 25 minutes by the side of the road. My Garmin told me later that I’d managed an average moving speed of 17.8 mph which is a new personal best for me on a ride over 30 miles in length. Evidently, 2 rides the weekend before followed by a week of travel and drinking Manhattans is a great training program. 

I think they call it tapering.

I’ve sometimes wondered if carrying two spare tubes whenever I head out on my bike is a bit too belt and suspenders. Now, I realize that it’s the absolute minimum to have, at least for me. And I’m going to carry 2 spares in the car, too, when I drive to a ride.

Otherwise, you wind up looking like the Tim Woodsman and singing like the Scarecrow – If I Only Had a Brain!