Steamboats & Hoes: Rapha Prestige Worldwide

The dust rises in a white cloud as I enter the corner blindly. I don’t know how fast we are going, but the buzz of my free hub joins the constant crunch of the dirt road and together their volume implies speed. I watch Brian and Winn disappear and try to follow the same line they have carved through the rocks, hoping that I exit the apex without my front wheel washing out. There has been little shade today, and despite starting the race in humid, forty-eight degree mountain air, the temperature has risen to… somewhere north of eighty… I think. The road bleeds heat into me while the sun beats down relentlessly and as I feel my tires slip I ask myself “Why am I doing this?”

Dusty, high desert dirt roads awaited us.

Two years ago I participated in what would be the last Rapha Gentlemen’s Race. This event was held in the mountains around Boulder, Colorado. Nearly all of the paths I had ridden before, the race course being a somewhat known entity. Though it was entitled “race,” it was really more of a ride with the, shall we say, encouragement of race conditions. That is to say, unlike a normal all day affair, there would be no leisurely stops for pontificating (ahem, burrito and hecho en Mexico Coca-Colas). Unlike a true race, there were no USAC points to be awarded nor monetary prizes to be won and, in both distance and elevation gained (e.g. the amount of climbing roads you do), it wasn’t all that different from a normal weekend ride with what would soon become Team Party Boyz.

The crew for the 2014 Gentlemen’s Race, foolishly riding road bikes where mountain bikes usually trod (the author is second from the right). Courtesy Cody Baker.

The race was the last of its kind in name only. This, I suspect, is due to the misogynistic implication of the use of the term “gentlemen.” There were, in fact, female participants in that race, but in a culture that oozes inequality the abandonment of that term was only appropriate.

Yesterday, I participated in the Gentlemen’s Race’s spiritual successor: The Rapha Prestige.

“We have all day.” This is not a normal bicycle race. I have to remind myself that this is “the long haul.” There is no glory in capturing the ethereal, and rather dubious, crown of a virtual “King of the Mountain.” Those heroics are useless here. There is only this pace. Not a race pace, not a casual pace. I fall in line behind Jon, Winn, and Brian as tiny rocks ping off of my lenses and my face. Belgian toothpaste.

We shoot through an especially deep patch of gravel, a short, but sweeping left hander and my tires struggle to find the line. I go right. The others go left. As the gravel increases in size and, paradoxically, the dust grows deeper, my line is useless. I make a quick hop to the left, landing off-camber. My front wheel stops spinning as the dust and gravel pack up. I nearly fall off, but manage to stay upright. A large rock, dislodged from my theatrics, pings off of my shin, just below the patella. The dust masks it, but later on, I’d notice an inch long gash.

No time for stopping. Can’t get caught.

The location was different: starting in the town of Steamboat Springs, a nearly three hour drive from downtown Denver, and riding around on largely pastoral lands versus the mountain climbs and canyon winding in Boulder County. There are, of course, mountains in Steamboat, but the Gentlemen’s race climbed to higher points and eschewed flatter terrain until the last ten miles or so of what would be a 107 mile, nearly thirteen thousand foot of elevation gain, “race.” The Prestige, on the other hand replaced the significant mountain climbs with greater distance… a route that was intended to be 139 miles with less than ten thousand feet of climbing.

The format was similar. The Gentlemen’s race required a team of six to complete the course together to qualify as having “raced” in the event. Start times are staggered and you’ve not completed it until your entire team crosses the line. The Prestige whittled that number down to four, which did cause me some consternation.

Because the team sizes were smaller, we could only register one team under the banner of Team Party Boyz, and I wasn’t on it.

The circumstances were coincidence, but still, still… that echo of “picked last in gym class” prodded against my ego. It wasn’t personal. Is something I must remind myself, whilst my insecurities rage and brood. This isn’t really a race. It’s fine. You’re still doing this. I scrambled to gather other members of Team Party Boyz for a second team, that would end up being composed of very strong riders. Winn, who may be the strongest all around rider who is wholly unaware of his capabilities. Jon, who aptly filled the place of another teammate who had to back out due to injury, whom I had only ridden with once, on another all-day affair, only two months ago and Brian. Brian, might be the most natural tempo/time trialist in our group and who honed his bike handling skills working as a messenger, dominating alley cat races, before he went to law school. To complain about not being on Team Party Boyz proper was, I realized, a waste of breath. This was a strong team.

