During the 2012 Team Fatty gear pre-order, I made no secret of my enthusiasm for the new Specialized bottles with the Watergate (ha) valves. Twin Six did an awesome design to go on those bottles, and a bunch of you — like, around 500 of you — ordered some of these beauties.
The fact that we sold these bottles at no profit whatsoever (good luck finding these bottles at $8.00 anywhere else) probably had something to do with the number of orders, too.
Well, yesterday my bottles arrived. Here’s what they look like:
Evidently, someone at Specialized thought that the black translucent bottle TwinSix ordered wasn’t a good color, and convinced them to go with silver. But on that silver bottle, the orange color looks…well, brown.
The thing is, those of you who ordered these bottles are probably starting to get them right now.
And I figure some of you, at least, are going to be a little disappointed in the way these things look.
I called the Twin Six guys, and they agreed, this is not what the bottles should look like, and they (the bottles, not the Twin Six guys) are, frankly, pretty ugly.
So, they’re going to make things right.
In fact, they’re going to make things even righter than right.
Option 1: If You Just Can’t Stand the Bottle
If you simply cannot imagine yourself ever using this bottle, email email@example.com. They’ll set you up with what you need to return the bottle(s) and get a refund.
Option 2: If You Would Like an Awesome Deal
While I don’t really dig the brownish-orange-on-silver look, the fact remains that these are the best-working bottles I’ve ever had. And if you use it, you’ll like it.
So if you got one (or more) of these bottles and want to hang on to it, Twin Six is going to give you a 30%-off code toward any full-price purchase. Which means if you buy a $24 shirt, that pretty much means you got the bottle for free. And if you buy a couple of jerseys, you’ve more than made your money back in savings.
Stay tuned for details on what this code is and when you can start using it. Twin Six is getting it set up right now, and I’ll post it on the blog.
Hey, some times weird things (like brownish orange ink on a silver bottle) happens. I think it’s cool that Twin Six is making it right.
A Note from Fatty About the GranFondo Contest: Congratulations to Michael K of Southern California; he and his girlfriend will be getting the full-on deluxe treatment at Levi’s GranFondo this weekend!
I haven’t drawn the other three prizes yet; I’ll do that today. So just because you haven’t heard from me doesn’t mean you haven’t won!
A Note from Fatty to People Who Are Going to The GranFondo: Hey, we should all go to the Armstrong Redwood State Natural Reserve on a hike on Friday afternoon, and maybe go to the Gran LaFonda handmade bicycle show Friday evening. Send me an email so I can put a list together and get ahold of you with the where and when.
A Late Start
The day started rainy. Like, miserably coldly rainily rainy. I was trying to be philosophical about it, though. Trying to tell myself things like, “Well, I knew it would have to rain on at least one of the rides.”
That wasn’t helping, though. The Alpe d’Huez was the most famous of all the rides we’d be doing in this trip, and I wasn’t all that excited about
racing riding it in the rain.
Andy announced that we’d start the ride a little later, because the weather report showed that the rain might be slackening — or stopping altogether — within the next hour or so.
And, amazingly, it did. But it was still cold, still looked like it might start raining again, and we had a 2000-ish foot descent from La Grave to get down to Le Bourg d’Oisans, the village at the base of the Alpe d’Huez climb. So we bundled up: Smartwool base layer and and armwarmers, tights, jersey and rain jacket.
The ride plan was actually a little shorter than some of the other days: drop down to Le Boug d’Oisans, climb the Alpe d’Huez, drop down the other side, and then climb back to La Grave.
just 53 miles, with around 7000 feet of climbing.
By the time we got to the village — “the Bourg” as we called it — the sky had cleared. The day had turned warm.
Things were looking much better. We ditched all our cold-weather riding gear in the follow van (having a follow van is the ultimate in cycling luxury).
We were in no hurry to get started on the climb, though. After all, it was (now) a beautiful day, we had a lot of riding ahead of us, may as well relax for a bit.
So here’s The Hammer, relaxing at a cafe:
And here’s Andy Freaking Hampsten, looking at a photo of some famous guy racing the Alpe d’Huez:
And here he is taking a closer look and realizing it’s him:
And here’s me, considering the possibility of glory on the Alpe d’Huez.
Or something like that.
Fighting the Urge
After hanging around for a while — some people bought local jerseys at a bike shop, but The Hammer and I did some currency conversions in our head and got serious sticker shock, and hence bought nothing — it was time to get started.
It was time to climb the Alpe d’Huez. I swear, I got a little tingle just typing that.
After attacking the Mont-du-Chat climb without The Hammer, and then riding the Col-du-Glandon with her, I had pretty much decided that it was more awesome to ride and experience these things together. But as the small group I was riding with — Shawn, Heather, The Hammer, and I — got near the base of the climb, I reconsidered.
