"Ride slow, rest fast" was the mantra in hope of finishing before 9:00 p.m. My best time had been 9:25.
I started at 5:00 and went with the front group through the flats of San Ramon and Danville on the way to Diablo climb. Really fast people start at 6:00. The pace was quick and manageable. I planned on a 1:15-1:20 ascent to reserve energy. I stuck to the plan while the entire group, with which I'd ridden to the foot of the climb, rode away. About a quarter of the way up, I caught Tom Milton, a friendly and funny man of 56, a very strong and smart rider, and the man behind Selle An-Atomica, a saddle I use on all my bikes. I'd met Tom two years ago, riding doubles, and we have been double century acquaintances, riding and talking together for decent stretches at a time whenever we saw each other -- our pacing is similar. We caught up for a few minutes, then I shared my ride plan with him. He heartily approved and said he'd be going slow-ish because he'd ridden a 400 km brevet a week earlier and his legs weren't feeling so great. "He would be a perfect riding companion," I thought, and asked him whether he minded company. He didn't, of course, and we climbed Diablo together through fields of California poppies and lupine, joking and chatting, as the sun rose over the hills rimming the eastern edge of Livermore Valley. A couple of other riders rode behind at our pace, listening to our banter and occasionally chiming in. Our group of four made it to the top comfortably.
I filled my bottles and went to the bathroom. Tom had left a few minutes before me. Descending, I kept looking for the 6:00 group. Last two years, I've seen them climbing Summit Rd., about half a mile above the saddle. This year I didn't see them. It was only 7:00 when I hit the saddle, good 10+ minutes earlier than previously. I really spent a lot less time at the rest stop this time. "Cool," I thought, "my strategy is working."
At the foot of the descent in Walnut Creek a brisk group coalesced and we worked well together, catching Tom in Clayton. More friendly bs on Marsh Creek Road to Morgan Territory. We climbed Morgan together, Tom entertaining us with tales from the very rainy 2007 edition of Paris-Brest-Paris (a mere 90-hour, 1200 km ride) and joyfully lied to us about where the top of the climb lay. Thus, we reached the second rest stop, legs feeling a bit softened by the ride's second major climb. Up to then my average speed was 14.2 mph. Fast descent and fast flats lay ahead, which boded well for a 9:00 arrival.
At the rest stop, I was held up in a bathroom line and Tom left a few minutes before me. I descended "The Plunge" that is the southern side of Morgan Territory Rd. to outskirts of Livermore. Usually, frontrunners from the 6:00 group catch me here and I can ride their wheels almost all the way to Patterson Pass. But I could see no riders ahead or behind, there was a gentle side/tail wind blowing, so it was time to work alone. I rode medium briskly, going 20-21 mph into the wind and 22-23 when the wind was with me. The roads outside Livermore are freshly repaved, which makes them are so much fun to ride. Soon I saw a pair of cyclists way off in the distance. I timed them from a turn they took and they were a 1:15 ahead. Assuming they were going at close to my speed, I didn't want to try to make up that kind of a gap, as it would take too much work. So, I continued going at my pace, taking time checks at every turn. The gap came down rather quickly and I caught them going through Livermore. There was a very good reason I caught them -- they were going 16 mph. I sat in the back of the paceline, resting a bit and wondering whether they'd start riding for real, but no, 16 mph was it.
After a couple of miles of such dawdling, at the intersection with Greenville Road, we joined the course of Wente Road Race, a group of racers went through the intersection just before us and I said to my companions, "that would be a fun paceline." One of them said sarcastically, "good luck catching them." "Fuck you," I thought and rode off, not so much in pursuit, but to return to my earlier pace. If I caught the peloton, all the better. I didn't catch the peloton and within two minutes found the sarcastic guy on my wheel. We rode together, swapping pulls at a decent clip for a few miles, the wind enthusiastically blowing us eastward, when we caught Tom, riding comfortably at 28 mph (it was that windy) side by side with another guy. We sat behind Tom and his companion, enjoying the draft and contributing to the conversation. Sean Smith's (see 2009 Central Coast Double report) group caught us just before the turnaround. They blew past us, but Sean decided to ride with us. Still, there was no sign of 6:00 starters.
Soon, we crossed I-580 and headed west toward Patterson Pass. Into the wind. I've written several times about how I detest Patterson: It's long, steep, and hot. Well, this year, thanks to the light wind, it wasn't hot. It was quite pleasant, actually, and because the road often hugs hillsides, some of the time we had wind shelters. So, it was breezy and cool and very comfortable. Our group swelled, as we caught a few people and a few others caught us. Sean was bemoaning his gearing -- he had a low of 25 in the back and was wishing for a 27. Tom needled Sean's choice of gearing and flaunted his 32-tooth rear cog. I took pictures of windmills spinning wildly.
