George “Red-Eyed Vireo” Vargas comes in third with tandem stoker Lori Hoechlin, out of 166 riders at the 2012 Grand Tour Highland Double Century (pictured above only the top 20 overall)
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First let me thank you for reading my blog. I really do appreciate when people take the time out of their busy day to read my blog. There are so many other blogs out there on riding and racing bikes. I feel honored that you choose mine and I hope I deliver an interesting, entertaining and educational read for you . Feel free to leave your comments and questions and I will get back to you.
I also wish to thank Ascent-OC who has come through again this year in helping me prepare for my Ultras. The CVAC sessions are helping me combat my exercised-induced asthma and helping me unlock my cycling potential — all while being DRUG FREE! Swiftwick Socks for providing the best socks to ride 200 miles in comfort.
It can’t be said enough THANK YOU to all the volunteers that put on such a great event. Logistically and administratively putting on this event with so many route choices must be challenging but somehow it goes off without a hitch. This was my fourth Grand Tour and I will definitely be back!
The Grand Tour is a well-organized event. It has multiple distances ranging from double metric (125 miles) to 400 miles. The Highland Double Century (200 miles) has just the right amount of real climbing, rolling terrain and flats to be considered a great beginning Double Century. The Grand Tour was my first Triple Century back in 2003. You may recall from a previous post that I signed up for the Grand Tour Double Century. But I was “talked into” doing a Triple Century (300 miles). In short, I was about 65 miles into the event and Roehl Caragao and Lynn Katano convinced me to go way beyond my comfort zone of 100 miles all the way to 300 miles. And how about while this was Lori’s first Double Century Lynn Katano was completing her 100th Double Century (including some Triple Centuries) What an amazing achievement 100 Double Centuries. Congrats Lynn Katano!!
George “Red-Eyed Vireo” Vargas places KOM on Strava with 11:15 finishing time at the 2012 Grand Tour Highland Double Century
So some of you might be asking why I did this Double Century on a tandem. Well let’s just say I wanted a new challenge. I hadn’t done a DC all year. I also hadn’t been training much. I figured I would ride the tandem, do some work and not expect much in the form of results.
Right, now let’s talk about my stoker. I met Lori through a triathlon club that my bike shop, Bike Religion, sponsors. I knew she was a good fast rider. After a few rides together, I considered whether she would make a good tandem partner. Well there was only one way to find out. I then started taking her on some of my training rides. She struggled on some of the climbing centuries that I do but that’s understandable. The primary reason she was fading was she didn’t have a nutrition plan that she followed – religiously. She’s new to riding longer distances so that was the first thing we had to address.
Another thing she struggled with was my constant variation of speed and intensity. When I climb I continue to accelerate through a climb and I always sprint over the top. Years ago I made it a point to not just make it to the top of a climb. I wanted to power over the top. I wanted to leave no question as to whether I had given it my all and left it all on the climb. Lori is a triathlete and so she is not used to having constant change of speed and accelerations and sprints are foreign to her and most triathletes. Of course this makes sense when you have a marathon to run after your 112 mile bike leg BUT when you are a road cyclist it’s all about the bike and there is nothing you are “saving” yourself to do next. After a few hard rides I knew she had the potential to be a good stoker but I just need to polish up her raw power.
Okay so now I had a good tandem partner and the right beginning Double Century. The third piece of the puzzle was my tandem. Penelope needed some work. She had only been doing shorter rides — no racing, no centuries. So, I got Shimano XTR hubs, new XT center-lock rotors, new brake pads,and new brake cables and a new chain. I want to give a shout out to Candy at Surf City Cyclery for helping me get these new items installed and dialed in perfectly!!
George “Red-Eyed Vireo” Vargas, Lori Hoechlin and Penelope at the start
We left at 6:20am. The Double Century riders could leave as early as 4:30 AM and as late 6:30 AM. Leaving at 6:20am we were definitely on the tail end of the DC departures. It was actually quite nice riding alone not having anyone in front of me and nobody sucking my wheel. As an Ultra cyclist you have to embrace those long stretches of time where you are alone — just you and your bike. I guess you’re not ever alone when riding a tandem though– something I might have to get used to if I decide to continue to do epic rides on Penelope.
The ride begins with rollers out of Malibu as you head North on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). The rollers are a good warm up for hammering the flats that come soon after. Funny how we seem to forget how much those rollers hurt on the way back to Malibu after 180 miles. But at this point your legs are fresh and it’s up and over with no drama. As we neared the Port Hueneme checkpoint a rider tried to get on our wheel. I waved him off several times. He finally got the hint. In my opinion, I don’t draft riders I don’t know. Additionally, I don’t draft riders that I can’t return the favor with a good pull at the front. Even though it’s more psychological than anything else I like when solo riders take a turn at the front into the wind. The reality is, it takes a really strong rider to trade pulls with a tandem— more on that later.