“I really want to ride this at my limit,” I told The Hammer.
“I really want to enjoy myself and take pictures,” The Hammer told me.
“Do you mind if I go for it?” I asked.
“Of course not,” she replied. “See you at the top.”
I saw the sign that indicated the base of the Alpe d’Huez climb, punched my GPS’s Lap button, and Shawn and I started the climb.
The Hammer took a picture of me as I went.
As far as the climb goes, well, it’s steep. I mean, check out the elevation profile, beginning at about mile 20.
The thing is, though, only the first couple kilometers feel really brutal. After that, the switchbacks come pretty often:
And those switchbacks give you a nice twenty-second reprieve.
Now, the most distinctive — and wonderful, as far as I’m concerned — feature of the Alpe d’Huez is that after the first couple kilometers, the road is painted with names. Everywhere. All the way to the summit.
And since my head was down, looking at the pavement, those painted names were pretty much the only thing I saw.
I didn’t stop for pictures. I didn’t talk with any of the people I passed. I didn’t take a good look at the church on Dutchman’s Corner.
I just rode my heart out. Tried to be as fast as I could possibly be. And, for what it’s worth, I think I did pretty well. I passed dozens — maybe hundreds — of cyclists. Meanwhile, not a single person passed me. Even Shawn dropped off, leaving me to get to the top alone.
Luckily for you, however, The Hammer did take pictures during the climb, and has a much more lucid recollection of it. So you’ll definitely want to read her recap of the day at the end of this post.
I looked at each switchback sign — on the Alpe d’Huez, switchbacks are numbered — counting my way to the top.
I was hurting so much. I wanted desperately to get to the top, to finish.
Simultaneously, I didn’t want this climb to end, ever.
Putting in a truly maximum effort does crazy things to your head; the pain is canceled — kind of — by pride in what you’re able to make your body do.
All the way up the climb I read, everywhere “ANDY, ANDY ANDY.” Such was my dementia that for about two thirds of it I thought, “How cool that they’re still honoring Andy Hampsten by painting his name on the road.”
And then I remembered there’s more than one Andy, and mentally facepalmed.
A couple of times during the climb I tried to do mental comparisons to where I normally ride. And to be certain, there are just as demanding — in fact, even more demanding — climbs all around my house.
But there’s something about the celebrity of the Alp d’Huez. Turning yourself inside out where the icons of cycling have turned themselves inside out.
Knowing this was (probably) a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me, I went harder than I think I could have otherwise.
And then, there was the banner. The finish line. I rode under it, resisting the urge to throw my arms in the air, because there were a lot of people sitting, watching from a nearby outdoor cafe and I didn’t want to look like a fool.
The Summit, Take 2
I stopped, rested for a few minutes. Then I realized: I had forgotten to stop my stopwatch. So I punched it then. 56 minutes. Minus a few minutes for forgetfulness, so 53-ish minutes or so.
I felt a little bit bad that I had missed my opportunity to get an accurate measurement of my finishing time, but at least I knew that the Alp d’Huez takes, more or less, about the same amount of time it takes to get to the top of the Alpine Loop back home. Which made sense, because the effort and amount of climbing are about the same, too.
Then the thought occurred to me, I should turn around and ride back down to where The Hammer is, and finish riding up with her. I rode down the (surprisingly short) distance to where she was climbing up, and we finished the climb to the Finisher’s banner together.
This time, though, we took pictures. Here’s The Hammer as she approaches:
And here she is, under the banner, asking if I got the shot when she threw her arms up in the air.
The answer, of course, is “no.” I did not get that shot. But she was fine with this one.
Then I handed her the camera so she could get a shot of me going under the banner:
Whoops. Hit the trigger a little soon. So she asked me to go under again.
Summit, Take 3
By now, all the people in the outdoor cafe were laughing their heads off at us. I couldn’t understand why. Sure, we were obviously doing touristy photos, but thousands of people probably take this shot at the summit every day, right?
And that’s when Shawn caught up with us and said, “You’re not at the summit yet. That’s another kilometer uphill.”
Oh. In other words:
The little dip you see is where I went downhill to meet The Hammer so I could ride back up with her.
So. We got back on our bikes and rode to where the real summit is. Which does not have a banner, nor a little podium prop like the fake summit. It’s kind of plain, actually.
I contend that the fake summit is more awesome than the real summit of the Alp d’Huez.
Picnic and Back Home
We weren’t done with our riding for the day — far from it, really. We still had a climb of about 600 feet to get to the descent, called “Route Pastorale du Col de Sarenne.”
Which called for a picnic on the summit of the Alpe d’Huez. Here’s me, eating:
And me, getting something else to eat:
And me, eating some more:
Gee, I wonder why my nickname’s “Fatty.”
