Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Rapha Rising Challenge: A Little Bit of Cramming for PBP

Like clockwork, the Rapha Rising Challenge appears each year in the third week of July to coincide with some of the most epic climbing stages of the TdF.  This year, though, I was unable to lock in any of the details despite several attempts, so I figured they made a shift at Rapha HQ. As I've said before, I'm a sucker for a good challenge. If I know that a group of cyclists are off somewhere trying to do something possibly not possible, I have a hard time not joining in. Throw in a patch and I'm there! As luck would have it, I happened to be scanning Instagram a week ago Saturday and found that #rapharising had begun that very day. The challenge? Climb 9366 meters (30,728 feet) in 8 days. What could be so tough about that?

Climbing is good training. On this there is no debate. Ever wonder why the winner of the Tour de France is always a good climber? In part because being good at climbing makes you good at other things, too. It's also easy for a good climber to put some serious distance on a poor climber, but that's another story. I love that I live in a hilly area because I've found that riding hills can often make up for limited time on the bike. My general equation is that as a ride shortens, it needs to go vertical. Climbing this much in a week would hopefully make the hills of Brittany a bit easier to roll over next month.

It occurred to me more than once while I was riding this week that 30,728 feet is a respectable cruising altitude for a 747. It's almost 6 miles above the Earth! To climb this high on my bike was going to take some planning. Since I was working this week and needed to take care of a few important family jobs, I didn't have endless time to get this done. As a result, I chose some of the steepest hills in the area and rode up and down them multiple times. Since I live near a ridgeline with multiple hills, this wasn't as monotonous as it sounds, and doing a few hours a day of hill riding put me in some very lovely spots.

My planning wasn't perfect, though. On the final day of the challenge, I awoke with over 8200 feet left to climb! To make matters worse, it was raining with thunderstorms in the area. I had risen at 5:00 am to get out and finish things off in the first half of the day by riding over the Shawangunk Ridge in New Paltz multiple times, but when I got there in my car the storm had actually picked up intensity and the entire mountain was shrouded in fog. This was not looking like a particularly safe way to train for PBP, so I threw in the towel and drove home. Who needs a stinking patch anyway? After sitting in bed reading the paper for a few hours, I saw the sun poking through the clouds and threw on my kit and rode out the door to hit the ridge a bit closer to home.

As a result, my profile looked like this:

All in all, I slipped in under the wire. My patch should be here when I get back from Paris.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Catskill Climbfest 200K: PBP Tune-up Edition

Passing the Ashokan Reservoir with the Catskills off in the distance.

Some days it feels like I'm attempting to complete PBP on the absolute minimum amount of training possible and on others I remind myself that I've ridden a full series, a few hilly 200Ks and a fleche this year so everything should work out OK. Having completed the Lap of the Lake 1000K last summer without difficulty also brings me comfort as I realize that there is likely some residual fitness in there that I'll be able to draw upon in a pinch. With PBP a little over a month away, I wanted to top off whatever training I have under the hood with a challenging 200K and so put out the word and collected six friends to join me in the effort.

It was great to have such broad geographic representation on our little adventure with Robin L. (NYC) and Ed S. (NYC and Millerton, NY), Bob T. (NJ) Don N. (CT), David D. (CT) and Andrey B. (Rosendale) clipping in at the 7:00 am start.

One would be hard pressed to find a nicer 200K to ride on a warm summer day. There are two epic climbs on the Catskill Climbfest that give the route it's name. On each of these hills, our band split up a bit, but regrouped at the following controls, which made for a nice day of social riding that was (hopefully) neither too fast nor too slow for any of the participants. In between these two climbs are some healthy rollers and absolutely lovely valleys. It's a route replete with low traffic roads and stunning views. Deep in the heart of Rip Van Winkle country without cell phone coverage for much of the day, it's easy to feel like you've entered into a different world. I've never ridden a 200K I like as much. To ride it with friends brings additional pleasure.

There's nothing quite like a chicken salad sandwich at mile 90.9.

Even with some leisurely stops at the controls, we all finished at around the 10.5 hour mark, which left me feeling as though the day was not only fun, but that it, perhaps, also left us stronger than when we started.