Rolling out of Checkpoint #2 on Portero Rd (notice the Swiftwick 7″ socks)
Before we reached the first checkpoint (last checkpoint on the return) I impressed on Lori that we needed to be quick at the checkpoints. One of us fills bottles while the other gets food or takes a potty break – and vice-versa. Neither one of us drank much over the first 35 miles. The key to OUR success was staying properly fueled throughout the event. My plan was simple– every top of the hour and every bottom of the hour I ensured that we BOTH consumed 100 calories. Two hundred calories per hour at a minimum every hour…every hour…every hour!
MILE 35 CHECKPOINT #1 – PORT HUENEME
We are 35 miles (look below for time splits) into the event with Portero Rd looming ahead of us in about 10 miles. I remember it as being a hard little climb even on my solo bike. It has 8-10% pitches and possibly even steeper. I told Lori my goal was to climb Portero Rd. without dismounting. We accomplished my goal. Along the way there were a few people who were really struggling and even one rider was walking. We climbed Portero Rd seated with a 28 cog and in our triple. Dismounting on a climb consumes a lot of time but we were up and over and descending down the other side in full stride.
MILE 52 CHECKPOINT #2
In and out of the checkpoint. We exited the checkpoint and continued climbing a gradual hill as we headed towards Lake Sherwood. We were passing riders on the climb with ease and it felt great. I love the looks I get from riders suffering on a climb and then they look over their left shoulder and see us on the tandem working equally as hard but we’re making just enough progress to pass them on the hill.
We then continued through some of the rolling terrain through Westlake Village which reminds me a lot of Rancho Santa Margarita. We reached the Moorpark checkpoint and again we are in and out in no time.
We are now headed towards Ojai. The day was starting to warm up. In general, I think we had perfect weather the whole day. It was nice and cool on the coast, and just a little warm inland. When I downloaded my Garmin it registered a high of 98.6°F. I was surprised it was that hot. It felt warm but not that hot.
As we climbed Grimes Canyon we were passed by a few guys on solo bikes. I almost started to chase but I was struggling already. We caught those riders on the descent. As we turned left at the bottom of the hill they went straight and it was then I realized they were out on their own Saturday ride and not part of the Grand Tour. I wondered what would it be like to do just a 50 mile loop out here. There seems to be good climbs fast descents and then back to the start. Yes, many times while doing a DC I wonder how the other half lives— the 50 mile club ride is usually very appealing to me at that very moment 😉
On the climb to Ojai I felt Lori and I were finally in our groove. We climbed at a good high cadence of 90 Rpm. When Lori and I did a few training rides together, on our separate bikes, I noticed she was a grinder where I was a spinner. On the climb to Ojai it seemed to finally come together.
At the bottom of the descent we missed the turn and that caused us about a five-minute delay. We doubled back because we were unsure, then we doubled back again still unsure, and then we finally got back on course.
MILE 116 – SARZOTTI PARK CHECKPOINT #4
We were in and out of Ojai, the lunch stop, without eating lunch. I was disappointed that they didn’t have any Cokes. Pepsi just isn’t the same. I had worked with Lori on our training rides to be on a completely liquid nutrition protocol and that I don’t stop for lunch at my DC’s. I like to hurry, get them done, and enjoy my meal and the company of my friends in comfort.
We are now headed in the general direction of the coast. But first, we had to deal with Lake Casitas. There is quite a bit of climbing and just a little heat to make things interesting 😉 The climbing was a little harder than I remembered it but everything feels different on a tandem. We were passed by three riders riding together but we ended up catching them at the stop at Carpinteria and left them for good. No one can really stay away from a tandem for too long. A good tandem team can reel in most riders through flat and rolling terrain.
MILE 138- RINCON POINT #5
Heading south from Carpinteria about mile 150ish I started to experience a lull. I get these lulls from time to time. You just have to keep the pedals turning and you eventually bounce back. Much of the return from Carpinteria I was out of touch. I just kept moving along without much intensity. Some of it is actually a blur.
MILE 165- POINT HUENEME CHECKPOINT #6
Pulling in to the last checkpoint I had to take a few minutes to collect myself. This was the longest stop at any checkpoint for us. We exited the last checkpoint with 165 miles on our legs and with Marc Patton and his friend Brook in tow. I felt better after my Coke. Lori later confessed to me that the last thirty-something miles were challenging for her. Marc Patton and I have done a few doubles together– leading from the front of course. One in particular was the Hemet Double Century with a time of 10:44 (race report). Marc is so fast that when Lori and I reached Ojai (about mile 100 ish) he was sitting down having lunch. He caught us, albeit 70 miles later. The good news is that for the first time in 170 + miles of riding alone without pacelines we finally had two strong riders that could share some of the pace-making with us.