Next, we rode up to the highest point of the day’s ride, the Vallee du Ferrand:
As we began the descent, I was astonished at how steep sections were, and how long of a descent we were taking. Look at that road winding on and on below us:
My “Every descent implies an ascent” alarm went off inside my head, and I hoped we wouldn’t be descending for too much longer.
Oh, and here I am, somewhere along the descent, holding a giant rock:
By the time we climbed the road back to La Grave and our hotel, I was wiped out. It was only afternoon, but I was ready to eat and then get to bed.
The vacation had settled into a routine: Wake, eat, prep, ride, eat, rest, eat, sleep. There wasn’t much time for anything else. And I couldn’t have been happier.
We had two more days of riding. The final day would be the Col du Galibier.
But the day before that, there would be a disaster.
The Hammer’s Take
Here’s the letter — and photos — The Hammer wrote about our day on the Alpe d’Huez.
Well amazingly the rain abruptly stopped and after breakfast we prepared to descend into the city of Le Bourg d’Osians. This is the gateway city of Alpe d’Huez and home of one of Andy’s favorite bike stores. We bundled up in all of our warm bike gear and raced down the valley to Le Bourg. The temperature was quickly warming up and we didn’t need the warm stuff for long. That is the advantage of having a van following you, you can pick and choose what you want to wear.
Here is Elden contemplating what type of pastry he would like to try before heading out for the monster climb of Alpe d’Huez.
Elden had forewarned me that I would be riding up Alpe d’Huez on my own. He really wanted to ‘pour on the gas’ and see how fast he could climb to the top. He wanted to feel like a pro racer as he switch backed up the road.
I, on the other hand, wanted to take in the experience–take pictures, enjoy the view, etc.
Alpe d’Huez consists of 21 switchbacks and is approximately 8 miles long. Each switchback is labeled with a number and the elevation. It also has a name of a cyclist that won an Alpe d’Huez stage in the Tour de France and the year he won it. It is very helpful as you climb up the mountainside.
Here is a picture of the first few switchbacks.
I was warned that the first 3 switchbacks were extremely steep (10% grade) and after that it mellows back down to a 5-8% grade. I started off with 3 other riders (Elden being one of them) and they quickly dropped me. I didn’t mind, I was enjoying myself. I wasn’t going slow either, there were plenty of other bikers on the road and I was quickly passing them.
After the first few kilometers, the road wasn’t as steep and I really turned on the power. If I was running the RAGNAR, I would have counted the bikers that I passed and would refer to them as “road kill”. If this had been RAGNAR, I would have had over 50 road kill. I was burning up the Alpe d’Huez!
THis is switchback seven, also called Dutch Man’s Corner. You can see the base of the ski resort-”the top” in the saddle of the two hills.
On Dutchman corner, there is a small village-complete with old church and cemetery.
Here I am posing with Andy Hampsten’s switchback sign! Only 5 more switch backs to the top!! Yeah!
The sign says I’ve made it…at least to the closest side of the village. I still have a few kilometers before I reach the top.
I met Elden here. He had made it to the top and returned to ride with me. What a sweet man.
Look at all the switchbacks that I have done…just a few more left
The roads were still painted with encouragement from fans from the last Tour of France. Too bad my name is not Andy or Frank or Alberto!
Yeah! Elden takes the stage! But not really….This is a fake finish line to get you to stop in the village and buy a beer. The top is still a few kilometers to go!
It’s Lisa who Wins the mountain top finish of the Alpe d’Huez! We celebrated by drinking the most expensive coke of our lives…4 euros for a can of coke! ($6).
The descent down the back side of the Alpe d’Huez actually started off with a 600 ft climb! The road was pretty messed up too. It had big cobblestone trenches built into the road to help with drainage. It made for a vey hairy descent once we hit the real top!
Elden starting the switch backs down the back side of the mountain:
Taking in the view:
One of the many mountain lakes we passed on the return trip to La Grave. The water is a peculiar bluish green!
The water from the glaciers and snow come rushing off the rugged mountain sides!
Now we’re about to head out on today’s ride — it’s supposed to be an easier day, since tomorrow we ride the Col du Galibier — another famous Tour de France stage!
I don’t care very much about clothes, and hence don’t own a lot of clothes. I pretty much rotate between four pairs of shorts and maybe eight t-shirts, six of which are black (and five of which are Fat Cyclist t-shirts).
That’s pretty much it. That’s how I dress. When I travel, I don’t have to choose what to wear; I just bring everything along. It still fits in a carry-on.
And yet, my closet is full. I have several bike jerseys, and several pairs of bibshorts. And some cold-weather riding gear: a few jackets, tights, vests, and pairs of armwarmers. And some more jerseys.
Just the essentials, really.
“I cannot believe how many jerseys you have,” said The Hammer. “You could wear a different jersey every day for a month, including weekends.”
“That’s ridiculous,” I answered.
