First off, please go HERE and donate. It is an amazing cause, 100% of all donations stay right here, and the only thing worse than someone battling cancer is a child battling it.
It was pitch black and a balmy 32 degrees when I left my driveway heading for downtown St. Louis and the start of the 2012 Pedal The Cause ride. It had rained on and off all week, but the day promised sun if not warmth.
I listened to the soundtrack from ROAD TO ROUBAIX on the way there, and it seemed to inspire me. The ride was to be almost 80 miles with 5600 feet of climbing, though the awful MapyMyRide site had the elevation gain listed as 2200. What a rude awakening awaited some riders.
This was to be my first big event ride since last November’s 2011 El Tour de Tucson with my son. By the way, if you missed that post, it’s worth taking time to read… my boy rocks.
I had ridden the 100 Miles of Nowhere this summer, done a flat century and even a couple of metric centuries by myself. But there is always something about a big event ride that gets my heart rate up.
Fizz Pimps Accessories
At the start the temperature had climbed to a scorching 36 degrees. While I knew I could handle the distance, and half the route was on roads I am very familiar with, the cold was something I had little experience with. But thanks to my Hincapie Arenberg bib tights, Assos Body Insulator, SockGuy Wooligan socks, Castelli Estremo gloves, and my Pearl Izumi neoprene skullcap I figured I was ready.
What’s missing from the above list? Yes… shoe covers. <<Foreshadowing
There were over 1,800 riders in this year’s Pedal The Cause, and more than five hundred of us were tackling the “Long Ride.” By sheer chance I was in about ninth position as we lined up at the start… I noticed that most of those around me were on bikes with European names, Zipp wheels, and had body shapes that resembled Jens Voigt. Mine resembles Philip Seymour Hoffman.
But I was sporting my brand new and super fast TEAM FATTY kit from Twin Six, so I knew I could hang with these speedsters.
There was a giant American flag hanging above the start/finish line and as a local voice sang the Star Spangled Banner, that thing that always happens to me at the start of big event rides happened…
I began to cry.
Okay, not actually cry. But yeah, pretty close. I have actually cried tears from my eyes only twice on the bike. The first time was when I saw my family with homemade signs cheering me on during my first ever big event ride back in 2010, and the second was during the disaster that was the 2010 El Tour de Tucson.
Since then I have not actually cried on the bike, but I have gotten misty eyes and a lump in my throat – and it’s always at the start of these events. I don’t know what the emotional trigger is for me, but as the National Anthem came to an end, and the announcer blew the horn and we all clipped in rolled away, I could feel it coming.
And it’s always around the same point – when I start to see all those volunteers and policemen out there, this morning standing in freezing temps just to help all of us on our ride. The eyes welled, the lump came, and I remember thinking, “Get ahold of yourself, Fizz, you’re not a rookie anymore.”
And so I did.
Despite the cold I was feeling good. I was being passed by some riders, but not nearly as many as I would have thought. The first five miles are straight out of downtown and mostly flat, and I was managing a 18-19mph average without much effort. It was cold, but not unbearable. I remember feeling like the only body part that really felt cold were my toes… but surely they would warm up as I pedaled.
The first rest stop – called “Refueling Stations” at Pedal The Cause – came around 7.5 miles in. I rolled by it, surprised to see so many riders there, especially since these were folks who had been riding so much faster than me. I cruised by, still feeling good. Then I began to hear a noise in my left ear.
For a moment I wondered if a bird had gotten stuck in my jersey. I glanced over my shoulder and saw it was not a bird. My bib number had come loose from the back of my jersey and was flapping up against the back of my shoulders.
Let me pause here to say… if any of you are planning any big event rides in the future, I highly recommend getting that spray adhesive stuff to glue your bib number to your jersey. It peels off after the ride, the goo washes off, and you never have to worry about safety pins tearing holes in your brand new Team Fatty kit so large that the bib number comes loose and flaps against you like some sick scene out of a Hitchcock film.
I rolled into the next refueling station (mile 13) and texted my wife to “bring safety pins” to the next station – mile 23 – where my family had planned to meet me. As I got my gloves back on after the texting I watched rider after rider roll by me. My competitiveness kicked in, and I had to force myself not to chase. I was in this for the long haul, not for time, but for completion.
The next several miles were over a series of rollers, and I found a group of five riders and we all hung together and took turns pulling each other.
I had estimated that if I kept a 14mph pace overall, I could finish this ride in six hours, maybe even a little less. It all depended on how much the climbs and cold would take out of me.
I had told my wife to be at the mile-23 stop by 8:30. That would be 90 minutes after the start, and I figured I could managed 16mph over that part of the course. I hit the stop and saw my fam at exactly 8:30. Everything was good, except for the fact that I could not feel my toes at all.
I hugged my kids goodbye and headed off. We were now entering “my world” – the part of the ride that goes over the very roads I ride on every day. Those of you who have had the gift of doing an event ride on familiar roads can appreciate what a calming influence it can be. I felt good and rolled along trying to ignore my toes, or lack thereof.
The first big climb was Shepherd Road. It’s a Cat 4 on Strava — a 2.9 mile climb that hits 13% right out of the gate, then averages about 7-8% the rest of the way. I was in my spinningest gear when I hit the climb – my strategy being not to blow up early so I would have something left later when the grade isn’t so bad.
