Rapha Gentleman (and Ladies’) Race, Part One

When confronted with something like 125 miles, 6000+ feet of climbing (mostly on gravel), 95 degrees and a race team full of people much faster than I, my tactic is simply to not think about it until I’m on my bike and suddenly it occurs to me Oh shit what did I get myself into. If I did things any other way, I probably would never race bikes. It involves a whole lot of denial and delusion.

Not that I didn’t prepare. My pre-race tactic was to 1) get 8 hours of sleep all week (until the night before, as I know that never, ever happens), 2) stay hydrated all week, and 3) drink too much at the Twilight Crit the night before and pass out in my papazan chair at 10pm. OK, so maybe number 3 wasn’t exactly a “tactic”, but that’s why I followed numbers 1 and 2.

We had to be at my race team leader’s house at a bright and early 7am to make it out to Forest Grove in time for the pre-race meeting and to sit around for an hour and half trying not to think about anything before our slotted start time. The sun was bright and it was already getting hot by 9am.  I had a massive bag of my race fuel (equal parts Perpetuem and Heed), a bunch of Enduralites, 2 bars, and a pb&j. And I only felt mildly nauseated.

As I stretched out my back in the shade in the grassy staging area, I had two things I knew I had to focus on to get through the day. One was keeping my back and shoulders loose. If I got tense, a raging fire of pain would start in my shoulders, eventually making its way down to my lower back and ending my race (or sanity). The other was to take the climbs at my own slow-poke pace. Especially in the beginning, when everyone would be feeling fresh and would take the climbs too fast. If I tried to keep up in the beginning, then I would never make it through to the end. I know me. I know it takes me a while to warm up, and if I take it easy in the first 40 miles, I can pretty much pedal for infinity.

So, this is what I did. I made them go slower (or push me up the climbs). Someone’s got to be the slow one, and I have no problem being that person if it means that I will be motoring along at the same pace at mile 100.

The first 35 miles are a breeze, mostly because they’re paved. We pass four or five teams, we’re feeling strong. Well, I’m feeling slow, but I keep reminding myself that everyone will be happy for the easy pace a few hours from now. We stop for water in Vernonia and realize we have 5 miles until our first gravel ascent, Pittsburg Road. Again, I just don’t think about it.

The day is getting hot, fast. We hit gravel. Our pace slows to a crawl as our carbon bikes rattle through deep, rocky gravel. It feels strange at first, being used to such ascents on my fat knobbies, but after a while I feel right at home. I don’t have much trouble staying with the team at this point.

Every time the trees fail to shade the road, the sun beats down on us, and I stop for some enduralites as I feel my mental facilities begin to degrade. Faster teams pass us, and we pass them again as they change flats, and so it goes again and again. We get one flat. As soon as the descent starts, I make my way to the front, let go of my brakes, and uncontrollably, my downhill grin washes across my face. What can I say? I live for this shit.

We fly down the gravel at 20, 30mph, my 25mm tires floating over the gravel. I get some air on one small lip. It feels strange to jump a road bike, but I take my thrills when I can. A few of us wait at the bottom for the slower descenders, but when they do arrive, we realize we have a problem. A rather big one.

To be continued…

Game faces at the start