Solvang Ride Camp – Day 2

Posted: December 18, 2011 in Adventures

Post author: Chris Dugan

When you show up to Trek Ride Camp, you are surrounded by bike geeks. Young bike geeks. Cool bike geeks. The kind who ride their commuter bike to work every day, then race cyclocross after work, and do a century on the weekend. They are lean, skinny, tattooed people who think about frame stiffness and gear ratios and all that other crap I don’t really understand. They aren’t obnoxious about it-but they know, and you know, that they could bury you on the road or trail. So as we gathered in the courtyard of the Corque Hotel in Solvang, CA to get our ride brief, I was thinking “I’m going to get my ass kicked. My job today is not to wind up in the SAG wagon”.

 I’m not a technically great cyclist. I weigh 210 pounds, and didn’t really start road riding seriously until about 5 years ago. While I’ve done triathlons and adventure races, I’ve never actually done a bike race, and I’m uncomfortable in a peloton. I like to scratch my nose, and drink water, and eat food-all the things the skinny tattooed people have trained themselves not to do. Peloton riding is one of those environments that can make a really secure person feel like the kid wearing clothes that don’t match in 5th grade. We’ve all been on the group ride where some dork you don’t even know yells at you for not making the proper hand signal for “gravel on the ground”, and you actually feel like a loser. Deep down inside, you know this guy probably counts paper clips at a hospital during the day, but somehow he’s become the bike peloton guru, probably because he has the ultimate Tour de France CD collection at home.  I don’t like feeling like a loser, so I was going to steer clear of the peloton.

 The other consideration was that this was a really beautiful place. Solvang and nearby San Ynez are the homes of some of the best vineyards in the States. You ride through orderly arrays of grapes, with majestic four thousand foot mountains in the background. The colors are amazing-reds, tans, greens and browns comprised of cultivated land, wild, grassy fields, and the sage of the high desert. So it’s dumb to put yourself in a situation where you wind up in a peloton, staring at the sweaty ass and rear tire of the guy in front of you. So I waited for the speedsters to exit the parking lot, and fell in towards the back of a 40-rider line.

 Anyway, that was the plan. But it was naïve. While I’m not a great cyclist, I do have a pretty big engine. On the flats, I can crank along at 25mph.  So as we rolled onto the first long straightaway of the day, I started passing people. I wasn’t working that hard. I’d chat with somebody for a couple minutes, then hop on somebody’s rear tire, and move up the line. The other thing about me is I hate experiencing a vaccum. If there’s a gap in a rider line, I feel compelled to chew it up. It’s neurotic. So I kept finding myself racing ahead to close one gap, then another. After about 30 minutes, I was 10 people back from the lead. Before I knew it, I was with a pack of six, and we were near the front.  Right about then, we could see the first set of switchbacks that would take us up about two thousand vertical feet into Drum Canyon.

I’m horrible at recognizing celebrities. I really don’t watch TV or read sports magazines,  and I didn’t even watch the Tour this year. So when my wife poked me at dinner the first night of camp and said “look, that’s Chris Horner,” I had no idea who he was. But all the bikesters went into a frenzy, and he was a pretty entertaining speaker at dinner, so I googled his profile.  He’s a stud. He won Tour de California this year. For bike newbies, that’s a really stacked lineup-most of the “names” who ride the Tour de France also ride California.  And he was the top US finisher at the Tour de France in 2010. And he’s forty years old-which to me is more impressive. He’s not just winning because he’s twenty-two and he recovers quickly. He’s winning because he’s been a pro for 16 years and has learned how to ride a smart race.  And he’s a really approachable guy. Everyone at Ride Camp wanted a picture, a handshake, and he accommodated everyone. He could have holed up in a corner, but he makes himself available & answers every dumb question with a straight face. So when he pulled up next to me in the peleton, wearing his Nissan/Radio Shack team kit, and sporting a bright red Trek Madone SSL, I turned bike geek. Just a little.

The neat thing about riding up the switchbacks was that it spread out the group, and it was slow going. So two other Ride Camp riders and I had an hour to chat with Chris as we ascended the canyon road.  We all recognized it was a great opportunity, and none of us were air hogs. We’d pull up alongside Chris, chat for a while, then make room for the next guy/gal. Chris was like a metronome-legs pumping at a constant rate, smiling, never out of breath. Tick-Tock. Tick-Tock.  Breathless rider: gasp..Chris…gasp…where do you go for winter training…gasp.  Chris: Oh, I move to Southern Spain for the winter-watch that pothole-and I spend a couple weeks back in Bend, Oregon-are you OK? Do you need water?  Rider: gasp…no…gasp…I’m good… Tick/Tock.  So it went for an hour, until we crested the canyon road and started down a long, flat stretch. At which point about a half dozen riders caught up with us, including Matt Busche, two-time Wisconsin State Champion and fellow Team Radio Shack member. Then the pace picked up.

Remember what I said about not spending my day staring at the wheel in front of me? That went out the window. There was no way I was going to not finish with the front peloton now. Chris and Matt were up front, chatting along, pulling ten of us through a slow incline. Every twenty minutes or so, one of them would say “Is the pace OK? Anyone need to slow down?”. Yeah, as if any of us were going to admit to that.  “Wheez….ah…it’s….wheez…OK”.  The peloton broke up at the next big climb, and once again, I was riding alone with Chris Horner. (Full disclosure-Tai, a beautiful 50-ish gal from Colorado smoked past us, so we weren’t technically in front anymore).  “Chris…wheez…I notice that you are always out of the saddle …wheez…on a climb”.  “Yep (tick-tock),  It’s a good chance to stretch your legs, and it’s the attack position on a climb-you’ll never see me seated on a climb (tick-tock).

The peloton reconstituted itself at the next flat, and more or less hung together through the remaining 15 miles. I was riding at my threshold, but I knew that dropping behind was to be dropped altogether, and I also knew that I would be done suffering much more quickly if I let the group pull me, as there was a considerable headwind. We rolled through more vineyards and canyons, which I was told were really pretty. But all I saw was a spinning Bontrager wheel and the Castelli scorpion on the butt of the rider in front of me.

When we finally pulled back into the parking lot of the Hotel Corque, I was ready to collapse. I flopped on the ground next to a half dozen riders from Canada, some of whom had pushed through the pain, and a couple of whom looked like they could have repeated the ride right away.  My wife, Trish, pulled in about 45 minutes later, talking about how beautiful the ride was, all the people she had talked to. Then she stopped. “Wait, did you ride up front today?”.  I nodded. “Wait, did you get to ride with Chris Horner?” I smiled and nodded. “You suck…I hate you!” I nodded, smiled, and headed for the hot tub. To soak away the pain with my fellow bike geeks.

  1. scott wright says:

    That is a great entry. Thanks! Scott

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