Fall Death Valley Double Century Registration Opens

I just registered for the the Fall Death Valley Double Century.  This event sells out every year.  If you want to ride in some of the greatest scenery you have to sign up NOW!!  Only 300 lucky riders get a chance to ride in this event.  Click here to read important information regarding this special event and the follow the links to BikeReg.com

Online registration closes July 7, 2012 but I wouldn’t wait that long!

2012 Hell’s Gate Hundred Race Report

2012 Cannondale Super Six EVO with Di2, Dura-Ace SRM and Zipp 808’s

Official Results for the 2012 Hell’s Gate Hundred here

George “Red Eyed Vireo” Vargas places first at 2012 Hell’s Gate Hundred

an excerpt from the Chief Adventure Officer’s report

But Mother Nature can be cruel, and as we have said a million times, “any kind of weather is possible any time of the year in Death Valley.” Still, the riders in the Hell’s Gate Hundred handled the situation with aplomb and good cheer. Most turned around ahead of schedule, because as the wind was picking up speed to 30, 40, 50 mph or more, it was coming from the south, making for a nearly impossible human-powered return to Furnace Creek. Also, many riders, once they got off the course, hopped in their cars and mini-vans to go out and scoop up riders who needed a lift. We thank all the Good Samaritans who helped out!

One hundred and twenty-nine riders participated in the event, with just eight riders completing the full 100 miles, while at least ten riders completed the 65-mile “Metric Century” route”

Hell’s Gate Hundred Grade Analysis

Ride With GPS terrain map and playback here

Speed analysis

source: National Weather Service

First of all I wish to thank you for taking the time to visit my blog. I also wish to thank Cannondale Bicycles, SRM and my anonymous sponsor who makes it possible for me to race my bike— one of the true and pure pleasures in my life. I wish to thank AdventureCORPS for putting on a fantastic event on rarely traveled roads. And of course, no thank yous would be complete without thanking the tireless and unfortunately usually unappreciated efforts of the volunteers. Thank you for putting up with the weather and allowing me to ride.

I will attempt to describe for you my experience of the 2012 Hell’s Gate Hundred, a 100 mile 8,600 feet of climbing, event. I say “attempt” because the words sometimes escape me as I try to convey to those that weren’t there how difficult the state of affairs were this past Saturday in Death Valley.

Many of the things I will say about the arduous conditions of March 31, 2012 need to be taken in perspective. While there were very high winds and a high DNF rate for the Hell’s Gate Hundred, Death Valley is still an amazing place to visit and ride a bike. Death Valley is one of the most beautiful places I have ever had the pleasure to ride in. The scenery never ceases to amaze me no matter how many times I have ridden there. I’ve been racing and riding in Death Valley since 2003. I’ve done Centuries, seven Double Centuries, Six consecutive SOLO Furnace Creek 508‘s and many training rides. Sure I have had a couple windy days here and there but as a whole the weather has been spectacular. Extrapolate that out for the 50 some odd events AdventureCORPS has put on in Death Valley and what it really comes down to is this… windy event day = anomaly! More to the point, the previous four days before the Hell’s Gate Hundred the weather had been moderate and pleasant for the participants of CORPScamp.

We lined up for our pre-race safety brief from Race Director, Chris Kostman, at 6:20 ish for a 6:30 launch. Chris did mention to ride at your own risk and pedal yourself in. I wish more riders would have heeded his words of caution and exercised self-reliance.

I digress, at the start, I saw two familiar faces, Terry Lentz and Jim Whitford. I knew I was in the correct wave for the event. There were three waves but the prudent thing to do was leave on the earliest wave since the winds only pick up later in the afternoon. Terry in my opinion is one of the strongest riders I know and launching out with him in the first wave was essential to getting a good start on the day.

Terry Lentz and I before the start of the 2007 Furnace Creek 508 (Fixed Gear) we both rode our Fixed Gear bikes for 508 miles non-stop and 35,000 feet of climbing 

Furnace Creek start to Artist Drive

From the outset Terry, Jim and I formed a hasty and necessary alliance into the 20 mph headwinds as we headed towards the first real climb of the day, Artist Drive. Almost immediately after making the left turn onto Artist Drive Jim fell off the pace. I too struggled to stay with Terry. But I was determined to finish the Artist Drive loop with him and then let him go on the Daylight Pass climb. Artist Drive is short and steep Daylight Pass climb is a LOONG 16 mile grind… ahem climb. I managed to stay with Terry until the checkpoint. But once we left the checkpoint I was summarily dropped on one of the rollers by Terry and off he went. By the time I made the junction back to Badwater Road/Hwy 178 Terry was long gone… long gone!

