The course is only part of the course

April 25, 2014 § 20 Comments

There are three things that make a course: the route, the weather, and the riders.

The 2014 SPY Belgian Waffle Ride offers up a route like no other. Much has been written about it, and each rider will discover the extraordinary difficulty of this 136-mile torture chamber at his leisure. The weather will likely be dry and cool with a moderate wind.

When it comes to riders, though, most of us will have only a fleeting glance of the strongest participants, as they will storm away in the first wave, never to be seen until the finish. If you are one of the people who is showing up to the BWR in order win a jersey, here’s a snapshot of a few of the people you’ll have to beat.

  1. Ryan Trebon. Pro cyclocross racer and sponsored SPY rider, former U.S. national champion.
  2. Neil Shirley. First place finisher in the Belgian Waffle Ride’s 2013 edition, and one of the best professional riders in America.
  3. Dan Cobley. Don’t let the Cat 3 fool you. He finished fourth last year behind Neil, Thurlow Rogers, and Karl Bordine.
  4. Brent Prenzlow. He’s an uncategorized “public” rider. He also made mincemeat of virtually the entire field in the inaugural 2012 BWR.
  5. Phil Tinstman. The best all-around masters racer in America. He time trials, sprints, climbs, and has exceptional off-road skills. Former sprint jersey winner in the 2012 edition. If Neil misses a pedal stroke, Phil’s my pick to win it all.
  6. Chris DeMarchi. This is Chris’s first BWR, and you can expect that he will ride it with a vengeance. Chris is also one of the best masters racers in America and is teammates with Phil. Look for a one-two combo from these two titans.
  7. John Abate. Lokalmotor from San Diego, John has the legs and the knowledge of the local roads to be there at the finish.
  8. Lars Finanger. Unhappily (for us) shipped off to Houston last year, Lars returns to his old stomping grounds where he can be expected to stomp people’s heads in if he’s on form.
  9. Michael Marckx. Will this be MMX’s year? He knows every inch of the course because he designed it. He’s riding with exceptional speed and strength. Could be awkward if the head honcho wins his own race!
  10. Ryan Dahl. Truly one of the beasts of North County and always a top finisher at the BWR, in 2013 Ryan earned the hardman jersey for toughest rider on the course.
  11. Brian Zink. The question mark here is fitness. If Brian is on form, he will storm the field, much as he did in 2012 when he won the hardman jersey, and last year when he finished sixth.
  12. David Jaeger. Winner of the inaugural BWR in 2012, DJ is currently on fire as evidenced by his podium finish in the state road race. If he carries it over to Sunday, he will be lethal.
  13. Logan Fiedler. If he hadn’t been felled by a broken elbow earlier this year, Logan would be higher on this list as he’s an excellent climber, skilled in the dirt, and has tremendous endurance.
  14. Robert Frank. Major Bob placed 16th last year with minimal training. This year he’s scorching, earning 2nd place last weekend at the state road race. Lean, fast, an excellent climber, and equally comfortable on dirt and asphalt, a podium is not out of the question.

Given the fact that over 500 riders have signed up for the 2014 SPY Belgian Waffle Ride, there will certainly be surprises as well as strong riders who I’m simply unfamiliar with and have omitted out of ignorance. This list, however, should include at least a handful of the top finishers. Game on!

END

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I don't think I'd give you this shirt off my back.

I don’t think I’d give you this shirt off my back.

BWR 2013 tune-up and teardown

March 3, 2013 § 20 Comments

The 2013 Belgian Waffle Ride will be harder than the 2012 inaugural edition. I’m sharing this post to help you prepare for it. After riding the entire course yesterday, it drove home what a monumental day in the saddle the actual ride promises to be.

Lots of my friends are posting their mileage on Strava and doing big days in order to prep for the BWR. This is good. What follows is some sound advice on how to make sure you arrive on April 7 in the best condition possible.

It’s more than miles and climbs

The course covers about 130 miles and has about 12,000 feet of climbing. You would think that by doing 120-mile training rides with 8,000-9,000 feet of climbing you were preparing adequately.

However, the difficulties of the BWR are greater than distance and elevation. The ride is made exponentially harder by the dirt climbs, the unpaved descents, the grueling 2-mile section of soft sand on Country Club Road, and the longer (but firmer) dirt and rock section along Lake Hodges.

The elevation numbers are also deceptive because they don’t come in long sustained climbs like Piuma or Latigo. Rather, they accumulate in dozens and dozens and dozens of stabbing rollers that sap your strength and endurance.

