April 25, 2017/ Guest
An epic double century that traverses about 18,000 of vertical gain from Agoura Hills through Malibu to Camarillo and back via world famous Mulholland Highway and much more. This is a guest post from Jason Perez who finished first (results here) in the Mulholland Challenge Double on April 8, 2017.
Riding a century or 100 miles is viewed by many riders as the end goal for their long distance aspirations. To be fair, riding 100 miles is no joke. Some centuries are harder than others with some being in extreme weather conditions and others having routes that traverse mountain ranges. Saturday’s 106 mile KOM race in the Mulholland Mountains of southern California is one such event. I would call it extreme because of the amount of climbing involved. At 106 miles and just over 13,000’ climbing I know of no other road century with that much climbing per mile, this course is a beast. Not only are the climbs steep but the descents are complex with many sharp blind corners, this mountain range isn’t called the Mecca for motorcycle canyon racing for nothing after all. Oh, and did I mention this 106 miles event was being held within the first round of the California Triple Crown stage race so after you finish up the 106 miles you have the option to continue on for another 90 miles? The next 90 miles only have about 5000’ of climbing so at least it’s much flatter. My plan was to focus on the 106 mile KOM event and just survive the remaining 90 miles to the best of my ability. With so much about this event being in some way or another extreme what could possibly go wrong, right?
Starting Late to Avoid Missing the Aid Stations
I drove down to Simi Valley to stay with some friends Friday night who live only 20 miles from the start so I did what any serious racer would do before a big event; I gorged on a generous helping of pork ribs and cheese cake. I mean what kind of friend drops in and refuses an offer of ribs for dinner and cheese cake for desert? Oh man, I couldn’t even sleep on my stomach like normal that night I was so stuffed but I did get a solid night of rest regardless which was the important part. I got up the next morning feeling strong and ready, I knew I was going to have a good ride. I headed over to the start and checked in and grabbed my racing number. We CTC riders would have a mass start at 6:30am sharp and the KOM riders would be starting any time between 7-8am. It was determined that if I went all out from the 6:30 start I would arrive before any of the aid stations were scheduled to open which was poor planning on the event’s part but there was a solution. The solution was to start with the fastest of the KOM racers at 8am but that would mean I would need to finish the full 196 miles with over 18,000’ of climbing in less than 12hrs to get back before dark and avoid carrying my lights. I really didn’t want to carry the extra weight of my lights during the first 106 miles but I also didn’t feel confident I could finish the whole 196 miles in less than 12hrs. I decided to leave my lights ready to go in my truck and if I couldn’t finish the 106 miles in less than 6.5hrs I’d take the time to mount my lights then. Even though I felt ready I was still lacking confidence about the chances of me completing the first part in less than 6.5 hrs due to the sheer amount of climbing. You’d think by now I’d have a little confidence in myself when going into these types of events but what can I say, I’m a pessimist at heart.
I watched the CTC riders head off at 6:30 and then poked fun at my friend Larry Pointer for starting his KOM ride at 7:15 instead of 7:00. I told him he was going to need as much of a head start as possible to hold me off. By the time 7:45 rolled around not many riders were heading out and you could see the fast riders starting to gather around the start area. Everyone looks like your typical road racer with team kits and lightweight carbon road bikes with bare minimal extra equipment and then you have me on the out of place TT recumbent setup Cruzbike Vendetta. With a few odd looks as I rolled up, I took my position at the rear of the group. At 8am all 25 or so riders headed out together with me bringing up the rear as I was trying to start up the Ride with GPS navigation app on my phone. The group was doing your normal warmup pace but as soon as my navigation app was loaded I was ready to make up as much time on the riders who had started 90 mins earlier. I easily passed the group and continued to pull away till they were out of sight. My focus was to try and pace myself to finish the 106 miles with nothing left and I estimated I would need around an average wattage of 220 to do that. The first 29 miles to aid station #1 were uneventful and as I pulled into the aid station I directed the sticker volunteer to my hidden number plate taped to the bike below my left hip. At each of the KOM aid stations we would need to get colored stickers placed on our number plate to prove we rode the whole course.