Artist Drive Loop


Terry and I working the 10-12% grades on Artist Drive

While sucking Terry’s wheel I had the realization that he represented the purity of cycling. He was riding a steel frame that he fabricated himself. As far as I could tell his chain rings were 52/42 maybe 44 coupled to an 11-21 cassette controlled by downtube shifters. His box section low-profile alloy rims and his single bottle cage and bottle seemed more at home on a Sunday recovery ride and out of place in one of earth’s most inhospitable places – Death Valley. His thin short sleeved wool jersey, unshaven legs and helmet mirror would be scoffed at during the local club ride. But make no mistake his appearance IS deceiving. You will be hard-pressed to find a more talented endurance cyclist anywhere! To wit, no amount of high-tech carbon über light weight machine I had was going to help me keep up with Mr. Lentz.  I admit I love riding a steel bike as well. However, I am also very fortunate to have a Cannondale sponsorship.  Thank you Cannondale!

Artist Drive to Beatty Cut-off

Now back on Badwater Road the once 20 mph headwind felt like a nice gentle push on my back by Mother Nature’s hand. As if to say, “scurry along young man…” I took the helping hand from Mother Nature knowing that later I would have to repay the favor. I sailed along not overly exerting myself because I was headed towards a 16 mile climb at the end of the easy cruise from Artist Drive through Furnace Creek to the Beatty Cut-off. At this time, I was running in second place, with Terry ahead of me and Jim presumably behind me. As I pulled into the aid station at bottom of the long climb to Daylight Pass, I was alone with no one behind me. I was quite surprised to see two riders pull in just as I was leaving the aid station. So where was Jim then?

Beatty Cut-off Volunteer

Daylight Pass Climb

I started the long climb up to Daylight Pass with the intermediary checkpoint at Hell’s Gate. I settled in for the 16 mile climb knowing it should take me at least 1:30 hours (1:45 actual). I guess I was a little too optimistic lol! Shortly after beginning the climb I saw a rider rapidly closing ground on me. I didn’t recognize him as he went past nor did I try to pace off of him. I was in my own little world and I was quite content. Now I was running third. I knew his pace would be too fast for me.

A few minutes later here comes another rider who passes me. Now I’m running fourth. I usually take it hard when people pass me especially on a climb. I fancy myself a climber, which is to say I like to climb not that I’m a good climber. But today was not the day for letting your ego get in the way of accomplishing the mission or as I like to say “getting it done”. I let the second rider pass me without a worry in the world.  I was pacing myself off my power meter.  I knew what I needed to do to complete the 100 miles with plenty left in the tank on the last 25 miles.

Why don’t I have a worry in the world? First and foremost because the two riders that have passed me are unknown to me. I have not seen them on the century and double century circuit. And while I may be taking a risk my experience in this sport and my instinct tells me to let them go. Also I have not been training much and I didn’t expect a good result. I have averaged less than 100 miles a week for the last thee months.

What you need to understand about endurance cycling is that it’s not how fast you climb, or how fast you descend, or how fast you ride on the flats. Rarely has the KOM won the Tour de France. I remember one of my cycling heros, Eddie Merckx, won all the jerseys (overall, mountains and points) in the Tour 1969 and the Giro in 1968. But that was the Cannibal – the likes of which we may never see again. So then what is endurance cycling about if not how fast you can do this or that? It’s how little time you spend off the bike — resting, nature breaks, eating, chatting with others, telling war stories of battles that you haven’t finished yet. Endurance cycling is about pacing, perseverance, patience, being good at climbing, descending, riding flat terrain AND staying the bike. Endurance cycling is about conservation of energy and proper timing in expending your energy. Endurance cycling is about not chasing rabbits who are unknowns and don’t have the racing pedigree in what you consider your niche. Endurance cycling is knowing how to work all adversities in your favor including your arch nemisis Mother Nature. Endurance cycling is about the childhood stories of the tortoise and the hare. Endurance cycling is about a good nutrition plan and most of all, and pay attention and take notes because this IS important …. HAVING A STRONGER MIND THAN BODY.

Now back to the climb…there was an occasional tailwind as the road curved left curved right and again as you  headed in a Northerly direction. Thank you Mother, thank you for your gentle hand… the gentle push.

I reached Hell’s Gate 11 miles later. No sign of Terry, no sign of the 2nd place rider, but just as I’m pulling in the third place rider is leaving. By my calculation I haven’t lost too much ground or time to this rider and I am riding well within my limits. I am conserving for what I know is going to be a very difficult return leg. The forecast called for 40-60mph gusts. I’ve done this before. You take what Mother Nature gives you — smiling like a child given a bowl of ice cream and then at some point you argue with her like an angry teenager told to turn is music down when you battle the headwinds on the return leg.

