We were just about to go when a car pulled up - it was Suzanne from across the road, wishing us well. As we rolled out past her house there was David her spouse and my co-worker, waving us on. I told him that next year he'd ride with us!
Down Memorial, up Eldridge and into the main stream of cyclists, still a little before the official start. We had a perfect morning - cool, clear and a juicy tail wind, and it stayed like that until lunch.
The Three Amigos kept together for some time but we had different plans for the day. Larry normally doesn't stop for the first 60 miles, bypassing the official lunch break in Bellville. Kevin and I break every 20 miles to get water and um, strain the spuds, and we have always stopped in Bellville for the traditional turkey sandwich and little tub of potato salad. This year he suggested that we stop as needed on the way out but skip the official lunch, reasoning that it always took at least an hour to get in, get lunch and get out again, and all that did was cool us off right before the toughest section of the day's ride. This made a lot of sense to me - while training I always took a break but noticed that it was hard to get going again afterwards.
I called for a potty break at 20 miles and then we settled in for the start of the rollers. The route is flat until you cross the Brazos, after which you're rolling all the way. Those first few climbs always seem to come as a surprise to some of the riders and the field slows dramatically and spreads across the road on the first grade. I was feeling my (steel-cut) oats and took on the first climbs a la Kevin, flying up the outside. Both Kevin and Larry told me to take it easy as we had plenty of miles left but I was enjoying myself.
Bellville arrived quite quickly and it was a novel experience to bypass the fairgrounds and the mass of other riders. We rolled up to the Valero that we had visited several times while training and said goodbye to Larry, who was feeling strong and wanted to follow his plan and push ahead to 60 miles.
Another advantage of stopping at a gas station - flush toilets! We made the most of the break, took a selfie (the first of many) and then headed out, with the feared Industry-Fayetteville section in front of us.
Pretty soon I began to flag. I felt reasonably strong and was climbing well (if cautiously - no more Kevinesque uphill Charge of the Heavy Brigade) but my right foot was unbearably painful. I've had this problem before - basically I have a bunion or something like one but I'm too much of a coward to get it fixed. If I spin the pedals with as little weight as possible it's fine, and hadn't hurt me at all while training. Once I stop spinning and start muscling the cranks (usually when I'm getting tired) it really hurts. I limped into Fayetteville and enjoyed the buzz we always get from the whole town cheering us on but I was hurting. Kevin was nursing me along like a good friend, and if he hadn't been there I might well have stopped. As it was I told myself that I would definitely take it easier on day 2 and avoid the dreaded park.
After Fayetteville the route is a little flatter and runs mostly north, so we had a full tail wind, which allowed me to coast a bit and try to recover. We both knew that the final five miles into La Grange would be dead into the wind and it's by no means flat.
We stopped at the very familiar last break point of the day and I took the opportunity to walk around with my shoes off, blissful relief. I always seem to see someone I know here and sure enough, up popped Big John, looking full of beans as always!
Time for the last 11 miles! I'm absolutely running on fumes but Kevin still has a bit in the tank and takes point position as much as possible. We make the turn south and man does that wind bite. Kevin jumps out in front and I velcro myself onto his back wheel. Amazingly I still have enough to keep in touch on the climbs but I'm ready to stop and drop. The final turn doesn't come a minute too soon and there's the finish line. We bump fists as we cross and that's that for another year, thank goodness. I roll down the chute beside the barrier, high-fiving the spectators as I go, definitely a high spot for me. We cruise to a stop and shake hands again, all smiles, and I thank Kevin very sincerely for getting me through the hard yards in training and on the day.
This year we'd decided to sign up with a different group, the Karbach Brewery team, and we quickly saw a volunteer who pointed us in the right direction. Once at the tent our decision was immediately proven correct - we were in far enough ahead of the field that we could get a decent pitch for our cots, not too close to the bar. I quickly rigged up but found I wasn't as exhausted as I thought, and opted for a beer, some snacks and a debrief.
Time for a shower and I shamelessly dumped my staunch friend and riding buddy for the VIP shower truck, one of the few top fund-raiser perks that I always use. This year they even had towels for us, to commemorate the 30th ride. I emerged after a good soak feeling pretty good, only to pass poor Kevin who was still in line (and still smiling even so!)
Back at the Karbach tent I helped myself to another beer and struck up conversation with some of my team-mates, very pleasant people. Dinner was supposed to be ready for 5 pm but not much seemed to be happening. Sure enough, by the time Kevin returned from the peon's shower line, they had pushed it back to 6.30 pm and we thought about having the chicken dinner provided by the ride instead. But then I spotted Taylor, former co-worker and current friend who was riding with St.Arnold's but had come to the Karbach tent for better beer on open tap. She was with her dad who lives in Austin. We haven't seen her since last year and had a lot of catching up to do.
|the breakfast of Champions|
Wakey-wakey, rise and shine! Breakfast (pancakes and coffee) is available from 5am, heaven only knows when the Volunteers get up. We rapidly get outside an outsize serving of excellent pancakes and then plan the day's ride. Our friend Tom is riding with his son John again this year, and they are going to take the lunch express route to Bastrop, basically a straight shot up the shoulder of route 71. It's nice and smooth and although not flat the grades are pretty gentle. Last year Kevin and I rode the challenge route through the Parks and met them at the lunch stop for the run into Austin. I had a pretty torrid time in the Parks last year and after yesterday's slog I'm not up for it this year. Kevin proposes a compromise - the challenge route as far as the Park but then take the bypass to the lunch express - and I agree with some misgivings.
