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Part 8: The Teams' Thoughts
Empire piled its diesels into its hyperbaric GMC van (…oh, you didn’t know about that?) and rolled into New Paltz with a plan to eschew the distance athlete’s time-honored codes of “long slow distance” and “quality not quantity." Half of us would probably have ridden for 5 hours that day anyway, so the Rapha Gentleman’s Race sounded right up our alley. Throw in some friendly competition and some incredible roads, and dangle a carrot in front of us in the form of some swank gear and some pizza and beer, and suddenly 120-some miles of tempo starts to sound like a pretty good little Sunday.
So, motivated and amply caffeinated and muffin-fed, we took it out at a brisk pace right from the get-go. We were confident we could lay down a solid time, but with 50 minutes to make up on the first starters of the day, we certainly had our work cut out for us. Rolling steady and fast in a single paceline, taking moderate pulls of probably 30-90 seconds each, we caught several teams in the first couple hours. We also saw a couple teams re-joining the course after navigational snafu’s, obviously not having been blessed, as we had, with the trailblazing expertise of Dr. John Loehner, whose nose for cyclist scat kept us on course all day without a hiccup.
The ride started to take its slow toll when we hit the main climb. Each of the mates could be seen taking his turn spelunking in the pain cave; there were some short pulls, some skipped pulls, some pushes uphill, and one I-can-navigate-just-fine-but-whoops-I-damn-near-rode-into-that-guardrail. We kept it together, though, knowing that dropping any one rider would end our bid for the Rapha prize. The last team ahead of us came into sight as we pulled into the final checkpoint, so we crammed some Bavarian Creams and Cokes (I got an insulin spike just writing that) and got rolling, reeled ‘em in, and rode home to sweet, sweet victory, capped off with a luxuriantly sulfurous shower back at the Rapha Compound.
As the other riders trickled in and the pizza arrived, the back porch party made for a relaxing finish to a tiring but fun day. More than one of us could be seen shedding a salty tear as the stirring kazoo rendition of our national anthem honked out over the nearby mosquito bog and brought the day to a close.
Thanks to everyone who helped put on this great event -- we had a lot of fun!
The Local Perspective
It all began on one of our regular Saturday morning rides in mid-April. When Mike shared the news that Rapha planned to stage a Gentlemen’s Race in New Paltz, it sounded too good to be true. A 200K race in our backyard with strong riders from across the East Coast? As the local boys (ex-locals for some), we knew these roads like the backs of our hands, but it was the first time that this team of six would ride together.
The climb up 44/55 went by fairly painlessly, and so too the rollers up to the base of Sugarloaf (some locals have dubbed it Pinch-a-loaf). Up until this point we were having a good time sitting on Danny’s wheel; chatting and screwing around a bit, but for better or worse we all knew what was in store. The hardest climb of the day broke a couple of us more than the others but the food and water at the summit was a big bonus.
The top of the Frost Valley climb prompted the now famous, “wounded animal” quote about the sounds one of our riders was making, but the descent off the backside was just desert. In hindsight, stopping at the deli was probably a bit of a waste of time since the next good chunk went by very quickly as did just about everything until the base of Mohonk.
The final climb showed us for what we were: A mismatched bunch of locals who thought this race sounded like fun…almost six hours earlier. The 90 degree heat wore on us and though some of us climbed with no signs of fatigue, others fought back tossing Hostess Fruit Pie (apple) all over the road. Still, we all made it with some semblance of grace and were inspired to get this thing over with. We half expected one of the stronger teams to come rushing past us in the final trudge up Route 299, but it was not to be.
As the horses started to smell the barn, the skies opened up and we got some well-earned relief from the heat. With the rain, headaches disappeared, sore backs and legs felt new again - riding was truly fun for the first time in a while and with only Empire Cycling in front of us, it looked like the beer was staying in New Paltz this year.
A total of 73 emails – and, finally, we made an important decision: what jerseys to wear. You can't race bikes as a team without a team uniform, right? Still, we were a few emails short: on event day we arrived with clashing jerseys. Would we really be a team? Before that morning, we had never all ridden together. Three of us had never raced. Our doubts were underscored by two quick punctures even before the first climb started. We were determined, however, to ride, and suffer, as a team.