Hell’s Gate Volunteers

Time to get a little more focused as the grade from Hell’s Gate to Daylight Pass is a little more persistent at preventing you from defying gravity. It’s only about 6% but It’s been a long climb already of 11 miles. A check of my “instruments” numbers are good — legs? good. nutrition? good. overall fatigue? good. Onward and upward …steady as she goes…I see the third placed rider up ahead every now and then as the road snakes it’s way up to the 4300 foot summit. I count off my gap to the him and I feel I’m close enough to not feel “dropped”

Daylight Pass to Rhyolite

I crest Daylight Pass and the third place rider is just leaving again. I’m guessing a couple of minutes is all I’ve lost to him on this 16 mile climb. At Daylight Pass I see my good friend Steve Barnes. It’s great to see him out here volunteering with his son. I descend off of Daylight Pass. I remembered feeling like it was a long way to Rhyolite. But for some reason it didn’t feel that far at all today. I’m expecting to see Terry heading back already. I know I have lost lots of time to him he’s been “off the front” of the race for many miles. I start to wonder if I’ve gambled and taken it too easy up the climb and allowed too much of a gap to the top three riders on the course. I see Terry a couple of miles from my turn to Rhyolite. He looks good. He looks strong. I then see the second place rider about a mile from the Rhyolite turn. Ok that’s one and two now let’s see where the third place rider is. Once again I reach the aid station and the third place rider has just exited. A quick refueling stop and I’m back on the road.

Volunteers at the furthest checkpoint – Rhyolite

I roll out of the stop on a gentle downhill back to the main road and I see one rider coming in. Now on the main road I see solo riders and an occasional pair working together. I count five or six and then I lose interest. The wind is strong but my energy level up to the task..still. It had been two years since the last time I did the climb up to Daylight Pass from Rhyolite. I couldn’t remember if the last combination of turns was a right first then a left or left and then a right to the clearing at the top.

Rhyolite to Daylight Pass

Dan Crain’s spirit was really strong today as I crested Daylight Pass for the second time today, It was there that I saw the Race Director, who was now turning people around and not allowing riders to continue through Daylight Pass and on to Rhyolite. From the top of Daylight Pass it is essentially a 20 mile out and back in and out of Nevada. The reason for his decision? The winds had continued to pick up on the valley floor and it was going to be very difficult for riders to finish the event under their own power. In my opinion, if you were still climbing up to Daylight Pass at this hour you really didn’t need to endure an additional 20 mile loop. I believe some riders were disappointed with having their ride shortened but I am quite certain Chris’s controversial yet sapient advice became more than apparent to them shortly thereafter. Once those riders hit the valley floor it should have been more than obvious that Chris had their safety in mind.

Descending from Daylight Pass down into the valley was, in a word, treacherous. As mentioned before, I was riding Zipp 808’s front and rear. So far during the day the wheels weren’t an issue. But in this canyon-like descent the winds were agley. They didn’t have a pattern from which I could predict which way to lean or where to put my body weight. It’s funny the things that go through your mind when descending a mountain with circling winds. I thought of Ayrton Senna (please watch the video). Senna was a Formula 1 driver for the ages. One of his many talents was his ability to drive in the rain. And there is a quote by one of the commentators “….Senna is a wet weather master!” That echoed in my head over and over again as I envisioned having a commentator assess my windy weather riding prowess. Yes in my mind I had become the “…windy weather master!”

What advice do I have for riding in the wind? Stay loose, stay relaxed be ready and vigilant for anything. Look at the vegetation– which way it is blowing and how far is it leaning over. Keep driving that rear wheel if even mentally YOU need to be in control of your machine. Keep pedalling as the gust comes and hunker down on your bike. Sitting up and not pedaling only creates a higher profile and essentially you are acting as a sail. Keep driving that rear wheel and keep power putting that power to the ground.

Daylight Pass to Beatty Cutoff

There were times when the wind would hit me so ferociously that it would take my current 30 mph speed and literally stop me. Once through the canyon-like section I approached Hell’s Gate. There was no need to stop for refueling. I sped ahead only to be greeted with significant head-on gusts that had me pedaling and yet barely doing double digit speeds. I saw plenty of riders standing alongside the road and passed many others fighting their way to go downhill. It’s sounds incredulous but yes we had to pedal to go downhill. Even with all this effort of pedaling I am barely doing 10 mph.  It’s tough going for everyone today. I’m proud of those riders for pushing themselves and pedaling themselves in to the finish.

Descent from Hell’s Gate – note the sandstorm on the valley floor

I reach the bottom and see the third place rider sitting on an ice chest with his head in his hands. I have enormous respect for his efforts thus far but now it seems he’s bitten off more than he can chew. He doesn’t look like he can be roused up from his languor. It is now that my patience and experience in riding in these conditions that things start to pay off. You know this isn’t my first rodeo 😉 Don’t chase rabbits, don’t over exert, pace properly stay on the bike and stay fueled and a race takes on a whole different dimension on the latter stages just like when the two minute warning is given in a football game.

