Monday, April 27, 2009

2009 Solvang Spring Double

2009 Solvang Double Report

My ride in the 2009 Solvang Double was meant to be a “training ride” for more challenging double centuries that comprise the California Triple Crown Stage Race: Devil Mountain Double (“DMD”), Central Coast Double and Mt. Tam Double. Due to wet weather in February and March and family obligations I just couldn’t get in any long training rides. The longest I’d done was an 85-miler in mid-February. I’d done a lot of intensity work, but minimal endurance. Not the optimal way to prepare for endurance riding, but that’s what the time allowed. So I signed up for Solvang to do a long ride before tackling the DMD.

I left for Solvang late morning of Friday, March 27. Apparently, this is the time of annual northward migration of Painted Lady butterflies. I drove south into their swarm and for an hour from Gilroy on south my car and many other vehicles mercilessly pelted the poor butterflies. Very sad.

I arrived in Solvang, checked into my hotel, and went to pick up my rider number at Buellton Marriott. There, I ran into Jason (Rude Awakening – see his fixed gear ride report) and a bunch of his friends, all from Oakland , my home town. We had dinner together and entertained each other with tales of epic cycling adventures. We noted that it was pretty damn dark by 7:30 .

The ride had open start time from 5:00 to 7:30 a.m. I planned to start around 6:15-6:30 , about the time I started last year, when I finished comfortably at 5:20 p.m. Though then I was in better shape...

I slept badly and was completely awake by 2:30 . I drifted back to sleep, but by 4:30 there was stomping and glomping of cleated feet in the room above and outside – early starters. There was no use trying to sleep, so I decided to start earlier than planned to make sure I’d finish in daylight. I knew I’d ride slower than last year and would need more time to finish. I ate my bagels with Nutella (mmmm) and bananas and rode to the Buellton Marriott for the start. I pulled up outside the hotel, where several riders were waiting for their friends. I struck up a conversation with a woman with a British accent, we wished each other “good ride,” and I went downstairs to get my number marked. There, I learned that ride organizers needed to inspect my bike to make sure I had appropriate lights and that reflective ankle bands were required. Oops. No ankle bands and they were all sold out. I really didn’t want to wait 45 minutes until daylight to get started. I went outside to get my bike. The Englishwoman was the only person waiting. I had a brilliant idea to ask her for her ankle bands, which I’d return immediately after inspection. She balked initially, but I offered to leave my long gloves with her as collateral (no way was I going to start without them in 45-degree weather), and she agreed. Inspection went uneventfully. I returned the ankle bands and reclaimed my gloves, wished her “good ride” once more and was off, band-less. It was 5:45 a.m.

All I had for a front light was a measly Knog light designed for being seen rather than for illuminating the road. My rear light was blinking brightly enough to send one into an epileptic seizure, but that did me no good as I tried to navigate my way out of Buellton toward Solvang. Fortunately, the first few miles were well paved, had no turns, and even my weak light was strong enough for me to barely see the white line that marked the road’s shoulder. I rode just to the right of the line, as I chased riders in front of me in hope of taking advantage of their stronger lights.

As I entered Solvang I was struck by the smells of breakfast pastry baking. I rode for half a mile through Solvang’s lighted downtown, passing through clouds of sweet smells of rolls, Danish, croissants and who know what else was cooking in the myriad of the town’s bakeries. The last bakery in town had a very distinct and recognizable and unpleasant-to-me smell that I hadn’t encountered that morning – John Belushi’s breakfast of champions (

Just outside Solvang, I caught up with cyclists who had good lights and then chased others that were short distances ahead. I kept doing that – catching up with groups with good lights, so I was not riding in the darkness for more than half a minute. This went on for a few miles and the dawn was breaking, when I was passed by a tandem. This signaled the end of the warm-up portion of the ride.

While drafting tandems and fast pacelines, I realized over and over that day, makes fast riding easier, it doesn’t make riding easier. Sure, I expended less energy behind a tandem at 25mph than I would have on my own at that speed, but I probably would have worked just as hard riding alone – only I would have been riding slower. So, off we went, hammering into the rising sun, up and over small rollers, past vineyards and fields of purple heather. As we climbed one hill, the stoker asked, “Are you Vlad?” “Yes,” I replied, surprised. The team was Jason and Lisa whom I’d met at several doubles last year. Suddenly, we had stuff to discuss, what rides we’re doing this year, how our common acquaintances at Solvang were faring, etc., etc., making the ride friendlier and easier. The tandem pulled us (a 10-person paceline) into the first rest stop after riding at posted speed limit for 12 miles. During the preceding 41 miles I made a conscious effort to eat and drink often and was feeling confident and strong.