This difficulty is increased because all of the hard dirt sections occur well past the halfway mark. The Lake Hodges dirt and rock trail happens with less than 20 miles to go, and the soft sand steep climb of Questhaven happens towards the very end. After all your resources have been plundered, you’re then faced with the unthinkable: Getting to the top of San Elijo and then climbing Double Peak.

The ride will be harder because more people will have prepared for it, more people will know the course, at least two UCI pros will be toeing the line along with some of the best amateur racers in SoCal, and therefore the nation.

There’s only one way to prepare

That way is to ride the course. Whatever excuses, reasons, obligations, or conflicts you think you have, if you’ve signed up for the 2013 BWR you must ride the course at least once before April 7. You can pick up the entire route by looking at my Strava map for 3/2/2013 (begin at the Bonsall River trail; the first part of the ride was a true stop-and-start in cul-de-sac hell reconnaissance).

There’s also a full recon ride on 3/17/13. Anyone can come, but you should have a buddy who knows the course or have a map because there will be no waiting or regrouping.

Pick your goals beforehand

Even pre-riding the race won’t help all that much if you haven’t selected a goal prior to the ride. Here are the goals you should choose from. Don’t be greedy.

  1. I just want to get the finisher’s jersey and complete the ride without it being a living hell.
  2. I want to ride as long as I can with the leaders.
  3. I want one of the special jerseys: Sprint, Hardman, KOM, KOD.
  4. I want to win.

If you’ve selected 2, 3, or 4, I can’t help you, except to say that you are one of the top racers in the nation in your category, or you are hopelessly deluded and need a good therapist. My friend Noel O’Malley is currently accepting referrals.

Finishing strong

I categorize #1 as “finishing strong.” The ride will be hard. You will be challenged. You will be exhausted. But 95% of the ride will feel well within your limits, and 5% will take you outside your comfort zone. In short, at the end you’ll have a lot of great stories and will still be able to stand, talk, and carry on semi-normal functions.

None of the alternatives to finishing strong are good ones. They are all nightmare scenarios, and I’ve lived through them all both on my two recon rides last year, my one recon ride so far in 2013, and my numerous unhappy road cycling encounters in North County San Diego riding with my “friends” on “tempo rides.”

So, here’s what I’ve gleaned. It can help you if you let it.

  1. Pre-ride the course at least once. Do it twice and you’re 80% of the way to being golden.
  2. Run your tires at 80 psi. This will be sufficiently hard to roll well on the pavement, and soft enough to get you through the dirt and sand without tipping over, skidding out, or puncturing on the rocks.
  3. Run new, heavy duty tires. I used Hutchinson Intensive2′s yesterday and they worked like a charm.
  4. Leave your diet at home. The day before the ride, eat a big, substantial meal. The day of the ride, no matter how nervous and loose-boweled you feel, eat big at the waffle and sausage and egg breakfast. You cannot finish strong on Barbie food and candy bars.
  5. The group will accelerate once it comes off the Bonsall bike path, then shatter on the first dirt climb. Let the leaders go. You may be strong enough to follow, but they will drain you and drop you around mile 40 or before, leaving you with the entire ride and all its hard sections to do on gassed legs.
  6. Don’t fall in with a small grupetto of hammerheads. Choose your companions wisely, and don’t put yourself in a position where you’re taking glory pulls or pulling hard for mile after mile.
  7. Take advantage of every rest stop, but don’t dismount for more than five minutes. Fill your bottle, eat if you need to, and get right back on.
  8. Whenever you start feeling good or strong, remind yourself that it’s a trick and a trap. Unless you’re ten miles from Double Peak or less, any “good” sensations are meaningless. In fact, you’ll feel wondrous up to Couser Canyon; it’s after this climb that most people realize they’ve gone too hard too early, they’re totally blown, and they’re only halfway in.
  9. You’ve got to get some dirt practice on your road bike, so go get some dirt practice on your road bike. Not your mountain bike. Your road bike, unless you plan to do the BWR on your MTB.
  10. Take a minute to review the BWR rides by me and by Michael Marckx a/k/a MMX on 3/2/2013. It’s a good comparison between what one of the leaders will look like and what a flailer looks like when the wheels come off the wagon at the end of the dirt section at Lake Hodges.
  11. Do the route at least once. The full route, no matter how awful. You will thank me later. Effusively.

Finally, start taking measurements for that beautiful Joe Yule/StageOne finisher’s jersey that you’ll wear with pride and satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment for the rest of your life!

