May 19, 2016/ Guest
This is a guest post by Jason Perez. His performance in the May 14, 2016 Central Coast Double set a new overall course record by a twenty-minute margin. And it came just two weeks after another incredible performance in the Devil Mountain Double. The races are notorious climbing challenges and make up stages one and two of the California Triple Crown.
RACE DAY EVE
Friday the 13th (May 13, 2016) I found myself heading south down California’s coastal highway past Big Sur and other well visited coastal parks and camp sites. I was stuck in a line of cars who were most certainly stuck behind that one tourist driving 20 mph under the speed limit trying to video his vacation while driving. Those of you who have driven with me know I don’t do well in traffic. That’s why I usually ride a motorcycle. Anyway, soon enough I got relief in the form of some remote back roads seldom traveled. The reason I was heading south on this good Friday the 13th was for my second double century in 2 weeks. The reason I chose Highway 1 instead of the much clearer Highway 101 was to preview the last 120 miles of the double century course before clipping in and pedaling it the next day. Driving my truck though un-congested windy roads was just an added bonus.
A few miles south of the small coastal town of Lucia, CA is Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, or The Big Climb, heads straight up and over the 2,500-foot coastal ridge line in a mere 6.6 mile stretch. This climb is the highlight of the Central Coast Double in both spectacular views and shear steep gradient difficulty. As I drove the climb I realized that though it wasn’t going to be as hard as I pictured, it was still going to be a slow climb and would mostly likely be the deciding factor in the race.
As I drove the course, committing every turn to visual memory, I couldn’t help but feel like race day was going to be a good day. The course just seemed to have a good flow and zero traffic. The roads were clean and generally smooth when compared to what I rode the weekend before. The turns were pretty well marked by half a dozen or so tiny fluorescent orange arrows. I had printed a turn-by-turn route sheet for the bike and used it to navigate my way through the course. Everything seemed accurate. As I finished the course in the heart of Paso Robles, I noted how insanely congested the city was with traffic. Intersections were gridlocked and pedestrians were everywhere exploring the small shops of the town square. It was about 6 p.m., which would be about the time the leaders of the next day’s race would be entering town. So I just prayed I’d be lucky enough not to get run over in the last quarter mile before the finish.
I headed over to the host hotel and signed up and dropped my jacket and lights off to be forwarded to the mile 180 aid station, just in case my race took a turn for the worse and I had to limp in after dark. The volunteers at check-in recommended a little café down town that I found out makes a pretty awesome Ruben Melt. After getting my fill of layer upon layer of roast beef, I headed back to the city park where the start and finish would be and found a nice cozy parking lot corner to sleep in. Only a few noisy revelers stumbled though in the middle of the night so, in general, I got a good night’s rest.
At 4:30 a.m. my alarm blared the classic missile silo alarm. I awoke feeling well-rested. I crawled out of my truck and looked around the lot to see several other riders pulling in and getting ready in the dark. The morning chill I was expecting wasn’t there. Instead, it was nearly t-shirt weather. That meant a pleasant start, but could mean a hot day later. I was a little worried about heading toward the coast and riding into a marine layer of cold fog so I wore a wind vest just in case. I rolled into the start area just in time for the pre-race meeting and found an open spot at the front of the field. I noticed I was pretty much the only rider who didn’t have his arms covered in some way or fashion so I was worried I dressed too lightly but it was too late to worry about it. I didn’t recognize any of the riders from the Devil Mountain Double (DMD) from two weekends before, but I knew there had to be several dozen there because this ride was the second round of the California Triple Crown Stage Race. Two weeks ago at the DMD the whole field watched me coast away on the first short downhill before they dropped me on the 3,400’ climb up Mt. Diablo. I eventually caught and passed all but 4 of those riders to finish fifth overall. I wondered how the first 30 miles would play out to the first aid station. It would be mostly climbing all the way there before a nice gradual descent down to the very flat Highway 1 segment heading north. I climb a bit slower on my 25-pound Vendetta vs my 15-pound road bike, so I figured hanging onto the lead group till the first aid station could be tough. I knew if I could just stick with the leaders until the first aid station, I could probably open enough of a gap on the descent and Highway 1 so they would have to work to catch me by the top of the 6.6 mile climb on Nacimiento-Fergusson Road.