The True Race Begins
At about mile 35 as I made my way up the 2000’ climb up Stunt Road, I spotted a rider catching me in my mirror. The first rider of our 8am group had finally caught back up to me. We exchanged some pleasantries before he set off to stamp his authority by dropping me with ease. Well he would have dropped me with ease but I wasn’t about to give up that easily so I ramped up my effort a notch and did my best to keep him in sight. He was still pulling away but not at the rate he had probably planned because I could see him periodically checking his six to see if I was still there. I figured at the pace he was pulling away I would have a slim chance of catching him by the end of the next descent because after all this was supposed to be his backyard and I’d expect him to know the descents like the back of his hand. As I rounded a tight left corner I spotted a silver Volkswagen sedan next to a group of riders with its right blinker on. At first I thought it was some kind of dispute going on between an angry driver and the group of riders but then I noticed the rider that had just passed me hand his water bottle into the car through the open window. I thought to myself that sneaky bastard had his friends out on course giving him water bottle handouts which is against the rules for both safety and fairness. By the time we reached the summit I had just lost sight of the rider I was chasing but he was only about 1-2 minutes ahead so I did my best to stay off the brakes and just carve the never ending corners as I flew past rider after rider who had started earlier than me. I’m sure I startled a few of them as they seemed to be so focused on trying not to die that they couldn’t hear me yelling on your left as I closed in at breakneck speeds.
These poor riders had white knuckles as they navigated the complex and steep descent all the while I was wearing the world largest grin as I danced that fine line between traction and guardrail.
People often ask me how do I go so fast, I tell them it’s partly instinct and partly a desire to put yourself in a dangerous state because you enjoy the thrill and uncertainty. As I finished the descent I was bummed when I didn’t see the rider I was chasing in sight but I kept up my effort over the next 10 miles of rolling hills to Aid Station #2 at mile 55.
As I approached the Aid Station area I spotted the sticker volunteers on the left, then to my surprise the rider I had been chasing pulled out of a restaurant parking lot to my right which was strange since the aid station was on the left 100 yards down a dirt road. He looked surprised to see me as he pulled out and started to sprint away but I couldn’t give chase because I needed to refill my now empty bottles. I always get a little pissed off when an aid station is down a dirt road because the Vendetta’s front wheel drive sucks at finding traction in the dirt and grass. They had the self-serve water station way out in the field so I hurried over the grass to refill my bottles. I needed to pour my drink powder into each bottle but the damn grass was making it impossible to stand up my bottle so I could pour. Eventually I got my bottles refilled and headed back out the gravel driveway for my sticker. As I pulled up the lady with the stickers started giving me crap about how I needed to hang my number plate from my bars. I’m not even sure she realized I wasn’t riding a standard bike but I got my sticker and off I went. It had been a solid 3 min pit stop which meant my rival was again down the road and out of sight. As I continued on I thought to myself if he rode down into that aid station to get water then I would have caught him doing so because I couldn’t have been more than a couple mins back after that long descent. I started to wonder if he had received another bottle hand off in that other parking lot to the right, or if he was just fast enough to have pulled away those extra 3mins in the 10 miles I didn’t see him. I worked my way up Mulholland Blvd and then made the left turn onto Hwy 23.
This was one of the many sections of road where I was grinning ear to ear. It’s not a very steep downhill but it’s got to be some of the twistiest sections of road I’ve ever come across. I had caught another two early starters who were in attack mode on this downhill racing one another. The guy in front was low in the drops with his head down while he swooped left and right while hammering out quick bursts of pedaling between corners to maintain speed to avoid a pedal strike in the corners. The second rider was about 15 feet behind doing his best to match the speed of the rider ahead. These poor guys didn’t stand a chance against the Vendetta because I can pedal through the tightest of corners without fear of my pedals striking the ground. I quickly caught the first guy and announced my presence with an on your left but after a quick glance he made no effort to concede the “racing line”. With a quick cross pattern in the next chicane I pulled along his left exiting a right corner and dove under him in the following left. I again said on your left to the next rider but didn’t wait to be ignored, I performed the same passing maneuver again and then quickly left the two riders behind as they shook their heads in either disbelief or disdain. I kind of miss my days of motorcycle racing when you didn’t have to ask to pass and wait for the rider to yield a safe passing line. When I ask and get ignored I relish the chance to perform a sneaking but still safe racing pass. This was a long descent all the way to the ocean so I must have passed another 5-6 earlier starters before turning right onto Hwy 1.
