GFNY — Double-Double — The Portugal Race
With gratitude for all that have helped me along in the journey so far, family, teammates, dear friends, co-workers (you all know who you are). And anyone else that I may have forgotten. For every mistake that I didn’t make worse, for every bad situation I handled better, for every memory that I made better by being present, my eternal gratitude. And last but certainly not least, to the one who posed the question — “what is it, do you think, that is holding you back from achieving everything you want to achieve, and being who you want to be?” To be on the path — that is the achievement.
A Very Special Week — For So Many Reasons
This has been a special week. Without getting too teary eyed about it, in the midst of our #GFNYDoubleDouble hijinx, I hit the 2nd anniversary of being sober. It may not seem important to what we had going on here, except that cycling has been a catalyst, in creating a sphere of influence around myself that has allowed me to understand all that was holding me back, deal with it, and move forward. It’s a process to be sure, just like becoming a better cyclist is. Once started, the journeys follow two similar paths. The Double-Double being a celebration of the journey, and a manifestation of all that the journey means. But we are here to talk about a bike race — and a damn good one — so to quote Anthrax — “Yo watch the beat!”
The Negative Split
It was race time, and falling short of my previous sleep induced terrors on the train back from Lisbon yesterday, about forgetting my GFNY bow tie, it was time to do the work. In conferring with Tom all afternoon about the race, we decided to work together and try to run a negative split. That meaning that we would go easier in the first half, and try to go faster in the second half. Calculating for a mark that would put us just over six hours for the whole course. Tom is a master at analyzing the course profile, required outputs, and how to modulate effort along the way. I was giving it a lot of thought — this concept is something that I have failed at numerous times, and it would take a great deal of discipline for me to modulate that effort, stay with Tom, and take advantage of having one of the best people I know, helping me modulate along the way.
Requiring something to be nervous about, I tossed and turned all night. Wondering where the new batteries for my power meter might be, and where the wrench to take the caps off were. Did I have swabs to clean the caps? Would I get up in time to change the damn batteries? What would I do if I had to race without my power meter? I finally made a command decision to control what I could. I got out of bed, brushed my teeth, made coffee, and with a fresh brewed cup from the “monkey jar” I got to work on refreshing my power meter. “Take the pedals off dumbass it will only take two minutes longer, and it will be way easier”, I told myself. Hey, I was right! It was easier. Changed — phew, done. Crisis avoided. Now, where is that danged bow tie?!
With the gruppo compato, (group all together), we rolled to the start line. At the start time, Uli asked about my goals for today. “Well, I had 6:19 in my head all through Germany, so I am thinking that even though I didn’t get there, I would like to try and get there”, and I was serious. That number would not escape my psyche the entire day. With entry to the VIP corral, there were (as there were @GFNY Deutschland), some heavy hitters in the front corral. The group would go out hard and fast, with some of our group going out for Aleksandra, and Tom and I going out together with our negative split strategy.
And We’re Off…
It was a lively atmosphere at the start line. Lots of photos, videos being taken. Arms up and waving, and finally the countdown. Really? Already? I don’t feel like I have been standing here long enough. The Portuguese numbers were counted down on the PA by Ana Paula Cavalcanti the race organizer, and then we were off. I could hear my timing chip beep as I crossed over the matt, and we were weaving through the streets of Cascais, and suddenly past the apartment that we just left, waving along the way. Out along the seashore, I was being careful to modulate my heart rate, and not worry about the pack. “They are not doing a negative split”, I thought. We will catch many of them along the route. Hey — wait a second? About that negative split…where the hell is Tom? My first thought was that he must have gotten swept up in the pack. No matter, he would either make his way back or he would stay with the pack, either way, I was going to stick to the plan. Heart rate in the 120’s I kept it moving brisk, and kept the cadence spinning high. Within a minute or two, Tom was upon me. “Geiser, I am here”. He slipped in front of me, and informed me that he had lost his chain at the start, and had to wrangle it back on to keep moving, and that caused a delay. We were now weaving with the pack as we saw Uli, Mirko, Lidia, and Aleksandra on the side of the road. Someone had a flat already. It didn’t take long for them to get it changed, and to catch us on the second turn.
“GEISER — Let’s go GEISER!” Uli was shouting as he made his way by. We stayed with that group for a small bit, but were making sure to work to our strategy as we came upon what Mirko had referred to on Friday, as “the first selection”.
“Hey if we stay together all day only one of us will have to buy the photos” we joked as we fist bumped while we passed the cameras on the climb. We were taking it very easy but passing a number of riders as we gently made our way up, knowing that what looked like the end of the climb, really wasn’t. We rolled past a number of familiar landmarks from the Medio route, and had a few blind dates try to latch on to Tom’s wheel. They were edging me out. My move here — ride out in front of Tom, and start gradually killing the pace. They would usually get frustrated and fire around us like a scatto del fagiano shaking their head the whole way.
Onto the 162KM Route
We zigged and zagged our strategy through the front half of the Medio route, and out through Sintra, and finally we found ourselves passing the Medio turn and making our way toward our destiny — the Gran Fondo long route. Here we would start to see the climbs that we didn’t see on our Friday recce, and start to understand the true difficulty of the course. As we rolled past one of the first aid stations, we were able to see how the water and food were set up so that we could minimize our stopping time, when we needed water — and we would definitely be needing water throughout the route. The sun was now fully out, and it was getting hot. Despite passing under what looked like a few rain clouds, the heat deepened, and out in front of us, we could see the mountains/hills, that we would need to traverse to get back to the beach at Cascais as part of completing the course. Tom — ever prepared — had the course loaded, and so he and the signage allowed me to concentrate on effort without the worry of course navigation.