I’d be lying if I said it still didn’t smart a bit.

The crew of the ship of fools. I’m the chap in the green helmet. An aside: shortly after this photo was taken, a hawk dive bombed the aforementioned helmet. While I was wearing it. It is still in use. If a bird shitting on you is good luck, one attacking you must be better?

I also chose a stupid name in my panic to register. We were “Dirt Disco Dudes” which is a terrible title. Had I my wits about me I would have made the proper choice: either “Prestige Worldwide” or “Boats & Hoes” (this is a pop culture reference I won’t explain here, granted I consider even the use of the term “hoe” to be misogynistic and though, in this context, I find it funny, it reminds me that I am not immune to misogyny, despite my misgivings). I’d be reminded of this terrible title every time we passed a checkpoint and we were asked to identify ourselves.

I fear being the anchor. I fear slowing down the others. Did I train correctly? Did I put on too much weight over winter? Did I consume too many beers and indulge in too many late night sessions with frozen bags of Haribo gummy confections?

My lungs, my legs, and my will shall not break.

I jump a small divot, and my tool roll ejects its contents in the dirt. I repack it. Four minutes.

I gap a cattle guard and my rear tire starts to spray orange sealant all over my legs. These tires… this system. Tubeless for grip and cornering and reliability. But the sealant isn’t working. It bubbles and fizzles. The air escapes. Finally I stop. “Are you alright?” another team asks. “Yes.” I wait. I let the sealant pool at the bottom of the tire, the gash pointing at the ground. It works, but I’ve lost air. I add twenty pumps via Winn’s frame pump. Ten minutes.

Why do I do things like this? Why do I ride a bicycle? For some, riding is a way of transport. Much of the world outside of our purview rides bicycles for very practical reasons. In many parts of Europe and Asia, they are ridden for transportation. Chinese streets are littered with thousands of people simply getting to and from work. In countries of Africa, they are used to transport goods. One can find images of Nigerian cyclists, precariously balanced with loads of everything from yams to building supplies, simply doing their jobs. Here in North America, specifically Canada and the United States, they are ridden for many reasons. Sometimes for transportation. Sometimes for fun, the joy of a Sunday ride to a pub or a concert. They are used for exercise.

I do ride a bicycle for transportation. But, I am also up nearly every morning before dawn. Either to ride a trainer (when the weather is inclement) or to ride outside. I put on my kit, drink my coffee, perhaps slather some embrocation on my legs (“embro” provides a warming sensation to give you the feeling that you are warmer than you are, while you get your heart rate up), and head out to cram in a two hour workout (or longer, when it’s warm enough).

I, for example, have used a bicycle to transport beer.

Fitness, then, is part of the equation. But that isn’t a significant part. It starts with joy. “Bicycles are fun!” It develops into fitness. “I lost so much weight!” And then… it mutates. It becomes this need. This part of your life that informs all others. For me, at least, it is almost a second job, whose only purpose is to satisfy my various needs. The time others spend watching television, attending church, or sharing experiences with friends, I spend on a saddle. It is fun. It is exercise. It is… something more.

The rolling climbs of the first thirty miles are behind us, and we begin to descend more consistently. The terrain still rolls, but the general downward direction allows us to carry more speed. We pass a team of young women in hi-viz pink, near magenta accented kit. I am wearing the same bright pink baselayer under my jersey. I should say hi, ring my bell, or wave, but I am too angry at myself for my failures. They are certainly strong.

As we rail down another descent, I hear a ringing sound. Ting. Ting. Ting. I look down and notice the bottle cage on my seat tube is bouncing around violently. The bolts have come loose. I stop again. The tool roll is also coming apart. I transfer a few tools to my small handlebar bag after tightening the bolts. Another five minutes.

I didn’t just hop on this bike without thorough testing. Or, as you can see, opportunities to indulge my vanity.