After a quick refueling and relieving stop, we remounted and were off again. Jason and Lisa did most of the pulling, though occasionally singles – I too – went to the front to offer them brief respites. Our group kept growing, as we absorbed smaller pacelines. Thus, we went until mile 75 or so, when a white van passed us and pulled over at a turnout. The driver jumped out, ran to the middle of the road, raised her hands, and yelled and frantically gestured at us to pull over. It was Deborah, the ride organizer. She angrily told us that she’d been following us for 45 minutes (huh?!), that she’d seen us run countless stop signs (highly likely) and traffic lights (only right turns and slowly at that), and that she ought to DQ all of us then and there, but she wouldn’t do that. She kept saying that she should – but she wouldn’t. She pleaded and cajoled and threatened for us to make full and complete stops and to put a foot down. We nodded obediently and restarted. And we grumbled and groused. I wondered whether she was being a mother or a teacher. One of us promised not to curse or spit in public (this ride organizer last year DQ-ed two people for urinating in public at Eastern Sierra Double), so there was plenty of merriment in the paceline. For the next half a dozen stop signs I’d uncleat and dab my foot at 10-15 mph in sarcastic compliance with the request to put a foot down.

This encounter befouled the paceline’s mood. A bunch of people dropped back either from fatigue or to dissociate themselves from the renegade tandem and its friends, which, after all, led the group through the stop signs and traffic lights. By now, only I and Bill from Walnut Creek remained with Jason and Lisa. Bill is a hilarious guy and a very strong rider. Our small group worked well together into the second rest stop at mile 86.

There, I finally felt warm enough to shed long gloves, knee warmers, and wool base layer. Another quick refuel and Bill and I left with another Jason (Rude Awakening), who was on a fixed Waterford . The terrain out of the rest stop was rolling, so Jason and I didn’t get to ride together. He stomped over short and steep rollers ahead of Bill and me, then we passed him on downhills. So, we played leapfrog for several miles until we turned onto Highway 1 for a 12-mile slog toward the turnaround point at Morro Bay . After a couple of miles a fast paceline flew by and Bill and I jumped on the back. The paceline contained at least two winners of women’s 2008 stage race and was led by their teammates from Fresno Cycling Club. Though two men did most of the pulling the women did more than their share. For some reason, no one came back to the end of the paceline and Bill and I found ourselves drafting in the back the entire time. To which neither of us objected. That said, this paceline had little going for it other than fast pace. There was frequent Slinky effect going on with the line stretching and people letting wheels go, then speeding up back into the draft. So, there was way too much hurry-up-and-wait riding, which led everyone to expend much more energy than if we’d been riding steadily and smoothly.

But we were going fast and not pulling, so Bill and didn’t complain – OK, fine, only to each other. Lo and behold, by 12:30 we reached the lunch stop. I need to figure out better how to do lunch. Concerned that the group would leave quickly, I inhaled a Subway sandwich and washed it down with two V-8s. Well, if you read my report from last year, that didn’t work so well... again. Fortunately, the group rode easily for the first half hour, as I digested, regurgitated, re-swallowed, and burped, and cursed my failure to chew my food properly. I felt bloated and was in a bad gastrointestinal state. And sprinting-and-coasting, sprinting-and-coasting was doing nothing to make me feel better.

Mercifully, one member of the group flatted. The group stopped, but I rolled on, figuring that if I’d stopped they were going to drop me on the climb that loomed just ahead. I planned to climb slowly and try to recover on the other side of the hill while they fixed the flat and caught up, then ride with them again. Bill came with me and almost immediately, we caught up with a group from Cupertino Cycles, which also included – yes – a tandem. We were very happy. Climbing at tandem’s speed we got to rest a bit, then more rest on the other side, as we rode in its draft. Just then another tandem zoomed by – the Fletchers, a couple that races mountain tandems with whom I rode for 40 miles last year and enjoyed the experience. They were faster than the Cupertino tandem, so we jumped on their wheel and off we went. We were going at a fast, but manageable pace, when we were caught by a single rider in green kit and with legs the size of my waist. He offered to pull, but the tandem had a hard time keeping up with him, so we let him go, much to my burpy relief.