Beatty Cut-off to Furnace Creek

I roll on. I’m down to the last 11 miles to the finish. I am running in third place again and while there won’t be a podium I like to think that I have a podium finish as long as I stay the course and finish. You see my mantra while riding these events plays over and over in my head….It’s about suffering and getting it done. The thing is many people do these events. But only a few suffer, even fewer LIKE to suffer consequently  even fewer get it done. These two components go together they go hand in hand like peanut butter and jelly, Abbott and Costello and Tom and Jerry. You must always know, be aware, and more importantly, embrace the suffering that comes with endurance cycling and then GET IT DONE! Because in my opinion, doing only the suffering is like a dancer not performing because she has blisters on her feet….the show must go on! I say this to most of my friends and newcomers to endurance cycling  and fledgling ultra cyclist — MOST PEOPLE DON’T LIKE TO SUFFER.  They don’t want to do the requisite work i.e. training that it takes to become a good endurance cyclist.

My last 11 miles were purely a mental exercise. It was a test of my mind, will power, against the steadfast resolve of Mother Nature’s adroit ability to change wind direction and speed. She made it interesting, I’ll give her that. Her ability to change the wind speed continuously as adept as an iPod can randomly shuffle your 10,000 song music library from Metallica to Liberace.  I imagined her sitting at the finish line saying “Ok try this one… not bad. Ok try this one, ahh I got you on that one didn’t I? Alright now try this!” She was intent on testing me but I was resolute in finishing. I did the math in my head many times….”the course closes at 5pm…I’ve got four hours….I’ve got three hours….” GETTING IT DONE was tantamount to that “podium” finish.

Numerous volunteers drove up next to me and offered me a ride in. I understood their good nature but I couldn’t understand why they would think with 10 and then 8, then 5 and then 2 miles from the finish I would quit. That’s right … getting a ride in was akin to quitting.  I’m not a quitter.  I am 5 time Furnace Creek 508 finisher — 508 miles non-stop and 35,000 feet of climbing.  I’ve completed RAAM 2 person when my partner DNF’d and I finished the 3,000 mile race on my own.  I appreciate all of you that asked me if I needed to SAG in but today was not the day. I was going to finish this under my own power even if I walked in. It took me an hour and 48 minutes to finish those last 11 miles into 50 mph + gusts!  That’s right that is barely 6 mph average speed for a so-called accomplished ultra cyclist …but I DID finish!  I GOT IT DONE! While 100’s didn’t finish!

Preceding three photos last few miles
Final thoughts
I was lucky enough to ride Friday on the last day of CORPScamp. After my fully supported ride, attending a yoga class I felt nice and relaxed before the Hell’s Gate Hundred. I like this course because it’s well organized, like all AdventureCORPS events, there is very little traffic, no street lights, and there are only five turns all day! No route sheet required!! You get to ride some great roads, with great pavement and different climbs than those offered on either of the spring or fall double and century routes. You get to visit a real life ghost town, Rhyolite as well. A town that rose from nothing in 1905 and then declined just as quickly by 1920.
All smiles at the finish, George “Red Eyed Vireo” Vargas, 8:02 finishing time at the 2012 Hell’s Gate Hundred
Ever wonder why AdventureCORPS events in Death Valley are a little pricier than other events? Here’s one reason the paramedics are driven in from far away and their standby time has to be paid for. You may never need them but if you get injured it is a long way from Death Valley to a proper medical facility. Thank you guys for being there.
I would like to make a comment about the results. Currently, I am posted as first on the official results. I do know that Terry Lentz pulled out and he was running first. So then that would put me in at second place. But there was one rider that was still ahead of me and I don’t know his whereabouts. He passed me on the climb to Daylight Pass and I saw he was still in the event at the Rhyolite turnaround. He might not have checked in at the finish which technically makes him a DNF. But there was quite a lot going on at the finish line and maybe just maybe there is a good reason for him going MIA.

Hell’s Gate Hundred ….Windstorm

101 miles 8,600 feet of climbing.

Just a quick note until my race report is ready to be published.  The forecast called for high winds and the weather man got it right.  When we started the event we had 20mph headwinds.     Eight hours later when I finished, what should have been a 6 hour century,  they were at least 50 mph.  Unofficially, I believe I came in 3rd.  More to come…

Official results for the 2012 Hell’s Gate Hundred should be posted here

Fitness Check for Hell’s Gate Hundred

Do you remember a previous post when I mentioned that my body must have been telling me something? Well it definitely was telling me something.  I had been working so hard that week and not sleeping well.  I rode Wednesday about 45 miles at tempo.  Thursday I had a crappy ride and turned around.  Friday I had a better  ride.  But by late Friday afternoon I wasn’t feeling well at all.  By Saturday morning I had a full-on cold. I spent the week going to bed early, sleeping in and not riding.  I kicked it in a week! But more importantly I strongly believe I beat the common cold by increasing my  L-Glutamine doses from Aminopure.