I always shudder when people describe themselves by enumerating their hobbies. Sure, your hobbies and your job, and your romantic partner certainly have an effect on you. But you are not a hobby or your significant other. To make those things your identity seems to be failing to understand the concept of identity. If my eulogy consisted solely of “he rode bikes a great deal,” I would be saddened (if such a timeline were possible). The bicycle, for me, and for all things that it provides for me, is merely an outlet for my restless spirit, if it is any one thing. I have learned, of myself, that I am in constant need for some type of testing ground. It hearkens back to my feelings of unchosen exclusion. In many ways, becoming different from my peers (for me, inculcating myself with punk and hardcore and then indie music and the cultures around them) wasn’t at first a conscious choice. “Picked last in gym class” made me a misfit, I chose to make it worse. But on a bicycle, I can always test myself against myself. I can always be faster than I was. I can be… worth it. But somehow, I never feel I am.

Jon has flatted. He has the narrowest tires of us all and has followed our lines with aplomb. Only on the most rutted out sections have Winn, Brian, and I had the advantage. I sacrifice one of my two tubes to speed the process. As he pumps, the rest of us take naturals (e.g. the needs of biology involve recycling last night’s beer). I remember to eat. This is all day. No time for calorie counting. We lose more time.

The terrain of the Prestige route was nothing short of spectacular. Nature is wonderful wherever you may live, but I have come to Denver because of the grandiosity of the Rocky Mountains and the balance of urban life and adventure. From the aspen covered high passes to the rolling green hills of pastoral lands, sandy high plains desert, the smell of sage and the sting of yucca, I am constantly intoxicated by the grandeur of Colorado. Sometimes, I forget how nice this place is.

I, somewhat, grew up in suburban Chicago. Chicago is a grand city, far more city than Denver, but the opportunities to really experience nature are rather limited. As a boy, we would take long road trips to go backpacking or ride along gravel bike paths that rolled through the endless medium sized towns of Illinois. I forget that while they are not unspectacular in their own secret ways, they are nothing compared to these mountains I ride and explore daily. I recently went back to the Chicago area, bicycle in tow, and was not displeased by the riding I found near McHenry and the inlet towns along the Fox River, but they were so much less than the scenes I view when I look out my apartment window.

We started on winding dirt roads. The route eschewed tarmac and macadam for county roads almost immediately. Over the course of the route, nearly one hundred miles of it were solely on dirt. Even a field of cows takes on new grandeur when the backdrop is dotted with snow capped peaks.

The dirt too was varied. Winding roads with small white rocks, narrow less used farm lanes, dusty, rocky double track that most cars couldn’t traverse, all rolling up and down the hills around Routt County. We passed tractors and barns, barking dogs and idling sheep.

At times, the gravel was consistent. Other times there were deep ruts and thick, piles that would play havoc with your grip and steering, hearkening to cyclocross courses where you become accustomed to having both tires drift in a sharp, loose turn.

It was epic. But what of my rides is not? Team Party Boys regularly indulges in “casual” rides of a similar nature, as do the other teams of the Prestige. Riding thousands of miles with others, sharing in-jokes, and discovering secret paths and sights is yet another component to this thing.

But the Prestige route had problems.

On a personal level, I wanted a grand mountain climb. It is one of the few places in cycling I naturally excel. I am not claiming I am the fastest climber, 
le grimpeur le plus rapide, but because I am physically smaller, and blessed/cursed with these thick peasant legs, I do well over extended pitches. Give me a two thousand foot mountain climb over several miles and I will be grinning as my heart beats a hasty rhythm in my ears. This sort of route, a mountain climb, also affords the fantastic reward of a mountain descent. I am more sheepish than some, but still it is glorious to fly down a windy mountain road faster than traffic in each corner. There is a rewarding feeling to setting new speed records, all the while knowing (and this is pure poetic indulgence) that you’re somewhat cheating death on a vehicle that weighs less than twenty pounds and that has a contact patch the size of your pocket change while wearing clothing that affords nearly no protection against road rash.

This route had no big climbs. Just rolling hills and gradual pitches.

Then there was the problem of the temperature. We’d started with embro on our legs, gilets (vests) on our torsos, arm warmers on our arms, caps on our heads, and gloves on our hands. We knew it would get hot. That wasn’t quite the core component to the temperature problem. The real issue was the unrelenting nature of the sun. There was simply no shade. And that was all exacerbated by the true achilles heel: water or the lack thereof.