Sensing disarray, Neil prodded us into coherence: double pace line with 10 seconds on the front, until… we had to slow down. "An army only marches as fast as its slowest soldier," intoned Neil. We let out a collective sigh of relief and prepared for the slog up Sugarloaf, stopping for a quick grab of bottles.
We settled in with Ira, our youngest at 26, and Roland, representing the best European cycling traditions, pulling us hard up Frost Valley, but not quite hard enough, as team Bicycle Depot steamed by. As the pace picked up in their slipstream, Dara called out, “Let ‘em go, we have to ride our own race!” Not a murmur of dissent. Down, down Slide Mt. to Big Indian, another quick stop… and Empire flew by, making us feel like laggards as we stood by the side of the road stuffing PB&Js down as fast as possible.
Slogging home up Mohonk, we had Bicycling nipping at heels. Yikes! We knew the podium was ours in twelve miles if we could only hold off the threat blowing along across the fields toward us, ‘Fit Chick’ and all. Even our old guys, John, 48 and fighting dehydration, and Scott, hors categorie at age 53, pitched in against the rain-slickened roads to third place. All that remained, after drying off and heading back home, was a few dozen self-congratulatory emails on the joys of suffering together for a spot on the (virtual) podium.
For Team Bicycling the Rapha Gentlemen’s Race began a week before the battle was fought on the roads of New Paltz, NY. Our team of six was settled and agreed upon a month in advance. We booked hotels, pooled cars, and were ready to roll…until with a week to go, our team got rocked.
Seven days before super Sunday, word came, “Chris is pulling out.” We were one rider down with a week to go. As fortune would have it, we live in an area rich with hardcore endurance mountain bikers. We just had to mine the field. We struck gold with Harlan Price, an Eastern PA off-road legend fresh off a big win in India. T-minus 5 days, disaster stuck. Former mountain bike racer Brad hit the deck during his first foray into track racing. An ugly crash at the Lehigh Valley Velodrome left his torso battered and bruised. Our track friend had no choice, he was going no matter how bad his liver hurt. We weren’t at full strength, but we’d be fine. Until Saturday, 4 hours before departure for New Paltz, the call came. “Joao was clipped by a car in New York City. He’s out.” “You’re shitting me,” was our collective, dumbfounded response. After a flurry of frantic calls to friends, enemies and fellow racers, we struck gold from digging in the dirt once more. Aaron Snyder, a U23 pro who was leaving for a few weeks of mountain bike racing in Germany two days later, gave into our begging and pleading and like a true pro packed his kit and hit the road.
We made it. The team was complete…and better than we could have imagined. As we spun hour after hour over the mountains and through the valleys of the Catskills and Shawgunks, our clan of six misfit mountain bikers worked together better than any well-oiled road machine, falling silently in unison, reeling in teams along the way. We wanted the podium. We fell one slot short. None of us cared. Our race was won simply by getting to the start.
TEAM BICYCLING: Mike Cushionbury, Selene Yeager, Mike Yozell, Brad Ford, Harlan Price, Aaron Snyder
Stream of thought by Piers North
Putting the team together proved more difficult than first thought, the concept of the Gentlemen’s Race seems fairly intimidating to the majority of NYC racers who’s average race distance is 55 miles.
There seemed to be a lot of talks about tactics and strategy via email that ended up being entirely useless.
I woke very early to go vomit. I think it was from the pasta salad I had prepared the night before.
Arriving at the house I was confronted by a mixture of two very familiar worlds that for me have never shared the same space. I have spent many weekends at beautiful country houses in the Catskills, I have also spent many weekends changing in the back of my car and applying embrocation before races, BUT never before have I prepared for a cycle race in the garden of a beautiful upstate house. It was two of my favorite things all rolled into one.
Vomited in the upstairs toilet with 4 minutes to our allotted start, toilet wouldn’t flush, brief panic. Used bucket, didn’t help, felt guilty about leaving the mess, but must start.
Rapha Racing looked satisfyingly good all in Black and White, rolling out together was the first time we have raced together in such a tight group without the clutter of 200 other riders.
