August 18, 2010

Rapha Gentleman’s Race 2010: one account from Team River City

Filed under: RCB Updates — RCBMatt @ 4:38 pm

This is Ross Karre’s account of last Saturday’s Gentleman’s Race from Forest Grove, OR to Portland. The long way.
The following contains no exaggerations. 
Saturday’s RGR2010 was the second hardest day on a bike I’ve ever had. I will always stand by the triple-pass, rain and snow-filled, escapade in Switzerland as the hardest day of my life. Many moments of that ride were deadly and I learned a lot about my mental capacity for problem solving, determination, and fear. Saturday pushed my physical capacity to its furthest; well beyond the Swiss tour. At no point did I feel in the panicked, point-of-no-return situation that Switzerland presented. The RGR, however, presented physical sensations that I have never experienced and, if knew something about physiology, I might find that I was closer to death on Saturday than I was in the 2″ of fresh snow atop Sustenpass. 
Team River City’s strategy was bold and risky from the get-go. Drill it from the gun and hope to catch a team that would share the duty of pulling. After all, a 12-rider team which worked efficiently would be unbeatable until the gravel climbs. Ryan, Matthew, John, and Alex drove it hard and steady at the front, putting me at my limit for the entirety of the opening paved section. Blood in the water; we caught our first team. They were too slow for us to form an alliance. We pushed on. Second team. Third team. All at too slow a pace to work with. By the time we caught our fourth team, we were making our left turn onto Pittsburgh Road. Big rocks of about 3 – 5″ inches pepper loose gravel and dirt. The road immediately kicked up and I was dropped. Going uphill, the only way I could recover was to drop down to 4 – 7 mph. I crawled up the hill, picking a line through the rock garden, grinding at such a slow speed in my 34:27 that nearly all of the teams who we’d passed were now passing me at comfortable, reasonable speeds. I was physically unable to jump on their wheels. I was humbled and failing my team mates. Matthew and Ryan came back to pace me but I couldn’t follow. John stopped and waited to selflessly and generously dish out some more shame by pushing me up to 10mph. Matthew did the same. What would have been a 2 hour ordeal was shortened to about 1 hour as those guys continued to trade pushes. In a team race, pushing is an incredible display of unification as the strongest spare some of their strength to bring the weakest up to par. It’s risky, though. The efforts expended by the pushers can be devastating. 
Once at the summit, the team regrouped and descended together. There were no clear lines down the descent. Even with 28mm tires and the right pressure, nothing will prevent a sharp, 3″ rock from making near-direct contact with the rim. 7 flats in as many minutes. The team was split into duos and trios as the fast riders fixed the flats and I soldiered on. The gravel section was followed by a magnificent section of paved road on a twisting, fast descent. At the base, Gruppo Compatto, we turned at the junction of Pittsburgh gravel and Pittsburgh paved, heading toward Highway 30. It was here that I felt the first of four new sensations. 
I was freezing cold. As we passed the banks on the highway, the temperatures on their marquees said 99 degrees. But I was shivering with cold. All three bottles were empty and had been for 20 miles. I couldn’t help but correlate the two. If I could just get some water, my body would right itself. Another 5 – 10 miles passed until we could stop at a house with a hose to fill our bottles. I drank an entire bottle immediately, filled my three bottles, dowsed my head, and mounted the bike again. Several more miles and we arrived at a gas station to find Ryan and John patiently waiting for us to arrive.  I forced fed myself with a Clif bar, a coke, and some more water. We continued. 
As we regained our solidarity, moderated our pace, and made our way to the next gravel climb, it became apparent that the consequences of our initial strategy were about to rear their ugly head. The chills returned and I started to feel nauseous. I dry-heaved (new sensation number 2) countless times such that I became slightly delirious. Even now, I can’t remember how Alex and Dave got so far ahead while Ryan, John, and Matthew got so far behind. John flatted. I had no idea. 
I rode alone and regained quite a bit of composer before the Otto-Miller climb. I stopped where Dave and Alex were waiting with a cooler full of liquids and food. As we waited for Matthew, John, and Ryan, I decided to start up the eight mile, gravel ascent to the checkpoint. I knew they would catch me on the way up. What I didn’t know was that Matthew and Dave would experience paralyzing cramps and nausea so that they didn’t catch me until the very summit (Ryan, Alex, and John passed me about mid-way up). I actually enjoyed my solo ascent of Otto-Miller, as difficult as it was. The shade was welcome, the road was pristine, the scenery was breath-taking, and I was going at the slowest pace that one can ride a bicycle before executing a track stand. Countless riders from Veloce, Yakima, Rapha Continental, Cyclepath, and numerous others rode by me at impressive speeds. What stories lay in the tracks of riders who had already climbed this legendary road? As I made my way to the top, my legs finally gave way to the third sensation of this ride: lightning cramps. I’ve experienced cramps before but none like these. One hard push on the pedal and a bolt of unfathomable pain shot from the knee along the calf to the foot and along the IT band to the glut. The only way to relieve the pain is to straighten the cramped leg and pedal with the other foot. 
I made it to the first check point as Matthew and Dave caught me. Having already personally ruined our chance at defending this title, I was now devastated that my cramps would prevent us from even finishing. To my half-pleased, wholly-empathetic surprise, nearly all of the riders at the checkpoint were in the same boat. To be sure, they were faster and stronger riders than me. Some had left up to an hour later than me and had arrived here at the same time. Some had passed me. Some had pushed me. All were completely emaciated. It hurt to laugh at our collective pain but humor was the only way through it.
The general consensus was that we would cut out 2 climbs and 20 miles in order to make it to the finish line on the bike and not in a sag wagon or ambulance. We ate some food, mounted our bikes, and began the descent Rocky Point road to Highway 30, which we followed all the way to Chris King’s factory. 
The fourth and final sensation isn’t a new one: aqua lung (named for the pain one experiences when listening to Jethro Tull). Except, I’ve never experienced aqua lung (where every inhalation is accompanied with a cough) while still on the bike. It usually strikes 10 minutes after completing the ride. I was trying to breath and hold John’s wheel on the flat stretch into Chris King only to be suffocated by coughing, weezing, and facial muscle twitches that felt like weeping. 
At the finish, there was no where to go but recovery. I was at my lowest point. The conversation around the hot dog truck and kegs was the best part of the day. Everyone said the same thing: suffering, survival, and a redefinition of success. Nearly every team DNF’d. Ryan Trebon and Jason Sager, two pros, were the only two to ride the whole course. I overheard a number of stories about a “lone rider” up Otto-Miller who looked like he was “dead on his bike.” In my casual clothes they didn’t know they were talking about me and I kept it to myself that the Otto-Miller climb was one of my favorite parts of the ride. That’s what makes the RGR such an incredible event: having a blast while looking like death on two wheels.
Props and chapeau to Trebon, Sager, Veloforma, Rapha Women/Kitten Rage, and Cars-R-Coffins. 

1 Comment

  1. [...] Ross Karre (River City) [...]

    Pingback by Rapha Gentlemen’s Race – Recap « News « VeloDirt — August 18, 2010 @ 9:46 pm

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