On a typical Team Party Boyz outing, we make stops. To fuel an all day mountain bender, you’re going to have to make use of the convenience stores and taco stands of mountain towns. From the fresh made burritos at the Kittredge gas station to a cold Mexican Coke at the cash-only shop in Ward, we frequently take advantage of and plan rides around refueling stops. The Prestige had the misfortune of being in a county bereft of such amenities. There was one town, a little over seventy miles into the route, that had a market and restaurants. The organizers realized this problem and while cars and trucks with water aplenty were dotted sparsely along the longer segments of the course there just weren’t enough. The heat and sun and time took their toll.

Rough roads. Hot sun. So thirsty. Hot sun.

We encounter a gracious volunteer from the Smartwool company who gives us water and informs us we are close to the first official, but informal aid station. We fill bottles and guzzle water. I eat some peanuts. We roll on.

The organizers at first suggested that everyone carry three bottles (bidons). This is problematic as most of us don’t have frames that accommodate more than two. We could cram extras in our jersey pockets, but between food, clothing, tools and the like, even with handlebar bags and tool rolls, our jerseys are already going to be at capacity. Thankfully, a last minute email informed us that they would meet us on course at two points with water after, I suspect, receiving many complaints.

We then arrive at the first aid station… what is this? Fifty miles? Something like that. It’s hard to tell. At the request of the organizers, we rode our bikes to the start, seven miles from our housing. As a result, our mileage is slightly higher, but here we are. We rest for a moment. I fill my bidons again as the others imbibe small bags of chips. I don’t think I can eat anything that substantive. I finish my peanuts. The other Team Party Boyz roll up. They’re looking strong. They started twenty minutes after us and have caught up. We press on. I am reminded of our exclusion from the team and, in a moment of great weakness, indulge my hubris. We can’t let them pass us!

To the team’s detriment, I press the pace. It is stupid. I am acting childish, but we pass other teams and I still feel strong. Maybe this will work.

Then we pass a confusing sign that states “Dog at Large, Leash Law Strictly Enforced” just before Jon flats for the second time. The other Party Boyz roll past us now. All the teams we have just passed roll past us. Mostly they wave and are friendly. Jon finishes and as we start to leave, I notice that my seatpost has slipped substantially. A pain in my lower back has been growing and this is the culprit. Granted, the bike is relatively new to me, but it has three hundred miles on it and this is a new problem. The saddle has been too low and I’m sure I’m not riding at optimum efficiency. Normally, I’d be staring at my human metrics on the display of my Garmin, but experience has taught me that in a race like this, I should be looking solely at the route. I only look at the route map and the turn cues. I fix my seatpost as still more pass. This takes fifteen minutes.

I am the anchor.

The only proper stop on this route is a town called Oak Creek. Routt County is a bit more sparse, in terms of population, than even Boulder or Jefferson County or anything along the Peak to Peak Highway I so often ride. It is nearly in the middle of the course, though, so it is at least a timely stop.

The stop gives you a sense of anticipation. A checkpoint to indicate that yes, you are halfway done, but also a release of basal desires. To eat, consume, gorge. You are on a bicycle and you must fuel yourself. A bicycle is a terribly efficient machine. The drive train loses efficiency only to small bits of friction, unlike a car or a motorcycle. You, on the other hand, are the weak part of the equation. Your cardiovascular system wastes lots of energy. It must stay warm (e.g. “warm-blooded”), it must transport oxygen to your muscles and so on. All of this waste radiates off of you as heat and in a ride like this, you need to keep the tank from running dry.

“The best sauce is hunger.” is a mantra my father would always tell me when we were lugging thirty five pound packs up mountain paths. The Dr Pepper, bison jerky bar, and Snickers I consume surely deserve Michelin stars. Teams mingle around under an awning outside the market in Oak Creek. Others seem worse off. Our friends in the Denver Wheelmen are riding the route on stiff carbon frames with 25 mm tires. Some haven’t ridden this much dirt in a single stretch. Another team bought some cookies, ate half of the box and left the rest. I observe a man hastily make a sandwich from a loaf of bread and packages of cheese and turkey. I suspect he will leave the rest for someone else.