The riders in our team seemed a little nervous most had not ridden that distance ever, there were questions about how you pace yourself over that distance if you have know idea how your legs will react to that amount of time in the saddle.
Puncture number one, fucking Gotham passes us.
Five minutes later we are on a beautiful flat fast road, moving well in single formation. We pass Gotham back, then another team, Fifth Street Cross, I think.
My wife had posted a bunch of signs at one of the junctions, but all I could think about was that she had spelled ‘Allez’ with one “l”, which I obsessed over for several miles.
Sugarloaf: when the hill turned up again with 300 meters to go I ground to walking pace, Peter jumped of his bike and announced that he was on a compact (no wonder he had been making it look so easy) and I should swap bikes with him. This was the ultimate act of team spirit next to actually carrying me up the hill. We got to the top of the hill to find the others already there, I hate stopping so grabbed some more water and a banana and tried to keep moving.
Mile 30: Empire rolls past us, they had started 25 minutes after us. I tried to do the math but just had to settle with the fact that they must have been going very, very fast.
The next 30 miles were rolling through the most beautiful countryside in the north east fast flowing rivers, forests with huge trees, meadows, waterfalls, cliffs and occasionally a team of six cyclists changing a tube.
Puncture number two, Bicycling pass us, they are super smiley and holler as they go past. That ‘Fit Chick’ on the front looks like she is out for a Sunday easy roll.
We puncture again within a minute, the guys are all getting frustrated with the stops except for me, the life is coming back to me. I haven’t vomited for two hours now, so try eating a bar.
Tom and Phil are running on diesel today, they pull us along the 29 and all we can do is hang on. We are in a single formation again and staying quite organized, but its hard the bumps in the road are shaking up the guys in the back and tempers are starting to fray. We are rocking and pass Bicycling who are fixing a puncture.
Riding around the south side of the lake we catch up with a cyclist in some fluorescent 80’s bike outfit, he is on a bike which is too small for him and he has the hairiest legs I have ever seen, as we pass I notice he has a tiny pony tail hanging out the back of his enormous helmet. We grunt at him and he grunts back, we are in a nice formation and rolling pretty smooth on roads that wind their way through some thick woodland. Five minuets pass, and suddenly to our left, following the centre line, out of the saddle, pony tail trailing and face grimacing we are attacked by the 80's fluoro guy. He passes us at speed, sprinting for some non-existent points line, he gets 20 feet ahead and stops pedaling. We go around him and all shoot him a questioning look. A few minutes go by and once again we are under attack from our 80's friend, and once again he stops pedaling right in front of us forcing us to break formation and go around him. He tries this once more, and as he goes past we all jump out of the saddle and chase him up the road, he sees us and this time keeps on pedaling, we all sit on his wheel, his pedal strokes get more and more square until he is going backwards, we cruise past him one last time.
The last climb seemed to be a long time coming, I felt like it should have been around the next corner for at least half an hour.
Suddenly Patrick isn’t with us, he has cracked suddenly. 30 seconds later Tom starts to feel the pain.
Phil has got frustrated and rocketed to the top, I sense he wants this over.
The decent to New Paltz is fantastic, we are all emptying the tanks of final energy and we race towards what we think is the end of our days pain, only to find that we still have a few miles to go. 12 miles in fact, and along a 10 mile false flat that starts to string out our team. Phil is off the front, I realize that if I don’t go as fast as I can I start to cramp, Greg is just behind me and Pete is nursing Tom and Patrick who has taken over the vomiting. This is a cruel joke of an end.
We ride into the house together, and are greeted by beer and Pizza. The Continental team and Adler are nowhere in site which is a great relief.
words Jeremy Dunn
I really thought that we were bringing in a ringer. You know, someone to really bring it home for us. Someone that was going to assure that our team was the fastest, that we would win.
I have known Justin Spinelli for a couple years now. I had first seen him race Cyclocross with the Richard Sachs team, but to this point I had only heard rumors of his aptitude on a road bike. I witnessed that version of savagery the next fall when I watched him race the Salem Witches Cup in Massachusetts. He was on the front drilling it for the last four or five laps of the race, it was a little crazy to watch— this svelte guy parked on the front dragging the rest of the field around.