And so The Hammer decided to make a point. She got out all my bike clothes (although she forgot my socks and gloves. I I took pains not to remind her of this fact because I was pretty sure it would not work in my favor), and she laid them out on the driveway.
Like this (click for larger):
Originally I planned to take a picture from a tall ladder at the end of the driveway (you can see the shadow of the ladder in the top-left corner of the above image), but it just wasn’t high enough to be able to see the jerseys well.
So I went on the roof of the house and photographed them there. I still couldn’t get all the stuff in the frame, so I took a bunch of photos and then kinda-sorta stitched them all together in Photoshop.
Unfortunately, they’re all upside down this way. But I can fix that problem (click here for a very large version of this photo):
Once you get over the “Help, the world is upside down!” feeling (and the fact that my Photoshop skills aren’t that great), you will no doubt notice that I do, in fact, not have enough jerseys to wear a different one every day for a month. That was clearly absurd of The Hammer to even suggest such a thing.
I have enough jerseys to wear a different one every day for two months.
Clearly, I have a problem.
And–obviously–that problem is: I need to get more bibshorts.
PS: Oh, come on. Don’t tell me you’re any different than me.
PPS: Speaking of jerseys, there are a lot of people noticing that the new FatCyclist jersey is quite possibly the best jersey we’ve ever done (see professionally-shot self-portrait, right), and folks are wondering how they can get one.
Well, the best way to get one was to have been part of the pre-order back in July. However, there will be a few jerseys and other Team Fatty gear available once all the pre-orders have shipped and exchanges have been handled.
Those will go on sale in mid-October. You’ll want to act fast, because those will probably sell out within a day.
The best way to stay posted on when these will be available will be to read this blog and follow me and TwinSix on Twitter.
A Note from Fatty About the GranFondo Contest: We haven’t drawn winners yet, but will be drawing them today. So if you haven’t gotten notified, it doesn’t mean you didn’t win. Isn’t that a relief? Thanks, by the way, to everyone who donated. We raised $7390, which is an awesome amount.
A Note from Fatty About Today’s Post: I know I said last Thursday that today I was going to write about riding the Alpe d’Huez. But today I feel like writing about the race I did last weekend. So the Alpe d’Huez post will come a little later this week. Probably not tomorrow though. I’ve got a very strange and embarrassing post I want to do tomorrow.
Before I begin, let me make one thing clear. I’m just not going to write “Xterra” in all-caps, the way Xterra apparently thinks I should. Because all-caps is reserved for shouting, and I just don’t have enough vocal control, nor pent-up enthusiasm, to always shout a given word.
Sorry, LiveStrong, same goes for you (and I’m for sure not going to both all-cap your name and bold the second half of it. I’m just not. Be grateful I even give you that capital “S” in the middle of your name).
Last Saturday, THE HAMMER (by the way, I’d like everyone to begin all-capping THE HAMMER’s name, as well as alternating between bolding and underlining the letters in that name, and make the font color in the bold characters cyan, and the underlined characters magenta) and I did the Xterra Utah Off-Road Triathalon. This race — a 1-mile swim, 17-mile MTB ride, and 6-mile trail run — happened at the same time (well, 30 minutes after the start), on the same course, as the Xterra USA Championship race.
I plan to describe the race. Really, I do. But first, I think you probably have a question on the tip of your tongue. One that requires answering.
That question is, “Why?”
Why would we do an Xterra race, when both The Hammer (I was just kidding about that all-cap, alternating bold/underline thing) and I suck at swimming?
OK, maybe “suck” is too harsh a word, because if we really sucked, we wouldn’t be able to swim a mile at all, when in fact neither of us were worried about completing a mile swim, thanks to the miracle of our Aqua Sphere wetsuits.
But neither of us have been in the pool since…well…since we did the Ironman a year and change ago.
However, both of us are in the best biking shape of our lives, and we have been doing trail running once a week throughout the Summer, just to mix things up.
And two out of three ain’t bad, right? I mean, the swim part is the shortest part of the race.
And the course is close to home — just an hour and change of a drive — so we wouldn’t have to get a hotel or anything.
So when it came right down to it, we decided to do the Xterra because there weren’t any really good reasons (except the swim, I mean) not to.
We got up at 4:00 on Saturday, drove to the Reservoir in Ogden, picked up our race packets, and got our body markings — race number on both shoulders, age group (45 for me, 40 for The Hammer) on the right calf.
Between wearing my wetsuit for the first leg of the race and my new FatCyclist tech-T for the second two legs, I figured nobody would ever see the numbers on my shoulders, but I’m all about the whole “When in Xterra-land, do as the Xterrans do” thing, so I didn’t say a thing.