It was my first cold of the season.  I didn’t catch a cold after the Furnace Creek 508 in October.  I didn’t catch a cold or flu when all my shop mates were sick through November, December, January and February but finally in March I got something. Again I strongly believe I owe my immune system’s strength to Aminopure!



ANYway I got a chance to do two hours on Saturday 3/24 and so I went to Torrey Pines in San Diego and did 5 repeats.  A short ride but I wanted to see if I could ride at intensity since I am heading out to Death Valley for the Hell’s Gate Hundred.  Hell’s Gate Hundred is a century in Death Valley with about 10,000 feet.  It is a great event put on by the best organizers in the business AdventureCORPS.

I felt ok, actually much better than expected.  I did the repeats at different intensities and different gear ratios.  I think I will be in decent shape to complete the event but not too compete for the “win”.  I guess I was just checking how much I was going to suffer knowing I wasn’t going to place well.  😉

Here is a summary of the repeats

Repeat Time Normalized Power w/kg
1 6:21 321 4.72
2 5:43 304 4.47 Inside
3 8:01 239 3.51
4 6:58 286 4.21
5 7:19 262 3.85

Torrey Pines Outside 6:21 Normalized Power 321 4.7 w/kg

For more Climb Analysis Data visit my page dedicated to climbs.


AdventureCORPS Event Schedule for 2012

I’m really excited to write this blog post.  The schedule for AdventureCORPS 2012 events is now published online.  As many of you know I ride a lot of the AdventureCORPS events during the year.  I find the AdventureCORPS events to be the best organized events available.  Chris Kostman, Chief Adventure Officer, puts a lot of effort towards creating safe and challenging route.  On the day of the event his volunteers provide excellent quality of care towards all participants.  Furthermore, Chris can be seen roving the entire route enforcing common sense rules of the road to ensure your safety.

Here is a quick recap of the AdventureCorps events I did last year.

I did the Spring Death Valley Double Century under very windy conditions.  You can read my blog report here.  On that crazy day only nine cyclists finished the double out of a 100 or so (just a guess on total starters).  Yours truly finished first. One of my proudest moments!

I was very sick for the Hell’s Gate Hundred and could not participate 😦

I did the Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic blog report here.

And of course my favorite event the Furnace Creek 508.

Here is the line up for 2012

March 3 Death Valley Century, Ultra Century, and Double Century – Spring Edition:

March 27-31 CORPScamp Death Valley:

Really excited about CORPScamp.  I might be able to attend this year.  In short it is a five day cycling camp in some of the best riding anywhere on the planet!!

From the website:

The original CORPScamp features five days and 300 or more (or less) miles of epic, one-of-a-kind cycling in and around “Mother Nature’s Greatest Sports Arena,” Death Valley National Park. We’ve been producing events here since 1990 and we never tire of sharing one of the world’s most dramatic, inspiring, and unusual landscapes. From desert flowers to snow-capped mountains, we’ll see it all by bicycle. Bring a camera or nobody will believe your stories!

CORPScamp Death Valley features a specific route each day, with route sheets, support vehicle on the course, and two or more ride leaders. The group is encouraged to ride together at a conversational pace for the first ten miles, then everyone is free to ride at their own pace; most routes feature various distance options, too. Each afternoon at CORPScamp features “The Yoga Social” with a rejuvenating yoga class taught by a fellow cyclist. CORPSyoga is designed for all camp participants, regardless of yoga background, or lack thereof, and is designed to help each camper unwind, accelerate recovery for the next day’s adventure, minimize the chance of injury, and rejuvenate and restore energy balance. Social time before and after the actual yoga class gives everyone a chance to swap stories while enjoying herbal tea. Each camp also includes two group dinners, plus optional hikes and other outings. Every activity is optional, though; campers are free to “check out any time you like” if they want a break, extra rest, or private time.

March 31 Hell’s Gate Hundred:

April 21 Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic:

October 6-8 Furnace Creek 508 (applications accepted March 5-19 only):
October 27 Death Valley Century, Ultra Century, and Double Century – Fall Edition (entry opens June 1):
Please consider AdventureCORPS in your 2012 ride calendar!  I hope to see you “out there”

2011 Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic Report

I know I know it’s long overdue. I have been working so much and still trying to train that my blogging has really fallen off. I apologize to you, my readers, for not providing more prompt reports of my “suffering and getting it done” adventures.

So here is the quick down and dirty on the Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic. I finished with a time of 6:54 which was good for 19th overall.  I’m actually shocked because with my time being 40 minutes slower than last year I thought I would have been mid-pack.  This year there were 133 finishers of the three loop course.  Interestingly enough, my 6:14 time (11th) from last year would have put me at almost the exact same place this year.  I would have been 10th this year.  If you’ve been reading my blog you might remember a post I made about my goal being sub 6 hours.  Well my work schedule changed and with it my training plan.  I had Friday off before the event and so I rode a century with 5,000 feet of climbing.  More on that later….