So when I realized that our team, Rapha Continental, needed an extra guy. I went right to Justin with the request to "guest ride" with us for the day.
What I didn't realize right away was that the rules of of the day would dictate that the team finishes "when the last rider of that team crosses the finish line." Initially I thought that this wouldn't be too much of a problem, until I talked to Kansas.
"Yeah, I've ridden a few times, we should be good."
What exactly is a "few times" when you have a new born baby and a high level job to contend with? Once, maybe twice this year? Just checking.
It was apparent from the onset that not everyone's fitness was on the same level. But, the overall effect that this had on me was twofold:
- One, was that I was forced to back off of whatever intentions I had for winning the race. This is a good lesson to learn as I should not impress those thoughts on other people anyway.
- Two, I had to wrestle internally with the fact that I had brought on a professional cyclist on to the crew who was now literally waiting for us at the top of every climb. I had to let that go at some point as well.
However, my father always told me this; "It will all work out." And so far he hasn't been wrong.
I can't speak for everyone on the ride that day, but I had a blast. The Embrocation Racing squad caught us at about 30 miles in. Being more than good friends with these guys provided a much needed boost to our morale as well as the pace that we were setting.
From there we just rode. We caught up to some people and then they caught us back. We nailed a dirt section like it was the final sector of cobbles before the Roubaix Velodrome. It rained a little, we chatted some and then we finally split up for the last ten or so miles.
But when I got back to base camp Rapha I noticed something that I don't think I'd ever seen at a traditional "bike race" before. People were standing around and laughing, passing out beers, scarfing down pizza and just generally having a good time.
It became even more apparent when the final few teams rolled into the lot. Cheers went up from what seemed like all parts of the woods. Even the dead last HUP United team got a hero's welcome that day.
It all worked out.
words James Morrison
We fielded 5 of our team riders: the Peters- Smith and Bradshaw, Jay, Josh and me plus Matt Roy, a guest rider with Embrocation and a long-distance race specialist. Our team started in the last wave alongside the Empire team from NYC. In the regular race circuit, Empire is one of the most fearsome teams in the region and is one of the strongest players in all Cat 1/2 races. While team Embrocation has some good talent, we’re basically a bunch of recently upgraded Cat 2 riders. Needless to say, Empire dropped us in the first 10 miles - they went on to pass every other team on the course and finished first. In a way I’m glad they made the separation from us earlier rather than later. Once they were out of site we all began to relax a little bit and our competitive aspirations took a back seat to our enjoyment of the ride itself.
My main goal was to stop as little as possible. We began the ride with pockets bulging full of energy bars and spare water bottles. In this we were successful – found that we only needed to take on additional water during the ride with our stores of food lasting us the entirety of the 120 miles. Similarly, thanks to an overabundance of tubes and tools we had little problem quickly fixing the two flats we suffered over the course of the ride. One was caused by a piece of an animal’s skeleton that had penetrated Pete Smith’s tire while Matt blew a tube at the bottom of a long descent that we suspect was caused by heat buildup on the rim.
Probably the most lasting memory our team members will share was the near demise and phoenix-like resurgence of our guest rider Matt Roy. His ride started rough and didn’t get much better for the first two-thirds of the course. He had been sick the week before and had difficulty warming up and even more problems maintaining the pace. Just as we would take turns at the front of the group we would also take turns pushing Matt through difficult sections. Riding close with a hand on his lower back, giving him just enough of a push to keep in contact with the rider ahead. Nobody minded doing this except Matt who became increasingly guilty about slowing us down. He begged us to leave him behind – we refused.
After one of the main climbs we caught up with the Rapha Continental team, who we joined with for the remainder of the ride. With a group of 12 and a long section of rolling downhill Matt was able to spin and rest. It made all the difference. With nearly 80 miles in his legs he finally caught his stride and regained his strength. He even took some massive pulls at the front in the final miles.