We talk for a moment and enjoy the respite. Is this even a race anymore? I have anchored my team with my problems, I am the weak link, but the sugar that hits my bloodstream emboldens me with purpose. We are just over half way. We can do this.

If you weren’t a strong rider to begin with, you wouldn’t have made it thus far. Jon and Winn chat after having some tacos while the Wheelmen rally. I ate an Epic Bison bar in two bites. I regret nothing!

With new energy and a rare, albeit short, road climb, we take off. At the crest of every hill, we dig in and speed up. We form a paceline and exploit the gray tarmac ribbon that ripples and winds out of town.

A paceline is a crucial concept for bicycle racing. In my amateur experience, it is hard to get Category 4 and 3 racers to want to contribute to one, but at a professional level, the dance of a good paceline is almost breathtaking. In rare, team time trial events (a largely unused stage format in the Grand Tours), they’re executed adroitly. In one day classics, a small group that breaks away from the pack will use them to sustain their break before a final sprint. Watching Tom Boonen duke it out with Sep Vanmarcke, Ian Staanard, and Mathew Hayman, yet hold a paceline in the 2016 Paris Roubaix was amazing.

To form a proper paceline:

  1. Form a line with your bicycles.
  2. Ride as close as you can to the chap (or chapette) in front of you. Don’t try to rub wheels. It might happen, but be cool. Watch his posture and keep your hands on the brakes.
  3. Don’t be a hero. Drop off the front quickly. The pros stay up there for only seconds. They rotate often.
  4. Fall back. Don’t sprint up. You’re defeating the whole purpose of the thing if you’re using extra energy to get on the front. When you’re done (or someone yells at you), drift off to the side and rejoin at the back. You get a moment of coasting!
  5. Don’t speed up when you’re on the front. The point is to maximize drafting potential for the whole team, but also to keep yourself strong. If you go harder then the last guy, you’re hurting everyone.

Our paceline wasn’t proper, per se, but the big rules about closeness and dropping off were upheld. I won’t say it saved us much, time wise, but mentally it was a nice shift. We took turns and, if anything, it was nice to get out of the blow dryer feeling of the hot wind for a few minutes at a stretch.

Falling to the back after my pull. If you’re going to do this shit, you’d better not mind staring at someone’s spandex clad ass for a long time. Looking good, Ernst! XOXO

We aren’t going to win. Everyone has passed us. I have finally come to terms with my performance today. At first, it was passion, then it was immaturity, and now it is a grim sense of determination that drives me forward. The heat has only gotten worse. My seatpost keeps slipping. The Gatorade in my bidons that was once cool is now hot. We have so far to go.

I am trying to put this into terms my brain can deal with. Fifty miles left is like an early morning ride from Denver to the top of Lookout Mountain and back. You can do that in two and a half hours, give or take. But that is on smooth roads. That’s in the cool air of dawn. That involves a speedy mountain descent. The mental gymnastics aren’t working here. We have a long way to go.

But there it is. The first climb that feels like a climb. The tarmac winds around and I kick up my effort a wee bit. Winn has gone off the front and I, perhaps sagely, choose not to race him, but I still press my pace. I pass Jon and wait with Winn at the top. Brian seems to be a long way off.

Brian is not a slow climber. I have ridden with him for years and this is troubling. I know, without him saying anything, that something is wrong. I selfishly fear he will opt to quit. Honestly, I don’t know what he could do. We still have to get back to Steamboat, somehow, and all routes are similar in difficulty and distance. Then he tells me. “I have no power.” He isn’t sore. He isn’t tired. He just feels nauseous when he drinks or eats.

Heat stroke is a devilish thing.

My worst bout of it occurred during an endurance mountain bike race. I had somewhat sandbagged by racing in the “Sport Class” (this being only my second endurance race), and had done quite well, but on the last descent I fell apart. My hands hurt, and I was nauseous and light-headed. After finishing, I vomited in some bushes and blacked out in my car with the AC running for an hour.

This route was prime for heat stroke. The last leg meandered through more dirt county roads and near Stagecoach Reservoir, but continued to lack shade or any sort of abatement from the relentless sun and heat. If there had been a single gas station we could see, it would have aided the route greatly.