At 5:44 a.m. we rolled out, at least I’d like to say I rolled out but it was a bit more of a stumble after missing my pedal and nearly falling into the rider next to me. As we headed through town behind the SAG van I noticed my Garmin was paused for some reason. I tried to press the start button but to my dismay it was completely frozen like a Windows 8 PC. Eleven seconds in and I was already having problems. I held the power button for ten seconds to initiate a hard rest and got it restarted only to have it shut off on its own one minute. I turned it on once more and got it running again about a mile into the race. My mileage references for upcoming turns would be off a bit, but Garmin remained glitch free the remainder of the day. At about 1.5 miles we turned left and headed out of town into the rolling hills and toward the coast. The driver of the SAG van had been running her hazard lights the whole time but didn’t think to switch to her left blinker only for the turn and instead pointed her hand out the window which was barely visible in the low morning light. As she just sat in the intersection frozen the mass of riders started to clump up behind her most unsure where they were going. I didn’t hesitate and made the left and continued on slowly enough so everyone could regroup safely but it still took them forever to clear this little glitch in the lead out. About a half mile later I glance in my mirror and I could just make out the few tiny head lights way behind me maybe 100 yards back. I wasn’t going fast at all. In fact, I was going slower then I wanted to because my plan was to merely keep up with the leaders as we climbed toward the coast, not to lead them out. I held my slow pace and continued to stretch away ever so slightly over the next couple miles before the next turn. I was thinking to myself that several of the riders in the lead group know how strong I finished at the DMD so they had to know just letting me walk away on this climb of all things was a bad idea. After the fourth mile, I decided to ditch my original plan and ride my own pace. I hoped the other riders would later regret their decision not to take the lonely recumbent out front as a serious threat.
The climb to the first aid station is actually two climbs separated by a flowing descent in the middle. I just caught a glimpse of a small pack of ten to twenty riders catching me just before the top of the first climb but I as I crested the top I thought to myself, “You guys waited too long to get serious,” as the bike quickly started picking up speed on the downhill. I had setup one of the data fields on my Garmin to show lap distance so as long as I remembered to hit the lap button at every turn, I could use it along with my route sheet to know exactly when I needed to look for a turn. Even with a good setup like this, I still lacked confidence in the route sheet I had printed from the website. I was having trouble reading the sheet because I had to change the font size to six to fit the whole route onto one piece of paper small enough to attache to my stem. The Numbers 6, 8 and 0 all looked very similar until my eyes adjusted. I almost missed a left turn going 30 mph on a downhill. The little orange arrows where right at the turn so by the time they were noticeable, a rider would be 50 feet past the corner . I heard that happened to a few of the riders behind me. After turning onto the ultra smooth Highway 46 for about a mile, we turned off onto a hodgepodge of patched pot holes only Caltrans could call a road. Luckily after last week’s century, even this road felt smooth in comparison. In the last mile before the first aid station, the road got really steep and before I knew it, I was in my lowest gear looking for another. Right before the top there’s a sharp and very steep right corner and it’s got a bit of dirt/gravel spread across it. I made the right and could see the top of the road as well as the aid station volunteers about 100 yards ahead. I struggled to keep a steady cadence with my speed dropping below 6 mph. I started to pedal in squares, which is what causes the front wheel drive system of the Vendetta to loose traction. As I forced the pedals to keep turning, I hit a patch of gravel and spun the front wheel, causing me to lose my balance. I zigged to the left and almost rode off the road, the over corrected back to the right and into more gravel. I spun the wheel again and pulled back to the left all the while yelling in my head, “Don’t you dare stall it!” While all this is going on, the volunteers are still up the road just staring silently. I finally recovered enough of my balance to finish the climb in a straight line. I imagine at that point the volunteers probably thought it was funny watching this clown nearly crashing half a dozen times at 4 mph. They probably just thought I was some random rider out for his morning ride because they just continued to stare in silence as I approached, not moving a muscle. When I got about 100 feet away I yelled out, “Don’t everyone jump up and down in excitement all at once now.” The silent group broke into a confused cheer as I passed by, giving my thanks and race number.
