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

Friday, July 16, 2010

Centurion #1 - It's Here!

Made it to Boulder and we have settled in staying with a good friend of Paolina's, Pro Carole Sharpless.

I could go on and on about first impressions of Boulder, but it's the kind of place as a life long endurance athlete that, within 24 hours you are trying to figure out how you can move here! Went for an easy 2 hour ride this morning and we must have seen well over 100 people out riding. I lost count after a bit. There are so many serious cyclists out on the road that you feel like a bit of a fool waving at everyone passing the other way. Back home it's a bonding moment with that loan cyclist you may see in your 3 hour ride!

The legs feel good, but after a couple of hard efforts this morning, you know that you are at 5,300 ft of elevation in Boulder. The quick lesson and bottom line - I'll need to keep it aerobic as much as I can almost all the time on the Centurion 100 mile ride on Sunday. Go anaerobic too soon or too often, and it's going to come back and haunt me - particularly when we climb up to 9,000 ft. Stay calm. Keep the gears light. Stay comfortable. Repeated hard efforts early on are going to make the back half of that 100 miles very hard.

Had a good long chat this afternoon with one of the principals behind the Centurion events, Graham Fraser. He believes that these types of events are the next big thing - well organized, and well run Century rides that are what you make it. At the front, these events will have the feel of a real bike road race. Further back - people will make of it what they want/can. It's all good. The Boulder/Lyons Centurion is the first event of what is going to be an amazing series of events and I feel lucky to be able to be here for the first one. The people behind this, beyond Graham Fraser are some of the best people in this sort of event management. They are set to become, must-do, go to events for cyclists looking a challenging course and a very well run event with amazing support services.

All that support is great, but it's going to be me and me alone who is going to have to get myself over the Super James Climb on Sunday - supposedly the hardest and most challenging part of the Centurion 100 mile course. It comes up at about 75 miles and is supposedly a bit of a leg and lung buster. The good news is that it's 25 miles of downhill to the finish after that!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Almost There - Centurion CO in Less Than Two Weeks

The first ever Centurion Cycling event is coming up in less than two weeks. As usual, I had been a bit overly ambitious about my ability to get in some solid kilometers of cycling for this event, but in the last couple of weeks the legs have come around a bit more. It's been capped off by a big push over the recent four-day long holiday weekend where I was able to get in over 350K of riding - with big chunks of it in hilly terrain and at a fairly hard pace. All that being said, my 30-year aerobic and endurance base is going to be put to a supreme test over the Centurion Colorado course with two massive 25-mile climbs each topping out at over 9,000'.

It will be interesting to see how this spells out and who ends up riding with whom. Personally, I have no illusions what-so-ever of being able to hang with the front group. My wonderful Wife, Paolina Allan, should be able to give you more reports from the front as she seems to be rounding into fine form right now and should go well. For me it will be about pacing and riding well within myself on that first big climb - descending well - and then taking on the second climb and seeing what happens. I am a bit concerned about the altitude - but there is not much I can do about that. We'll just have a go at it and see. I am guessing that, with this size of event, that small groupettos will form with like-fit riders who will be able to pace each-other up the climbs - misery loves company!

The bike is all set( Cervelo R3). Still not sure what wheel-set I will run - Zipp 404 Tubulars or Bontrager Race-X-Lite Aluminum clinchers. I am leaning towards the latter, as these are the wheels that I have done most of my riding on this year and they feel very good shorn with Vittoria EVO CX tires. It's a great, all-around, reasonably light, aero and bomb-proof set of wheels. On the advice of a few, I will be going with an 11-28 cassette. The Super James climb on the second big climb does have a steeper section right near the top that may be very testing - not so much due to the grade, but for me the altitude. There is also a stretch of dirt road on this second climb as well, but I have no concerns about this at all, as we ride on dirt and gravel roads quite regularly.

My wonky lower back that has caused me a bit of concern of late has decided to come-around as well, along with my legs. It weathered the big kilometers over the weekend quite well. I must say that the R3 is very helpful in this regards as it does take the buzz out of a lot of the rear end vibrations and hits.

It's a significant first attempt at a large Gran Fondo style ride for organizers Graham Fraser and Len Pettyjohn, but I am sure that given their experience with this sort of thing, it will be exceptionally run. I am really looking forward to it.

Look for a full report here, in the week after the event.

Picture at the top was taken about mid-way up Mt. Lemmon, just outside Tucson, AZ.