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It is fair to say that for all the time spent riding throughout this country the Rapha Continental have spent at least twice as much time drinking beer together; bars in big cities, taverns in backwaters, and fairly often in the middle of a ride. Standing out front of a convenience store in rural Louisiana chugging a High Life Tall boy with the locals or celebrating the Portland city limits sign at the end of STP with a can of Bud, the Continental has enjoyed a beer in pretty much every corner of the country. On June 19th, 2010 the Continental rode the Harpoon B2B, a multi-state 150 mile ride starting at the Harpoon brewery in Boston, MA and ending at the Harpoon brewery in Windsor, VT. A bike ride sandwiched by beer drinking is perfectly suited to the Rapha Continental.
We arrived a little early at the brewery to get ready for our start but it also bought me some time to convince a brewery employee to give me a tour. Being the only Continental rider that works in a brewery, I have a vested interest in other brewing facilities. Harpoon has a fairly standard but very nice brewery with a beautiful German Huppman brewhouse overlooking a sea of large stainless fermentors. As it was a Saturday, not much was happening in the brewery, but the aroma of fermenting beer was strong and familiar. We took a stroll by the bottling line and into the cold storage where large cases of beer are stored floor to ceiling -- always an impressive sight.
Harpoon does a great job as host with lots of food and coffee at the start. So we stocked up while getting ready for our start time. For the first 58 miles of the ride, we are in Massachusetts, rolling through suburbs - Lexington, Arlington, Concord. Once you get out and through these towns, those infamous New England rollers begin to appear. These awful geological features slowly but surely grind your legs down to mush. Another thing that happens as you get out of town is a serious quickening of the pace. Our group included fast tri-atheletes and former pro Mark McCormack. Overeager as we tend to be we started drilling it at the front. After about twenty miles of this Jeremy says to me “hey, maybe we shouldn’t ride at the front all day long”. Not to worry, the pace and heat made sure that we wouldn’t.
Just before entering New Hampshire, we hit the Willard Brook State Forest which was the first climb of the day. We then continued into New Hampshire with a seemingly never-ending false flat. This is where the wheels start to come off. Climbing through Willard Brook the row is shaded by glorious trees and has only a slightly noticeable grade. The road briefly dips down at the top before the blazing hot, wide open false flat begins. This is where the excessive heat of the day became obvious and the cramping began. People, including us, started dropping off to ride their own pace. The former Pro's at the front continue to hammer unflinchingly.
The one thing about road cycling that is clearly inferior to cyclocross is the lack of beer hand ups. At some point in the ride a minivan bearing the Harpoon logos started to make an appearance. Watching it drive by and dreaming of a an IPA motivates us, but only the first time. By the second or third time it was becoming annoying, taunting us with the reminder of what was still 4 to 5 hours away.
The climb dubbed Leviathan, sharing the name of their high test IPA, is the next obstacle of the day and is a 2-3 kilometer climb with a 3-4% grade. Sun-baked but with great pavement surface this climb was actually enjoyable. The road slowly meanders up, just hard enough to be challenging but not in the typical east coast leg breaker fashion. Cole and I reconnect with Jeremy and PVB at the Harpoon refreshment station at the top of the climb. This gives us a moment in the shade. Time to reflect on how many times we have been reminded of Harpoon's glorious beers (IPA trucks - Leviathan climbs) We also link up with Richard Fries, who for most of us, is the voice of bicycle racing in the northeast. Here, his bombastic style we are so familiar with was tempered a bit, replaced with the same quiet resolve we all shared to get to the beer at the end of this hot day in the saddle.
The final 50 miles is still rolling but has longer flat sections. We stop for coconut water since most of us were cramping. Coconut water? I had no idea, but it pulled my legs back from the abyss in which they were hiding. The ride rolled along next to a river where Cole and I debate jumping in but just the act of getting off the bike sounded like a chore.
We finally entered Vermont and from the time you cross the border it’s just a few more miles, albeit mostly uphill, to the Harpoon Brewery in Windsor. We arrived at the finish spent and ready for beer and food, where we joined a raucous party. Our bikes were expertly whisked away from us and onto a truck for the return to Boston. We are finally going to drink the beer that we’ve worked so hard for. After at least 9 to 10 hours on the bike, the beer went to everyone’s heads. It occurs to me that in ninety degree heat, over 150 miles and three state lines we’ve just completed the most epic pub crawl.
What is the Rapha Continental?
The Rapha Continental began in the US in 2007 as an antidote to the clinical aspects of road racing. It was conceived as a more creative expression of road riding, with the belief that you don’t need to pin a race number on to experience the pleasure that comes from tough rides. From the start, the Continental has been about exploring the road less travelled, discovering those things you only find out on the open road with your fellow riders. It’s about that sense of camaraderie that comes from sharing the effort and the adventure of meeting new places and people along the way.
In documenting their experiences the riders of the Continental created an inspiring online journal of films, photography, ride maps and cue sheets. Six years later, the Rapha Continental has become a global journey, with rides now being documented in the UK, Japan, Australia, Europe and southeast Asia.
Join us in 2013, in North America and around the world, as the Rapha Continental continues to discover the road less travelled.