March 31, 2017/ Guest
This is a guest post from Jason Perez following the 2017 Solvang Double Century, originally published on the Cruzbike Forum here.
Terrible Night of Sleep
Wow I haven’t slept that badly since I tried to take a nap while still on the bike during the 24 Hour World Time Trial Championships. One night of staying up way too late and another with me uncomfortable and waking up every 30 minutes. I wondered if the lack of sleep would matter later on. It was still very dark at 6 a.m. when I rolled out from the hotel parking lot and pedaled over to the host hotel where the start of the Solvang Double Century would be held. I was ready to go for my first race of 2017 after yet another difficult period of recovery following another wrist surgery back in December. I had spent the last 3 months riding indoors on the trainer in the virtual world of Zwift and only just recently started riding outside last week. I had the route loaded into my Garmin as my primary means of navigation and a secondary turn by turn paper route sheet as back up. My tail light was fully charged and flashing, my bottles topped off with EPO and my tires full of extra fast Helium. This double only has 7000’ of climbing which is half of what I’m used to, so it gives me the opportunity to really take advantage of the Vendetta’s long legs in the flat lands. The old course was right about 9 hours with a 21.3mph average speed. I figured I’d shoot for 8:30 which is an average speed of 22.5 mph. My other goal was to keep my average wattage for the whole ride over 200 watts with my best previous wattage in a double being 184. There is no real math behind any of these goals they are just numbers that sounded appealing. I just like to have a target to shoot for and it gives me something to focus on if I get bored and start to fall asleep which happens a lot. Remember how I didn’t get any sleep?>
I was at the start area early enough to watch my friends Christy and Roehl roll out on their tandem and Maurice on his own trusty steed at 6:30 a.m. You’re allowed to start any time between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. but it is required that the fastest riders start at 7a.m. so they don’t arrive at any of the aid station locations before the volunteers show up. I spotted Justin Too and family in the parking lot getting ready before the start. Justin’s father Sonny helped me tape my race number to the side of the bike because I was having trouble getting anything to stick with the air heavy with fog. Sonny showed off Justin’s brand new bike. They had picked it up the day before and spent all night getting it ready for its maiden voyage. I mean what better time to try out a new bike than in a 200 mile race, right? I still think he should have come to me because I would have hooked him up with an ultra fast Vendetta instead :p.
At 6:55 a.m. all the riders gathered round for some last minute instructions from race director Deborah Bowling. Nothing unusual. Just the normal be safe have fun stuff. There were about 12 of us in the 7a.m. start. I was the only recumbent. Marko Baloh, who is famous for his 24 hour world record as well as multiple RAAM finishes, was also among our small group of riders. You could tell all eyes were on him with him. He’d set a new Joshua Tree Double course record the week before. At the strike of 7 we started rolling across the timing mat one at a time. I led the way. I am no longer the shy dude on the recumbent who hides at the back unsure of whether or not I can keep up. Everyone knows what the Vendetta and I can do, for better or worse, so there’s no point in being coy.
The Lead out
A quarter mile into the ride we hit our first stubborn red light. Luckily, a car pulled up to trigger the left arrow. After everyone was successfully rolling again and the group was all together I got to the front and started pulling with my focus on my primary goal of averaging more than 200 watts. Marko was trailing behind me about 10′ or so with everyone nose to tail drafting him. It seemed like Marko didn’t want to get close enough to me to draft. For all the haters out there: there is a draft, it’s just not as much and you don’t feel it on your face which is where you most strongly perceive a draft’s potency. I kind of figured Marko was reluctant to get within drafting distance of me since recumbent riders are known to be a little wobbly. This wasn’t my first race with Marko either. We had gone head to head in the last two 24 Hour World Time Trial Championships. For the 24 Hour World Time Trial Championships we may have been in the same race, but we rarely saw each other. Also, you aren’t allowed to draft in a time trial, so this would be our first chance to ride with each other and maybe talk a bit.