Stupid Steep Climbs & False Victories
After a quick few miles on Hwy 1 I turned right up Yerba Buena Rd and the hardest climb of the day. All the climbs in the first 106 miles are tough with several having max grades over 12% but this road was showing its age with a severely worn chip seal finish and endless cracks that caused the front tire of the Vendetta to hop around and lose traction with every stroke of the pedal. At some points of the climb I estimate I was getting 10-20% wheel spin which is just adding insult to injury when you’re suffering up a 12% grade. I finally made it to Aid station #3 at mile 76 and as I struggled to pedal into the station I was met with cheering from volunteers and riders alike. I didn’t have time to enjoy the company of the volunteers so I quickly got another checkpoint sticker and headed out with a thank you. 100 feet after the aid station I turned left to continue up the hardest part of the climb, yes you heard me, that first part I struggled to get up before the aid station was the easy part.
As soon as I rounded the corner I spotted the same silver Volkswagen from earlier parked in a driveway to the right and even better yet the red and yellow kitted rider who had passed me 35 miles earlier. As I approached the car he started to pull out on me but spotted me at the last second and stopped to let me by, for a moment I thought I was going to dive for the opposite lane. As I pulled alongside the rider I could tell he was suffering to get up the climb and even though it was only what I’d call warm, he looked to be sweating porously. During the race I thought this was the same rider who had passed me 35 miles earlier but in fact it was the teammate to that rider who probably started earlier then our 8am group and we were just catching him now 75 miles into the race. With both riders wearing the same exact kit and having the same silver Volkswagen following them around on course I just assumed it was the same rider, I mean given the circumstances can you blame me? I told him good job keep it up and proceeded to get up the climb as smoothly as possible to hide the fact that I was suffering like crazy to find traction. I fought the intermittent wheel spin to keep the bike going in a straight line and not swerve all over the road but it was taking everything I had to do so. The last thing I wanted to do was show him any signs of weakness and rekindle his hope. As I pulled away I could see him talking to the driver through the window as they continued side by side. By the time I had reached the top of the climb I had completely dropped the rider behind and the silver car had passed me to go on ahead. There were a few rollers before starting the final steep 11% descent back to Hwy 1 but I was just happy to be done with the steep part and wheel spin. Just as I rounded the last corner to drop down the road I again spotted the silver car with driver standing next to the road cheering me on as I went past.
The Deer Creek Rd descent was repeatedly mentioned to be very dangerous but aside from the road surface being a little beat up and it being very steep it was nothing I’d hesitate on. I flew down the road reaching speeds of close to 50 mph as I navigated the sweeping corners. The whole ocean was on display over the cliff’s edge but I tried not to focus on it much because you tend to drift to where you are looking. There were only two tricky tight corners to take note of mostly because the asphalt in the braking zone was super rough. I got on the front brake hard which transferred my weight forward causing the rear end of the bike to lighten. The Vendetta’s center of gravity is much lower than a normal bike and it also has a longer wheel base but that didn’t keep the rear wheel from hopping around behind me. The rear wheel kept trying to lock up but with some light feathering of the rear brake I was able to maintain great control. I owe a lot of this control to the Hydraulic disc brakes and TruckerCo brake pads I run. They have a ton of stopping power but at the same time they give me enough modulation to feather the lever and ride that fine line between traction and skidding. Feathering the rear brake on the Vendetta feels just like how I feather the clutch on the motorcycle to work as a rear brake when racing.