We wheeled our bikes over to the swim-to-bike transition area, fastened the number plates to our bikes, then laid out towels on the ground with the things we’d need as we changed from our wetsuits into our bike riding clothes:
- MTB shoes: All undone and laid out. For me, that meant my Specialized S-Works MTB shoes with the Boa Closure System, which meant all I’d have to do to tighten my shoes on is spin a couple dials. I’m loving these shoes in general, but the closure system in particular makes it so easy to tighten / loosen my shoes while I ride. Plus, putting them on / taking them off is speedy.
- Socks: One in each shoe
- Food: One Honey Stinger Waffle, one packet of Honey Stinger Energy Chews, one Powerbar Energy Gel.
- Helmet, containing my gloves, my sunglasses, and my food
- FatCyclist Tech-T: The new Team Fatty gear came in last week, and the tech-t seemed like the perfect thing to wear: easy to just pull on and wear for both the bike and run, since I wouldn’t need any zippers.
I safety-pinned my number to the front of the shirt and laid it on the towel. I wouldn’t need to deal with changing shorts; I would be wearing some chamois-less shorts (that were otherwise very similar to regular bike shorts) under my wetsuit and would wear them for both the bike and run.
Satisfied we had everything in place, we drove to Snowbasin ski resort, where the the bike-to-run transition and finish line were. There, all we needed to do was lay down some running shoes, a bottle of water, and another packet of Energy Chews.
We left our car at Snowbasin, taking a shuttle back to the starting line at the reservoir. Here, we changed into our wetsuits.
We were, finally, ready to go. And honestly, this is my only real grievance with the whole triathalon thing. Setup is a hassle. Setting up for three different events, placing stuff in different places, and then collecting, cleaning and putting away all of that gear afterward is a nuisance, and is the main reason–besides the fact that I am a very slow swimmer and a pretty slow runner–I don’t expect to make Xterra (or any kind of triathalon) my main thing.
There were actually three races going on last Saturday. There was the Xterra USA Championships; they would start at 9:00. There was the Xterra Utah Long, which was on the identical course to the Championships, but would start half an hour after the fast guys took off. And then there was the Xterra Utah Sport, which would do a half-mile swim, a 12-mile mountain bike ride, and a 5Km trail run; the sport class would start ten minutes or so after us.
The Hammer and I stood in the water, which was barely cold enough to require wetsuits and actually just fine to stand in, as the Championship racers took off, taking two laps around a half-mile triangle course in the reservoir. We were astonished at how fast the pros were, the fastest finishing in 21:23.
“Those guys would lap us in the swim, in just two laps,” I said. Which turned out, unfortunately, to not be even a slight exaggeration.
While we were watching, a riding buddy of mine, Cori Jones, waded up to The Hammer and I. Neither of us had had any idea that the other would be racing, and both of us had pretty much the same fears: a bad swim and a hard run.
The Hammer and I wished each other luck when the announcer gave us the ten second warning, then waded out into the water when the whistle blew.
And that would be the last time we’d see each other ’til the finish line.
I started my swim, consciously taking it easy, knowing that if I pushed hard in this leg I’d wipe myself out for the other two legs, without being appreciably faster. I swam twenty strokes, and looked up for my first buoy siting and course correction.
Where was that buoy? I couldn’t see it. The fact that I was staring into the sun didn’t help. Oh well, I could see that I was directly behind a large group of swimmers, so evidently was no more off course than a bunch of other people.
I swam another twenty strokes. Sited again. Still couldn’t see the buoy, but could see I was still in a pack of swimmers.
This continued forever. Figuring that I was swimming around an equilateral triangle, I wondered how, if each section took me this long, I’d ever get around twice.
So I gave up. Decided to quit. Before I even got to the first buoy. “I just don’t think I can get around this sucker twice,” I thought. “And I don’t really even want to.”
I resolved, for form’s sake–and just in case I changed my mind–to swim the first lap before I got out of the water.
Finally–finally–I got to the first buoy. And as I made the right turn to head to the second buoy, I got a good, strong, kick in the face.
My nose stung, and my goggles slid off my eyes and most of the way up my forehead.
I came to a stop, started treading water, and fixed my goggles. “Now I really quit,” I thought to myself.
But I’d still do the first lap. Just in case.
And then, in just a couple minutes, I got to the second buoy. As it turns out, the buoys weren’t the corners of an equilateral triangle. They were the corners of an obtuse icosceles triangle. Which meant that the trip to the first buoy was a lot longer than the trip to the second and third buoys.
I changed my mind by the time I came around the second buoy. I’d try to finish the race after all.
I swam my twenty strokes then looked up to sight the buoy. It wasn’t where I expected it. I had veered too far left. I swam another twenty strokes, this time consciously trying to pull a little to the right. I looked up.
I had veered even further left.
I swam twenty strokes, thinking I was now positively pulling in a clockwise circle.
Nope. Still veering left.