Over the years, I have come to the realization that I am a much better Double Century rider.  I fair better on the Double Century circuit than I do in the climbing century realm.  I love to climb but I know placing high is not in the cards for me in shorter events.  The benevolence of my sponsor allows me to participate in these climbing centuries.  I ride hard, follow good wheels and hope for the best.

Here is a quote from Event Promoter, Chris Kostman of AdventureCORPS:

“We had 200 participants (31 female and 169 male, from age 26, Jeremey Stromsoe, to age 76, Skip Nevell). Nine riders completed the 45-mile route, 56 riders completed the 75-mile route, and 133 riders completed the full 101-mile route. Just two DNF’d.”


George “Red-Eyed Vireo” Vargas places 19th overall at the Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic (6:54:50)



Before I move into the meat and potatoes of my report I would like to thank the staff and volunteers of the Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic.  AdventureCORPS, puts on very organized and well supported events.  Chris Kostman provides the structure and framework necessary so that his volunteers can provide exceptional support during the event.  All you have to do is make sure your bike is in top running condition, make sure you’re fit, because his events are challenging, and then just show up and RIDE YOUR BIKE!  AdventureCORPS takes care of the rest!!  I strongly recommend AdventureCORPS events!

BIKE –Sasha Cervelo Soloist SL or SLC- SL.  SRM 7900 wireless crankset power meter with PowerControl 7 head unit.  Crankset 53/39 and 11/28 cassette.  Dura-Ace C24 wheels, Shimano Electronic Dura-Ace Di2, Zipp ZedTECH 2 wheels weight of the bike was 15 lbs

CLOTHING– Simple Green cycling kit, LAS helmet, base layer, Defeet wool Kneekers, Defeet wool gloves, Simple Green Arm Warmers, Swiftwick Merino Wool Socks,  Oakley Jawbones, Shimano R315 cycling shoes with Sidas insoles provided by Fizik.

NUTRITION -Loop 1 INFINIT NUTRITION Loop 2–  Infinit Nutrition and Hammer Nutrition Loop 3– Hammer Nutrition.  Hammer Nutrition was provided by AdventureCORPS and makes refueling much faster than packing more Infinit Nutrition in baggies.


I mentioned earlier in this post that I’ve been working a lot.  My available ride time has been impacted significantly this year.  Hence, my training plan has shifted significantly as well.  I now only ride 2-3 hours at much higher intensity during the week.  On my days off I try to get one sub 6 hour century and then follow it up with another hard ride of equal or slightly shorter distance.

What follows is not training advice for those looking to compete and finish high in the standings at a climbing century at the end of the week.  My goals are much different than most of the riders that participated in the MLBC.  I wanted to show up tried to the Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic (MLBC).  Why would I do that?  Because the only event I really want to do well in is the Furnace Creek 508 in October.  The Furnace Creek 508 is a 508 mile non-stop event with 35,000 feet of climbing.  So at strategic times of the year I ride two hard centuries back to back to see how my fitness is coming along.  I know I’m ready for the Furnace Creek 508 when I can do back to back centuries at high intensity.  If I could ever score three straight days off of work I would do three hard centuries.  These hard days prepare me physically and mentally for the ardor of the 508.  Here is what I did on the week leading up to the Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic.

Monday is “always” a rest day

Tuesday – 2:40 part of the ride solo then met up with group on the hardest part of their ride then solo again. Cadence drills over 100 rpm and high wattage

Wednesday– 2:10 solo ride 10 minute intervals at 3 w/kg, 3.5 w/kg, 4 w/kg then a 60 minute Perceived Effort interval (blind no power meter feedback)

Thursday– Hill work on Newport Coast. Warm-Up then Sprints and Surges to reach Newport Coast Drive then 4 repeats outlined below:

1.  2 minutes at 3.5 w/kg then 3 minutes at 4 w/kg then 4.5 w/kg then the last-minute at 5 w/kg.

2.  8 minutes at 4 w/kg

3.  Freeride- sprinting out of saddle when I recovered (blind no power meter feedback) 

4.  An excerpt from my training log-- "Pelican Hill sprints and surges on inclines. I felt gassed, couldn't go that hard.  But I was surprised when I made the junction to
 Newport Coast because I thought I had so much more to climb."

Friday– a sub 6 hour 106 mile 5,000 feet “century”  — The Canyons Loop  – Newport Beach South on PCH to Dana Point, East on Del Obispo, CLIMB Antonio Parkway, CLIMB Live Oak Canyon, CLIMB Santiago Canyon, CLIMB Silverado Canyon, back to the coast.  Then from Newport Beach to Seal Beach with 10 minute intervals at 3.5 w/kg and then a 20 minute 3.5 w/kg interval on the return to Newport Beach.  Needless to say by Saturday I was tired.  But I planned that way.