The day wore on and the climbing seemed to intensify some. We were staying on target with our split and our effort, and I was finding a bit of strength on the climbs. It was great to be able to hang with Tom and for us to work together the whole way as a team. As a side note — if you had told me I would be working with Tom the whole day, that we would finish together (spoiler alert), and that other good things would happen as a result of all of it — I would have signed a contract for that the night before. At the half way point, I had to give in to a natural break, and so we pulled at the next aid station, filled bottles, ate a banana and I found a nice quiet place to let things happen as they needed to. That would hopefully be the last of the stopping. We were staying true to our split, as we rounded a descent, made our way through a small town, and saw Big Tall Greg on the side of the road with a moto. He recovered from the puncture that he had, and as he caught up to us yelled “Two fucking flats, can you believe it, two! I was on pace with the front group and I fucking flatted twice!” — I was just glad to see he was OK, but we all got on with it, and Greg kept cranking toward the finish.
We kept persevering up the various climbs and pressing against the heat as we went. We took advantage of the aid stations as they came to refill bottles. As we made our way up to the intersection with the Medio route, I realized that all was not well. As I descended a small section, I realized on the next upgrade that I was bouncing on my saddle. The bouncing gave me pause. I remembered in pumping my tires in the morning, that my back tire was unusually low. I had had some trouble getting it filled, but I did get it filled, and then I thought precious little of it as we rolled out of Cascais. (While I was worrying about my power meter batteries, and my bow tie). I had gotten slightly ahead on one of the climbs and pulled over at a driveway of a local business to check it out. I was dangerously low. As Tom approached, I was setting up my CO2 gun, and, with only about 50KM to go, was considering just blasting the tire full and moving right along. “Maybe we just want to take a minute and change it”, Tom offered. He was right, and I knew he was right. This would come back to haunt us, and make a mess of our time if we didn’t deal with it properly. I pulled a new tube and got to work. (Editor’s note — the tube in question was saved and tested and exploded at 40PSI on Monday morning — ‘nuff said).
We were changed, and back to full quickly, and on with the show.
The Devil You Know
We were now on the route that we knew — we had rejoined the medio where the two routes converge — and we knew what was ahead for us. There was one really significant climb left, with a couple of small ones in between. The big climb was the KOM climb for the course, and led to the fast descent back to the beach road, that led to the finish line. As we got to the next stop we hit the SIS flat cola tablets, and pressed on, until I heard Tom say “big climb coming now — turn right”, and there we we were. Climbing the last bit. I got stuck again as the road narrowed, behind stopping traffic, but was able to make a continuous roll to the top. With just a few bumps to the summit, we had essentially gotten up and over, and suddenly the road tilted down.
And down we went — fast — streaking into the down the curves, I felt the wind blow into my deep set carbon clinchers, and with that the movement of the bike in the road. I pedaled harder to cut through the wind, and as we made the final turn, I looked at Tom and said — “let’s make sure we screw up each other’s photos at the finish line”. We were almost there, and now navigating the beach roads into the finish line, and down to the last 5k. One of our blind dates was back among us, and trying to make sure he got to the finish line first. We were having none of it, and turned it up. Into the finish, where we bumped fists for the cameras, and saw our teammates awaiting us.
6:33 was our elapsed time, but largely due to my flat tire. Now how about that moving time. 6:19 — I said it and I meant it. And there it was. As for the negative split — it was almost dead even. The climbing took care of the acceleration, but the effort level definitely went up.
The Finish Line
One member of the team was still out. We were in touch with Mike Carey via text and phone, and he was aware of Adrienne’s location and let us know about when he expected her to cross. We got some food and a coke, and awaited her return. As we waited, we found out that Aleksandra was on the podium for her age group, and for the women’s category overall. A huge set of wins for #Bomba. As we started to celebrate that, a call from Mirko — “Where is Tom- he is being called for at the podium!” Tom ran to the podium, to find that he was number 1 in his age group. While I know deep down that Tom could have achieved this on his own, it’s nice to think that as I worked with him throughout the day, I somehow contributed to the win, and that feeling, was truly amazing!
As we saw Adrienne cross the finish line, we quickly realize that all was not well. She had gotten hit with a huge gust of wind on the beach road that took her down, and put a nasty cut on her elbow. As the medics tried to get her to go with them, she insisted on getting back on the bike and riding the final 4KM to the finish line. A couple of dozen stitches later, surfing lessons cancelled, she was able to finish the race, but not without some damage to her elbow.
A New Tradition From an Old Tradition
As we made our way back to the apartment, Jack filled us in on a beach house tradition of his family, to jump in the water full clothed at the end of the trip. While not quite the end, we had done what we came to do. We double-doubled, some of us tripled, and two of us actually won. On top of all of it- to have people from other countries shout “hey Mr. Double Double” (that you have never met), as you ride into the start line — well that’s just the icing on the cake.
What more could you ask for, except to cool down, kid style in the beautiful bay across the street from Gavia House. The sign ups for the 2019 #GFNYEuropeanDouble have already begun.
Next up: What happened in France? Abbot and Costello on the TGV! Fear, loathing, and adulation on Mont Ventoux.