It was still me at the front with Marko following me with everyone still drafting him for the first 10-15 miles. I’m not sure if anyone even swapped positions in that first 15 or so miles, everyone was so close to each other, all I could see was Marko in mirror. As we started getting into the steeper climbs at mile 15, Marko casually passed me with the now 8 or so riders in tow. Apparently we had lost a few riders. I focused on maintaining my effort and let the group slowly inch away because we were coming up on some friends. We had caught Maurice as and Christy and Roehl so I slowed and chatted with them for a minute about how their ride was going so far. Christy was quietly stoking (Stoker is the rear rider on a tandem) as her captain (tandem rider doing the steering and maybe some pedaling) who was a cheerful as ever commented on how easy I made the climb look and urged me not to let the leaders get too far ahead. I quickly accelerated back up to the group which now had Maurice in tow trying his best to suck wheel. After exchanging a few quips with Maurice I started making my way toward the front of the group which was now breaking apart on the prolonged climb. One rider was only 40 feet off the main pack of 5 so told him he’d better get back on before the DH or kiss the draft good bye for good. With a quick burst of speed he secured his spot again with the lead group just before we crested the top of the hill. I easily made my way to the front again and continued to pull the group which was still being led by Marko. After one more steeper climb we made it to the highest point in the first half of the ride and started on the long 25 miles of gradual descent back into the valley.
On the initial descent I opened a solid 200’ gap and I could have kept extending it by not letting the group back on my wheel but that would have made for a lonely ride. I opted to wait up for them and take the time to stow away my sunglasses, which had become useless due to the heavy fog collecting on the lenses. At this point Marko was no longer being shy about trying to draft me, gaining enough confidence to sit right on my wheel in his aero bars. That can be tricky because a rider in the aero bars position has no access to his or her brakes. It wasn’t much longer before Marko finally pulled to the side and offered the chance at the half draft off my bike to someone else. I half expected the group would fall apart at this point with no one wanting to eat wind with only half a draft at the 23.5 mph average speed we had maintained to this point but I was wrong. The next rider in line jumped right on my wheel and the group started a very smooth rotation with each one taking pulls behind me for around a mile each. Justin was still among the group even though he claimed to be out of shape. Justin was also the only other rider besides Marko who had aero bars equipped on his road bike. That had to be quite an advantage on a long flat course such as this. At around mile 70 I noticed Marko directly behind me but no one behind him. Apparently we had picked up a few 6:30 am riders in our pace line and one of them found the pace too fast and let a gap open up. Instead of attacking like a typical racer would I held my pace and waited to see if there were any signs of the group attempting to bridge the gap. I wanted to keep our group together if at all possible. Justin afterward said the pace really was too fast even with everyone working together. I think that’s why most of them were reluctant to try and bridge the gap. Some of the riders probably felt letting Marko and I go and then working together in their own group would be the smart move so they wouldn’t all fall apart in the second 100 miles.
After a couple minutes with the same rider leading the chase group and no signs of anyone going around him to help, I decided to speed up. Up to this point I had comfortably maintained an average wattage of 220. I picked up the pace to about 250-260 and held it there for next 5 or so miles to define a separation between our two groups. The chase group did finally mount an attempt to bridge the gap but only after I got tired of waiting and had already sped up. There was one rider in a bright red jersey that had closed half the distance to us all on his own but was only able to get within about 50 feet of us. I felt bad for him as he was making such a heartfelt attempt. But racing is racing. Marko and I rolled into the mile 81 aid station together. It must have had 100 riders refueling and chatting. It was a bit longer of a stop for us at 5 minutes as we had to find the water station and fill our own bottles. But neither of us were rushing to get back out. Right as I was packing away my arm warmers and vest, Marko was rolling out. But not before a quick check in on me to make sure I was almost ready and going to catch up soon. Just as Marko rolled out, the rider in red who had given chase rolled in. You could tell he was spent as he rolled in but still smiling as he rolled up to me telling me about how hard he was trying and how he had sacrificed way too many matches on that effort. I gave him kudos for his hard effort and wished him a solid rest of the ride with a fist bump and then headed out myself.