Tom and I skipped the water stop a mile below the crest. The others stopped. The rest of the climb hurt, but not so much that we couldn't talk. I opened a bit of a gap near the top, descended the west side of Patterson, and turned right, where the DMD course rejoined the course of the Wente race. After a few minutes a couple of riders chasing the field passed me, I jumped on that mini-train and enjoyed a nearly 30 mph tow back to Livermore. On Vasco Road, I caught the remnants of Sean's old group and wheelsucked to Mines rest stop. The fastest of 6:00 starters showed up here.
Jeff Gould was at Mines. He messed up a wrist in a crash two weeks earlier and it was aching something fierce, so he was bagging it. Tom arrived a few minutes after me. I filled my bottles and hit the road. A few minutes later, Jeff came alongside, saying something to the effect "the hell with it" about his wrist and we rode together. Mines climb has never been kind to me. Always warm -- often way too warm -- and seemingly interminable. Jeff took it upon himself to pace me to a 9:00 finish. And I have to say, he was unbelievable. I rode harder than I would have alone and with my greater effort and the enormous benefit of his draft I rode much faster. The climbs were a bit of a struggle, but we arrived at the lunch stop at Junction Cafe at 1:05. My average speed was 15.1 I was at least 40 minutes earlier than on my prior DMD rides. Tom arrived at lunch 5-10 minutes later.
The three of us ate together. I had a Coke, chips, and a ham and turkey sandwich. I looked around the table and we were all having the same thing! It didn't seem like we dawdled, but when we checked the time, Jeff and I had been there over half an hour. It was time to get going. Tom said, "my tank is empty." I went to the bathroom -- another bathroom line. By the time I came out Tom was already on the road. Jeff and I left at 1:40.
We rode and rode on flats and rollers to the foot of Mt. Hamilton. The wind changed 180 degrees. Where we had a tailwind into the lunch stop, now we had a head wind. I checked the vital statistics at 2:00. We had 85 miles to go and seven hours to ride it. Even if we spent an hour at rest stops (a long time) we would need to average 14 mph -- very doable even though we had serious climbs ahead of us. Doable because we had a long descent of Hamilton, which would help a lot, and long flat and fast stretches on Calaveras and Niles Canyon Roads. I kept looking up to road for Tom's white jersey, but didn't see him. I thought that for a guy with an empty tank he was riding awfully strongly and we weren't making up any ground on him in spite of our pretty decent pace.
We got to the foot of Hamilton at 2:40. Its lower section really didn't seem that bad. I was fairly comfortable in my 34x29 and the grade was no more than 6%. The road pitched up after a mile and the climb became a grind. Fifteen minutes into the climb we passed a sign that said the water stop is two miles ahead, meaning we were three miles from the top.
Just around the next bend, I see two cyclists squatting on the side of the road, their bikes on the ground. As I approach them, I see another bike near theirs and they are ministering to a fallen rider. As I get closer, I see it's Tom. He is lying on his back, not moving. OH SHIT! Jeff and I get off our bikes and walk over. The two guys are attempting to do CPR, but none of the four of us really knows what to do. S is saying he feels a pulse, but it's very, very rapid and very faint and Tom is not breathing. A SAG motorcycle arrives and calls 911 (our phones weren't working). The 911 operator calls Santa Clara County Sheriffs and talks us through CPR. M and S are taking turns pumping Tom's chest. There's fluid in Tom's lungs and he is not responding. This goes on nonstop for ten minutes, when the cops arrive and take over. We are "witnesses" and the cops want our statements, but they are busy with other stuff and then start talking to us, but never finish. They keep asking us the same questions, mostly our contact information. They want us to remain there until they interview us. The four of us are standing around in shock. None of us knows what to do. I don't feel like riding and I really don't like SAGing. Talk to Jeff and realize I want to be with my family, so that's the end of the ride. Riders pass. Some stop, most don't. Cops are pumping Tom's chest nonstop. About 40 minutes later, a helicopter from Stanford arrives and lands at the foot of the mountain. A CDF fireman ferries two emergency response nurses from the helicopter up the hill and they take over. One of the riders who had been doing CPR keeps complaining that he was on PR pace and now won't finish until 10:00 or 11:00. I think, "fuck you, asshole." Yup, someone dying can ruin your whole day. But I don't say anything because those thoughts and feelings are tempered by the fact that he was the guy doing CPR. Tom is still not responding. A fire truck and an ambulance arrive from San Jose around 4:00. It's too late. They declare him dead at 4:15.
SAGing back to the start takes forever. SAG driver, who has done this ride seven times and worked it many more, tells us we were on pace to finish at 8:30. The roads are winding and I'm feeling nauseous. We stop at three rest stops along the way. The news had reached some rest stop staff already, and the people who knew Tom are mourning. We finally reach San Ramon Marriott at 8:20. I picked up the bag of clothes I'd sent there in a bag from Morgan Territory rest stop and went home.
What an awful thing... What a tragic loss... I am so sad and angry.