I cannot stop thinking about the NW Gentleman’s Race. It has been four weeks since the ride, chronicled by several in the mean time, but not a day goes by when I don’t ponder the pedaling. Daily reminders of Rapha clothing, the official t-shirt from the ride, constantly checking rapha.cc for the video are just a few reasons for its presence in my thoughts. But the main one is more selfish. I want a re-match. I don’t want to win, necessarily, but I want to defeat the ride. I want to defeat it like it defeated me.
I cracked during the Gentleman’s Race. Cracked like an egg under the weight of a dehydrated, heat stroked, tunnel-visioned, electrolyticly (made that up) depleted 150 pound lycra clad carcass. I never crack. Or should I say, I haven’t cracked before. Sure, I’ve dropped out of races, bonked, been dropped, but never such severe implosion such as to earn the title of cracked. The thing that bothers me the most about cracking is where it happened, less so how, and who didn’t crack or even deeply suffer. The latter 2/3 of the ride was held on very familiar roads including two fantastic dirt climbs on which I have done my best slay many road racing dragons. Before the start of the first dirt climb, Otto Miller, I could feel the cramps coming. The legs moved fluidly and the mind looked forward. After a quick stop for more water, a splash in the river to lower the body temperature, we started the climb. By the first turn, roughly 50 meters into the 7 mile climb, both legs cramped. I stopped. They weren’t the cramps that lock the muscles rendering them utterly useless, more the type of cramps one could pedal through with the right drugs done at the right time. But they were extremely painful. They were still painful three days later. Pushing on the pedals was the good part, the rounding up the back of the pedal stroke, especially while seated, was excruciating. It felt like burning, I think. I’ve never really been burning but that’s what I said both aloud and repeatedly in my head, so the Ralph Wiggum diagnosis must be accurate. If I stood the pain was minimal, more like just tired legs. Standing on Otto Miller, especially the first 2 miles, is not possible with road tires and a 12-25 cassette. Traction is not there. I got off probably 25 more times while a teammate kindly hung with me giving support and the occasional push when possible. We were getting caught, rather I was getting us caught. Teams that started well after us with riders I like to ride with (and like to toy with on this very climb) passed me with genuine concern for my well being. The cracking was in full force.
We weren’t able to do the second dirt climb, Dixie Mountain. A wonderful climb that is not as hard as Otto but longer and more exposed. We truncated the course and headed to the finish line.
With a few miles to go my systems were failing. The heat and dehydration were winning. My pedaling had become an involuntary action, much like the heartbeat and lung expansion and contraction. Thankfully, those were working well enough. Walls were closing in around my field of vision. Somehow I made it up a curb and onto a destroyed sidewalk. More involuntary action perhaps from instinct, perhaps from a little man inside I didn’t know I had. We made it to the finish as a complete team. Two of us utterly destroyed, incoherent, nearly immobile. A third in rough shape. The other three looked like they had just done a regular 104 mile ride. How they rode the way they did and finished as a fully functioning members of polite society is beyond me and I tip my hat with great pride and admiration at their accomplishments, especially those that nursed me along. And to those that finished the entire race, chapeau to one and all.
Which brings the real point of this: my desire for a redo of the ride goes against the meaning of the ride. Part of the meaning is that it is JUST a ride with good people and good roads. But it’s a ride I look forward to more than almost any other and it is for that exact reason. A ride with good people, both on the team and on others, people I love to ride with, on roads worthy of fear, respect and story. I’d do it again right now. I’d have done it again the next day (perhaps with an extra bottle or two).