What is the toughest Saturday ride in America?

August 14, 2016 § 12 Comments

That’s an easy question for me to answer around 11:00 after I get back from the Donut Ride. Every muscle aches and I hobble from couch to bed to table and back again. The exhaustion is complete, and anecdotally the other riders who go through the full Donut ringer are likewise shattered.

I don’t know of many other regular Saturday rides that feature 5,000 feet of climbing in 50 miles, but I’m sure they’re out there. And the difficulty of a ride also has to be measured by who shows up. Although Mike Friedman, Tyler Hamilton, and any number of Olympians  and Tour riders have cameoed on the Donut Ride, and although there are always a handful of really good riders leading the charge, I’d think that a place like Boulder or Colorado Springs would have a much bigger regular roster of elite riders on its Saturday ride.

One Saturday ride that is harder than the Donut is the Swami’s Ride in San Diego, but only the first part, which ends when you go up that miserable climb to Elfin Forest. After that, it’s mostly rolling and the ride seems to break up as people go different directions, and it doesn’t have any sustained climbing. Maybe another criterion is how badly the group shatters? The Donut Ride always finishes the three major climbs with a tiny handful of people, and one isn’t uncommon.

The Simi Ride is supposed to be the hardest Saturday ride in the galaxy. I’ve done it only once, but a buddy flatted so I ended up cutting the course. It certainly attracts a consistently higher caliber of rider and it’s longer, but it only runs for a few months a year and I don’t recall any sustained climbing. I remember there also being a huge group so at least the parts I did seemed to have plenty of places to cower and hide and shirk and suck wheel, which are kind of my specialties.

Yesterday’s Donut Ride went very fast from the start. David Holland posted a great video of U.S. pro Kathryn Donovan as she manhandled all but the three guys who split off early and stayed away on the first climb. Here’s his video of Katie hitting the bottom of the Switchbacks and basically riding the entire field of guys–and one surviving super tough woman, Kristie Fox–off her wheel.

Katie is currently ranked 8th among pro women in the U.S., and it shows. She’s best in road races, although last weekend she pulled off a podium spot at the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix, a fast and furious crit, by sticking a 3-rider breakaway on a super high speed sprinter’s course that rarely features successful breakaways. Katie has an attacking style of climbing; you can see her take stock, attack, rest, and attack, until there’s not much left but stomped dicks and broken egos.

This second clip shows the early move by A., who attacks long before the Switchbacks clip above. He’s immediately followed by Matt Cuttler, and then Diego Binatena. Diego comes back to us on the Switchbacks, then ditches us again towards the end, but Matt and A. stay away. Jean-Louis Bourdevaire launches in Portuguese bend and stays in between Matt & A., and my group, to the end, which is some tough riding because nowhere is worse than no-person’s-land, especially on a climb.

This final clip shows the second climb, Homes to Domes. It starts chill until Matt gooses it hard. Everyone not paying attention gets instantaneously dropped. Those paying attention follow for a while, then get dropped. There’s an oh-so-brief respite at the top of Via Colinita as we check for traffic, then Matt and A. take turns riding everyone off their wheel. I get popped just after the wall on Crest, but by that time there’s no one even close.

I’m sure there are harder Saturday group rides, but I hope I don’t ever have to do them.



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