I was passed by seven riders in the first 100 yards (91 meters for you lads across the pond) of the climb. A man and woman in matching kits, two big, tall arrogant dudes (more on them later), and three women all sporting fancy team kits. But I just kept spinning my chunky bum up Shepherd.
After cresting the steepest part of the climb, something happened. My climbing camp with Hova from this spring kicked in — he had told me the single biggest mistake riders make when climbing is NOT shifting enough. They lock into a gear and go. Climbing is not about strength or stamina — it is all about rhythm and momentum. And the best way to keep momentum is to shift. A lot. I am sure Aaron can attest to this.
So I started shifting. Back and forth through the gears, keeping my momentum at its peak. And it worked.
I began catching and passing all those who had passed me. Before the climb’s end I had even caught a couple of people who had passed me before the climb. I crushed Shepherd Road.
There was only about 2 miles between the Shepherd climb and the next one – Babler. I stopped but at a refueling station to refill my bottles. As I stood there I watched all those riders I’d passed come back by. The two arrogant dudes rolled by and said – loud enough so we’d all hear – “That’s what happens when you go too hard too soon.”
Okay, these guys aren’t just arrogant. They’re douches.
Nothing is as inspiring as wanting to catch and drop two douches. I downed a Gu and mounted The Goat. “Let’s roll.”
Yes, I seriously said that. Out loud.
There is a half-mile long, 3% descent on the way to Babler State park. I hit 40mph on it and caught the douches about a hundreds before the entrance to the park. They were cranking big gears about 35mph when I blew by them in a full tuck. The entrance to Babler is a short 15% rise. I went back into my spin mode, knowing the dangers that lurked deep inside the park.
Near the top of the entrance road the two douches caught me and happily rolled by – both out of the saddle – and one said, “Nice tuck.” I ignored them and kept spinning.
The Tortoise and The Douchey Hares
My family was waiting inside Babler and I smiled and waved and stopped to hug, knowing Dos Douches were getting farther away. But worried I was not. I had seen them on Shepherd and knew what was coming.
There are a few climbs inside Babler. The second toughest is 1.3 miles averaging over 13% with two nasty pitches over 17%. That’s the one we’d be doing.
To get there you must descend down into the woods – now you can’t (or at least I can’t) go all out on this descent because there are three blind turns and since cars exist in my world, I can never fully commit. But I still did pretty well. I hit 42mph and then began hallucinating.
I saw two great white sharks on the side of the road. Or at least two people in shark costumes. Not cheering, not ringing bells… just standing there… silently… in shark costumes… in a state park… at nine in the morning. If I hadn’t been on a douche hunt, I would have stopped for a photo op. It was surreal.
When I hit the climb I got the tiniest taste of the Tour de France. There was a guy dressed in a devil costume – with trident and all – yelling and running along side me. It was AWESOME! I don’t know who that dude was, but thank you devil dude!
I spun my way up the first 17% grade. I saw no other riders. Not the two douches, nobody. I kept spinning. I crested the first pitch and shifted. Then climbed and shifted and climbed and shifted.
As I made my way to the last part of the climb I saw a rider. Not one of the two douches, just a guy in a Pedal The Cause jersey, paper-boying his way up the last pitch.
I spun past him, crested the summit, slammed my Shimano Ultegra into the big ring and began to haul ass. I had forgotten about the cold, my toes, or my spiked heart rate – everything was all about the douche hunt.
I cranked and cranked and found them. Both sitting up, recovering from the climb. I got out of the saddle and dropped them like third period French.
I came back out to the front of the park and stopped to see my family. As hugs were given all around, here came the two douches again. I let them go. Hugs beat breakaways any day. But something really cool happened the rest of the ride…
I caught and dropped these two arrogant goofs all day long. I would catch them, drop them, then stop to see my family. They would ride by me. Then I would catch them and drop them again.
One of my favorite moments of the day was about 62 miles into the ride, I rolled up on them again. As I sat about ten yards behind them I witnessed them berate a poor guy on a hybrid for not moving over fast enough. I made sure to say good morning and talk with hybrid guy a bit before I continued after my quarry.
I came upon Douche #1 (who had berated hybrid guy), got right onto his back wheel – like inches from it – then as loud as I could I yelled, “On your left!” The guy nearly swerved off the road. As I passed Douche #2 I said, “Yeah, me again.”
The next time I saw them was when they crossed the Finish Line… about five minutes after I did.
I finished in barely over five hours and that includes all the hug stops. 78 miles, 5525 feet of gain. And my toes eventually warmed up.
I apologize for not having photos. My family took some and I will get them up here as soon as I can. But for now, know the 2012 Pedal The Cause was my single best performance in a big event ride to date.
I encourage all of you – no matter what fitness level you are at – to participate in charity events like this. Be it cycling, running, whatever, for cancer research or whatever, there is nothing like the feeling of being part of something with so many others, douches notwithstanding.
Go find a ride or a run or a walk and DO IT.
Lastly, thank you to all the volunteers and police officers who helped with Pedal The Cause, and to all those volunteers who help with rides all over the world. These rides are ONLY possible because of the amazing volunteers who do it for no money, no glory, nothing more than to give back. You are the true heroes of these rides.
Ride your bike.
Drop the douches.
You’re very good, you are, you are