The descent was indeed steep and dangerous on account of some gravel mid corner and excessively lumpy sections which had me and the Vendetta completely air borne half a dozen times at speeds I don’t care to be disconnected from the ground. After safely reaching the bottom, I focused on a nice steady but strong pace to open up whatever little gap I retained after my nearly not clearing that last climb. According to the GPS data via Strava’s Flyby feature, I was only 70 seconds ahead at the top which would have put me just out of sight of the second place rider who had already broken away from the other riders. After a few more turns, I got onto Highway 1, which I stayed on for the 44 miles. The 44-mile segment was nice for just zoning out and clicking off the miles without worrying about any upcoming turns. I flew past the second aid station, again yelling out my number and thanks. There was a single lane traffic light that held me up for minute or so while I kept glancing at my mirror, looking for the chasing pack of riders. I had no idea how far back they could be. I reached the third aid station at mile 87 which is 100 feet before the turn onto Nacimiento-Fergusson Road and the biggest climb of the day. I quickly handed my bottles to a volunteer with a couple of baggies of my own Accelerade powder. I carry it with me because I prefer it to what’s offered at most races. I finally took off my wind vest as one of the SAG drivers said the next rider was only about four miles back. The first thing I thought was, “Only one,” as I remounted my bike and headed up the climb.
The climb was steep and had me in my lowest gear within the first half mile, but I just focused on a steady pace I could keep for an estimated fifty-minute climb. The climb was uneventful and gave me time to think about the second half of the race and this apparent single rider who broke away from the pack and was about 10 mins behind me starting the climb. Based on my limited experience with the Vendetta, a top level rider like the one chasing me should be about 5-10 minutes faster than me up this climb depending on how hard they attack it. With only a mile or so left in the climb, I started to think he wouldn’t catch me before the top. A few turns later, I saw a flash of red in my mirror. Sure enough there was a rider all in red about 50 feet back but not exactly charging up the climb. Judging by the fact that he was just slowly reeling me in and not trying to just fly past and drop me, meant he had to go pretty hard just to catch me and wanted to recover before the descent. We chatted for the remaining 5 mins of the climb and I learned he was indeed Derek, the rider who had won the DMD last week finishing 50 mins ahead of me. He wasn’t going to be easy to shake . Derek, I’m sure, has a ton more road race experience then I do, but my advantage is that I’m used to 24 hour mountain bike races so a 200 mile race is short, comparatively. As we reached the top there were more volunteers at an unlisted water stop but we didn’t need anything so we flew passed after giving out thanks.
The big descent was a bit tricky because it’s mostly in the shade of trees so the ground is scattered with leafy shadows. The shadows make it extremely hard to spot gravel or rocks not to mention any random leaves on the ground. Better safe than sorry, I had to assume those were solid rock and avoid them as well. The road is also single lane. The day before in my truck I passed several cars going the other way leaving some camp sites lower down the mountain, so I needed to be careful of oncoming cars, too. I’m not as fast a descender on the Vendetta as I am on an upright bike but you’d be hard pressed to see the difference. Derek was doing great keeping me in sight, probably using me to clear the road as he safely followed behind. I had heard he had a too close with a car at the DMD in a similar situation, so I couldn’t blame him for not wanting to be the point man. Every few corners I checked my mirror to see where he was at just in case I started to hold him up and he wanted to pass, but he seemed to be falling back little by little each time I checked. By the time we hit the bottom I couldn’t see him anymore, so I went back to holding a solid effort to try and open another gap before aid station 4. This next section of road is generally flat like Highway 1, but it’s constantly got you turning with almost no strait sections. It’s also single lane which made for a few surprises from cars going the other way, but luckily it’s a wide single lane so there was nothing too close. There were a few rolling hills to get over before the next aid station so I thought I’d see Derek appear in my mirror at any moment but he never did.
I almost missed aid station 4 because it was behind a building which was another 100yards off the road and slightly up hill. The two volunteers out front were still 50 yards off the road and in the shade of a tree so you just didn’t see them in your peripheral vision at all. I turned into the driveway which turned to dirt with scattered rock and since it was slightly uphill I was struggling for traction immediately. In my head I was cursing whoever thought to put an aid station at the top of a dirt parking lot. I finally spun my way to the volunteers to check in and noticed they had no water or supplies which confused me. I ask for water but they start to casually tell me to park my bike at the top of the lot, then walk around the building and you can get lunch. I was losing my patience quickly but I knew they are just trying to help and don’t necessarily cater to the 5% of riders in the field who are racing seriously. I just wanted some water so I could get out of there before Derek showed up and recovered a bit of hope seeing me just in front of him. I walked around the building and there was a massive array of food typical of the main lunch stop of the ride. I couldn’t even tell you anything specific about what they were serving because all I was looking for was the water and I wasn’t seeing it. I asked for water again and I was directed all the way to the rear of the buffet at the very back, it seemed to be as far away as possible. The aid station reminded me of trying the checkout of a Fry’s electronics where they know you just want to pay and leave but they route you through 100 feet of aisle past all the little snacks and stuff to try and tempt you to buy one more thing. I quickly poured in my Accelerade powder and filled my bottles. As I was grabbing my bike Derek was just turning into the aid station to check in. As I was rolling out I could hear him asking for water and I just thought “good luck buddy” laughing in my head. I told him good job so far and keep pushing as I exited the aid station and continued my ride.
