... continued from The Perfect Storm

A little background: The Rapha Gents Race is a team event, where a team of 6 riders must do a prescribed route and cross the finish line together and as a complete team of 6. The best way to do this, of course, is to ride together all day, working together, helping each other out and, of course, having fun.  To make it a proper Rapha ride, it also must have lots of climbing and loads of dirt and gravel, and of course, something extra to make it epic - like a blizzard or a grizzly bear!

To quote from the Rapha blog, describing the recent Gent's race in Australia,  "there's no better way to find out if you're a true team, pulling together through the difficulties and attrition to get each other to the finish, or just six individuals racing the clock." This was certainly our theme for the day. 

Captain Todd and stoker Patria met for the first time Friday night in a motel parking lot. John had met Rebecca a while before at the cafe, but the first time they actually rode together was Friday afternoon! Dena met Rebecca and Todd for first time this weekend.  Dena and I had the advantage of being long-time friends, although it could be a disadvantage, since we'd run out of things to talk about years ago, and had thoroughly exhausted any potential new topics of conversation doing the Green Mountain Double last weekend. Our fellow tandem captains and stokers, on the other hand, had plenty to talk about as they got to know each other throughout the day!

But despite our barely knowing each other at the beginning of the day, by the end of this ride, we were like soldiers who had been to battle together. In the end, we were a solid team: now all good friends that we could depend on to overcome some pretty big odds. 

The first time we all came together was at breakfast a few hours before the ride. Fueled by breakfast burritos and other such delights, we headed over to the start to get tandems set up and ready to go.  Since Todd and Patria had just met, they finished getting the bike was set up, and had their first ever ride together! They were instantly riding together like old-pros. Of course, the rest of us had our first rides together hours before, making us old-pros already!

Now this is what lay ahead of us, a Chris Milliman route that would take in every steep dirt climb and descent that he could jam into a 120 mile ride from Hanover, NH. To top it off, Chris has a bad track record with the weather gods, having attempted a similar ride in the spring the last two years, only to be snowed or rained on both times. We had figured we'd be safe from snow today, since we had just experienced a brutal heat wave in Boston. It was mercifully cooler today, but still with a forecast high in the 80s F. Little did we know...

The Rapha boys brought Hennie, the mobile cycle club, complete with a pro espresso machine and barista. I had a most excellent espresso just before the start!

The race is handicapped, based on the team's racing resume and prior experience.  We were placed in the middle of the field this year, based on the original team make-up and our results from last year. With our recombobulated team, we probably should have had an early start, but so be it. We lined up at the start, looking sharp in our white and cream jerseys, half of which were borrowed. Little did the lenders know the abuse the jerseys would see later in the day. Actually, we were all pretty naive about that too!

Rebecca, the PR maestro at Rialto Restaurant in Cambridge, MA, and organizer of the Rialto/Trade cycling team for the upcoming Pan-Mass Challenge, loaned out several jerseys from the PMC team for the day. It was only a little ironic that all our substitute riders had the word TRADE embroidered on the back of their jerseys. But what were these jerseys saying? Were they looking to trade? Had we acquired them in trade? We were certainly thrilled to have them. I mean really. Who in their right mind would agree to do this a day before. It's probably good that we got them at the last minute. Had they had any time to actually think about what they'd just committed to, they might have had themselves committed!

We started out making reasonable time, but it was inevitable that the strong teams who started after us would catch us. We weren't counting on our sibling team, from the Ride Studio Cafe, leading us off course when they caught us, but that's precisely what they did.  Fortunately Dena and I noticed the error before the big descent, but we couldn't get the attention of the others. We waited, as they got to the bottom of the hill and then turned to climb back up!

The Bailey Turkey Farm...
Happy Hill, indeed!

Todd Holland and Patria Lanfranchi on the yellow-taxi tandem

A ride-by shooting

John Bayley checking to see if stoker Rebecca Fetner, is smiling!

John and Rebecca, on Bond, our 007 tandem.

Todd, making sure that the Tall Trees team doesn't pass us!

This is a TEAM!

The calm...

Dena Cohen and Pamela Blalock. Dena never tired of me warning folks to watch out for the girl driver!

Rapha Ambassadors, including the ladies of the Ride Studio Cafe team, Lauren Kling, Cait Dooley and Joy Stark

I included a little foreshadowing in the previous post when I mentioned that I had forgotten about some of the shifting issues John and I had last time we rode the Mocha on D2R2.

But before I go any further, I must say this. Warning: sappy, mushy paragraph ahead. Dena Cohen is the bravest, most amazing person I know. She barely hesitated when I asked her to save our quest by agreeing to captain a borrowed bike that she had never ridden, on a 120 mile dirt road race, with a gazillion feet of climbing.  There aren't a lot of people I'd trust to captain me on a tandem in these conditions. Dena did a phenomenal job. She took on the reponsibility for me as stoker, and showed no signs of the stress that must have caused. She also never complained (out loud at least) that we had saddled her with a less than perfectly tuned tandem. And I'm struggling to find the proper words to express how amazing, special and brave she is and how lucky I am to call her my friend. OK - this concludes the sappy, mushy part of the post. Back to the regular programming...