As we pass the reservoir we look for access to the water. We lay our bikes down and strip off our shoes, socks, and jerseys and wade in the water. It is deeper than I expected, but I dunk my head in. Water fills my ear and won’t come out. “Drink this!” I tell Brian, handing him a warm bottle of Gatorade. He drinks a little, but says he is still nauseous. He doesn’t want to quit, though.

As we press on, a woman offers us popsicles. It is a small kindness and she is on her last box, having handed out many to passing teams. She doesn’t have water, but she is a saint. I would kiss her, but am not that forward. Mine falls apart in the wrapper, but I greedily suck it out. We continue a rolling descent on a yet rougher road. Whenever I coast, I try to shake the water out of my right ear.

We splash through puddles and encounter a little bit of shade. Brian is at least keeping pace with me. I am trying my best to not grow frustrated. I feel bad for him. The burden of anchor has shifted off of me and onto him and I am flooded with guilt. I pushed him into this. I made him convert his cross bike to an all-road monster, getting him to invest in the same fat tires I am running and cannibalizing his road bike. I have done this to him and I insisted on doing this event.

I like a bike that can handle a bit of everything. When I realized that I didn’t want to spend my Saturdays shelling out for USAC road races, risking injury, and really wasting a day that could be a grand old Team Party Boyz all day mountain bender, I put fatter tires on my road bike and quit weighing it (and myself) constantly. When I had a chance to get a new custom frame from Alchemy, I continued this theme.

The bike, a mutation of their superb titanium cyclocross frame, The Chiron, is a mutt to be sure. Clearance for fat tires, thru axles front and rear, hydraulic disc brakes and a tubeless setup… it is my dream bike. I have never ridden titanium before, nor these extremely supple Compass Bon Jon Pass tires, but the combination of all of the above have made my rides much more pleasant. It fits me perfectly and inspires new confidence on descents. In my pre-Prestige riding, it handled gravel descents with aplomb and climbed fantastically. It may not be road race svelte, but it’s 19 pounds feels sprightly and with an investment in lighter wheels, it could surely lose two of those pounds. I will ride this bike forever.

(My last road frame, a wonderful Avery County Cycles affair built by Josh Culbertson, who also now works at Alchemy and did some of the work on the new frame, clocked well over 35,000 miles before my extremely salty sweat destroyed the internal routing. Kudos on both frames, Josh.)

The right turn was a surprise and we soon found ourself climbing rough double track. Our tires sink into the deep dust and I am in my lowest gear, 34x32, still spinning out as we climb the steep pitch. I could go faster, but I slow slightly to wait for Brian. I stop at the top and let some other teams pass. Brian is nowhere to be seen. I wait longer.

Other than the lack of stops, my biggest criticism of the route is the bit at the end. After hitting Highway 40 and riding back to Steamboat, one could just continue on towards Moots and the finish line, but they added a bit of meandering climbing in the, pardon the editorializing, yuppie laden suburbia of housing around the ski resort. Long climbs with lots of turns. There are at least twenty on the cue sheet on my Garmin.

These roads are, of course, a part of the training routes that riders in Steamboat roll over regularly. It is one thing to do them as part of a lunch ride, to add some elevation gain or challenge yourself with a PR. But it is another to throw them in at the end of an already long day.

If it were my event I probably would have eschewed the last bit for a more direct return. The day was going to be hot and turned out to be hotter than forecasted and the lack of stops or even shade were beating everyone down.

I suspect more than a few teams may have omitted some of the last bit. No judgement, I should have done the same. But, one of my other failings is my stubbornness.

“Turn right!” We climb the road that goes right by our lodgings. It would be so easy to simply stop and drive to the finish. I can’t quit though. I hate this route but must not think about it. I will finish the damn thing.

We climb past a golf cart crossing and I track stand as I wait for the out of shape golfers, guts bulging out under their white polos, to drive past us. I look at the elevation profile remaining. We are on the second of these silly suburban climbs and after that the profile has only little punches. The suburban climbs are not hard, but I am not going fast either and I have to yell at Jon and Winn to make sure they don’t get too far ahead and take a wrong turn. And I fear for Brian’s safety. I fear I may be endangering him by feeding my hubris.

