When you're with El Chefe' the only suffering is on the bike...
While Evo was laying low, El Chefe was man enough to do the Leavenworth Fondo
This is his report..
Working for a highly seasonal company whose peak business occurs in the summer, my chances of getting away for the Dolomites trip this year were bleak and eventually faded even though my teammates brainstormed some creative and even plausible scenarios to present to my boss that would have allowed me to participate. I won’t be making the trip across the pond, but I’ve taken part in many of the preparatory extended team rides that started late last winter, as much to build fitness for the summer fondo season as to be able to hang with this group of guys for whom I have a great deal of respect.
As spring wears on and the days get longer, so widens the fitness and speed gap with this crew. They’ve been accommodating and have graciously allowed me to sit in. On more than one occasion, I’ve finished a hilly Dolomite training excursion feeling like I was so slow that my legs must be made of granite, just to return home to find Strava exalting that I had achieved a new PR. It’s good to ride with people who are faster than you.
The week before Leavenworth saw the normal juggling of family and work obligations as well as the injured reserve list that would determine the team line up. Who’s going to be Ferrell Dave for this race?
I was bummed to learn that Davo wasn’t going to join for this one, but even as I dished out some prodding and cajoling, respected his decision not to make his first ride upon his return from 10 days of travel and time with family, GFL. His company, scones and laminated top tube climb data sheets would be missed. There would be 6 of us this year, all veterans of the Swakane Canyon Death March of 2015.
The team truck was loaded with an impressive array of carbon frames and file treads inflated to precise pressures and we headed east to the Lake Wenatchee cabin graciously offered by a teammate. Upon arrival, we dispatched cooking duties like an Iron Chef team. McWoodie fired up the grill and attended to the salmon while the Wizard of Coz prepped the asparagus and made garlic bread. Potatoes and a Cesar salad were added to the mix and in no time we were relaxing and fueling for the ride the following day. Last years’ experience with this ride conjured up a healthy respect and a bit of pre ride tension that began to subside with the meal and we decided that we should find a way to do this every weekend. The relaxation was shattered with the rumor that the recent rains had caused Swakane Canyon to become impassable and that a new route to be announced shortly, promised to be longer and have more elevation gain, but would not be as steep… Even as frustration mounted with the realization that the routes we had loaded on the Garmins and the top tube data sheets we had prepared were now inaccurate, the idea of skipping Swakane Canyon was appealing.
I donned my lederhosen (yeah, seriously) for the ride to the start. The air was cool and the sky was showing promising patches of blue. Debate over the proper kit combination ensued with speculation about what we might expect to find at elevations above 1,250 meters and we studied the new course that would offer 151 km and over 2,700 meters of climbing. The Coz was encouraged to drop the Gabba and McWoodie loaned him a long sleeve jersey instead. MT’s choice of 28mm touring slicks, tubes and relatively high pressure was noted and raised eyebrows in quiet disapproval. I’m a believer that you can ride most anything in any conditions on tubeless Secteurs while wearing a Gaba, but for this course, I opted for more rubber, some tread, a short sleeved jersey and a little embrocation.
The extended neutral start would be the last time that the Wizard of Coz and I would see McWoodie, Einmotron, Whiplaesch and MT. Taking Davo’s advice to heart, we kept a measured pace up the first climb that quickly transitioned from tarmac to gravel as the pitch grew ever steeper. Amazing views of snowcapped peaks and heavily forested valleys unfolded as we moved through some riders who opted for the more zealous start.
The rains of the preceding days left the road surface packed and tacky and the first descent was exhilarating. This climb in reverse would be the replacement for Swakane and I recall thinking that this wasn’t going to be too bad. It’s amazing how easy it is to underestimate an 18% grade while descending at speeds of 45 km/hr. I was too busy being enamored with the performance of the new Boone to care. Single finger operation of the hydraulic discs and a sublime ride, wow, I was 10 years old again and quickly forgot any life lessons on respect. Several sections of the road were dappled with shade, potentially camouflaging hazards, but I rode with confidence as I followed The Coz’ skillfully carved lines. After the descent we rode with the wind at our backs along the Entiat River and warmed up, commenting that it didn’t get any better than this.
Even the notoriously rutted and washboard strewn second descent was in much better condition this year and the first hint of reality set in as we turned south onto Highway 97 and were greeted with gusting headwinds that nearly stopped us in our tracks. Until now, I’d ridden my race plan, keeping my HR in the zone I wanted. Headwinds make great friends and three of us that were close began to work together. The pace was stiff and I watched my HR climb to the upper stretches of zone 4. I stuck with it because I didn’t like the alternative of battling the headwind along this section alone, but would pay for that decision later.
Coz and I regrouped at the Entiat rest station, refueled and together with two other riders, set out at a restrained pace for the next 18km of moderate climbing through the Entiat River Valley. The gusting winds swirled in the valley and seem inescapable, even within the pace line. Visions of the post rest stop section on the 2015 Ephrata ride came to mind. We caught several other riders, many of which joined our line. They were a very courteous lot that always made a gap for us to re-enter the pace line so that the 4 of us could stay together at the front.
We found ourselves looking forward to getting on the gravel again for the final 850 m ascent. As the pitch climbed from a moderate 5% grade into sustained double digits, my legs began to protest and as much as I willed them not to, began to cramp. I encouraged The Coz to ride on and he pledged to wait at the top. The climb was demanding the respect that I failed to give it with a payday loan like interest rate. When the cramps became paralyzing, I walked and wondered what I would do if the sag wagon rolled by.
El Chefe' pushing some serious rubber this past winterLuckily I was never presented with that option. I drank all of my water and forced myself to down my remaining gels in hopes that they would take quick effect. I reached the top to find the Coz dutifully waiting. We could smell the barn and began the descent. My legs still cramping, I unclipped whenever possible in an attempt to shake them out, but it felt great to finally have some speed and to watch the final kilometers click off.
As we tuned onto the tarmac from the gravel, The Coz reacted to an oncoming car and the file treads lost their grip on the sand and gravel strewn pavement and I watched as he hit the deck and slid to a stop. The car drove on and an old coot sitting on his porch began to laugh hysterically, taunting us.
Coz loves the bandages....Some choice words of advice were uttered to the old man and he retreated into his house and we attended to the Coz. It was a good reminder of lycra’s inability to protect against road rash. Bibs a wind vest and McWoodie’s jersey were among the casualties. The Coz summoned his Belgian hard man spirit without missing a beat, checked to ensure that the bike was ok and we rode the last 15 km to a respectable finish.