Our first sign of trouble was in the form of chain-suck. This is when the chain doesn't release from the chainring and gets sucked up into the space between the bottom bracket and chainrings. One must  quickly back-pedal, or risk jamming and potentially destroying the chain. The first time it happened, we hit zero miles per hour and fell over. I realized that John and I have have mastered the technique of back-pedaling and freeing the chain without saying anything aloud. Dena and I planned to try to do this next time it happened. We actually got very good at it by the end of the day, because it happened a lot.

But early on, while we were still perfecting this maneuver, we managed to have the chain drop - and get past the chainwatcher, so that we had to loosen and move the chainwatcher to get the chain back on. The others had somehow gotten ahead, but thought we were ahead of them and were chasing our phantom tandem to Royalton. When I had thrown together a toolkit at the last minute, I had foolishly included a multi-tool, rather than my usual separate allen keys. I had to push the bottle cage out of the way to get to the bolt for the chainwatcher with the very awkward to use multi-tool.  I then loosened the less-than-effective chainwatcher enough to move and free the chain, and left it loose, planning to have John readjust it.  Fortunately we had a long descent into Royalton, and no other shifting issues on that leg. John took over as mechanic and readjusted the chainwatcher while we grabbed drinks in the shop at Royalton. We suddenly remembered all the chainsuck from D2R2. Not much we could do now, other than be very cautious shifting and then order new chainrings when we got home!

Epic Avengers are still laughing and smiling in Royalton. The mandatory Rapha B+W shot.

Two chicks on a tandem is not a common sight!

The Tall Trees lads sitting on some short stumps

John and Jed Kornbluh get reacquainted as they discuss meeting 20 years prior in London! And it was captured on video.

Dena, Pamela and Todd enjoying ice cold sodas!

The hottest climb of the day brought us to the very welcome tent, manned by the lovely ladies of Strava, who were handing out ice cold sodas. While I often freeze in conditions that Dena considers comfy, Dena suffers greatly in heat that mildy annoys me. After sucking down three sodas, her core temp was starting to come down. We chatted with the video folks about how much fun we were having and how great it was being on the tandem together. They asked if we felt we were over the hump. I said we had a ways to go. Little did I know how true this was!

Thunder could be heard in the distance, so we gathered the troops and tried to get moving. I think all our cameras got packed away in safe dry places at this point. There aren't any photos on the next section.

We descended briefly and then started up the biggest climb of the day, just as the rain started to fall. Next, flashes of light were quickly followed by rumbles of thunder. I could feel the temps dropping, but it had been hot, so this was almost a relief.  But then the thunder started coming really soon after the lightning, until, just as we crested, the thunder practically preceded the flash of light. I could barely hear the thunder over my scream, and Dena couldn't hear my scream over her scream as she saw the lightning crackle a few hundred meters up the road. There was nothing to do at this stage, but keep moving and get down off this mountain. We'd been scanning the road for shelter all the way up, but there was none. Dena also commented out the tiny hail stones all over the road! Good thing I was blinded by the rain and hail and really couldn't see a thing!

John and Rebecca were nearby and we started heading down together. We were happy that Todd and Patria were not hanging around waiting for us. We all just bombed down the mountain and were never so relieved to come to a store as when we arrived in West Fairlee.

Celebrating being alive! Really!

A wee bit dirty. 
The euphoria of being alive was quickly replaced with chills from being soaked, as we had descended and the temperature had plummeted back into the 50s F. I dashed into the store to buy trash bags to serve as rain jackets. We poked holes for head and arms and crawled inside enjoying the insulation and warmth. We joked about the box of 20 raincoats for $3! We figure Rapha will soon come out with a Rapha logo version complete with a white stripe, and a slightly higher price!

Patria and Rebecca (and several others) bought wool socks, which they turned into arm warmers. We also overwhelmed the hot chocolate machine and did our best to get to a state of non-shivering. Dena looked on slightly amused. She was finally comfortable with the temperature!

The rain seemed to stop while we were there but someone must have acknowledged that out loud, because soon the thunder came back. We decided we needed to get moving, both to get warm, and to try and stay in front of the storm. Rain started up again in earnest soon after we hit the road.

The most gnarly technical section awaited. Dena and I got caught in a bit of traffic on one of the uphill rocky sections and had to walk briefly, but managed to remount and ride for a while, before it got so muddy that we just sank. The other tandems managed to ride most of it, and impressed all the riders and walkers nearby. Dena and I had plenty of company on foot though.

Dena told me that we would be also walking the descent if it was like the climb, but fortunately it was not as bad. However, the front (disk) brake lever was starting to bottom out as she pulled it to the bars. Between the rain and mud, we were wearing through the brake pads quickly. We stopped to tighten the brake and Dena was much happier - that is until we hit a bump and suddenly the rear brake was locked on. I couldn't see quite what was causing the issue, but the pads on the back looked fine, and weren't hitting the tire. We managed to free things enough to get the bike moving and continued down to the next crossroads, where with John's help we realized the lever had slipped on the bars and was now pulling the cable tight. A quick readjustment to the lever had us moving again.