The next stretch of road started with a gradual climb but I knew I’d get nearly 10 miles of gradual descent after it, so I gave it a good effort to make sure Derek wouldn’t make up much time before I could continue to extend my lead on the downhill. As I worked across the flat lands heading toward the next climb, I passed under a road bridge with a car parked under it. As I got close I noticed a table out behind the car and a lady in the process of pulling out what I assume was water from the back seat. It looked like she was still setting up her water stop, but I didn’t need any water so I zipped passed with a loud thank you. Again, I think I surprised her because I was probably passing this point 15 or so minutes earlier than anyone in the past years. It was now 2 p.m. and the day was getting warm, so she would be getting busy in about an hour as more riders started to pour in looking for shade and water. During the next gradual climb a car caught and followed me for a few minutes, which I hate because I like to have a plan for cars passing me just in case they choose to do so at a stupid time like a blind corner. Having a tail for anything longer then a moment has me constantly monitoring both front and rear as well possible scenarios to keep me as safe as possible. He did eventually pass me and it turned out to be a SAG car. He asked me if I needed anything and after a quick no thanks he was on his way. That wasn’t the first or last SAG car to sneak in behind me and follow me for a while before passing me. It was like they were checking to see if I was actually pedaling or using a hidden motor to just throttle along beyond what anyone would have expect out of a recumbent on a hilly course. I dropped into the next aid station and they were kind enough to help me with my bottles as I downed a cup of soda to keep me sharp for the next set of smaller climbs and one very steep 15 minute climb. I gave my thanks and ran out of the aid station so fast I forgot to take a look back to see if Derek was closing in behind me.
The next section of road had me the most worried not because it was harder than the others, because it wasn’t. I was worried because it was going to be that last tough section of the race and the closer you get to the finish of a perfect race, the more you start thinking it’s too good to be true and something might still go wrong. From the little course profile printout on my bars I could see 3 smaller climbs which would probably be less than 5 minute each and then the dreaded super steep 15 minute climb after. I didn’t waste time prolonging the 3 smaller climbs and made sure to push past each one quickly and focus on recovering on the downhill after each. I approached the steep climb which looks like a big wall before turning right and left in big arcs on the way to cresting the hill. I had a tail wind as I climbed but that was more a curse then a blessing because the wind was moving at exactly the same speed I was and with the sun beating down on me. It felt like trying to climb out of the fiery pits of hell. I could feel my core temperature skyrocketing as the beads of sweat started to surface on my arms. About one third of the way up the climb, I was blessed by shade and cool air out of nowhere. I then realized a cloud was overhead as I enjoyed what felt like a 30 degree drop in temperature. As I looked up at the cloud in awe I suddenly realized it was moving faster than me and was going to pass me before I finished the climb. I started attacking the climb trying to utilize as much of the shade as possible. I would look back at the rolling hills behind me as the edge of the shadow chased me down. It eventually overtook me with a few minutes of climbing left to go. Once at the top, I was greeted by another unlisted water stop but it was all downhill to the next aid station and I had plenty of water so I gave my thanks and continued on.
Heading into the small town of Bradley, I made sure not to miss the aid station like I’d done the day before in my truck. I was welcomed by some rather cheery volunteers still in the process of setting up. One volunteer recognized the Vendetta as a Cruzbike and started asking a bunch of questions about it. I did my best to entertain his questions as I hurried along my refueling. They said that they had heard there was a recumbent way out front, but they were still surprised to see me so early. They told me I was way under the course record pace. This was going to be my last stop with only 30 miles to go, so I chugged another cup of soda and headed out. With only one climb left and nearly 20 miles of either downhill or flat, I knew first place was within my grasp. As long as I got to the top in the lead, no one would stand a chance against me in those last 20 miles. I pushed up the climb not worried about saving anything and I reach the top quicker than expected. The downhill on the backside is short but super steep. It earned me a top speed of 53 mph, which isn’t the fastest I’ve ever taken the Vendetta but the bumps from the buckled road sure made it a scary one.
