[Or How I Learned to Love the Ride and Forget the Rest]
Over the course of my first Ride The Rockies, the same lessons kept smacking me in the face from time to time and I thought that I – now the seasoned vet – would shed some light on what you (next year’s rookie) can expect to encounter and how to avoid (or not avoid) these things.
Keep yourself in check. Remember, you dropped $500 (plus other travel, food and cycling expenses), so that means you are not a pro (unless this is George reading this, in which case skip to the next sin). This is not a race, no matter what those guys say (and, yes, at times, I was one of those guys). This is a ride.
With that said, you will most likely feel someone else’s wrath. You didn’t get over fast enough or took up too much of the bike lane while someone was trying to pass. Or, God forbid, you tried to ride in a pace line and didn’t know the rules! The humanity!
When you’re out on the flats (and inevitably you will be on some flats), there is nothing better to pass the time AND pass the miles quickly than the almighty pace line. Ride The Rockies is a great time to learn to be a better cyclist (and we can ALL be better cyclists). It’s also a perfect place to learn to ride in a pace line.
The mechanics are simple enough: get within about 6-18″ of the tire in front of you and pedal at a steady pace. You’ll most likely need to gear down lower than what you had to catch the pace line because you’ll be doing about 85% of the work of the cyclist in front of you (that’s why pace lines are awesome!). You don’t want to stare at their wheel (nor their behind). You want to stare at either the logo on their bibs (just above the butt) or at their brakes. This keeps you a safe distance while letting you keep an eye on if they are slowing, moving or speeding up.
Eventually, that person should signal (either a left hand to their left hip or a right hand waving frantically saying, “Take over, I can’t do it anymore”) and the second cyclist in line continues with the pace. The keyword is “PACE”. Keep it steady, no surging, keep it short and sweet, and rotate out regularly (think of hockey players jumping off the bench every 60-90 seconds and giving it their all for the same amount of time) and everyone should get along.
That’s the crux, though: everyone won’t get along. If you’ve ridden in a pace line 100 times before or you’re just learning, you will, inevitably, piss somebody off and feel their wrath. Perhaps you made an honest mistake or perhaps you are surging because you feel you have something to prove and want the pace line to go faster. Most likely, you did exactly what you were supposed to and that someone else had a chip on their shoulder that morning. Or got decaf instead of regular coffee.
If you are doing your honest best, don’t worry about it. It’s their problem for getting upset about a bike RIDE. If you’re making mistakes, listen to the comments, filter out the wrath, and learn from it. That’s what’s great about riding: you’re always learning!
One of the great things about fully supported rides is food. There is often times a lot of it. Other times, there is not. One of the slight variations between most rides and races that I have participated in and Ride The Rockies is the dependance on vendors.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the vendors are great. I am not independently wealthy, I am a stay at home dad (with a sugar momma bringing home the bread) that also works freelance design. Money isn’t tight, but I am not frivolous. I can’t drop $5-10 at every aid station for a snack and a soda. Also, I don’t drink soda.
I depended on the aid stations’ free food. But I don’t get greedy. I know by Aid Station #4, I might be one of the first through but definitely not the only hungry one. Eat what you need, but not all you want. Unless it’s at the All You Can Eat pancake vendor. Then, knock yourself out.
Also, on a week long ride like this, everything is communal (except for the hotel rooms of the smarter people who like to be comfortable and not sleep in high schools…I really don’t blame them). Shower trucks? Check, communal. Keep it limited and don’t be gross (you’ll see what I’m talking about). Ditto the coffee truck. It’s nice to order your partner’s coffee, but ordering 10 different specialty coffee drinks for 10 different people? Not cool. Ditto with food.
We’re all enjoying a week of self-inflicted pain and suffering. Regardless of what people say, we’re all suffering more or less the same and just need to get along.
After a long (or relatively short day) in the saddle, you probably won’t want to do much except enjoy a beer (or six) and eat (see: Gluttony). I don’t blame you. No one will.
Sit back and relax. Sure, you haven’t invented a cure for cancer or created world peace by riding your bike 80+ miles in one day for 7 days in a row, but you’ve done more physical activity than over 95% of the rest of the citizenry of this fine country.
Sit back and enjoy the afternoon. You deserve it. Just keep it quiet after 9PM. We’re trying to sleep over here.