At the next turn, Gerben, the race director, stopped us and told us to continue straight down the main road. I thought at first it was just some flooding issue on the route ahead, since we would rejoin the route in less than a mile, and it was only cutting off a very short section. I later came to realize that we had hit the time cutoff, along with about half the teams.

Shortly after this we crossed the river back into NH, and as we saw shafts of light coming from the sky, Todd let loose with a tirade about the cruel and unwelcoming Vermont that may see him banned from that state for life!

Just as we approached the next store, our front brake made an awful metal on metal sound that we soon diagnosed as complete lack of brake pads - the sound was coming from the now padless bit of metal rattling around and banging against the disk rotor. We looked at the remainder of the route on the GPS. We had done all the truly hard stuff, and all that remained was a short loop in NH to get the full 120 miles, or a direct route back that would bring us up to 105 miles. It was an easy and unanimous decision - and one that would have been mandated by the race director had we tried to take the full route. We headed straight back.

Caption contest anyone... What are we thinking?

Bond, our new 007 tandem, performed flawlessly!

Patria's view...

So we finished together and under our own steam, and, given the previous 48 hours, we were all pretty psyched with our accomplishment. About half the teams did the full route, riding fast enough to miss the storms in Vermont and mostly got the rain at the lower elevations in NH, while the other half, like us, experienced the epic conditions in Vemont and then missed that bonus loop in NH. 

We lived, and we got some epic dirt ground into our bikes, clothes and bodies!

I'm trying to retrieve my camera from the safety of the bar bag to get some pictures of our white jerseys!

Seriously happy to be back! Epic Avengers

Our heroines - the three gals who stepped up and saved our ride!

The coating of Vermont muck on my seatbag.

It took two showers to get the sand out of my hair!

Poor baby!

Mud inside my shoes


I'm not one to lightly use the word epic. Our team name was conceived to make fun of the tendency to overuse that word in conjunction with Rapha events. The biblical weather certainly added to our adventure, but what made this event amazing was how 6 new friends came together and took on not just a physical challenge, but a mental one that required sacrificing personal goals for the sake of the team.

I won't soon forget.

Last year's ride was almost boring in comparison. Everything fell into place perfectly. Nothing went wrong. We crossed the line first. Kewl!

This year, we have some amazing memories and stories to share. Almost nothing went according to plan. Well not entirely true - we did have appropriately low gears and fat tires and no punctures. And we had good brakes for most of the ride. We finished together, under our own steam. We improvised. We rose to the challenge. We survived to ride another day! We are the Epic Avengers!

Just Keep Pedaling

This report was written by Patria Lanfranchi, aka The Cafe Stoker 

It wasn't that long ago that I was freaked out by riding on dirt. Saturday, I was bombing down dirt roads at 45+ mph with my eyes closed.

What happened to the good ol' days of riding for hours upon hours on smooth pavement? It's been months in the making, as I've been very fortunate to have been introduced to great off-road trails not far from home and not too technical in nature. Being in the woods, lit by a headlight and surrounded by plants, trees and grasses growing over the trail wildly, is indescribably cool. Saving it for a blog another day.

The Rapha Gentlemen's Race this year was Epic with a capital E. It was all things packed into one innocent-enough looking day. I know Pamela will be blogging the full story and she'll do the story justice. I want to see what she had to say as the race was different for everyone out there.

I got invited on a tandem team, the Epic Avengers: this is a team of 6 people, with three tandems among us. I had a total of one day of prep time and considering my work schedule, that meant I didn't even have time to get to the grocery store to buy food for the race. Somehow a single load of laundry got done, but that was it.

For the first time in years, I wished I'd been training all winter & felt a bit of regret at that. I don't love being this out of shape and away from the race scene (it's by choice), but when I got an email telling me I could do this race, I almost leaped out of my bike shoes (I was on a casual bike ride at the time). 

The course was 60% dirt roads for 120 miles (for those who finished). I hadn't met the pilot or tandem I'd be riding with until the night before the race. Piloting a tandem is no small job and for a course like this, experience is key.

Trust is as well. Trusting the guy who's picking the line and handling the brakes is just about the most important thing. Second most: pedal. The stoker has to help the bike go and let the pilot do his job. I promised the pilot, Todd, that I would do just that. I was told that Todd was an experienced pilot, he came with an impressive resume, but is nicknamed The Jokester. So at what point does he take things seriously? I'd have to find out.

Pamela & John, tandem partners in life (though they rode different tandems for the sake of the team this weekend) are rider extraordinaires in countless ways. I know them pretty well as we've spent hours chatting at the Ride Studio Cafe, first having met at Mt. Washington for the hillclimb last August (I was there to man the Ciclismo Classico tent but definitely not to race.) We've been able to ride some together, but nothing like what we did Saturday. Pamela has logged 9,000 miles for the year so far and takes 2 days off the bike each month or something like that. John rides like he was born on a bike. He was part of the men's winning Green Mountain Double Century team last weekend.

Dena, a friend of Pamela's and co-winner w/Pamela of the Green Mountain double century last weekend (yes, just last weekend), knows no distance barriers. She's an engine, a terrific pilot and fun to suffer with...actually, she doesn't suffer while the rest of us do. Superhuman.