END

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This is gonna hurt: BWR preview 2013

February 10, 2013 § 17 Comments

Last night Spivey and I prepped for our first BWR recon ride of 2013 by eating sausage, noodles, cooked intestines, gristle, rice broth, kimchi, strips of fatty beef, cabbage, and miso. Yes, there was dessert. Yes, it involved ice cream. Yes, we shouldn’t have. No, we did. The result? 4:00 AM today came real fucking early.

We got to Encinitas a little after seven. It was cold. We had coffee at the Lofty Bean. Spivey had a triple organic chocolate fudge brownie cake croissant tart. “My lady love has me on a new healthy diet,” he said. “So I have to cheat like hell whenever I can. Want to grab a double-cheese stuffed pizza with sausage after the ride?”

“No,” I said. I was concentrating on a growler of oatmeal and coffee, topped off by more coffee with extra coffee on top.

The plan was to do the SPY slugfest from RIDE Cyclery, then regroup and tack on 50-60 miles of the Belgian Waffle Ride in order to review some of the new dirt/mud/water crossing sections that have been added for 2013. Spivey and I got to RIDE Cyclery and were joined by the usual collection of misfits, lardkettles, and doomed-to-a-nasty-shelling wankers who habitually show up for this weekly beatdown only to get, of course, beaten down.

In addition to the thick and sagging cannon fodder, there was a mighty contingent of heroes, listed below, with the tail-dragging, weakest wanker listed last.

  1. Thurlow Rogers a/k/a The Hand of God a/k/a THOG
  2. Michael Marckx a/k/a MMX a/k/a “Yes, sir.”
  3. Brian Zink
  4. Lars Finanger
  5. Erik Johnson
  6. Steven Davis
  7. David Anderson
  8. Ryan Dahl
  9. Caitlin Laroche
  10. Harold Martinez a/k/a King Harold
  11. Josh Alverson a/k/a Gearhead
  12. Kelsey Mullen
  13. Dave Gonyer
  14. Michael Williams
  15. Katja the Awesomeness
  16. Josh Goldman
  17. Anthony Vasilas
  18. Andy Schmidt
  19. Tait Campbell
  20. Brent Garrigus
  21. Paul Douville
  22. Jim Miller
  23. Jimmy, Dude in DDS Kit
  24. Marc Spivey
  25. Wind
  26. Road
  27. Mud
  28. Dirt
  29. Stabbing Rollers
  30. Wankmeister

Coming in hot

It seemed like a terrible idea, mostly for me, to start the recon with the weekly SPY Saturday beatdown ride. The reason? It’s really hard to have a good 50-60 mile recon ride after you’ve been shelled and shattered and mutilated and ground into powder on a 20-mile “warm up.”

We came up the first stabbing climb in the neighborhood so hard that about one-third of the wankoton evaporated in the first 300 yards. Spivey’s chocolate tart decided to lock horns with the pig intestines and the forty or so pounds of “cheating” that were still “hanging around,” and he kicked things in high reverse with the next acceleration of the group, not to be seen again for a few zip codes.

I’ve done this stupid ride several times now, and it always hurts worse than the time before, and I always swear I’ll never to it again. Today I faced the reality of getting dropped for good on the neighborhood climb, and just as I started explaining to myself how awesome it would be to grab Spivey, do a u-turn, fuck this stupid bicycle stuff, and go back to Lofty Bean for a second (and third) round of chocolate tarts, up came Caitlin.

“Hey, Wankster! Glad to see you!”

I cursed her silently. She wasn’t even breathing hard. Bitch. “Uh. Ugggh. Ahh,” I said.

“Glad you’re here to show me where the turns are! I don’t know the route!”

I wanted to tell her that I’d be happy to act as tour guide but she’d be doing it off the back, but at that moment the torrid pace relented, I caught my breath, then caught my legs, and somehow made it to the top of the climb. The group had crumbled into less than half of the eighty or so who rolled out.

Spivey caught us at the light, but the next push up Rancho Santa Fe spit him out the back again to do battle with the chocolate/intestine/noodle/Haagen-Dasz mixture that had become so toxic to the up-and-down motion of his legs.

Full gas ’til midnight

MMX, THOG, Lars, Brian, Ryan, and Erik kept pushing the pace up San Elijo to Elfin Forest Rd., with more little fritters wrapped in soft and chewy dough frying and popping in the heated oil, then bounding off the back where they were gobbled up and quickly digested by the twelve-headed beast known as Ego Devouring Reality.