In Hot Pursuit
I rushed through Aid Station #4 and grabbed another checkpoint sticker before heading back south down Hwy 1. I was on a rider’s high at this point having thought I had just passed back my closest competitor while he was looking defeated — too bad I was wrong and still in second place. I rode passed Mulholland Canyon where I had earlier dropped down and then turned left to start the long climb up Deker canyon. Deker was a quite a bit steeper in its first mile than I had anticipated but at least the asphalt was smooth so traction wasn’t an issue. I started to do the calculations in my head and it looked like on my current pace not only would I make it back to the finish before 6.5 hours I had a chance to break 6 hours and possibly surpass the course record which was a little below 6 hours. I was now past warm and getting a little hot but I only have about 20 more mins of climbing to the next aid station and still half a bottle of water. I was just trying to maintain a steady effort up the climb in order to keep my 230 watt average I still had till this point in the race when I saw the silver car go back again. A few corners later I spotted riders in my mirror and since I hadn’t passed anyone for at least 10 mins that must mean they were catching me. I recognized that same red and yellow kit I had been battling with all day but now there was a black and blue rider working with him. During the race I thought the red and yellow rider had recovered from the poor state he was in on the last climb and caught back up to me. In reality this was now the 3rd teammate and the second to have also started with our group at 8am. So the red/yellow rider as well as the black/blue rider passed me dropping me back to 4th place but at the time I thought I was in 3rd. As soon as they passed me the R/Y guy accelerated to drop the B/B rider who was in turn slowly pulling away from me.
We were 89 miles into the race with about 1.5 miles from the top of the Deker climb and my back was against the wall. I was still feeling great having a perfect race so far but I only had so much power in my legs to pull from. It was now or never so I dug deep into my sparse reserves and ramped up my pace to near functional threshold effort. I’m known to be a quite the climber on the Vendetta but the reality is my bike is about 9 lbs heavier than what these guys are riding and that was the difference between holding them off and falling behind. By the time I reached Aid station #5 at mile 91 the R/Y rider was out of sight and the B/B rider was just pulling out as I rolled in. The volunteers jumped in to help me so I had them refill only one of my bottles. I had planned to refill all three and not refill again till the Aid station after the finish line but I needed every second to catch the two riders ahead so it was time to change my plan. After the aid station we descended for a short time and then started our last 800’ climb before our chance to descend the Snake. The Snake is a famous stretch of road leading down to the famous Rock Store, known for attracting some of the most exotic cars and motorcycles before they race up and down the canyons of Mulholland. I was able to keep the B/B rider in sight as I watched him check behind him every few mins. By the way he was checking behind him I knew he had to be at his limit so if I could just keep the pressure on and make the pass at the bottom he would concede defeat. He was about 100 yards ahead of me as he disappeared over the crest of the road and down the snake.
Just as I was cresting the summit myself I caught Hwy patrol car was fast approaching from behind in my mirror. He looked to be trying to catch and pass me before I dropped into the first sweeping right hand corner. I started a quick sprint as I shifted through all the gears in order to beat the quickly closing cop car to the first corner. I was able to get there first but I was going so fast through the corner I felt like I could have drug my elbow on the ground. You’ll just have to take my word for it because I surprised the photographer enough that he said I startled him and the picture came out blurry. As I whipped through the next few corners I quickly dropped the Hwy patrol car following me and I wondered what the speed limit was because I’m sure I was exceeding it. I wondered if the cop would try and hassle me if he ever caught back up but I was in the zone and having a blast so I didn’t have time to worry. About half way down I caught a Toyota Tacoma racing down the canyon and I only say racing because he had that thing tipped sideways with body roll as his tires howled trying to maintain traction. Even with as fast as he was going he was holding me up and killing my best chance for making up time on the leaders. After several corners he finally spotted me in his driver side mirror hounding him on the center line so he started to hesitate and slow. I quickly threw up my left hand and waved it forward to signal him to step on it and not slow down. He quickly sped up and dove off into a partial turnout giving me half a lane to pass. I gave him a thumbs up as I flew passed in my pursuit of my prey. As the road flattened out I saw the B/B rider ahead as he glanced back to see me coming. I made the pass and could tell right away he was in no shape to mount an attack in the final 5 miles as he shook his head in disbelief.
I again switched my focus onto the R/Y rider who was still out of sight and wondered just how far ahead he was.
I only had 5 miles to go so I was giving it everything I had leaving nothing for the 90 miles to come after I was finished with the KOM race. My quads started to cramp and knot up in an attempt to stop the torture but I forced them open with every other muscle still willing to press on.