Then there's Rebecca who is a relatively new cyclist compared with everyone else and was so eager to be there. I was wondering if she could comprehend the distance or dirt as I didn't know what her background were with either. She hadn't ridden a tandem until the afternoon before this race. It was impressive watching her on the back of the tandem as she and John flew down hills during the day. On command, she stood smoothly, as if she'd been a stoker her whole life. She looked fresh and happy all day long. What's even more shocking is that she was both of those things right through to the finish.

Not knowing all that much about this race as I'm new to the area and to the world of long-distance racing & this particular race, I had to get schooled on it quickly. According to Rapha: 
The point of Rapha’s Gentlemen's Races is to inspire a different type of racing. Being unmarshalled, unsupported and unsanctioned, there's no better way to find out if you're a true team, pulling together through the difficulties and attrition to get each other to the finish, or just six individuals racing the clock.
The day started off cool, an absolutely perfect temperature with clear skies in a gorgeous part of the country (2 hrs by car north of here on the NH/VT border). We were thrilled that it didn't look like overheating would be an issue. Nor would rain. Hahahahahaha. We stayed hydrated and none of us got too hot, except for Dena who was happy when the temps dropped much lower later in the day at which time she was smiling and told us of her overheating earlier. We were shaking from the cold. I'm jumping ahead.

We started on smooth pavement at 8:09am. Breakfast was at 5:30 and I'm happy to report I was wide awake and ready to go early. Adrenaline is powerful, though I felt most of my pre-race jitters the day before. No coffee for me until a minute before the start when the Rapha espresso machine was serving up very tasty shots. 

The whole ride up until mile 60 or so was fun, beautiful, the dirt sections were great and time flew by with the miles. Todd and I had a couple of early mechanical problems with the chain jumping into the spokes. We got that fixed on a nice uphill section. An extra section we threw in as we'd gone off course, taking us down a screaming descent just to learn that we had to return up that hill. Teammates Dena and Pamela had some mechanicals on their bike, at a point where we were all at separate parts of the road. Fortunately, the ladies are quite the mechanics and were able to get going again to roll into the "lunch" stop. Other than that, we didn't have a flat all day. The new Seven titanium tandem steed that John & Pamela just bought for their anniversary worked flawlessly all day long.

Climbing was fun on the tandem. Much more so than when I'm climbing alone. I think much of that had to do with my knowing that I'd get up the hill because if I couldn't do it, someone else would be able to provide the power. The riding itself never made me nervous since I knew I had someone to work with. I don't like being in on scary rides by myself. Anytime I've ever shared a stupid riding experience with someone, I feel much more at ease & fortunately, that doesn't happen often. (Sentence inserted for benefit of family members.)

Around mile 65, the weather changed. Dark clouds hovered overhead and we were climbing. It started raining. Rain isn't a big deal, though I was wondering if it'd cause mud and what that would do to the slipperiness of the roads. I'd love to say I can remember every mile of the whole ride, but I don't. Thunder and lightning freak me out like nothing else. I descended like a mad woman down Mt Evans after seeing a single bolt of lightning setting a personal best descending time...aborting the whole ride w/o a second thought. So I am not afraid to bail when safety is at stake.

To shorten the story, we were poured on and pictures weren't possible. We crested the hill as the storm reached us at the same time. The descent was very fast, wet roads didn't seem to slow us down. Later I found out how much breaking hurt Todd's hands and how miserable he was up front (not that he said it in those words as he was still in what appeared to be a good mood. I got quiet, Todd wasn't freaked out like I was as we were under trees. He said that as long as we weren't in a clearing, he wouldn't be worried. Moments later we arrived in a tree-less part of the road. Didn't take much to pedal faster than we had all day long at that point. Luckily, it didn't last long, but the rain did. Temps dropped and he was shaking badly. The stoker is protected from the elements so much more than the pilot. Finally, we arrived at a general store where they served hot chocolate. Dena treated all of us. She was the only one who really didn't need the hot chocolate as she was smiling and happy at the coolness that the rest of us would classify as cold.

Plastic garbage bags were supplied by Pamela, she made each of us a jacket. Warm, comfy, happier. At one point, John started laughing and couldn't stop, the rest of us followed suit. It was funny, but who knew why. Maybe because we looked funny! The normal people in street clothes at the store were great. I'd love to know what they thought about the freezing, wet, silly cyclists.

The rain subsided and stopped, it looked like we'd gotten out of the storm. Still milling about at the store and recuperating, we didn't treat any of the last rest stops like race ones. The first ones we'd tried to make good time in getting in & getting out. Being fast was futile toward the end. Then the thunder started up again, my heart sank when I heard it roll up. It had caught us. We got going and the rain came down again, it was significantly harder for me to keep going at that point. Again, rain isn't a problem, it's the lightning that I don't like.

Mile 85 was soon after the hot chocolate stop. Muddy, rocky, rooty, the most technically challenging off-road portion of the course was here & we'd awaited this point all day. Thanks to the garbage bag on Todd, I couldn't see anything. I just kept pedaling on cue and he got us through. There were a couple of spots where the tandem was stopped by the mud or other obstructions. I put a foot down and sank into the mud. I hadn't realized before that that we were even riding in mud. Keeping the stoker clueless is a key to success.