While our race wasn't really competitive, we did get 120 of the nicest miles I've ever done. With winding back roads, great views, solid climbs and technical descents the course was beautiful and challenging. We also learned an important lesson about the rules of the Gentlemen’s race format, or rather lack thereof. We departed the final checkpoint alone, leaving our compatriots on the Rapha Continental Team behind with about 10 miles to home. Imagine our surprise when we finished to find them already done and drinking beers. It would seem they took a shortcut in the final few miles – completely within the rules of the race and giving us what we deserved for leaving them behind. Next time we will not make such a mistake.
Sure, we’re a cyclocross team. Mostly though, we’re a bunch of like-minded drunks that like to crash through Bill Strickland’s woods on cross bikes and drink PBR on Thursday nights every fall. I imagine the Gentleman’s Race is probably as legit as we’ll ever get. Instead of making a team clothing order, jerseys are handed out to anyone who can manage to grab fifth place in the Fifth St. Cross general classification. Our team wasn’t made of the fastest or fittest, but the luckiest and most prolific crossers.
For us, the race was a chance to see a little gravel, haul ass for an afternoon, and have fun on two-wheels. Naturally, we made a beer stop around mile 60, picking up 24-ounce Coors “Banquet Beer” tallboys. There was no question. That was the best Coors any of us had ever had.
Frankly, most of the ride was a blur. Sugarloaf was a real sunovabitch and when Empire blew by us, they sounded like a truck. Really, one of us yelled out, “car back.” But there are entire hours that are nothing but a beautiful blur of lush woods and killer views. How much awesome can you really take in and remember for a day?
The route was a touch longer than our usual 40-60 minute romp around a field or forest, and registered as the longest-ride-ever for a few of us. Still, there’s not a mile we’d give up a second time around. Well that’s not true, the last two miles lasted forfuckingever. You can take those.
I don't get to ride with my HUP brethren much. Most of them are in Eastern Mass, and some are in New Hampshire, so when Scott emailed me about a team-based ride, I was intrigued. I had never done anything of that distance before--my longest ride has been a century, and I've done maybe three of them. Ever. My last one was two years ago. So a 122-mile race, what’s a girl to do?
I decided to give it a go because it didn't seem like Scott was going to get six people, and it would be a shame if HUP wasn't represented.
I joined HUP because I like the people, and I like spending my valuable time with people that are enjoyable, who help me grow as a person and who push my limits. I love being part of a team--I'm very much a team player. I'd rather chase down a break or give a lead out than stand on a podium. Maybe that makes me afraid of personal success, I don't know, ask my shrink. I do know I would have never attempted a ride like New Paltz without HUP, and I certainly would have never succeeded.
words Capt. E.W.
I received Slate Olson’s invitation to the Rapha “Gentlemen’s Race” the evening before the Tour of the Battenkill, a race billed as “America’s Queen of the Classics.” In the spirit of optimism that often precedes a race, I accepted. However, after finishing dismally the following day and feeling totally gutted I wondered how well equipped I was for a race nearly twice the distance, regardless of how gentlemanly it purported to be.
Unfortunately, our team had some last-minute cancellations, so we were forced to engage the services of no less than three “ringers.” Of these ringers, two were almost preternaturally strong, while one ran into trouble any time the road went up even slightly. In this sense, I suppose he was sort of an “anti-ringer.” However, our chief ringer would diligently drop back to nurse him on the inclines, and as soon as the road leveled off or tilted downward they’d both return—that is, until about mile 30, where the Sugarloaf climb began and we lost our anti-ringer completely.
In the ensuing miles I had many thoughts, as you often do on a long ride. These thoughts ranged from “This is awesome,” to “This is hard,” to, “Now I know why the pros dope.” That’s the thing about cycling—when you’re flirting with your limit and you’re just trying to finish, nothing feels like cheating. Not letting ringers do all the work, not holding onto the car containing the “Rapharazzi”, and not even swallowing a little mystery pill to help you get through. (Not like I did, but I probably would have if one had been proffered.)
At the top of the final climb, we were reunited with our anti-ringer, who had apparently been alternately napping and making lascivious comments in Slate’s truck for the past 100 miles. He joined us for the run-in to New Paltz, and even had the temerity to chase down some other riders with his fresh legs in truly ungentlemanly fashion. In the end, we finished 8th, though with an asterisk—for technically only finishing with five men, and not for doping.