I had a few goals for RTR and the preliminary training. I wanted to lose about 15-20 pounds, become a better/stronger cyclist, increase my average speed to about 18-20MPH and finish the RTR in less than 40 hours (my REAL goal was 30 hours, but I didn’t actually think that possible). Thanks to following the training regimen (loosely) that RTR put together, I shed 5-10 pounds and increased my average speed to about 18MPH before the actual ride began. I could also bike over 100 miles and still get back on the bike the next day. And hills weren’t as bad as they used to be.
I finished second on the second to last day. It was supposed to be an easy 67 mile day but, due to the Black Forest fire, we were re-routed and it was a 9000-foot mountain pass climbing 93.5 mile day. I was full of pride. Who cared that the guy who finished first was nearly double my age? Or that I probably left earlier than the riders behind me?
Not me. I crushed it and I was proud as a man can be. I worked hard to finish that day as fast as I did. And the next day, I got up and did the same, but I didn’t come in first. What I did do: I finished not just the 515 originally planned RTR miles, but the whole extended 545 miles in 29.5 hours! I was stoked!
And after I rolled into the Cheyenne Mountain Resort and enjoyed their luxurious showers and amenities, I went and weighed myself. I was just under 20 pounds lighter than when I started training all those months back. I couldn’t believe how well I had done. I was a little embarrassed to talk about it. I didn’t want to come off as a braggart, but I was proud. I did well. Really well, and I was okay with that.
How about you, did you set goals? Did you push yourself beyond what you thought was physically possible? Was your goal to finish with an average speed of 15MPH? Did you crush it? Did you, as the venerable Bob “Bobke” Roll would say, “Kill them all?”
Revel in that pride! Just don’t be a jerk and rub it into other people’s faces.
One of the things that I thought was going to be awesome about RTR was the demos. Boy, was I right. I was afraid to demo a bike because I absolutely love my Felt. It fits like a glove, so I didn’t want to risk having a bad ride because of (or falling in love with) another frame. So I didn’t cross that line. They say flirting is just flirting, but it’s pretty damn close to cheating, in my mind.
I did, however, test ride an assortment of new wheel sets. Holy cow do good wheels make a difference! I tested some Mavics but really fell for the DT Swiss series. I started with the lower end models and convinced myself to move up to the carbon hybrids, just to see if they’d make that noticeable of a difference. They cost more than my bike. And they made a huge difference.
So treat yourself. That’s why the demo folks are there. Even if you have little to no intention of buying a $3,000 set of carbon wheels, try them out to know what you’re missing. Just don’t bring your credit card when you take them back, because that’s when you get into trouble.
Over the course of the first few days, I kept meeting the same group of folks, the folks who rode in the 20+MPH range. At first, I could barely keep up (my average at home is 18-20MPH). I was envious of there sculpted legs, all sinewy and strong like Russian steamships.
I let that envy push me. I was in good shape to start, but I wanted to be the one pulling that younger racer from Tucson back in at the end of the day. I wanted people to pull up behind me, gasping for air, hoping to be able to ride MY wheel back in to camp.
Sometimes, it happened. Most times, it didn’t. In the end, however, the envy I felt helped fuel me to – in the space of 7 days and 545 miles – become a better cyclist, through and through. I might not have reached the 22MPH range yet, but I know what it takes to get there now. And I am sure I will get there soon enough.
This one almost writes itself.
It doesn’t matter if you’re 24 years old riding CAT3 or retired from HP and riding in your 20th RTR. You’re putting in the miles just the same (unless you’re not putting in the miles, in which case, watch what you eat). So eat. Eat a lot. No matter your metabolism, you’re burning through calories, so eat.
No, you shouldn’t start with eating your weight at the “All You Can Eat” pancakes and sausage vendor every morning and then wrap up the day with two large pizzas and a bender at the Odell’s truck. Still eat smart – whatever that means for you – but definitely don’t be afraid to splurge on a few extra calories here and there.
And drink a lot. Water. Drink a lot of water. Drink some beer, too, but mostly, drink a lot of water. Like A LOT a lot.
In short, listen to your body, listen to your legs, listen to the people riding with you and around you, but most importantly, enjoy it. You’re getting to ride 500+ miles across one of the most beautiful areas of this country (and the world).
And don’t forget, you’re paying for it, so you’ve got no one to blame but yourself for this pile of pain, misery and week of absolute awesomeness!
Now get out and ride!!!