On we rode until the course took a turn into the heart of the storm. At that point, we stopped and took shelter under someone's garage & waited for our teammates to show up. The race director gave us an alternate route so we could avoid the storm and ride to the finish cutting some miles out. Finally, we were all back together again and we rolled to the finish easily. The sky cleared as if nothing had ever transpired in those wild, remote hills of Vermont. Upon crossing the border back into NH, Todd let Vermont know what he thought about it. We all needed him to say the things he did to shake off what we'd just been through. We were bold enough to take off the bags and relax. Pedaling on... suddenly we had 1 mile left to go (I thought we still had 10+ remaining). What a pleasant surprise!

We pulled into the parking lot 10 hours after we'd started the Epic Avenging and we were smiling almost as much as we had at the beginning of the day. It was fun. I would do it again. I hope to do it again.

According to Todd, I was "well behaved." But he assured me that since I had taken on that course and the challenge, that I wasn't one of the well-behaved women who doesn't make history.

And what did I learn about Todd? That he doesn't take anything where it comes to riding seriously except an open field with lightning overhead and the sharp turns at the bottom of steep descents. Oh, and pre-race nutrition. He was quite concerning about eating popcorn and drinking beer the night before the race. Maybe he knows something the rest of us (me) don't. He knows how to handle a bike (with my weight on it), pedal (again, with my weight on it) and keep a good disposition even when he's shivering enough and has cold enough hands that most people wouldn't be able to keep a bike going straight and fast.

There's one for history: the Rapha Gentlemen's Race 2012 is in the books. The Epic Avengers didn't officially finish, but we officially lived and had a great time on the road together. I got back in the saddle to do the hardest ride of my life after not much riding at all for the past year.

Huge thanks to all of my teammates who worked so hard for each other throughout the long day. Thank you to everyone who brought bikes & equipment (which will never be the same again after all of that mud & grit), those (Pamela!) who organized us all at the very last minute and who had faith that we could accomplish this race together though odds said there was no way we could pull it off at the last minute.

First Tandem Century

This report was written by Dena Cohen, aka The Mad Scientist

On Thursday evening, I agreed to captain a tandem that I had never ridden on a 120 mile race course with 13,000 feet of climbing on mostly dirt roads.  Of all of the crazy things that Pamela Blalock has ever suggested that I do (and there have been many), this was by far the craziest.  Although I’d certainly captained a tandem before, and ridden dirt roads before, I’d never done both at the same time, and never with Pamela as my stoker.  Nonetheless, team Epic Avengers was desperate for one more captain after some last minute cancellations, and I love a challenge.

On Friday afternoon, I headed over to Pamela’s for a quick test ride before departure.  For better or worse, but mostly better, we couldn’t get the cockpit of Ride Studio CafĂ©’s ultra-light titanium Seven Cycles tandem to be small enough to fit me, so we ended up riding on John and Pamela’s Comotion Mocha, which is a much heavier machine but has the advantage of an extraordinarily low gear, which featured prominently in our experience of the race itself.  We took the bike around the block twice and didn’t die, which we took that as evidence that all would be well on race day.  Using the strength of three people we hoisted the bike onto the roof of Pamela’s car, and headed to New Hampshire.

On race-day morning at 5:30, the full complement of Epic Avengers assembled for the first time, for breakfast at a local diner.  I had my stand-by cycling breakfast of eggs, toast, homefries, and hot sauce with plenty of salt.  I had a feeling I would need every calorie and every gram of sodium, and I was not wrong.  After fooling around with the bikes in the parking lot at the start and doing some last minute test riding, we rolled off the race start and through some paved roads towards the first dirt section.

It became clear immediately that Pamela and I were going to have to give it absolutely everything we had not to be completely left in the dust by our stronger teammates.  We frequently experienced the optical illusion of Todd, Patria, John, and Rebecca getting smaller when the road turned up-hill.  This illusion was enhanced by the fact that we were having some issues with chain suck, and had to stop a couple of times to sort out our drive train before moving on.  We were working far too hard to talk, which was fine since Pamela and I ran out of things to talk about on bike rides about five years ago.

From the day I met him, I have been in awe of John Bayley’s cycling skills, but never more so than on this race course.  Staying in control of a huge, heavy bike that has a tendency to shoot like a missile down hills, and is remarkably slow to respond to subtle obstacle-avoidance maneuvers, is incredibly hard.  Add to that the fact that you have a helpless passenger whose safety you really care about clinging on for dear life behind you, and you find yourself in a state of constant hyper-vigilance, trying to see around every bend and to interpret every subtle change in color of the road surface for clues about what is going to happen next.  John does this with such grace, skill, good humor, and seeming effortlessness, and at such an incredible rate of speed, it really boggles the mind.  Todd appears to be cut from the same last.  In other words, I was a hack in the company of professionals.  Luckily, Pamela is an expert stoker—strong, smooth, patient, trusting, and calm—and that saved us on multiple occasions.

