I made it to the end, but please let me start at the beginning.
5:00 AM is early to get up on a Saturday. The night prior I had triple-checked all my equipment. Everything except my cycling clothes was in the car, ready to go. The forecast was for a cool start but a warm afternoon, leaving me with a clothing quandary: base layer or bare arms? I had hoped to buy arm warmers at my LBS, but (as per usual) they didn’t have my size. I went with the base layer and hoped for the best. If it got too hot, I could always take it off and stow it in my jersey pocket.
I arrived at Rockett’s Landing without event and made my way to the check in station. There, I received a green wristband which indicated I was on the century ride, a jersey number, my T-Shirt, cue sheet and course map. I then went back to the car and made my final preparations: number on jersey, cycling shoes, cycling gloves, helmet, sunglasses, bottles in cages, air in tires. I was ready to go with 15 minutes to spare.
A crowd was gathering at the start line. I pedaled around to kill some time and found a great view of Richmond. While I was taking a picture, another cyclist came up and asked if I wanted a pic with me in it. Absolutely! You can see my white sleeved base layer, but you can’t see the wisps of breath that were puffing out into the cold morning. I didn’t think it would warm up enough to bother taking it off.
The First Half
At 7:30 an unseen man on a public address system welcomed us and gave a few administrative announcements. After counting down from 10, the ride started and the mass of 500+ riders in the century surged forward. The first mile of road was closed as the pack thinned out. Then we were on the open road.
My plan was to do as much group riding as possible so I could save my energy by drafting. Initially, I had no choice because we were traveling as one huge group. After about four miles, the pack had thinned out into several very long pace lines. I got into one and settled in.
We were flying.
As I experienced in my humble four-person paceline back in November, the pace picked up quite a bit. We were going about 23 mph and the group was huge – about 50 people. Soon, we were out of town and zipping through Richmond National Battlefield Park. I was disappointed not to be able to take it in properly – I wanted to shout, “Hey, everybody! Richmond was a significant location in the 1862 Peninsula Campaign and the 1864 Overland Campaign. Lets stop and see if there’s anything interesting to see!” I didn’t say that because somehow I didn’t think the group would be impressed by these facts.
So onward we went. We moved back onto main roads of very good quality and the pace didn’t slow. The huge group splintered into dozens of smaller groups. I found myself with five others, and we eventually linked up with a group of four. We roared into the first Rest Stop (called “Feed Zones” in this ride) at Mile 27 with a 23mph pace.
I didn’t want to stop. There was another Feed Zone at Mile 39 and I was feeling good. I was tired of the paceline experience and wanted to strike out on my own. So I did. The roads were in great condition and the terrain as table top flat, so I did a good solo pace of about 17 mph without really trying hard. It was a pleasant morning and it was good to have the road to myself. At Mile 35, four guys caught up with me and I latched onto them, hoping to pick up some speed until the Feed Zone four miles away.
At Mile 39, I got a surprise – there was no feed zone! The station was only a bicycle mechanic. This meant that I would go 52 miles without stopping. Yippee. It took me a few seconds to get my head around that one. Fortunately, I had some Clif Bars with me and I made good use of them as I grabbed onto a group of 20 (or so) cyclists. I just needed to hang on for 12 miles until we stopped for lunch at Mile 52.
It seems that every organized ride has its “brush with death” moment, and it was at Mile 48 that I saw the near-miss that could have killed several. Astute readers will recall I mentioned in my last post that the ride starts at both ends. We came upon a group of riders traveling from the other direction. This group had bunched up near the front and was riding three abreast. This is a “no-no” and our pre-ride instructions were clear on this point. Our group of 20 was bunched up in a similar manner (note: I was not part of these shenanigans and was well to the rear, riding near the shoulder). The space between the group was large enough to accommodate a pickup truck with a few inches to spare on either side. I know this because just such a vehicle raced between the two groups, much to the consternation of those most closely involved. With everyone tightly bunched, simply clipping a rider would have wiped out several. Plowing into one of the groups would certainly have killed many. Yikes.
With that unpleasantness behind us, we screamed into the Chickahominy State Park for a lunch meal, which consisted of all the PowerAde I could drink, a Turkey sandwich and some energy foods. The sandwich was great. I met a pleasant fellow from Richmond wearing a US Marine jersey. Turns out he wasn’t in the Corps, but most of his family is and he wears it out of respect to them. He was a really nice guy who told me how tough the ride was last year, when they faced 50mph winds on the return leg. It was getting quite warm at this point, so I found a (somewhat) secluded place and stripped to the waist in order to remove my base layer. With that stowed in a jersey pocket, I was ready to head back.