I kept staring down at my legs, which did nothing but turn slowly and burn as if they were roasting on a spit, and then stare up at Caitlin and Katja, and curse them silently as they went easily with each and every hard surge. When we finally got onto Elfin Forest Rd. I sat up and drifted to the back for some additional wheelsucking and rest, when I discovered that I already was the back, “back” meaning “last fucking wanker in the slaughterhouse,” and it was only with great mashing of panicky pedals that I reattached.

Spivey was so far back now that he’d radioed ahead for coffee and donuts at the church a few miles up the road.

When we did reach the church I’d learned several secrets of the ride, the most important being that if you wanted to meet and greet and learn the names of the Swami’s dudes, you had to go to the back. Those wankers had such an allergy to the point that I thought they’d been imitating me. I mean, the back end of the peloton was pure Swami’s blue, with one lone SPY jersey (mine) to dishonor the otherwise manly and womanly work of the team.

At the church we regrouped and waited for the detritus while taking turns urinating in the parking lot, urinating by the dumpster, urinating in the bushes, urinating in plain view, urinating by the fence, and urinating over by the swingset, which was vacant, otherwise certain riders would now be wearing orange jumpsuits and frantically calling 1-800-BAIL-BND.

Spivey limped in ten minutes later looking like he’d finally come to terms with the chocolate and the intestines, but still had an outstanding issue or two with the noodles and the ice cream. His face was an odd shade of gray, somewhere between near-death and a two week-old corpse.

“Where’s the donut shop?” he asked.

I shrugged. “Back in Encinitas, maybe.”

Running on empty

I could tell from the minute we left the church parking lot that my ride was over. My legs stung with that leaden sensation on every little riser, and we were going slow. Brent came up to me. “That was fast. PR fast.”

I felt a little bit better about having been on the rivet from the beginning to the end, but worse as I contemplated doing the rest of the ride completely gassed.

We picked up the BWR route on Summit, which hurt beyond belief. It hurt me, anyway. Chris Williams laughed when he heard me wheezing. “Easy, hoss!” he said.

King Harold, who hadn’t cracked a sweat yet, tried to make small talk. “So you and Spivey had a big meal last night?”

I ignored him as we turned down the little dirt section before the climb up Bandy Canyon. Just the tiny undulations of the dirt sapped what little I had left. I sat up. Dave Gonyer slipped back to take my pulse.

“I’m done. Don’t wait for me,” I deja-vu’d him.

“Nah, I’m waiting.” Gonyer never leaves the corpse of a teammate on the field of battle.

I got surly. “No, dude, really, I’m done. Go on.” My speed had dropped to a few mph. He could see the prow of the bony ship settling beneath the waves.

“You know the way home?”

“Sort of. But I’m in my own private hell. Thanks for waiting, but get up there. I’m done.”

He nodded and rejoined the group as they pulled away. Spivey looked back, gleefully, then receded with the group. Revenge, as he well knew, is best served at the bottom of a steep canyon climb on blown legs miles and miles from home in a cold headwind on unknown roads.

New dirt, old dirt, new hell, old hell

The group proceeded to do the new dirt section at Little Dieguito River, and conquered the old dirt at Questhaven, with a few intrepid souls (including that bastard Spivey) manfully charging all the way up Double Peak as the others wisely opted to finish the ride without swallowing that final live scorpion in the tequila bottle.

But they did it all without me. I limped back to Encinitas as broken and slow and beatdown and crushed as I’ve been since…the last time I did a BWR recon ride. As I tried to determine the source of my collapse, I identified all the likely causes:

  1. Still hadn’t recovered from Boulevard the week before.
  2. I’m weak.
  3. Pace on the first part of the ride was too brutal.
  4. I’m slow.
  5. Night before gluttony had sapped me of the will to do battle.
  6. I’m not very good.
  7. Three hours of sleep had deprived me of recovery.
  8. I really suck.
  9. Etc.

Back at the car I rendezvoused with Paul and then Marc. Paul had been towed home by Tait. Marc had been shepherded by Jim, and was euphoric at my epic collapse. In the car ride back to LA he gloriously recounted his conquests to Dan Cobley, neglecting to mention any of the difficulties he’d encountered when the sledgehammer was applied to his nuts at the beginning of the ride

“That was kind of a one-sided recounting,” I said.

He grinned. “Everybody has an angle, buddy, and I have mine.”

“Is our next stop gonna involve a double-stuffed cheese pizza with sausage and Canadian bacon?” I asked.

“You know it!” he said.

And it did.

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