My nearest miss of the ride came relatively early on, when I carried a little too much speed into a left-hand bend at the bottom of a hill, and hit a patch of sandy gravel that was looser than it looked.  I felt the rear wheel start to skid away, which is really not the best feeling in the world.  Somehow, I managed to hold onto it, straighten out of the turn and bring the bike to a gentle stop in the upright position on some grass beyond the edge of the road.    Pamela must have hit the emergency eject button because I swear she was off the bike before we’d even come to a complete stop.  A fellow cyclist who was standing nearby yelled out, “Nice save!”  Pamela and I breathed a sigh of relief, pointed the tandem back in the desired direction of travel, and headed on.

Those of you who have ridden with me know that I am generally a conservative cyclist, and like to take it slow out of the start to save energy for whatever might lie ahead.  On this ride, I was burning matches from mile one.  That combined with the rising temperatures and the difficulty of drinking enough water while captaining on rough roads (I wasn’t about to take my hands off the bars!) had me over-heating and a bit dehydrated pretty early on.  The first rest stop at mile 33 didn’t provide much relief since they had sold out of chilled water before our arrival and in any case we only hung around for about 30 seconds, or so it seemed.  From there the climbing seemed absolutely relentless and I was fantasizing about cold Sprite and smoothies constantly.

All the heat and climbing came to a head for me on a huge paved climb out in the sun around the midpoint of the ride.  As we came to the crest of the climb, a little tent appeared, full of nice people from Strava with coolers of ice-cold orange soda.  Having downed two cans in about 3 minutes, I felt quite a bit better.  Since the clouds were gathering, we hopped back on the bikes quickly and made for lower ground.  I should point out that “lower ground” was a relative and transitory concept in this ride, since we never actually stayed at any one elevation for longer than a moment or two anywhere on the course.

The skies opened up and unleashed with one of the most severe thunderstorms I’ve ever ridden through.  Intense rain,
hail, wind, and lightening were all around us.  The road turned into a rocky stream bed, just in time for one of the biggest descents of the ride.  I hung onto the brakes and tried to keep us out of the biggest puddles and on the road, not always the easiest combination of goals.  Somehow, miraculously, we made it to the bottom where there was a store and about 40 other wet, insane people on bicycles.  Pamela and I got of the bike and both spontaneously shouted “We lived!”  Moments later I was sipping hot chocolate and trying to remember why it was that I had been craving cold soda earlier in the day.  I was so thrilled not to be hot anymore that I didn’t mind being wet.  Unlike the rest of the Epic Avengers, I have what we refer to politely as “enhanced thermal mass,” so I wasn’t cold and shivering.  In fact, I felt better than I had all day, except for an overall sense of unease about doing more dirt descents in that weather.  Everyone else put on Rapha rain vests (ie, trash bag ponchos) and we moved on.

This whole portion of the ride was such blur of wetness, dirt, hills, rocks, and mechanicals that it’s hard for me to keep straight in my mind the order in which things happened.  There was one section that was so muddy and rocky that, after sort of falling into a ditch that was where the middle of the road should have been, we decided to walk until conditions improved.  I burned through so much of our front brake pads on the subsequent descents that we had to stop and have John help us tighten up the front brake.  Then only minutes later I hit a hole that was much bigger than it looked, and the rear brake lever locked up completely.  When we caught up with John he figured out that, since I had been riding with my hands on the brake hoods, the force of the impact had actually forced the entire brake lever assembly down the bars by over a centimeter, thereby jamming it.  We got that adjusted and then headed on, searching for Todd and Patria who were somewhere far ahead of us, probably writing a novel or performing ancient weather-related ceremonies.

Finally, as we came up to a left turn, the race organizer popped out of a car and told us that he was closing the course and sending all the riders back to the start along a direct, paved route.  Todd and Patria emerged from the garage of the house they had built while waiting for us, and we all made our way over to a gas station to fuel up for the final push for home.  Riding up to the gas station, the bike started making yet another noise, a sort of soothing metal-on-metal screech.  John, who was by then heartily sick of looking at our brakes, diagnosed the problem as a complete lack of any sort of brake pad material on the front disc brake.  Fortunately, the brake-shoe-on-rotor combination proved sufficient for all our remaining stopping needs, since somehow we’d neglected to pack spare pads.

Just in time for the paved, relatively flat ride back to the start, the rain lifted off and it was like the whole nightmare in the woods never happened.  I remembered that riding a tandem could be fast, fun, and easy—a set of concepts that I’d forgotten about entirely during the previous hours.  Todd had some choice words for the state of Vermont as we sailed across a bridge and back into New Hampshire.  We rolled back into the starting area at 100.7 miles and about 10,000 feet climbed/descended.  We were indescribably filthy, relieved, exhausted, and happy.  And that, in summary, was how I captained my first century.

The Perfect Storm

2012 has been an intense year of cycling for us. We've had some amazing rides. And while I wouldn't say that the Rapha Gent's Race was the focus of our early season, it was a big goal. We had such a blast on the ride last year, when we pulled together a very strong tandem team with experience on both dirt and with long distance, who brought 3 tandems with fat tires, low gears and good brakes to Pennsylvania and surprised more than a few folks, as we crossed the line first and earned some pretty nice swag.