We made a brief stop at the Guadalupe Rest Stop, where I refilled my bottles, adding shocking little to their contents. We remounted and were off again. My stomach was still unsettled and working harder did nothing to help that. At times, I felt close to puking, but managed to keep it down. I forced myself to drink, but even the thought of eating was so unappealing that I didn’t bother trying. I realized that what I was doing was dangerous: I was already on the verge of dehydration and was running low on sugar, but eating and drinking more would have led to cookie-tossing, which was not going to make the ride easier. So, I rode like a ticking time bomb. The guy in green who spent more time at the rest stop caught us again and went to the front. There was a gap, the tandem strained to get into his draft, and the paceline’s speed picked up by 3-4 mph. I rode grimly (not Grimley: Bill dropped off and I didn’t even notice. After we turned south, the draft was to the left of the tandem’s stoker, where I parked myself. After another monster pull the green guy came back and said, “If you want me (him) to pull let me into the draft for a rest or you (I) should pull.” I replied, “No to both.” I was in no shape to pull in a crosswind and having the green guy pulling actually made ALL of us work harder. Brenda Fletcher turned and said, “He’s helping us a lot.” I relented and let the green guy into the draft. But honestly, I didn’t see how green guy was helping. Every time he went to the front, he’d open a 10-12-foot gap, the tandem would visibly strain and spend half a minute trying to get on his wheel, the green guy would pull for another minute or two, and the tandem would be left to fight crosswinds again, but now at a lower speed.

After the green guy came back following another huge pull I told him to come around the tandem gradually and, in the words of the London Tube, to mind the gap ( He nodded. We came to a turn and slowed down. He went to the front and just kept going. The Fletchers tried to catch up but couldn’t. We didn’t see him again. I briefly mused whether I was responsible for his departure, but decided that my request was polite and was meant to conserve the tandem’s energy, though it appeared to have had the opposite effect, and I absolved myself of responsibility.

So I was left alone with the Fletchers... and my stomach. I held their wheel for another 12 miles, but with five miles before the last rest stop I was feeling so pukey that I finally had to let them go and ride at my own pace in a bad frame of mind. But as I rode, I reminded myself that this was a training ride and that I’d benefit from it. I also remembered feeling just as badly at the 2005 Davis Double at the same point in the ride, but I took my time at the last rest stop and finished strongly. These thoughts lifted my spirits a bit and, with the wind at my back, my own pace was good 18+ mph, and the five miles passed relatively quickly.

I arrived just as the Fletchers were leaving. I thanked them for their draft and settled in for protracted rest. I had a coke, Advils, a handful of pretzels, a couple of Hammer Nutrition pills of something or other and a banana. Bill and another guy came and left while I was there. After spending 15 minutes at the rest stop it was time to get this thing over with. Just 16 miles lay ahead: a 3.5 mile climb of 4-5%, a 1.5 mile descent, followed by a long slight downhill and a final 6-mile flat drag back to the finish. I figured this all would take an hour or so. Not easy, but fairly manageable.

On the climb, I quickly found myself in my 36x28. I had very little energy, so I turned the pedals slowly. Nothing hurt, but I just wasn’t moving very fast. My heart rate was stuck in mid to high 130s (my recent max is 191) and would go no higher. So I plodded. The climb was not as steep as I remembered and this year there were thousands of California poppies strewn all over the hills. Passing me a man on a time trial bike remarked that it felt as if we were in Oz. I replied, “Either Oz or Afghanistan .” He chuckled and rode ahead. Another person passed me, riding almost with as little enthusiasm as I, and, as I crested, a teammate of the Oz man caught up with me as well. The two of us plunged down the other side. The descent, which I remembered as terribly paved, wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it would be. We quickly passed the other plodder and hit the flats. Suddenly, I felt reenergized and my stomach felt better. That is, relatively reenergized – only enough to jump on the wheel of two guys on time trial bikes and we were roaring along at 26mph. I told them I’d pull but I’d slow us down tremendously and they didn’t mind my sitting in. After we made the turn onto the final drag toward Buellton, we hit a small hill, where I had to let them go. But the rest of the ride was flat and I had a tailwind, so urging myself on, I fought toward the finish, riding as fast as I could.

I pulled into the finish at 5:20. Almost exactly the same time as last year, though last year I’d started half an hour later. Average speed was very respectable 18.5. I went inside to check in and asked how many people had finished – 12! I was the 13th finisher of 485 people who registered for the ride. Of course, I understood that many, many people started after me, but still, I felt quite proud.

As I sat outside reflecting on the ride, I thought of the huge role our minds play in this sport. I talked myself through a lengthy and gradually worsening rough patch and finished well. I took negative thoughts and turned them positive by thinking of the event as a training ride and used prior experience to get over my blahs. If only I could remember about the power of positive thinking every time I do an interval session… nah, intervals would still suck.

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