The Canyons Loop Century done on Friday the day before Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic

George “Red-Eyed Vireo” Vargas at the start of the Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic
My friend and Epic Training athlete Carlo 

Map of the Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic 



I lined up just before 6am.  I found a few familiar faces, Dave Elsberry, Steve Boniface, Jerry Cook and I caught a glimpse of Ton Van Delan.  As we rolled out I was at the tail-end of the first wave of 50 riders.  Down we went on the first descent and it was time to close the gap on the first riders.  We rode hard the first few miles.  I could feel how tired my legs were from the previous week of training.  That first little climb to Gutay really hurts when you’re not warmed up.  Steve, Dave’s trusty lieutenant, set the early hard pace.  A few miles down the road I had to let him go.  I settled into my own groove with another Steve.  We chatted a bit but he started to have troubles and so I rode on.  I would ride alone from before the first summit of Mount Laguna to the finish.  Many times I second guessed my decision of the training plan I had followed the previous week.  I was tired and I lacked the snap in my legs.  Getting up at 3am to drive down to Pine Valley from Orange County didn’t help my recovery either.  I kept my mind occupied envisioning a great showing at the Furnace Creek 508 in October.  I told myself that the 508 is all that matters and that made getting dropped that much easier to handle.

I arrived at the first summit of Mount Laguna at 2:20.  It was approximately 8:20 am.  I noticed that the 22.5 mile marker was near the aid station.  That little detail became vitally important in the latter stages of the event.

Start to summit of Mount Laguna on Loop 1

3,400 feet of gain in 34 miles

Decent of Loop 1 and Climb of Loop 2

I descended alone from the summit of Mount Laguna. I stayed alone until just before the Kitchen Creek gated section where I was passed by one rider.   The approach to the Kitchen Creek gated area is tougher in my opinion than the gated area.  You can tell by looking at the graph below that CADENCE (green) and POWER (yellow) decline as my TORQUE (grey) increases.  This is a visual representation of a steep grade.  Most people think their POWER goes up on steep grades and that’s true to a certain extent.  But TORQUE really goes up on steeper grades.  TORQUE puts a lot of twisting forces onto your frame but doesn’t propel you forward as well as POWER does.

Once into the gated area I started to feel much better. The grade wasn’t as steep and I found my climbing groove again.  I passed Dave Elsberry on this climb and didn’t see him again until the finish.  I was passed by a couple of riders near the junction to the main road near the summit of Mount Laguna.

Kitchen Creek climb in its entirety from the lowest point on Old Hwy 80 to the summit at Mount Laguna

3,000 feet of gain in 15 miles

Descent of Loop 2

The second descent off of Mount Laguna was very welcomed indeed.  I was getting fatigued and I needed a few minutes of recovery.  The temperature was rising.  As I began the descent I wondered  how hot the Pine Creek climb was going to be.  But as soon as those thoughts came I had to push them aside so that I could concentrate on the descent. I had to hydrate and refuel! I told myself now is the time to get some fluids and calories in me.  It’s really hard to refuel on the 15% grades that Pine Creek so graciously presents to you as a challenge.

Loop 3 Pine Creek

I was in and out of Pine Valley in less than 30 seconds.  Thanks to the support of the Adobo Velo crew!!  My legs were really tired by the time I hit Pine Creek Road.  Oh my god does that road suck the life out of you.  I was riding a 53/39 crankset and an 11-28.  I didn’t walk and I suffered because of it.  Many times I thought, “You’re barely going 4 mph, surely you can walk faster than that!”  But I stayed focused because I didn’t want that stigma that comes from walking on a climb.  And really isn’t that just silly?  There were plenty of times I was on 20% grades out of the saddle just  to turn over so I could stay upright for one more revolution.  Last year I rode a compact crankset with a 50/34 and an 11-25 cassette.  But this year I was riding my standard chain ring 53/39 SRM 7900 Dura-Ace wireless crankset.  I rarely ever need a compact and had I not done a century the day before I would not have suffered as much as I did.  One pedal stroke after another until I finally hit the main road.  I hit the main road and noticed the mile marker was 27.5.  Do you remember earlier I said that knowing the location of the aid station at mile marker 22.5 would be valuable?  I later heard from many riders that the final section of climbing to the final aid station was hard on them mentally.  I knew exactly where I was and how many miles were left until the last descent into Pine Valley.  It pays to pay attention to your surroundings.

Notice from Mile 4 to mile 6.5 how much time is spent going between grades 10% – 20%!!