Before resuming my tale, let me share with you some thoughts on pacelines. Clearly, they are the way to go. They let you go 5mph faster than you would normally go with less energy. Had I stopped my ride at this point, my 20 mph average pace would have obliterated the best of any ride I had ever been on. But I have discovered some “challenges” with paceline rides that are worth mentioning:
– Huge groups make accordion-like movements, meaning if you are in the back, you are regularly braking and accelerating. This is mentally taxing as well as more physically draining than a proper paceline should be.
– People understand the above point and work very hard to stay near the front of the group. They can be rude and dangerous while doing so.
– Each cyclist in a paceline is supposed to take a turn leading the group. It’s only fair. I didn’t see that practice at all. Huge lines would form behind two or three strong riders willing to pull the rest. At one point, I tried to shame the rest of the group by pedaling past five or six people to take the lead, saying, “It’s time someone else did some work up here.” The strong riders were very grateful and complimentary for this but nobody else ever took a turn.
– I am hardly an expert, but I know the basics of how to get along in a group – no sudden movements, communicate constantly, and ride in a straight line. Not everybody seems to understand these concepts, making things more adventurous than need be. There were several riders on aero bars in groups – a major faux-pas as they are not very maneuverable in an emergency.
The Second Half
Lunch hit the spot and I was soon bike on my bike, a full 60 minutes ahead of my planned schedule. I left by myself, but soon spied another group and labored to catch up with it. I never really felt comfortable and this group was pushing the pace faster than I was willing to go. I let them drop me after about eight miles. Three miles later, I came upon the next Feed Zone and the group was taking a break there. Perhaps that’s why I couldn’t hang with them – they were sprinting the eleven miles from lunch to the next rest area. The stop was too soon for me and I pressed on. As events would transpire, I would do the final 37 miles of the ride by myself.
The quality of the roads on the return course were not as good as those on the way out. These were “back country roads,” with a rough surface that made for a bumpy ride. The gentle breeze was now in my face. And I was getting tired. Still, I was very pleased to break my personal best distance of 70 miles in good shape.
A few miles down the road, the group that dropped me before the last Feed Zone reeled me back in. I was still pleased to see that I made it about 15 miles before that happened. I let them go, preferring to simply cruise my way back into Richmond. I was being passed by the occasional group/solo rider and I passed one or two folks myself. I counted the miles before the final rest stop at Mile 87 and was very glad to pull in for a break. They had plenty of bananas, grapes, cookies, and energy foods. I had my fill, refilled my bottles and shoved off for the final push. It was quite warm out and I was ready for the ride to be over.
Riders on shorter routes were intermingled with the century riders at this point. Traffic was getting heavier as well as we approached the town. I reminded myself to stay focused on “the little things” which my fatigue might cause me to slip up on. I didn’t want to collide with a less experience rider, hit a pot hole, or a car through lack of attention. There were a few stop lights, which were maddening as it broke my momentum and caused me to reaccelerate. I made jokes with the handful of riders with me about the “great opportunity” to get some sprint work in during the final few miles of the course. These were greeted with the chuckles that gallows humor usually inspires.
I still had some strength for the last few miles, moving at a pretty good clip. I was very tired, to be sure, but I never “bonked” and was happy to look like a respectable cyclist on my way in. The ride organizers mentioned in their pre-race literature that the average century is completed in 7.5 hours, so I was extremely pleased to finish five minutes over 6 hours – an average pace of 16.5 mph and a moving pace of 18.0 mph. I did not think those numbers would have been possible.
I put my bike in the truck, unloaded the junk out of my jersey pockets, took off my helmet/gloves, grabbed some sneakers and headed to the start/finish line for the post-ride meal. This was a neat change from my previous rides, where people finished then simply went home. It was great to see so many riders enjoying the day and swapping ride stories. I grabbed my meal (pork BBQ, cole slaw, a cookie and a beer) and sat down with some folks from Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Team In Training. They explained their team, which is funded by the society in return for charitable contributions earned by each rider. It’s an interesting concept.
Everyone agreed it was a nearly perfect day to ride and the times were very fast because of it. My Army jersey drew more than a few remarks (all of them positive) and I find it is a much better conversation starter than my plain white jersey. A bluegrass band was playing, which completed the atmosphere. After a bit, it was time for me to head home, which I did. I was mildly concerned that I would be so exhausted that the hour(+) ride home would be challenging. That was nowhere near the case. As I write this the day after, I am not sore in the least and the only lingering effect is a touch of sunburn on my arms. Not bad!
So that’s my Cap2Cap ride report. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! This was the best-organized event I have attended in my short riding “career.” Check-in was a breeze, ride marshals were at almost every turning point, the ride stops were very well stocked, the food was great, and the after-party was excellent. I couldn’t have asked for a better event for my first century.