Red Lights and Cars Trying to Run us Over
Upon leaving the aid station, I spotted a familiar rider up ahead. It was Justin who we had dropped with the chase group earlier. Justin must have made a very fast stop or didn’t stop at all to have gotten back in front of me. We talked for a minute and then I wished him a good race as I accelerated ahead to catch up to Marko who was probably about a minute further ahead. When I did catch Marko he seemed to be taking it easy, maybe to make sure I was able to catch back up. Such a generous fellow. I resumed my pulling duties at the front as we made our way through some city traffic and a bunch of red lights. Marko did ask me if I was ok doing all the pulling and I said, “Hell yeah, it’s only fair because my bike is more aero and besides I’m trying to average over 200 watts today and still on target.” Our total average speed had fallen from 23.2 before the first aid stop to the low 22s by the time we exited the city. Most of that was the 5 minute pit stop, but the lights weren’t helping either. We had worked our way out to Hwy 1 and were making our way down the coast with the ocean to our right. We narrowly escaped being run over and cut off by several tourists trying to find parking, but that’s par for the course when riding a bike these days. I could see Marko in my mirror shaking his head on several occasions. At about mile 130 I looked at my route sheet for the next aid station at mile 136 and noticed that the aid station wasn’t scheduled to open until 1 p.m.. I told Marko we were going too fast and that the aid station may not be ready yet because at our pace we were going to get there right at 1 p.m.. Sure enough we rolled in at 1:02 p.m. and they were still unloading the truck. The kind volunteers jumped on refilling our bottles while I started peering into the back of the truck like a curious kid for any signs of a soda hidden beneath the pile of boxes. After our bottles were filled and we each chugged a coke we set off once again. I had hoped the caffeine would wake me up because although I was still going strong, my average wattage had now dropped from 225 earlier to 215 and was still slowly dropping. I didn’t get much sleep the previous few nights and figured it was catching up with me. I waved Marko by and told him I needed him to lead a bit so I could just focus on following which normally helps wake me back up. Something about the mundane farm lands were not doing me any favors. But at least having a rider out front to focus on brought me out of my funk. Little did I know I’d be getting some unwanted external stimulus soon enough. After a mile or so my focus returned and I went back to the front.
Did Someone Say Cobbles?
We blew past the final aid station at mile 164 and started the final stage of the race. Over the next 10 miles we would be climbing 1000’ so nothing too steep but it was clear my goal to go sub 8:30 hours was no longer possible. But before I got into the meat of the climb, we needed to clear the next section of road which was known as the Solvang Cobbles. It was an unmaintained farm road with enough of pot holes and gravel to make even a cross bike proud. Although the Vendetta is fast, it’s not the most pleasant ride over cobbles or gravel by any stretch of the imagination. At one point I thought I could hear Marko laughing behind me as my head was kicked around by my headrest as I powered through the dirt in as straight a line as possible. After a mile or so of that we were back onto smooth roads and starting the long gradual ascent back up to the highest point of the course. Marko took the liberty to pull out small enough leads over the steeper climbs to keep me honest, but nothing resembling an attack. By this point we weren’t racing as much as we were just riding together at a very fast pace. I didn’t get the feeling that Marko was planning any kind of late race attack, but I still wanted my over 200 watts average which had now fallen to 210. So I kept the speeds high on the 15 miles of descent back to the finish. I guess after following me for the last 170 miles he felt comfortable drafting me closely because he’d be right behind me in his aero bars at 40 mph. In fact, I’ve never had a rider successfully draft me like he was doing so maybe the fact that he was able to use the aero bars right behind me makes that big of a difference. The only other person I know who has aero bars on his road bike is Justin, but he’s not much of a descender while using them. We finally rolled into town for an 8:44 finishing time breaking the old course record by about 15 mins. I had suffered in the second half but I was able to achieve my over 200 watts average with an average of 208. It was about an hour before Justin rolled in with a solid 3rd place finish on his new ride, not bad for a guy who claims to be out of shape.
I hung out at the finish and greeted several riders as they rolled in before deciding to ride over to dinner. My ride only lasted about 15 feet before I spun half way around and nearly crashed. I sat up looking at my rear tire and sure enough, totally flat, not even a single PSI to speak of. It didn’t feel flat at the end of the race nor were there any signs of sealant leaking from a hole. It was just totally flat for no reason at all. But I suspect maybe the valve stem had shifted or something and was leaking air into the rim cavity. Weird. Maybe someone let the air out on my tire when I wasn’t looking haha.
Marko seemed happy to end his pre RAAM training camp in California with such a solid effort and I was just happy to have someone to ride and talk with. It’s not every day you get to ride with someone known all over the world for his endurance racing. This was by far my longest ride since the 24hr back in November but I now have a solid benchmark event to start planning out just how hard I can push myself in these next few events. I’m happy to be back outside racing again and I look forward to the next one. Thanks to all the staff and volunteers that made the Solvang Spring Double possible as well as congrats to all the riders who also took part. I’ve always got to give thanks to the people behind the scenes who support me, my Family and Friends, Team Cruzbike, Team Diablo, TruckerCo, Encina and Clayton Bicycle Centers.