I could feel the muscle fibers tearing each time I forced my quads open but I knew they would concede their futile protest in a moment if I just kept a steady effort. I chugged the last of my water with 3 miles to go and pressed on now entering the city again. I quickly made it through the stop sign but got stuck at the first traffic light I came across. I knew this was a going to be a long light since I had just caught it and it had cars waiting to make left hand turns in every direction. I knew my chance to catch the rider ahead of me was gone with only 1 mile to go so my concern switched to the rider behind me. I couldn’t have pulled more than a 1-2 min lead over him in the 5 miles since I passed him so sure enough I watched him appear in my mirror and pull up alongside me. I told him good job as we prepared for the green light while readying myself for a sprint to the end. As soon as we took off he let me pull away a good 100’ showing his intent to not take advantage of the traffic light letting him catch back up. The irony was that the 100’ gap was just enough for me to sneak through and get him caught at the next light, no good deed goes unpunished they say.
I finished the KOM race in 5:57:20 for 3rd place overall in what I consider my best race effort of any sub 8hr race to date. It was then while refilling my bottles that all three of the R/Y team riders were seen together and I finally realized it was actually 3 different riders I was battling with and not the same one over the course of the race. I asked the timing and scoring person how far behind the CTC leaders I was and he said they came through about 45 mins earlier which meant I was actually leading by 45 mins because I gave them a 90 min head start when I waited to start at 8am. Because I made it back in less than 6.5 hours I decided to not grab my headlight for the remainder of the race. With a 45 mins lead and 6 hours till sunset I could just take it easy and enjoy these final 90 miles or so I thought.
Juggling Bike Parts & Dodging Cars
I headed back out and started to climb Hwy 23 from the West lake area. My legs still felt loose and generally OK but my earlier effort in the KOM race had dulled their snap a bit. I couldn’t seem to power over the steeper kickers in the climb like before and had to gear down and crawl up a bit more slowly. I wasn’t in a rush so my reduced pace didn’t concern me, I was just turning the pedals waiting for the next DH. Eventually I made my way up to Mulholland Canyon for what felt like the one hundredth time today and then turned left onto Latigo Canyon, man there sure are a lot on canyons in this place. Latigo is a name I remember as a kid when my dad would tear around the canyons on his old Suzuki 750 with me on the back. After making my way through a couple smaller climbs I started the 8 mile descent down to the coast. WOW! This road has so much flow and character to it, I could totally see myself riding the Ninja out to the coast and tearing up and down Latigo all day. The wind was really coming in hard from the right (north) which made a few right hand corners a bit more tricky but that’s why I run a shallow 33mm deep rim on the front on the Vendetta. I still run my full disc wheel covers in the rear but the wind doesn’t seem to affect it at all when compared to when you go deeper on the front rim.
I made it down to the coast and turned right to head north on Hwy 1 and suddenly it felt like I was riding through water. The headwind was so bad but directly in my face that it just felt like I was dragging a car behind me. I went to take a drink of water but then couldn’t seem put it back into the cage. I kept feeling around until I found it and shoved the bottle in but it felt out of place. I realized my whole headrest had tilted back so I tried bending it back forward but when I did it spun sideways and was leaning really bad to the left, oops. I thought one of my mounting bolts must have fallen out and it was spinning around on one bolt but when I stopped to fix the problem I realized it was much worse. My headrest is a custom design made by me and is made of 1/8” thick 2” wide aluminum. Right above the upper mounting bolt it had completely fractured and was just hanging on by a tiny piece of the corner. Well shit, how am I going to fix this I thought? I realized unless I found a hardware store or someone who could weld alloy I was pretty much screwed. I grabbed the headrest and broke it off completely and moved onto a plan to carrying it with me. The problem was it wasn’t just my headrest that had come off, both of my water bottles as well as my tail light are all mounted to that 2” plate. I ended up setting the whole thing on my chest and biting down on one of the bottle spouts to keep it from rolling off. The weight of the whole assembly was pulling my head forward which was kind of nice because I no longer had the headrest to relax against. I only made it a few mins like that before my jaw started to cramp. I then tried to carry the assembly in my right hand and steer with my left which worked ok but now my head wanted to fall back. The steering with one hand normally wouldn’t be a big issue but the bike lane was full of parked cars so I had to share the right of two lanes with a bunch of pissed off drivers who didn’t want to give me 3” much less 3’ of space. I still had 5 miles to go till the next aid station so I swapped between biting down and holding the assembly on my hand the best I could. That was a really long 5 miles of brutal head wind and juggling of the headrest but I finally made it without getting run over, yay.
