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Team Bicycling Magazine
I found my limit on the descent down Bake Oven Road. On the northern slope of Blue Mountain, it was the third of four trips up and over the ridge, and the downhill leg immediately proved more challenging than anything I’d yet faced.
The road, which I wouldn’t want to drive my car over, was loosely paved with stones ranging in size from a man’s fist to a baby’s head. Water bars crossed at odd intervals and the cool, gray surface of slick rock rose in lumps from the road bed’s sand like shields abandoned on an ancient battle field. Tilt the whole image at a precipitous angle, throw in a few switchbacks, and you get a sense of the surface my five team mates and I found ourselves flying down at mile 96 of the Rapha Gentlemen’s Race.
I had thought that I was being challenged much earlier in the day as our team, having started last of among 21 others, passed two others in quick succession. Back then (months ago?) I thought a challenge was holding my friend’s wheel on a small hill; the 135 miles would be easy. Now, legs tired and mouth dry, jersey crusty with salt, bike damaged and knee bloodied, I realized that the race was crazy in concept and execution — anything but easy. So, I rode my brakes down the hill, swooping from left to right seeking a smoother line. I skidded around turns and held on tight. At the bottom, the team paused to regroup. We all shared a common look, which said: “Dear Rapha, I will ride my bike from here to the moon, so long as I do not have to ride my road bike down anything like that, ever again. Sincerely, Team Bicycling.”
Fortunately, things got a little easier from there, even as we crossed over Blue Mountain once more and then embarked on an endless series of rolling hills. Over the course of the day, every rider on our team tested his or her limits. Maybe that was the point? We rode safely down Bake Oven Road, managed to keep turning the pedals harder than other teams, and remained friends after finishing — all minor miracles. That we set the day’s fastest time on the course — well, that was just old fashioned hard work.