Monday, August 15, 2011

The Alpine Century

"Tomorrow I have a ninety mile ride of a twenty mile climb ... and I'll suffer like a dog but I really could almost not look forward to anything more." -anonymous Rapha Continental rider (the one with the goofy glasses and the English accent)

Apologies for my blog absence. As we draw closer to Sept 10th, or as I like to think of it: The Day of Reckoning (the Mayans may have 12-12-12 pegged as the day the universe implodes but before that there will be LOTOJA: 9-10-11, a sort of reverse countdown to the end of days) I've felt pressured to ride more and write less. With just under a month left I've already eclipsed by several hundred miles the total ridden in preparation for LOTOJA 2010. But in light of what I now know about LOTOJA's mountain passes, canyon ascents and miles upon miles of Wyoming farmland, it doesn't seem like nearly enough. I fear LOTOJA the way the chosen people of the Old Testament feared God; I regard it with deference, respect and not a little awe. I'm on the fence about whether knowledge of what we're in for is a good thing. I watch Rodzilla's training and listen to his logic and I want to say to myself I don't envy what he's going to experience in less than four weeks but then I remember it's an experience we will share. Ignorance may indeed be bliss but that bliss evaporated for me at about mile ten of the Strawberry summit, realizing I had another ten miles to climb in that canyon, then another mountain after that, then another, then once I summitted the third mountain another 100 miles to ride after that.

They also say forewarned is forearmed, which brings me to the subject of today's email : Is there a local ride that I could do that would replicate the LOTOJA experience? Not the 200+ mile ride, there's no point in that any more than there's a reason to run more than 15 miles when training for a marathon*. What I was looking for was a ride that could mimic the LOTOJA climbs, the back to back to back mountain pass beat down that makes finishing LOTOJA a 'bucket list' level event in the lives of so many of the cyclists that attempt it.

*More miles past a certain point is a zero sum game with decreased training benefit and increased risk of injury (and more specific to cycling, mechanical failure, sometimes costly).

As a possible answer to that question I give you The Alpine Century:

100 miles of bike ride featuring 8000 feet of climb and our masochistic favorite, Suncrest (twice). I love how the elevation map makes the Suncrest climbs look like a pair of yard gnomes book-ending an oak tree. There's a reason it's called The Alpine Century. The real climb is from the mouth of American Fork Canyon to the Timpanogos Summit trail head, Suncrest front to back and back to front amount to the hors d'ourves and the after dinner mint in this cycling banquet (as crazy as that sounds to say out loud and or put down in print).

My first attempt I did with La Canadienne as preparation for her Rockwell Relay:

It ended badly, in tears actually. Hers not mine though I wanted to cry coming up the backside of Suncrest. In fact I've yet to do this ride without wanting to give up, puke or weep (or any combination of the three) as I make the last climb over Suncrest's backside. I am still dumbfounded by Fat Cyclist's 100 miles of Suncrest (on a single speed no less)

Even a cursory review of the numbers from this ride will reveal it was not a true century. It was actually a straight out and back, cutting 20 miles and about 1200 feet of climb off the century ride. Still a great workout that left me feeling weak in the quads and like a complete heel for making my best friend and favorite ride partner cry. The experience was on balance a positive one though. In the sometimes flawed logic that whatever doesn't kill us makes us stronger, this ride provided a bellwether for La Canadienne. Every ride she's done since then (especially the Rockwell Relay) has paled in severity. She did the (semi) Alpine Century with double dose of Suncrest, everything else is manageable, even reasonable in comparison.

On my second attempt I realized about halfway up the front side of Suncrest that I hadn't pulled my saddle bag off the Fezzari and onto Saxo bike. I did have my cell phone (but no tube/CO2) so I soldiered on. About the time I reached the Alpine highway and began congratulating myself on my good fortune ... flat.