Initially I had assumed that John would like to ride a single on the 2012 edition, but he was so stoked from our ride in 2011, that he wanted to ride tandem again. In fact, he loved it so much that he ordered a new tandem just for this year's event. Well that might be pushing it a bit, but we did get a new tandem, and it really was designed to do Gent's Race type roads. We got it just before Memorial Day and headed up to Vermont for the christening on some amazing dirt roads around East Burke. Those were our RGR shakedown rides, per se, to make sure everything was perfect on the brand new bike.

Regular blog readers are aware that we've also been doing a bit of climbing, as well as some longer events, like brevets and fleche rides and a few dirt roads events, like DROVES and Green Mountain Double.

John and the other lads on the Ride Studio Cafe Enduro Team had scorched the GMD course last weekend, while Dena and I had taken a more casual approach. We were both pretty tired from the 211 miles and 21,000 feet of mostly dirt roads, but we also felt confident in our ability to do a few more dirt roads this weekend.

So John and I came into the week before Gents Race, a little tired, but well trained and well prepared. We had our tandem fully set up and ready to go on Wednesday night, and even managed to get to bed early. What could go wrong now?

The first email came in around 7:30 Thursday morning. Kristen, our Cat-1, had spent the previous evening in the ER having a bit of minor unexpected surgery. Nothing life threatening. She's OK, but no way could she ride a bike. She felt horrible and offered to help find a substitute. John and I started to brainstorm. Who did we know, that wasn't already doing the race, that could tolerate Todd's sense of humor, and would be available on Saturday. I fired off an email to Patria Lanfranchi, curator at Ride Studio Cafe(RSC), and Rob Vandermark, her boss, asking if Patria would like to stoke for Todd, or if they knew anyone who would.

The second email came in at 8:00 AM. This one was from Emily. She'd been having some back issues, had seen a doctor earlier in the week, and was due in for a followup in a few hours. The initial reaction from all of us was not to risk further back injury. Todd was starting to think it was time to scrub the mission, but John and I still had a few more folks we could contact. Don't panic yet.

The next email went out to Rebecca Fetner, PR maestro at Rialto restaurant. Rebecca is a tiny spitfire, who's been riding and training lots for the PMC later this summer, and is also a regular at Ride Studio Cafe. She's similar in size to Emily, so we would probably would be able to swap her in, without much trouble. I knew Emily had ridden a tandem lots with a captain that wasn't David, and she and I had recently had a conversation about being able to ride and share rooms with people who aren't your spouse, so I didn't foresee any issues with partner-swapping.

I headed over to RSC to do the Thursday ladies ride. It was part of my tapering plan, have a nice relaxed ride on Thursday morning, then write the blog post about GMDC in the afternoon, and then pack. I was a little preoccupied, still trying to think of other potential riders, but holding back on getting too worried at this stage. Sometime near the end of the ride, Patria came sprinting to the front of the group to say she'd gotten an email from Rob saying she could go. I believe her bike was hovering 6 inches off the ground! She was so excited. Matt O'Keefe would cover for her at the shop, and she'd just need to get someone to cover for the women's clinic Saturday morning. She did later manage to find a sub for the clinic, but then mother nature intervened and cancelled that event entirely. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I tried to climb on the cloud of pixie dust that Patria was floating on, as I told her all I could about the race. I also figured out that she must have a special ring tone for emails from Rob. She read that email while we were riding!

We got back to RSC and I read my email from John that Rebecca was also game, and was cancelling a weekend trip to Miami - it was only later that I saw the news about Hurricane Debby, making that trip rather unappealing. But I then worried that we now had too many stokers.

An hour or so later Emily reported that the doctor advised against riding. We assured her that we all understood, and agreed it simply wasn't worth the risk. And we did have an understudy - Rebecca.

A short while later, David said he would not feel comfortable riding without Emily.

Pffffffft. That's the sound of the wind coming out of my sails...

Marital harmony - OK, not worth causing any issues there.

But now things get complicated. We came up with names of a few tandem teams, but we already have stokers who have rearranged schedules, so we just need a captain and a tandem. I didn't want to disrupt any more tandem team harmony by asking for half a team.

In anticipation of finding a captain, I emailed Patria and Rob again, and asked if we could borrow the shop's demo Seven tandem, promising to put it into the hands of an experienced rider. Rob and Matt O'Keefe had already loaned out their personal Sevens recently to the Endurance Team for GMDC, and Seven Cycles may be getting worried about just becoming a bicycle library, where folks just come to borrow bikes and beat the crap out of them on dirt roads, but they readily agreed to let us borrow the tandem - anyway. Wow! 

We emailed a friend in NH who lives in the area, had ridden the course, and had some interest in getting a tandem. But he'd already committed to helping his wife with an event she was running Saturday. When he asked her about changing plans, even I could tell from her reply that marital harmony dictated that he not become an Avenger.

Oh have I mentioned our team name. Last year we were the 52 Vincents, named for Richard Thompson's most famous ballad about cafe' racers. When we didn't get an automatic invite back for the race this year, but instead were required to apply, we changed our name to the Epic Avengers. We put together this blog, as part of our application.

