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!
|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!|
|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|
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.|
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!|
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!|
|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!