Monday, July 11, 2011

2011 Livestrong Challenge (Davis)

This turned into a long post, so if you're lazy or just not really all that interested, here's the executive summary:
  1. The members of the Team Fatty Livestrong fundraising team are just about the best, most friendliest people you could ever ask to ride with.
  2. Davis is very flat and very hot.
  3. I almost caught Lance, so I'm pretty sure he's not doping. (I also solo'd off the front of the ride for almost 80 miles.)
  4. As promised, I rode 20 extra miles because I shattered my $1,000 fundraising goal!
  5. You should this ride with me (us) next year. It's flat, it's fast, it's fun, and it's for a great cause.


I've tackled the Livestrong Challenge every year since moving to California, and it has never failed to be a highlight on my ride calendar. Not because the course is ever anything surprising or out-of-the-ordinary, and not even because it raises money for a great cause, but because the Livestrong Challenge gives me the chance to ride with some of the nicest and most delightful folks ever to push pedals: the members of Team Fatty. This year's ride was no exception.
Team Fatty, if you didn't know, is a collection of fans of Elden Nelson and his blog, Fat Cyclist. It started as (and remains) a font of good-natured cycling satire, but a few years ago, things started to take on a more serious note. Elden's wife, Susan, struggled with and eventually lost the battle against breast cancer. In between posts that poked fun at Assos ads and Rock Racing team kits were heartfelt and truly touching updates on Susan's fight. Three years ago, Elden decided to start a Livestrong fundraising team in Susan's honor and that team has lived on ever since - raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Livestrong Foundation and the fight against cancer. 
This year, the race was moved from San Jose to Davis, which meant better roads, higher temperatures and fewer hills. And with only three weeks 'til Vineman, that sounded like perfect conditions for an awesome race rehearsal. I brought my time-trial bike along, and over the course of 125 miles, the two of us made some sweet, sweet music together.

On the starting line with Team Fatty
Having won every possible fundraising category, the hundred-or-so members of Team Fatty were awarded the privilege to gather on the starting line and be the first onto the course. First, besides Lance Armstrong and a few of his buddies, I mean. After a few words from the man himself and a stirring rendition of the national anthem (thankfully not from the man himself), Lance and company hopped on their bikes and set out. A few minutes later, the ride began with Team Fatty leading the way.

Lance gives a few opening remarks
The first five miles of the ride were relaxed. All I could see were the orange, black and pink jerseys of my team. We chatted idly and gave our legs the chance to warm up. It wasn't until the fifth mile that riders started to break through our ranks. One went by, then two, at a fast clip. Someone said, "Matt, chase 'em!" and Matt feigned catching their wheel. 

But the damage had already been done: the sanctity of our peaceful team roll-out had been disrupted. It was time for the rocket to launch. I leaned into the aero position and spun up from 20 to 28 miles per hour, zipping by the non-Fatty antagonists like they were standing still. Thirty seconds later, I had built up a substantial gap. Two minutes later, I turned my head to look back and didn't see a soul. That quick, it was just me, my bike and the open road.

The open flat road, I should say. Long, flat, well-paved roads aren't something you see often in or around San Francisco, so I decided to do my best impression of Fabian Cancellara by settling in and cranking. The miles flew by.

I made a right turn at one point and noticed something on the road a distance ahead of me. Cyclists? Yes! The Lance group! I turned it on for sure then, thinking I might be able to catch. I could see them, a ways in front of me. A mile went by and they seemed a little larger on the horizon. Another, and I was even closer. I was burning my legs out to catch them. Then, just as I started to pull within 200 yards of them, disaster struck: they made it through the light at a major intersection; I got stuck at the red! So close!

When the light finally turned green, they were long gone. Well, it was worth a try.

The next segment of a ride was actually a climb up to and past Lake Berryessa. The elevation gain wasn't trivial, but the pitches weren't steep. I climbed most of the way out on my aero bars. I was the first to reach the third rest stop by almost four minutes.

Ran into this cute girl at mile 80!
Next came the long, gradual descent followed by some back-country roads. It was nice to cross paths with members of Team Fatty as I was descending. After that, things got less interesting. Temperatures started to rise. I slapped on a ton of sunscreen at the fourth rest stop. I spent a lot of time trying to stay as aero as possible.

At mile 80, I pulled into a rest stop and ran into Kristine and Angie who were powering through their own 70-mile loop. Yay!

At mile 100, five miles from the finish, I turned around. You see, I'd promised to tack an extra 20 miles onto the ride if I hit my fundraising goal, and I guess I set that goal too low! So yeah, at mile 100 I turned around and rode backwards on the course for 10 miles, waving to teammates and roadies as they went by to the finish. At mile 110, I turned back around (the right way) and made my way across the final fifteen to finish with a total of 125.5 miles. (It would've been darn cool to be one of the first 105-milers to finish, but I think it's even cooler to finish with +20% more miles than anyone else in the race!)

Ride stats - 125.5 miles in 6h10 (20.3 mph avg.)
After the ride, Kristine and I kicked back our Team Fatty friends, had huge hamburgers and delicious pie. They're a great bunch, and it's so fun that these people, none of whom really know each other or ever ride with each other can come together for one single ride and get along so darn well. It's a testiment to just how friendly and good-natured these folks really are!

What does this mean for Vineman?

Well, if I learned one thing during this ride, it's that riding 112 miles in heat like that is going to be unpleasant. I took a few breaks during this long, hot day and even so, I felt pretty spent by the end of it. I'm going to have to be  really on top of my hydration and fuel the whole time.

Also, Vineman is going to have fewer flat sections than Livestrong. I'm predicting a 20.1 to 20.5 mph average over the full course, which will bring me in at just around 5h30. Less than three weeks 'til race day. Bring on taper!