I wait at the top. He is nowhere in sight. I pull out my phone and turn it on. I have left it off to save battery, as I knew service would be spotty and I didn’t want the usual daily distractions to impede my progress. I didn’t want a constant buzz near my hip. But now, I worry about him. He does not respond. I debate descending to find him, but if he simply rode back I would have to do the same. I can’t quit. I just can’t quit. I may be picked last in gym class, but I will not just give up. I am not a quitter.

Finally, after waiting for twenty minutes or so, he rolls up. He says he rested in the shade after an octogenarian in flip flops passed him on an ill setup mountain bike. He is done, he proclaims. I say we are close to the top.

I am almost right. There is one last pitch. We drop down on a road, and I yell at Jon as he passes me. I am trying to keep the gruppo together. There is a turn somewhere. “Look for Amethyst! Make a right there!” I yell over the buzz of our freehubs. We make the turn and I continue on. I slow down to wait for Brian as Winn and Jon press on. He makes the turn and I sprint to catch them, up over a small rise. Brian yells something. I can’t quite hear him. My ear is still full of water from the reservoir.

He turns around.

I am angry. Don’t yell something and not wait for my response on a day like today. I assume he is just dropping back into town. I want to assume that. I want him to ride to Moots and be safe, but I also fear I am being irresponsible and selfish and I should follow him to ensure he makes it back.

Winn reminds me that on a day like today, suffering as Brian is, he isn’t being solely rational. It seemed like the right choice for him to make.

The fellowship had fallen. Brian had returned on his own accord. Winn, Jon, and I would finish together and find Brian lounging with his jersey off, shoes removed and helmet laying on the ground. He was drinking beers with the other members of Team Party Boyz. We got hats and matching musette bags, beer and food. They are all a bit punchy. Steve’s face says it all.

Team Party Boyz member, Steve Vanica, post-Prestige. Photo: Kevin Scott Bachelor

It was not my hardest day on the bike. There is another ride I’d award that trophy to, but it was hard. Days like this require determination and grit. Not only do you need the training and strength of years of cycling, but you need the willpower to overcome your own weakness.

It, more than anything, reminded me of my own failings.

The teams that participated: Moots, Rapha’s own, Panache, the folks from Butter, and Rodeo Labs (and all the rest) are fantastically fast. Fabulously strong. Lean legs of iron, nary an extra pound to be found. They look stronger than me. I don’t know if I belong with this group. I lack the ability to not view myself negatively. I’d like to think I wasn’t completely out classed, but fear I am.

Brian had heat stroke, true, but he is stronger than me in many ways. He is faster in many situations, my only trump card is a slight knack for climbing. I still feel like I was the true anchor. I feel like my litany of small mechanicals and rash decisions with pacing caused the real problems and that if I had been wiser, we would have been stronger much longer.

Winn is just a beast who would have ridden longer and Jon never flagged in his pace. I was the anchor, Brian’s heat stroke aside.

The damage

I am glad I participated in the event. I am glad I didn’t quit and completed the route, even the extra bit that included the ride from our housing.

As to the larger question of why I ride a bike, I have no answer or too many. I do these things because it gives me a goal. I do these things because I am imbued with enough self loathing that it sometimes feels like it’s the only thing that gives me a sense of worth.

There are some cyclists I know who are just amazing athletes. They are naturally fast and always have a grin on their faces. I don’t know if they run from the same demons that I do, though I expect not. I can never truly know. I find so many things on a bike, and joy is in there to be sure. But I also know the dark places… I often feel that on a bike is the only way I can escape. Killing myself to hit a goal on a long climb sometimes feels like the only way I can quit thinking so much about my failures, about my self-inflicted issues.

My nickname is somewhat ironic. The implication that I give off a carefree nonchalance, an easy going vibe, is the opposite of the torrent of negativity that lays below the surface.

But, dear reader, I am mentally healthier than I have ever been. And for that, I do things like the Prestige. My complaints aside, to both the members of Team Party Boyz and the organizers of the event, it was a grand day. I regret nothing.

ezweave out.

24 hours later, I still look rather haggard. I’ve seen some shit man, done some things. Don’t be like me. Roll your own routes.