So now it seems, somebody's been slipping Kryptonite into the coffee of some of the Avengers. Never one to go down without a fight, I decided to try my friend, Dena! Yes, Dena, that smart chick from the Green Mountain Double Century, who almost never turns me down when I ask her to join in on some over-the-top adventure. Dena has a tandem, although it's more a cruiser, not quite ready for this ride. But she has captained it quite a bit, although nothing quite so long or challenging. But she has lots of long distance and dirt road experience. She's in great shape. And most importantly she is INSANE. I talked to John about swapping around teammates. I'd ride with Dena. Rebecca could stoke for him. Patria would ride with Todd. This would put one veteran on each bike, and was probably the only way Dena would agree to the crazy last minute plan.

So around 4:30 Thursday afternoon - I sent Dena an email asking if she had any weekend plans. And I could not believe it when she replied - Sure, sounds like fun.

At this stage I stopped to take a breath. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.

We sent out word (to old and new team members) at 8pm that we again had 6 riders and 3 tandems. David and Emily had already paid for a room in White River Junction and offered it up to the new substitute riders as incentive. Rebecca arranged for some loaner jerseys from the Rialto/Trade team, so we could all have somewhat matching white/cream jerseys. We also got saddle/pedal preferences and measurements from everyone, so we could set up bikes ahead of time.

So bright and early Friday morning, I headed over to Dena's to pick up her saddle and pedals, and then to RSC to get the tandem. Once home and armed with Dena's measurements, I tried to set up the loaner Seven tandem for her to captain, only to realize it was just too big. We simply could not get her saddle low enough, at least not with the stoker stem attached. I figured she would probably like me to have handlebars. So I set the nice lightweight tandem aside, and pulled out our neglected (much heavier) Mocha. The last time we'd ridden the Mocha was D2R2 almost a year ago. I'll admit now that I'd forgotten about some of the drivetrain issues we'd had on that ride, but did remember deciding our tires were too skinny for conditions after a couple of high speed blowouts, so the first thing I did was mount some new 2" wide tires. We had put on a new chain after D2R2, but that was about it for recent maintenance.

I then mounted Dena's pedals and Brooks saddle and set the saddle height.  At this point John was taking a break from work and came down to help out. We measured the reach to the bars and decided to swap out for a shorter stem. It's handy having lots of spare parts lying around on other bikes. Amazingly we got the bike set up almost precisely to her measurements. I removed the lights, rack and fenders - trying to eliminate unnecessary things that might rattle or break. I then tried to sort out the toolkit, and set up a secure seat bag and handlebar bag. We've had some issues with Ortlieb bags coming off mounts recently and had ordered some new straps, but they weren't in yet.

John had also started taking off pedals and saddle in the stoker position on our Seven in anticipation of Rebecca coming by to take her first ever tandem ride. Once the saddle was positioned for tiny Rebecca, there was definitely no room for our large seat bag on the back, so I spent a little time finding a smaller bag that would work and and found another bag to mount off the lateral tube so they could carry spare tire and several tubes and tools.

Rebecca and John headed out for their spin around the block, which went quite well. Then John went back to work, while Rebecca headed off to get Patria and head north. I continued to sort out tubes and toolkits, and even found some time to pack my clothes. Then Dena arrived and we managed to ride around the block twice and decided we would probably survive the 120 mile race.

This is all poetic justice I suppose. Last year, I made a big deal about being prepared, having experienced folks who had ridden together, and not doing one's first ever tandem ride as RGR. So now we had one stoker who had never ridden a tandem - paired with a very experienced captain; one stoker who had about 100 miles of stoking experience - paired with a very experienced captain; and one rider with lots of dirt riding and long distance experience, who had captained a bit, but never this distance or terrain or conditions - partnered with a stoker who at least had! This after losing half the team less than 48 hours before the race. To even make it to the start line was going to be an accomplishment.

The Epic Avengers would simply readjust our goals. Dena is strong and fit, but we are pretty similar in speed and there is just no question that we are not as fast as Todd and John. And we would definitely be much more cautious on the descents. So even with their brand new stokers, John and Todd would have to hold back a bit for us all to ride as a team.  But this is what the Gentlemen's race is all about, right? To quote from the Rapha blog, "there's no better way to find out if you're a true team, pulling together through the difficulties and attrition to get each other to the finish, or just six individuals racing the clock."

Just getting to the start, we had already overcome many difficulties and attrition. Getting around the course and back to the start could well be easy in comparison... or it could get even more epic...

Stay tuned...

Thank you!

Thank you to Dena Cohen, Patria Lanfranchi and Rebecca Fetner, our newest superheroes, who have stepped in to replace the injured (felled by kryptonite) Kristen, Emily and David! And special thanks to Ride Studio Cafe for loaning us a tandem, and giving Patria a day off. Thanks to Rob and Matt, who are covering for her! This is going to be fun!

New Tandem

With events like the Gents Race in mind, John and Pamela, got a new custom Seven tandem. Read all about it here.The maiden voyage was over Memorial Day weekend. Training continues...