The final stretch is mostly flat so I could have taken it easy but I was on pace to finish right at 11 hours and I wanted to be the first to get a sub-11 hour finish, so I was pushing hard. As I approached the last aid station, I think I surprised them once again because they were still unloading a truck with supplies and when they noticed me coming they started scrambling. I yelled out to them I wasn’t going to stop and gave them my number as I flew passed chasing my sub 11 hour finish. I was now entering the city outskirts and I started catching several groups of cyclists out on random group rides as they worked together to get through the strong headwind that seemed to be dead set on denying me my sub-11 hour finish. I flew past each group like they were standing still one after the other. As I got about 5 miles from the end I remembered my little issue with my Garmin at the start. That’s when I realized I was probably missing 3 minutes of total time, which put me 2-3 minutes over 11 hours, even if I caught all the stop lights green. My motivation took a hit and I eased off just a bit and made my way through downtown and into the park for the finish. I crossed the street and strait into the park looking around for anything resembling a finish line, but saw nothing. I rode over the gazebo off in the corner of the park where we checked in that morning because I saw several high school kids at the table. I rolled up and ask if they knew where the finish was and all I got out of them was “cool bike”. I thought “shit, where would they hide the finish line in this huge park”. I started riding around for a min or so before hearing someone yell out to me. The race director was calling me over to the exact spot I first entered the park at. It seemed he was at his truck getting the finish line table when I rolled in so we didn’t see each other. He seemed baffled and almost upset that he missed me claiming no one has ever come in before 5pm before. He had to go back to his truck and grab my finishers patch as well as the log sheet to record the finishing times. Final result was 1st place with a time of 11:05. I hear that’s a new course record by over 20 minutes.
I headed back to the truck, got cleaned up, packed up and then watched Cal Erdman roll in to take 4th place. I looked at the finishing sheet and it seemed Derek had finished 20 minutes after me with 3rd place finisher Max Mehech another 40 mins after Derek. I congratulated a few more finishers before skipping the post-race dinner and heading back to Bradley to grab my drop bag with head lights and jacket before they decided to send it to the finish. I probably spent 30 mins at the Bradley aid station helping some of the other riders get what they needed on their way to the finish. I may have eaten a few hot dog while I was there but hey I think I deserve to poach a dog or two seeing how the only thing I used from the aid stations all day was water and a little soda. I was able to chat more with the volunteers about the Vendetta and other things before finally giving one final thank you and heading home.
I learned a lot during this event about my pacing with the Vendetta over a hilly course vs the other traditional bike riders. I’m sure the other riders also took a few notes so I think the next time I may see they attack earlier or at least work together a bit more so I don’t walk away. I think if we ran the race again with everything we learned I’d have a much harder time winning the race but those are ifs and buts and a win is a win, so I’ll happily enjoy this one as my first on the Cruzbike Vendetta.
I want to thank those who have helped me get this far in the development of the Vendetta into my personal racing machine. First and foremost the Cruzbike team of Maria Parker, Jim Parker, Lucia Parker and Robert Holler for being the backbone of Cruzbike and giving me the opportunity to ride the Vendetta. Encina and Clayton Bicycle Centers for being my local bike shop HQ for parts and service. TruckerCo.com for the best disc brake pads and tire sealant around, yes I use disc brakes on the Vendetta and they are awesome. Team Diablo for heckling me about riding the road even though I still claim to be a MTBer, don’t worry boys Boggs is coming and I’ll be ready. I also need to thank Vic Armijo for initially getting me involved with the folks at Cruzbike even if it’s come at the cost of him pressuring me into doing RAAM (Race Across the whole damn USA) every time we speak. I’d also like to thank my friends and family who over the years have always supported my many endeavors even if they think the idea is totally ludicrous. Last but not least I want to give a shout out the the Cruzbike community specifically the active members of the Cruzbike forum. Without their guidance and wealth of knowledge offered at every turn I’d never have gotten this far so quickly.