So I started sighting every ten strokes. I was still veering left, but at least I was making more frequent course corrections and so not covering as much extra ground (um, water).
For the second lap of the swim, now knowing the stretch to the first buoy was longer than the others, I was no longer dismayed by it. I knew that once I got to it, The next two sections would come quickly, and then I’d be out of the water.
But as I rounded the corner at the first buoy, I suddenly found myself in a thrashing mass of people. I looked up, wondering why–I figured I had dropped behind most everyone in my group long ago.
But this was not my group. My group was all wearing red swim caps. This group was wearing green.
It was the sport racers. Their race had begun, apparently sometime shortly after I finished my first lap. Now they were swimming by–and over–me as I worked my way around my second lap.
The Swim-to-Bike Transition
Eventually, though, I did it. I rounded the second buoy, then swam toward the ramp, and got out of the water. After a few moments of unsteadiness, I was able to half-walk, half-jog to the transition area, as I pulled down the zipper on my wetsuit and began stripping to the waist.
Once inside the transition area, I sat down, pulled off the wetsuit off the rest of the way, then stuffed the waffle into my mouth and chewed it while I put on my socks and shoes.
I stood up, grabbed my shirt, and pulled it over my head.
It wouldn’t go on. Something was wrong.
I pulled it back off and looked at it.
Oh great. I had pinned the front of the shirt to the back with one of the pins. Smart.
I undid the bad pin and repinned it, then pulled it on.
Nope, still pinned all the way through. I am such a dope.
I pin it one more time, this time being really careful about not poking the pin through the back of the shirt.
Success! Now I can finish dressing myself! Huzzah!
As I exit the transition area and start riding, I wonder to myself: how much time did that take, and how many places will it cost me? My guess is two minutes, and the results show it probably cost me either one or two places in the overall, but no place difference in my age group. Regardless, my shirt blunder didn’t exactly cost me a spot on the podium.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
My swim time was 41:59. I was the 111th fastest (ha!) person doing the long course, out of 151 starters. Which put me, I believe, pretty much in the back third of the pack.
Since I’ve spent some time complaining about the parts I don’t like about Xterra–logistics and my inability to swim (which is more a complaint about my inexperience and inability, but whatever) — let me spend a moment talking about something I loved about this event:
The bike ride was incredible. First of all, it was all singletrack. Second of all, it was really great singletrack. Third of all, it was great singletrack that had plenty of places for passing.
And fourth of all–and this was a good thing for me–it was almost entirely uphill. A couple of short downhills, but really, it was a climber’s delight.
Here, let me show you what the elevation profile looked like:
That’s about 3400 feet of climbing, in about seventeen miles.
Knowing the course would be almost all about climbing, I was riding my Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper 29er HT. Which has become, by the way, pretty much my favorite mountain bike of all time.
I started the ride. And that’s when I realized the full impact of what a problem it is in Xterra to be slow at swimming but fast on the bike.
I passed people. A lot of people. While climbing. On singletrack.
And since the Sport racers were–at least for the first several miles–on the same course as those of us doing the long course, I didn’t just have the hundred or so people from my race ahead of me; I had all the people who finished the Sport swim ahead of me to pass, too.
I became very good at notifying people I was on their left. Or, occasionally, on their right.
And I got pretty good at passing long trains of people.
One thing I want to say about the racers there is that every single one of them was incredibly polite about letting me pass. I didn’t have a single person refuse to find a spot for me, and more often than not, I got a lot of encouragement from people as I went by.
These were good people racing.
About a third of the way up, I did a bad shift right before a hairpin and had to climb off my bike to get the chain back on.
And that’s when my friend Cori went by. The only singlespeeder on the course, I’m pretty sure.
I hopped back on and gave chase. By the time the Sport course racers split off onto their own, shorter course–greatly reducing the number of people I needed to pass–I had caught and re-passed Cori.
Then, on the downhill as I hit a corner too fast and had to skid to a stop, Cori cleaned the corner and passed me again.
All this on fast, fun, singletrack. I am going back there sometime just to ride.
I managed to catch back up with Cori during the final little climb, and we pulled into the second transition area together.
We had both improved our positions pretty significantly. He would have the fifth-fastest bike split for our race; I was the sixth-fastest with 1:48:57.
We agree that we probably each passed as many as 150 people during that ride.
Cori got out of the transition faster than I did, partly just because he’s faster than I am, partly because I was incredibly thirsty and sat down to slug down my entire bottle of water before I changed my shoes.
In any case, Cori was just a distant speck up ahead when I began the six-mile trail run on rocky singletrack, and I’d never see him for the rest of the race; he opened up a 9:30 gap on me by the time the race was over.
The first mile of this trail run–and it was an honest-to-goodness trail run was ugly-steep, wearing me down to a walk (and a thirteen-minute pace). I don’t feel so badly about that pace when I look at the elevation profile, though:
Yeah. That’s just mean.
