Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Centurion Colorado

The washboard gravel road is bouncing me all over the place - mercifully we are going down hill slightly. I thought the worst of the climbing was over, but no. We wheel around a corner and the road pitches straight up! Now in addition to blown out quads and being nearly 9,000 ft high and a scarcity of oxygen, I need to climb up this rutted dirt road that has me almost at a stand-still as I am barely able to turn the cranks over seated. I rise to get out of the saddle, and my quads give that tell-tale hint of massive cramping coming on, plus the back tire begins to spin out slightly, so seated I stay and I grind on. Thankfully, this hill is only about 100m long, but it takes me forever to cover that distance. This was my mile 80 of 100 at the inaugural Centurion Cycling bike race near Lyons, CO over the weekend.

I soldiered on getting back on the pavement and then after one false flat to contend with on the Peak-to-Peak Hwy., over 3,000 ft of downhill riding over 20 miles back to the finish! On the first loop I had done this descent in a group of about 20 and we made quick work of it at very high speeds. This time, I was solo and the wind had picked up a bit, and darned if I had to pedal and work harder this time around. Finally, I was caught by two others within 2 miles of the finish and then we worked together to get to the finish and then it was over for me after 5 hours and 39 minutes.

Quite frankly, I had no idea how this event was going to go - at a number of different levels. I knew one thing, it was going to be exceptionally well organized. The Centurion events are the brain-child of Graham Fraser, who literally put Ironman triathlons on the map in North America. He's more or less out of that business now( only running the Ironman Canada race), and now into these large group bike rides/races aka, Gran Fondos. Some say these are the next big thing, and I would agree. In some respects, I am the prototype, perfect person for these - former triathlete, sometime road-racer, like to stay fit on the bike, like group rides and races, and like big challenges.

The Centurion Cycling event was very well run. Many serious road racers and people who had been to other century rides, kept commenting to me on how well everything was being run. For the triathletes in attendance who had been to an Ironman or 70.3 race in North America in the past few years, they were used to this level of service and athlete care.

The key unknowns to me were how exactly the bike would unfold and how I would go myself. Regarding the first point - about 300 riders rolled out neutralized for the first 2k for the 100 mile race. Then it was game on, and about 200 formed a front pack that raced over completely closed roads for the first 10 miles or so. It was amazing to have the full width of the road. Everyone in this large pack road very well and there were no issues. For most of this time, I was in the back third of this large group and it had the feel of a really big road race. At this point I was most likely going harder than I should have, but I figured, I should be able to cover this early ground quicker in the draft of the group, before we hit the first big climb, where I had a hunch it would start to break up. And break up it started to do, as we headed up the famous Left Hand Canyon road north of Boulder. Soon I was riding along in a little group of about 5 or 6 other riders. I kept the gearing light and the pedal revs high. I knew that we still had a long way to go.
This climb seemed to go on forever, but the scenery and the odd chit-chat between quick breathes with fellow riders kept me distracted enough. As we neared the top, the grade kicked up quite a bit to the town of Ward and I was finally forced to get right out of the saddle and really grunt it up the last steep ramp of the climb and then it was over.

Onto the aforementioned descent which was an absolute blast. My speedometer on my bike was not working, but we must have been hitting speeds close to 80 kmh. This group continued to do the pac-man routine and by the time we headed out for the second loop, it was about 30 strong. Then there was a big acceleration on the rollers outside of Lyons and I popped off the back. I had heard that the second time up Left Hand, with the addition of the Super James climb above the town of James Town, plus the dirt road section was, to put it in Tour de France terms Hors Catogorie- or beyond classification, or put another way, &*$#-ing hard! I road within myself and tried to keep the group in site. Sure enough, as we hit the lower slopes of Left Hand Canyon for the second time, many from that group started to drift back towards me and I began to pass quite a few. This was encouraging.

I kept this good feeling going until we hit the Super James climb. I had been warned about this. Suddenly, within the space of I would say half a kilometer, The Centurion cycling race went from being a moderate effort to, going as hard on the bike as I think I have gone in the last 10 years. I am not sure what it was. The altitude. The grade. The lack of a few more lower gears( a compact crank is recommended and I did not have one!). The heat. Suddenly, going forward and willing each pedal stroke around and the bike forward at a crawl was all I could do! At times, I had to resort to the old zig-zag to keep going. Never before, in 30 years of cycling had I ever had to do that. But I made it, and then I made it over the dirt and gravel road to, and then I knew that I would get through this.

Then, as I came up to the finish line my legs, burning, lungs heaving, the best feeling of all came over me - because I had felt this way, many times, many years ago, towards the end of many Ironman triathlon bike legs - I was done! Once I was across that finish line, it was all over and I could head directly to the beer tent - which the Centurion event organizers in their wisdom had conveniently organized. This is a far more sensible and sane way to torture yourself! There I was enjoying a beer, in the shade of the beer tent at 1:00 in the afternoon!

More than a few have asked me what is a Centurion race or ride? It is what you want to make it. Race it. Train it. Ride with friends. Just try and finish it. It has elements of it, that feel like a real bike road race. Other parts of it felt like an Ironman bike leg but you could regroup with others and work-together using the draft - how cool is that? At other times it felt like a bike tour in an amazing place with beautiful scenery. It is what it is and it is what you make it.

As for me, I will fully admit that going into this, I was for the first time in a long time, having a bit of performance anxiety. Not sure why. I guess because I had put it out there that I wanted to do it. It was a supreme test of the 30-year-base. Two months ago I would have said - no way am I going to be able to do this, but a reasonably intensive ramp up and I was more or less ready to go. That is the value of the 30-year-base, plus on race day the physical and mental strength is there because, you know that you have been here before.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that my amazing wife, Paolina Allan was also along for the ride, so to speak. She did very well and finished about 5 minutes ahead of me and in 4th place overall amongst the women. She had some cramping issues on the Super James climb and had a harder go of it than I did at the high altitude. The altitude did not seem to bother me that much. Not sure why, but I know that altitude adaptation is very individual. Nevertheless, there were too many fast old men and I did much worse than she did both overall and in my age-group!

We both plan on doing the Collingwood, Ontario Centurion Race in September - see you there!

Thank you to our good friend Carole Sharples for putting up with us Crazy Canucks for a few days. We loved Boulder and look forward to coming back soon.

Picture at the top - Paolina and I Ready to roll at the first ever Centurion Cycling 100 miler in Lyons, CO


Rob said...

Fantastic ride! I just started reading your blog and your description of the climbs makes my legs hurt! Congratulations to both of you.

AMF said...

Hi Steve,

Just did IronMan USA last week.

Signing up for Centurion Canada.

Yep. It seems alot of Triathlete are gravitating toward the Centurion. No doubt because of Graham. But, I also think we just want to put 100% into one sport to see how we do. That or feel what it's like to legallyl draft. ;)

I'm headed up in two weeks to pre-ride the course.

See you in Collingwood.

Alain (Waterloo, ON)

Fleck said...


You'll love the Centurion. Agreed, that for the triathlete looking for the "Next Challenge", something different, or some of the best bike training you will ever do - these events are it.

See you in Collingwood.