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...

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