I had hoped this leg of the race would go well for me. After all, The Hammer and I have been doing some trail running, usually with more distance and altitude gain than this run had. But a couple days before this race, I had stumbled and landed funny, and my right hip and knee hadn’t stopped hurting. So I felt slow, I hurt, and — strangely — I was a little bit tired.
Then I saw, up ahead, a woman racer, using the kind of crutches that brace above your wrists, then have hand grips just below. It looked like her left hip was what was slowing her down, because the rest of her was in what looked like pro-level shape.
As I got near, she pivoted around so she was facing downhill, then started working her way up backwards.
She wasn’t fast, but she was doing it.
I didn’t want to sound condescending, but I did want to let her know how much I admired that kind of toughness, so I just said essentially that: “Hey, way to tough it out.”
And I decided maybe my sore hip and knee weren’t such a big deal.
I ground out the miles. Not fast, but as I got into the third mile my hip stopped bothering me so much and I started enjoying myself.
At the fourth mile the course turned downhill, and by the time I got to the beginning of the final mile, I could hear the announcer’s voice, and I stopped feeling tired at all. I may have even picked up the pace.
Or maybe it just felt like I did.
Then, right before the finish line: a cruel joke: a short, steep climb. Probably no more than 50 yards. But what a fifty yards.
And then I crossed the finish line. 1:04:08 for the run, making me the 96th fastest (ha ha!) runner.
Obsessing Over Numbers
My total finishing time was 3:35:04, or 37th (out of 151 starters and 136 finishers) for the Long Course. This was also good enough to get me 8th place (out of 15) in the 45-49 age group. Exactly mid-pack.
And so of course I couldn’t help but spend a couple of minutes doing “What-if” scenarios with the numbers. For the different Men’s age groups, here’s what my time would have earned me:
- Under 19: 2nd
- 20-24: 1st
- 25-29: 5th
- 30-34: 6th
- 35-39: 5th
- 40-44: 10th
- 50-54: 3rd
- 60-64: 1st
So yeah, I guess these endurance sports really are for old men.
By the way, my overall finishing time, if I had been in the Championship race, would have gotten me 169th place, out of 287 racers. (Or 288 racers, I guess, since I’d be counting my imaginary self.)
And that 6th-fastest time on the bike I’m so proud of? In the Championship race, that time would have gotten me 91st place for that leg.
Oh, and you know how Cori was the fifth-fastest guy on the bike in our race? Guess who was the fifth-fastest cyclist in the Championship race? A guy you might’ve heard of before: Lance Armstrong.
Obviously, a different caliber of racer in that Championship group.
The Hammer had a great day on the course: she never considered quitting, even in the swim part. Like me, she spent her entire bike ride passing people (and for the same reason, a slow swim). And she did her run four minutes faster than I did. Her final time was 3:54:54, making her the 8th woman to finish overall, taking 4th in her age group.
There’s a little bit of heartbreak there, because she finished only two minutes away from her age group podium. Kristina Smith, the woman who beat Lisa, was much faster in the water, but Lisa was much faster on the bike. With their near identical run times, it was really about as close a race as it could have been.
So, would we do this race again? Why yes, I believe we would. Next year, in fact, I think we’ll do it again.
But will we spend some time swimming (perhaps learning to swim with good form) between now and then, so we’re faster out of the water, so we don’t have to waste so much energy passing people?
No. I don’t think we will.
A “Last Chance to Win” Note from Fatty: You’re almost out of time to donate to win a trip, a signed yellow jersey, or a full kit in Levi’s GranFondo. In fact, you have to donate by Sunday.
So, let me give you some reasons why you should donate.
- The Causes are Awesome. Forget Me Not Farm. LiveStrong.VeloStreet’s Cycling Initiatives Program. And more.
- Levi’s GranFondo is Awesome. Someone’s going to win a VIP trip for two to Levi’s GranFondo: airfare, lodging, the Festa del Fondo, the group ride with Levi, and the GranFondo itself. The Hammer and I got to do all this last year, and it was awesome. I guarantee that whoever wins this is going to come back saying, “This was the best event I have ever been to.” Because that’s what I said. And I’m never wrong.
- The Other Prizes are Awesome. You could win a full GranFondo kit. Or a yellow jersey from the Tour de Suisse, worn by and signed by Levi Leipheimer.
- Levi Himself is Awesome. Consider all the photographs I’ve recently posted of Levi, either in headlocks or giving headlocks. Watering plants or taking a nap in his yellow jersey. How do you think I got those? Yep, by asking for them. I’ve said things like, “Hey Levi, while you’re at the Tour, could you get a photo of you putting some top pro in a headlock?” And he’s responded by saying, “How about Jens Voigt?” He’s played along, without worrying about public image or directing me to his agent or anything like that. Levi is just a good guy with a great sense of humor. Who also happens to be freakishly fast on a bicycle.
