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Gentlemen's Race Northwest
Fear. The same feeling that sat in my stomach that morning was painted across most of the racers faces as they prepped and hit the gravel edged start-line. That nervous laughter and twitchy joking that we all know hits before the starting flag waves was amplified. For many because they’d never been here before, never lined up knowing that the finish-line was 137-miles away. For most of the teams the added unknown of having to ride six together the entire way gave pause. Even in a professional time trial you can let the weaker drop off the back so long as you finish five. Not this race, all six needed to stay and finish together to make it official—the team was only as strong, or as lucky, as their sixth rider.
As the race “official” I wasn’t worried about the course or the mileage. I knew that these 137-miles would delight with some of the most beautiful coastal, forest and country roads that anyone could imagine. Quiet two-lane roads along rivers, single-lane covered bridge passes, and a gravelly stretch along a river so peaceful that I almost felt bad about sending 138 cyclists on it. Not to mention farm roads meandering through golden hills of freshly cut wheat that reminded me of the dream sequence in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. Except for a quick stint through rural suburbia, it was about as much Oregon beauty that could be packed into a single-day race route.
My fear was caused by the unknown element of going from 11 to 23 teams for this year’s running. In a race where part of the idea is that anything can happen, I was afraid it might.
The returning champions, now known as Rapha Racing NW, took the customary final starting position with fiercer competition than ever before and an hour-and-a-half deficit to make up from the first team to depart. Team Beer, also an experienced RGR crew was first off, knowing that every three minutes another band of six would begin to chase them down. The Ironclad women’s team had nearly made up the three-minute stagger 30 miles in, but this new and improved Team Beer looked for a while like the foxes might stay away from today’s hounds, keeping the pressure on the field through the first checkpoint.
Teams from Oklahoma City, San Francisco, Mill Valley, Minneapolis and Seattle made the pilgrimage to partake in this unofficial and unsanctioned race. Men, women, former pros, current pros, and never-raced-befores made up the field. While some teams like the Eddy Merkin showed up with basket bearing single-speeds wearing homemade white t-shirts and cutoffs just ready for a good time, others like Team HPC had come to win (note: HPC had the fastest overall race time of 6:59). Cars-R-Coffins, led by the infamous Hurl Everstone, had to be considered favorites if for no other reason than their two stops for tastings at a pair of Oregon valley wineries. The Nike team, that featured a former LA Sherriff pro and a member of the RAAM record-breaking Team Type-1, were rumored to have only cracked a smile as they cracked the spirits of the teams that they passed. Serious or out for a seriously good time, it all somehow seems to work in this race. Unless it doesn’t.
The Rapha Continental team, the inspiration for this sort of riding and this race, cracked a bit after an early crossing of wheels took down and ripped up a third of the team. The regional professional women’s team Veloforma lost pace when Tina "the Man Maker” Brubaker had her first-ever physical breaking on the bike. The CyclePath Six finished with five after getting lost and breaking a wheel. While a couple of teams finished with nary a flat or mechanical, the gravel allowed most teams no less than four or five unexpected flat-caused rest breaks.
The sun began to dip behind Portland’s West Hills as the local River City Bicycle team was the first across the Burnside bridge. Ten minutes later came Studio Velo from Mill Valley, followed by the hard-charging HPC boys. By the time that Cars-R-Coffins and Veloforma entered the patio at RonToms a couple hours later, all the worry that was present on faces at the start of the day was replaced with the happy, tired, accomplished smiles that come from a great day on the bicycle.
Congratulations to overall winners River City, top all-women’s team Ironclad and the fastest overall race time Team HPC.
1. River City
2. Studio Velo
3. Team HPC
4. Half Fast Velo
5. Team Oregon
7. Terry & His Young Friends
8. Ironclad (Men)
10. Rapha Racing
11. Royal Family of International Acclaim
12. Embrocation Cycling Journal
14. Team Insiderati
15. Ironclad (Women)
16. Team Beer
17. Mission Cycling
18. Baron Bicycles
19. Rapha Continental
20. Eddy Merkin (single speed)
"If this is what road racing was like, I'd still be road racing."
- John Walrod (River City Team, and former professional with L'equipe Cheval, Prime Alliance; holder of 10 US National track titles)
“I don’t mean any offense, but this could never happen in London.”
- John Sutcliffe (Rapha accountant on loan from London)
“Aside from my separated shoulder and Hahn and Jason’s flesh wounds, I’d say that was pretty much a perfect race.”
- James Selman (Rapha Continental)
- John Howe (Team Beer)
“The event reminded me of old mountain bike races where it was about being with your friends, enjoying life and not about some promoter making a buck.”
- James Crowe (Eddy Merkin)
“I think I’ve just had one of the best bike riding days of my adult life.”
- Joe Staples (Embrocation Cycling Journal Media Team)