Before I had a chance to complete the ride myself, Rodzilla and Swedish Matt took it down on their first attempt on a Saturday in early July:

Huge amount of climb for a cyclist of Rodzilla's dimensions and worthy of our recognition and if that were that, well he'd be sitting pretty, we both would but there's that unfortunate 100 miles left to cover

(Editorial Edits: I can do another 100 flat e-z, but my challenge is to make up for the 13.9 mph average that I ended that crappy climb with. As our readers may or may not know you need to average 16.5 to finish the LOTOJA before the sweep comes for you)

Swedish Matt loves the first half of any bike ride, of whatever distance, it's the ride home he hates. I tend to agree with him there and the last 40 miles of the Alpine century compose the nastiest return trip you're likely to experience. I believe the Swede's exact words (as they reached the mouth of Provo Canyon with 45 miles to go) "This isn't as much fun as I thought it was going to be." I don't disagree completely but then I've come to accept suffering as an integral part of the sport I've embraced. That said, LOTOJA is a straight shot, no bike ride home, just the way the Swede likes it. Maybe a Swedish LOTOJA in 2012?

Third time's a charm:

On an otherwise unremarkable Thursday I tore through the Alpine Century ride, averaging 13.3 mph to the summit trail head and barely missing a 16mph average for the entire ride. I resolved to make the ride my once a week century ride until LOTOJA and to finish it in under 6 hours.

"it was gangsta gangsta at the top of the list
then i played my own stuff and it went somethin' like this
cruisin down the street in my saxo-fo."
Sorry couldn't resist*, Deebs is hardcore.

*So we're clear, the self portrait 'me on top of Timpanogos' was my doing, the commentary on the photo was courtesy of copy editor, Rodzilla

The next attempt started with promise, I beat my Alpine summit split and was riding an apocalyptic tailwind (and probable sub 6 hour finish) down Provo canyon when I hit a pot hole at 50(+) mph and discovered that the supposedly bombproof Ksyrium wheels I bought on ebay were anything but:

La Canadienne was in, well, Canada and unavailable to bail me out. Neither Rodzilla or Swedish Matt were answering their phones and frankly asking someone to take two hours out of their Saturday to pick you up off the roadside is stretching the bounds of propriety in any friendship. I didn't doubt they would do it but at the same time I hated to ask. Instead I replaced the tube, it held air and if I opened the rear brakes completely the wheel passed through without rubbing, albeit just barely. So I mounted up and wobbled home for the final 45 miles sounding the entire time like I had attached a baseball card to my forks to make my bike sound like a motorcycle. Going over and descending Suncrest was the most harrowing (and probably least wise) thing I've done on a bike.

The final numbers (if you ignore the elapsed time statistic) were actually still respectable considering the condition my bike was in:

I tried the Alpine Century one more time (on the venerable Fuji team RC ... Saxo was still waiting for a new rear wheel) and double flatted out in Alpine (about 2 miles from the Suncrest backside)

This time La Canadienne came and rescued me which as it turns out leaves you feeling worse than riding home on a warped wheel and no rear brakes.

Since then I haven't repeated the attempt and this week is being usurped by the Desperado Dual (I'm support staff for the rest of the crew on that one, I think as punishment for making La Canadienne cry) but the point of all of this is that a) the LOTOJA hill climbs/mountains will break you, emotionally and physically and b) you can be completely prepared in every way you can anticipate and a race of that length with all the attendant variables can rob you of your anticipated and hard fought for moment of triumph.

Talk/blog soon,


Next up: Desperado Dual (and I get a shot at taking down the Cedar Breaks mountain pass that was denied me on the Rockwell Relay).

PS In an odd vindication of my assertion that this ride, like LOTOJA, will not easily be taken down, I give you the Dr Ivey experience (When he's in town he likes to do rides I've blogged about and annihilate my personal best time. When you're looking for a serving of warm humble pie, Dr 'Maharaja' Ivey is your man) he happened to be in town today and planned to ride the Alpine century ostensibly to put me and this ride in our places. I got this from a G-chat with dregger that took place interestingly enough while I was blogging about this very ride:

me: So Ivey's out climbing alpine loop?
any texts?
12:43 PM I'm actually blogging about that ride now

35 minutes

5 minutes

1:27 PM lisagreg11: Just texted him to see if he was done..... And how it compares to Kolob....... We'll see what he says

7 minutes
1:34 PM lisagreg11: He says he got a flat @ 2 and half hours in and had no c02 so he had to abort
me: same thing happened to me
1:35 PM I'll send you the blog link when it's up

You see what I mean?

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