You might win something. Something awesome. Probably not, but you might. Hey, someone’s going to. Regardless, please donate. Thanks!
Fatty Goes to France, Part V
Sometimes, plans change. For example, The Hammer and I had planned to go on a run during our trip’s “rest day.” I mean, it seemed silly to us to have a rest day after just four days of riding.
As I mentioned, plans change.
After our monster ride from Aix-les-Bains to La Grave the day before, a rest day — no ride, no run, lotsa sleep — sounded great.
A (Rambling) Conversation With Andy Hampsten
The highlight of the day was when I got to sit down and have a conversation with Andy Freaking Hampsten, winner of the Giro d’Italia and owner of Cinghiale Cycling Tours.
It’s a free-flowing conversation, which is why I call it a “conversation” instead of an “interview.” Except I guess I call it an “interview” in the video intro, but that was stupid of me.
Anyway, it’s a longish chat (34 minutes), but I enjoyed it. And I hope you will too.
Cleverly, I’m posting this video on a Thursday, so you have today along with several non-posting days (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) to watch every glorious moment of it.
Other Stuff We Did
After four days of riding, it was nice to lounge about for a day, as if we were on an actual vacation.
Here are some of the things we did.
We at most of our meals on the hotel’s deck. You can kinda see why.
We stared at the incredible scenery.
No matter where you went, the stark, glacier-capped mountain dominated the view.
We toured the town (accidentally, because we got lost, because neither of us has anything that remotely resembles a sense of direction).
This is, pretty much, the whole town.
The archway to the old church. A beautiful place with an extraordinary mountain backdrop.
OK, for reals this is the whole town.
We even rode a tram to the glacier and took a tour of an ice cave.
I did not like looking down when riding this thing. Both ways — riding up and riding down — I sat so I could be looking up.
I’m going to be honest with you here: Glaciers look better from far away.
Sure it’s a tourist trap. We’re tourists. We’ve been trapped. May as well take photos.
When this penguin thaws out, it’s going to be even more awesome.
It’s a good thing we rested up, because the next day (which I’ll be talking about in Monday’s post), we’d be riding the Alpe d’Huez.
And I made no secret about the fact that I was wanted to hit that sucker hard.
PS: Here’s The Hammer’s Letter for this day.
Our good luck with weather couldn’t last forever could it?
Last night as we were preparing for bed the thunder and lightning commenced and the rain began to pour from the sky. It pretty much rained all night. It’s now 0930. We were supposed to start riding 30 minutes ago, but we decided to hold off until 1000 to see if the weather would clear up.
As I’m typing the rain has stopped and the sun is trying to poke its head out from behind the clouds! So I have approximately 30 min to tell you about our fabulous rest day.
Wednesday was the rest day, and that is exactly what we did. We lounged around in the morning and took a look around this cute little ski village. We actually got lost wandering around, which is hilarious because it’s not a very big place.
Elden and I were looking the wrong way when we walked right by the hotel. We then wandered blindly up the street and through the crazy maze-like streets of La Grave. We eventually came out at the high end of the village at an old church. There was an old cemetery surrounding the church–pretty cool!
We found our way back to the hotel in time for lunch. This French cuisine is wreaking havoc on Elden’s and my intestines! I’m looking forward to returning to my egg white and avacado diet!
After lunch, Elden interviewed Andy Hampsten. Andy is our tour guide. He is a retired pro cyclist who has won the Giro d’Italia and a stage on the Alpe d’Huez in the tour of France. He is a really cool guy. I was the videographer. The interview took place on the patio of our hotel with a great view of the Alpes behind them! Elden intends to use it on the blog, so stay tuned.
After the interview, Elden and I took off to catch the last tram of the day. La Grave is a ski destination with a tram that takes skiers up to the top of a glacier!
Talk about EXTREME skiing! it makes our ski resorts look like little mole hills! It took 45 minutes and 53 Euros ($70) to get to the top AND back down. (You have to pay for the trip back down too!)
The tram ride was incredible, the views spectacular as you left the trees and ascended above the treeline onto the glacier! We also bought entrance into a snow cave in the glacier. It was pretty unique. We got some pretty cool pix of ice sculptures inside the cave.
When we got back to the hotel, we joined the group as they listened to Andy tell stories from his biking days. The stories were amazing. It was fun to hear about racing from a biker’s perspective!
At 7:30 we met for our 3 hour dinner. No joke–it takes forever to eat here! We had soup, followed by chicken with boiled potatoes, followed by a course of cheese and finally dessert–a pink mousse dipped in dark chocolate.
Then it was off to bed….and the start of the rain!
Believe it or not….. The rain has stopped and the sun is shining! I’ve got to run–I have an Alpe named Huez to climb!!
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