We continued south with good tailwinds and two good strong riders. Moving at between 22mph and 25mph. According to the Garmin data our moving average speed was 22.7 mph! Almost 23 mph for 1.5 hours. And while that may not seem fast you must remember we were 170 miles into the event. Marc and Brook kept dropping us on the rollers but Marc would slow down enough to wait for us and take advantage of our draft going downhill and on the flats. It always hurts to go fast but there is a point in a Double Century where you put it all out there to “get ‘er done!” You put every last bit of energy reserve and ignore the conservation instinct — because what are you going to save it for? THIS is what you have been conserving your energy for– put the hammer down and finish it!
We were going so fast that I was pleasantly surprised when we reached Pepperdine University. I admit, going hard prevented me from being cognizant of where I was along the route and some of it is again– a blur. But there it is — there’s always a trade-off — go hard loose your bearings but you get it ‘er done quicker or go easier not hurt as bad but then you are counting down each.and.every.mile as you come to finish.
My goal was 12 hours. I was very surprised to finish at 11 hours and 20 minutes. I thank Lori for keeping it together on her first double and finishing strong. I would like to do a few more doubles with her but from my perspective the options are limited. I think the climbing on the Highland Double is just about right on a tandem. I personally don’t want to climb THAT much on a tandem.
The Grand Tour has about 7,000-7,500 feet of climbing concentrated in about 75 to 80 miles. I think having a little bit of flatland and rollers at the beginning and end of the event make for a good, honest day’s work on the tandem. I know there are people out there that have done events with more climbing. Take for example, my friend Dan Crain may he rest in peace, he has done the Everest Challenge on a tandem. But from where I sit, that’s not in my near future. I have immense amount of respect for people that do climbing DC’s on a tandem. I personally don’t have an interest to do that much suffering to go that slow.
When I posted my preliminary results on Strava one of my friends, actually extrapolated what my 400 mile time would have been. Why is there always someone out there that wants to see me suffer more? 😉
Jim “Gyrfalcon” Swarzman on the left
But seriously, I’m semi-retired from long distance cycling. I work too many hours and train far less than I used to years ago. As a matter of fact, we are at the end of June and this was my first Double Century of the year. On my limited free time I choose to spend that time with my seven-year old son. I also don’t like to ride at night without being crew supported. Safety is important to me, and while I can get hit by a car in broad daylight, I choose not to take on the additional risk of riding at night without having a follow vehicle behind me. Remember that these events begin on Saturday morning and the longer events will take you into the wee hours of Sunday morning. Which means you are out there on Saturday night when everyone is out partying and may not be making good choices and getting behind the wheel while intoxicated. The last thing a drunk driver expects to see on the road at 2am is a cyclist!
I started tapering off of overnight brevets a few years ago but when Jim Swarzman was struck and killed on a 600km Brevet that was the last straw. In the past, I did 400km and 600km events and didn’t give them a second thought — I did start to have second thoughts after Jim’s death. Now the only overnight event I do is the Furnace Creek 508. The event is run by AdventureCORPS, an organization that takes rider safety very seriously. During the Furnace Creek 508 I have a follow vehicle and I feel much safer during a 508 mile race over 35 hours (PR 37:34) in remote areas with very low traffic.
Lori is still all smiles at the end of the Grand Tour Highland Double Century
And what race report of mine would be complete without a short rant. Why do people insist on posting their times as “16:15 total time but my ride time was only 14:45”? It irritates me.
Firstly, the results are posted in total time. Who cares how fast you can ride from time station to time station it’s how fast you complete the total distance. Secondly, I contend that the only reason someone may be riding really fast between time stations is because they are then resting enough at each time station before heading out and going hard once again. I see Ultras as a war of attrition. Throughout the event I pass the riders with their jack-rabbit starts and no follow-through. They die on the vine when their nutrition plan fails or their legs give out from trying to hang with the lead pack– sadly I’ve been there too 😦 The riders that have the endurance to ride at a fast clip ALL day while continuing to go in the hole for calories, hydration and energy reserves are the true kings and queens of Ultra Cycling. Post your time in total time and that’s the end of it. If there is a big disparity between your ride and total time then you have a lot of work to do and just think how much faster you would be without taking those long stops at the aid statioins. However, I wish to share with you some tips on how to reduce 30 minutes off your next Double Century. I wrote those tips seven years ago and they still hold true today.
One good thing about finishing early is the BBQ that the LA Wheelmen put on at the finish. I have done The Grand Tour three other times and each time I have done the Triple Century. Needless to say, when you arrive after midnight you can’t expect the volunteers to be still serving up freshly BBQ’d chicken and Tri-Tip 😉 Furthermore, Lori and I didn’t take any support (we brought our own nutrition) during the entire 200 miles except water and two Pepsi’s. It was nice to sit down for a real meal at the end of the event. While I ate my meal I also enjoyed live jazz music how can you beat that? Thank you to all the volunteers that put on this great event.
Seeing this for 11 hours and 20 minutes gives a whole new meaning to being an endurance athlete 😉