We gather at the head of the line (another top fund-raiser perk that I don't normally use - you can cut the line!) and duly head out in the gloom. We're both wearing sunglasses, probably not the best way to ride in traffic before dawn. This route starts with a long descent and we get up a pretty good speed as we roll out into the valley. Pretty soon we're off the main road and onto rolling country lanes, actually very pretty terrain that's easy to ride if you put a bit of effort into the descents. Kevin thinks that this stretch of the ride is the nicest section and I'm inclined to agree. We blow past the first rest stop in Winchester and then see the Smithville water tower in the distance, signalling our approach to Kevin's nemesis, the big scary hill. This is a long, steep descent where you can easily hit 40 mph and still be passed by other riders. It's been the site of numerous wrecks over the years and Kevin hates it.
He leads out over the crest and onto the downslope but I quickly pass him and let 'er go. I get up to about 34 mph and although the bike feels very stable, get on the brakes and start to scrub off speed. The roll-out seems to last forever but eventually I'm back to pedalling, no sign of Kevin of course. The turn off into the Park looms and I ease to the side to allow the more adventurous riders in.
Once past the turn, there's a small climb before you join route 71 and the lunch express gang. I got to the top and then pulled over to wait for Kevin, but he wasn't to be seen. OK, he's either waiting for me back behind me somewhere or he's had a flat, so I turn on my phone (turned off to save battery power) and sure enough I had missed a call from him. I hit him back and he answers straight away - he'd thought that he must have got in front and was waiting for me!
We reunite quickly and head out once more, now on the shoulder of route 71, a much smoother surface. We're both ready for a break but there's about a mile to run first. The break point is in the middle of a field that turns out to be full of burrs, as I discover to my cost when I take off my shoes to get some relief for my sore foot. Oh well, back at it.
There are four decent climbs before we get into Bastrop. I hit the down slopes hard but the climbs are still tough, not as steep as in the Park but longer. Kevin is in his element of course. We get into Bastrop and the familiar route through the back streets, across the Colorado river (a very pretty view here) and into the Middle School parking lot for lunch. The plan was to meet up with Tom and John here, otherwise we might have kept going just as we did in Bellville.
|only 40 miles to go now!|
Kevin gets on the phone to Tom, who is making very slow progress. They've just arrived at the Nelsonville rest stop (where they had all the burrs), so he's at least an hour behind us. Once they reach the lunch stop, they'll need some time to eat and rest so realistically we're looking at a 90 minute delay. Kevin is really torn - Tom is an old friend after all, but we can't wait that long, and decide to head out without them.
The rest of the ride is always a bit of a grind. There aren't any serious climbs left but the road surface is poor, which is very debilitating, and 140 miles of riding inevitably takes its toll. There is always a ludicrously long line for the potties in Bastrop, so we plan to hit the next stop regardless, but it's about 16 miles down the road in Webberville and I'm more than ready for it when we pull up.
Back at it once more. We roll through Webberville, a fairly nondescript little town that Kevin knows well as it's in a bend of the Colorado river and popular for canoeing. Ten miles on and we pass the last rest stop before the finish. The next landmark is the Austin city limit sign and now we have a few hills to climb on the run in. The first has a busy junction at the top and as usual we're stopped by the Police to let some cars through. Just as we stop there's a short shower of rain that makes the surface very slippery. We know it's slick because a truck in the lane next to us spins its wheels for a few seconds before it gets going. Suddenly all the cyclists are nervous about the long descent in front of us! Fortunately that was all the rain we saw.
The last few miles are a bit nerve-wracking. There are lots of cyclists of different fitness and proficiency levels crammed into a narrow coned-off lane, along a road with a number of long descents and climbs. To make it worse every so often someone nudges a cone into the lane. Kevin has seen bad wrecks on this stretch and is always nervous.
With a mile or so to run, Kevin stops to call his wife, who will be meeting us at the finish. As he does so he sees a text from Tom - apparently John got very dehydrated and had to be taken to a hospital where he was given several litres of fluid via IV! Poor kid, I hope that doesn't put him off riding, he had a very positive experience last year.
|made it (again!)|
And so we come to the finish! A turn takes us onto MLK drive, which slopes down to the final left-hander and under the finish line with the Capitol in the background. It's a great feeling but if I'm honest, more of a relief than anything else. More high fives with the crowd and then I dismount by the bike trucks to drop off my trusty steed for her ride home to Houston.
Off with the shoes, what a relief! I limp my way to the team tent area and see Kevin waving - he's already found the Karbach tent. The tent is very popular because they're giving away free beer! We're apparently the first two riders in, or at least the first two to reach the tent anyway. The team truck with the bags is parked a few blocks away. I get my bag and then head off for the VIP shower truck (again!). After a good soak I make my way back to the tent, where Kevin has been joined by his wife Barbara and a friend. They are joining Tom and his family for dinner in Austin, so I take my leave - with profuse thanks to my good friend, riding buddy and domestique once more - and get in line for a coach back to Houston.
I'm in line right behind David, a co-worker and for many years a team-mate when our employer ran a cycling team. After a two year hiatus, they ran a team again this year but kept it very low-key, mainly to demonstrate that they could stay within a reasonable budget. Because, after all, oil companies just don't make very much money these days. Anyway they were successful, so maybe there will be a larger-scale team next year. But then, maybe this was my last MS150 ride?