The volunteers at the aid station told me I was the 5th rider to come through with the next rider being about 30 mins ahead. I handed them my broken headrest to forward to the finish line and pondered about the next 50 miles. Missing the headrest was going to really suck but equally crappy was losing my two main water bottles which also contain all my nutrition through drink mix. With the only remaining aid station lying on the other side of 20 more miles of mostly severe head wind and then another 30 miles to the finish, I would have to stretch out what little water I could carry. I did still have a small 16oz bottle that mounts under my handlebars and it wasn’t hot anymore so as long as I supplemented my lack of calories with dry aid station cookies I should be ok. I reluctantly set out into the headwind again but now at least I could use both my hands.
The next 12 miles of headwind really wore on my patience and I was having a hell of a time holding my head up. Every so often I would try and scoot forward in the seat in an attempt to somehow rest my head on the top of the seat but no matter how many times I tried it never worked. I never realized just how much I relied on that damn headrest but that’s how it goes, you never truly appreciate something until you lose it. In an attempt to let my neck rest a bit I would steer with my left hand and use my right hand from behind to hold my head up. It sounds easy enough to do but it’s rather awkward to relax you neck muscles while holding your head in your hand. Holding my head with my right hand for a min or two every 5-10 mins was just enough to keep my neck from totally giving out. When I finally made the right hand turn onto Hueneme Rd I was greeted with a welcoming tailwind. I was now cruising along at nearly 30 mph instead of 15 and the mile markers were flying by. I rolled into the last aid station about 20 mins behind the next riders ahead so I had only made up 10 mins but at that point I didn’t really care. I topped off my poor excuse of a bottle, chugged a coke and ate a pickle while I rotated my head around to stretch my neck out. I was feeling a little bit better about not having to fight the wind but honestly I just wanted to get back to my truck so I could relax for good. I gave my thanks and headed out for the final 30 mile stretch.
The last 25 miles has a few climbs in it separated by rolling hills but when compared to this morning they could be better called speed bumps instead of hills. I was cresting over the last climb with 10 miles to go and I had still not caught any of the 4 riders ahead of me. It was hard to believe but I had ridden the whole second half of the race alone. Just when I thought I wouldn’t see anyone before the finish line I spotted the faint glimmer of a red flashing light out in the distance. Sure enough there were two riders ahead of me about ¼ mile with about 6 miles to go. I was closing on them fast but slowed down when I caught them to ask how they were doing. They were obviously tired from a long day but overall doing great and just turning out the miles one at a time. I went on ahead on my own because my neck had had it and I could smell the comfy leather seats of my truck. I rolled into the parking lot and eventually found my way into the hotel lobby to check in for my finish. Mark Christopherson and Mark Gibson were already there relaxing having finished about 15 mins ahead of me. I had finished the day 1 hour and 11 mins ahead of second place. Had I not lost that time dealing with my headrest issues I could see me sneaking in just under 11 hours for the whole double but there are no if, ands or buts in racing.
Each time I do one of these tough doubles I learn just how much harder I can push and still finish strong and it keeps me fired up to see just how fast I push in the next one.
After I settled in and grabbed a left over lunch sandwich the race director started probing for more info about the early private sag car with the KOM racers because she was still not happy. Apparently she had approached the team of three riders and they denied having a silver car out on course supporting them. I didn’t have any proof to provide besides my own testimony which isn’t enough to go on because it would simply be one rider’s word over another. I wouldn’t be happy if someone wrongly accused me of cheating and got DQ on their sole word without proof. I was satisfied enough with my own performance that I really didn’t care if a few riders felt they were above the rules. Last year when I won the Central Coast Double and White Mountain Double the naysayers said I only won because the courses didn’t have enough climbing and my bike was too fast on the flats. I think 106 miles with 13,000’ of climbing should more then be enough to handicap the speed of the heavier Vendetta not to mention due to the twisty nature of the DHs I could never take full advantage of its speed on the descents. The way I see it is I was already so close to a win today that all I need to do is go a little bit faster next time and I can win with shenanigans and all.
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. Thanks to Planet Ultra for another great event and to all the volunteers who help make it happen.