Sunday, April 13, 2014

L’Etape du California

A week late but that’s always going to happen when you’re trying to blog and get married in the same week, but that’s life! So on with the ride report.

The L’Etape du California this year follows the same final Stage (Stage 8) of this year’s Amgen Tour of California which starts next month and finishes in the title sponsor’s home town of Thousand Oaks. It’s four laps of a local climb and loop known as Rockstore. I have mentioned this before and Becca and I have ridden it several times in preparation. In fact I actually crashed on part of the circuit in January…fun times!

The circuit is basically a 20.5 mile square comprising of a Cat 3 Climb which is 2.5-2.7 miles long depending on where you measure it from/to with Strava and with a Grade that averages out around 6-7%. After the climb you get a short downhill followed by another easier climb for a mile or so and then a tricky technical decent with a maximum drop of 21%. At the bottom you had a flat section but you had to keep concentrating as this is where the bulk of the traffic was as well as the Start/Finish line in a local hotel.


For me it was all about the climbing and while this wasn’t a race it was going to have a KOM/QOM section on the Rockstore climb for those riders who completed the four loops. Four loops would total at 82 miles and 8800’ of elevation gain it. I came out to watch the Pro’s do the same loop 3 years ago and saw them whiz by on the flat!

The previous day we had picked up our race numbers, very smart fabric ones that would attach to the back of our jerseys and a sticker for our helmet. There was also a nice technical T short in the swag bag, which will double as a recyclable grocery bag in the future. There was a safety brief; open course, traffic signs, aid stations etc and an opportunity to buy the ride jersey and bibs and cotton T shirts etc.

After that we headed home and I set to cleaning up the bikes for the next day. I had planned to just wipe the worst off the bikes and not tinker but I had cleaned up my cassette the week before so after washing off her frame I stripped off Becca’s cassette which was, to be honest, filthy and gave it a good clean and did the same with her chain. After a good wash down with some degreaser and the application of some new lube her bike was ready. I washed mine off and removed the chain to get to all those nooks and crannies that accumulate road crap and while reassembling that’s where I ran into trouble. I couldn’t get the chain to fit cleanly back together, the link was so tight that it wouldn’t bend and subsequently wouldn’t shift cleanly. With my limited knowledge and a quick look on the internet there was no obviously cause so rather than spend a too much time decided to use the chain from my TT bike, I removed it, installed it, checked there gearing and I was good to go. With the intention of getting there early and checking in with the SRAM Mechanics who along with a local bike shop Wins Wheels were providing support for the day. My TT bike was left looking somewhat neglected with now no chain to match the removed cranks. It’s going to need some TLC in the coming weeks to get it back road ready for Vineman. So with that said we were ready for the next day.

We drove out to the start and unloaded our bikes and I headed off to the SRAM mechanics to have them have a look at my not-so-handy-work and double check on the shifting which wasn’t quite as crisp as I would like. Ten minutes later I was set. We rolled over to the start line and waited for the National Anthem. In total there was about 500 riders, the ride had 1500 entries but for whatever reason had only sold a third of its slots. By far the majority of riders were local lycra clad regular riders but there was a smattering of hybrid’s, some fixie’s a handcrank and even a tandem!


Unceremoniously we started and rolled out. For anyone who has done a mass start like this it’s always a little wobbly; lots of bike and people and nerves make it a bit ginger and this was no different especially as we were navigating our way out of a hotel parking lot with speed bumps and tight turns. Within a mile or two though we were spreading out. For the first 5 miles until we turned off the main road we had Police outriders so that made it easier and we could ride through junctions without stopping.

With much ado we were on the first climb of Rockstore. Becca and I had agreed to meet at the Aid Station at the top, (of the two, one at the top and one at the bottom) this way we could ride up at our own pace. I was keen to ride it hard but was conscious of the fact I had three more loops to follow. I sat in for most of the climb focusing on form and just moving up the hill only standing during the last hairpin.


It had been a bitterly cold start and I only had arm-warmers on compared to other folks in leg warmers, tights vest etc, I knew it would warm up once the sun was on us and so I enjoyed the work of the first climb and the heat it generated just pulling down my sleeves halfway up. At the top I waited for Becca and chatted to a friend who was working the AS. The second part of the climb went without issue and other than being buzzed by folks on the descent the first loop was in the bag and we started the second.


This time round I had more of an idea on the climb but I still held back, that was until someone tried to jump on my wheel in the last 500 meters, so I dropped it a gear and pushed hard and there was nothing to push against! I wobbled, unclipped looked down and saw I had snapped my chain!

Without much ado there was nothing I could do so I walked up the last of the hill with the call on “I’ll send someone back” coming from all the folks passing me! I got to the top and pulled out a Belgium waffle that I had in my jersey, stuffed the waffle in my mouth, picked up the chain using the tin foil and coasted to the Aid Station!


Mike who was working the AS was able to fix my chain but had to shorten it so I could not go Big/Big. This wasn’t going to be a problem really given all the climbing. We left the AS and made our way back down without issue.

It was warm by this point and I was glad of only wearing the arm-warmers as I saw people pulling over and pulling of layer after layer of clothing that was stuffed into pockets and tied around waists (oh the shame)! While stopped at the bottom AS we were lapped by two groups that were setting a blistering pace! The next climb was warm and by this time we were pretty strung out, I worked hard going up and was happy to catch up and ride over someone who had passed my lower down.


Again at the top we regrouped and rode the descent. We had been umming about the fourth lap and we had agreed to go for it as without it there would be now KOM time. We passed the start line and a mile down the road that was an almighty bang; I had blown my rear tube, not only that I had blown the tire off the rim!

And that was that! We made the sensible decision to bank our luck, it would have been a very nasty blow out 5 or 6 miles earlier while descending and while I am pretty quick at changing tires with the extra time spent walking to the AS and repairing the chain we were a good hour behind schedule!

So discretion was the order of the day and I simply stripped off my shoes and socks and walked back across the Finish Line…I didn’t want to scratch up the pretty Carbon soles!

We parked our bikes and grabbed the pasta lunch that we had bought tickets for enjoying the warm sun.

Once home we were able to look at the time posted on the KOM stage, my three climbs were;

  • 17:18
  • 19:41 (inc walk time)
  • 17:41

So working on the basis that my fourth climb would have been around 18:00 I would have finished with a time in the region of 1:13 (ish) putting me 30/122 AG and 70/510 OA. Of course as I didn’t finish the fourth loop it’s all moot!

With all that said and done, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, although I will admit there were a few choice words uttered during my mechanical issues! What shone through was the proof of the training. This really proved the quality of the plan and having followed the training plan for the prior 9 weeks mostly on the trainer I was really happy with the results. I felt strong throughout the day and while I was with a mixed bag of abilities on the KOM stage I was only passed by 3 riders in total for the whole day on this stage.


I also got a chance to put the new Voler Black kit through it’s paces and there is a review of that coming up and wear my new Louis Garneu Coursehelmet which replaces my LG Quartz helmet that I crashed in in January!

I should say a few words about the event itself. Both Becca and I really enjoyed it, it was very well organized. The loop lent itself to making life easy for the riders and while it was not a closed course it was well marked and well supported with plenty of road to ride on I am not sure I would be so happy had they sold out all 1500 slots but once the riders were strung out it was not a problem. The local bike shop that supported the event (Wins Wheels) was great and there was plenty of food provided by Cliff.

All that remains is for the Amgen Tour to come to town next month which we are both looking forward to as we are volunteering for two local stages and will be heading back up Rockstore…only this time with beach chairs to watch the Pros do it!

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