Training Peaks WKO Pine Creek Climb

The Final Descent into Pine Valley

Final thoughts

Do I regret not going after the sub 6 hour goal I had establish a few weeks before the event? NO! Do I feel I shouldn’t have ridden a century with 5,000 feet of climbing and hard intervals the day before the Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic? NO! Am I happy with my final results? YES! Did I suffer?  YES!  Did I get it done? YES!  What would I change if I had a chance to do it over again?  NOTHING! OK so there you have it George “Red-Eyed Vireo” completes the Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic.

Next up for the Red-Eyed Vireo- Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic

For the those waiting on the Hell’s Gate Hundred race report I’m sorry to disappoint you but I didn’t do the event.  I was very sick and had to bow out.  However, I volunteered on the course.  This Saturday, April 16 is the Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic. My time last year was 6:14  (11th) you may find the results here and my report here.  My goal is sub 6 hours.  The numbers for last year’s event were — a total of 131 riders (17 females, 114 males) completed all three loops for 101 miles, 54 riders (12 females, 42 males) completed two loops for 77 miles, 3 (all female) riders completed the first loop, and 12 riders completed an unknown number of miles and loops.  This is one of the best places to ride in San Diego if you can make the ride GO FOR IT!


What’s Next for The Red-Eyed Vireo? Hell’s Gate Hundred

I will be doing the Hell’s Gate Hundred 101 miles 8,500 feet in Death Valley.   Last year’s race report is here.  My goal is sub six hours-last year 6:55.  This is a great event in my favorite remote riding place … Death Valley. AdventureCorps puts on a very well supported and challenging event.  I thoroughly enjoyed the pain and suffering last year and that’s why I’m going back.

2011 Spring Death Valley Double Century Race Report

Wow, I don’t know where to begin. Saturday’s win was very emotional for me.  When I found myself off-the-front of the race for the last 150 miles I kept telling myself “you deserve this! you’ve trained hard. You’ve trained through this winter – in the wind, in the rain, at night, and woken up to ride in the pre-dawn morning cold.  You deserve this! Don’t do anything stupid! Don’t fade! Stay strong! Stay fueled! Stay on the bike! Shorter stops!” Yes I talk to myself lol!  I end up being alone in most events.  It is the life of an Ultra Cyclist… being alone – alone in your training,  alone in a race since drafting is often prohibited,  alone at night,  alone in the worst weather conditions alone in the wilderness…


Above you will find the results from the event.  The finisher’s list is really only 9 riders because the other 300 riders Did Not Finish (DNF)

I digress, this win has been a long time coming.  I began doing the Death Valley Double Centuries in 2003. Since then my results have consistently improved year after year. I would have been a good investment if I was stock in your portfolio.

2003 Fall Southern Route official results 14:42   my report 14th

2004 Fall Southern Route official results 12:46   12th

2004 Spring Northern Route official results 12:31  my report 11th

2006 Fall Northern Route official results 12:11  my report 10th

2009 Spring Southern Route official results my blog report— Tandem (not racing this year)

2010 Fall Northern Route official results– 11:38 –   3rd

2010 Spring Southern Route official results my blog report–11:07 –   2nd

As recently as the 2010 Spring Double I placed 2nd (11:07) to Phil Kelley. In the 2010 Fall Double I placed third (11:38) behind Brian Davidson, Emperor Moth, and Daniel Eitman.  This year’s Spring Double will be remembered for its stormy weather.  You can actually tell your friends and coworkers that you rode in conditions that provided headwinds in both outgoing and return legs.  It will also be remembered as the day hundreds of cyclists fought Mother Nature but only a handful had the temerity to accomplished their goal.  Many different things have to go right, especially over a 200 mile distance, for a win. I was fortunate, determined, and ultimately victorious.

I didn’t hurt more than any other time.  I was suffering sure, but the pain felt proportional to the effort and the weather conditions.  You know how sometimes you’re riding and you feel like your tires are sinking into the hot tarmac?  Or you feel like your brakes are dragging?  I didn’t feel any of that.  I just felt like I was working really hard and I was seeing the results of my efforts.  I thought about Pete Penseyres and his 1986 RAAM when he said nothing hurt.

For those who don’t know the name he is a legend in the Ultra Cycling community. In 1986, he set the record for the fastest average speed (15.40 Mph) in Race Across America, a record that still stands 25 years later! In that year, he said nothing hurt, he didn’t need much sleep and he was just riding his bike.  I will never pretend to compare myself to Pete.  What I will say is that when I ride there are things that I replay in my head such as: articles I’ve read, songs I love and conversations I’ve had.  One such conversation I replayed over and over on Saturday was speaking with Pete at RAAM start 2009.  His recount of his 1986 RAAM experience kept me turning those pedals.  Not only is he a great Ultra Cyclist but a great guy to boot!

Cervelo Soloist SL or Cervelo SLC-SL with Zipp 808’s, Shimano Di2, SRM 7900 Wireless Power Meter, Fizik Airone Versus

Did You Know?
Badwater Basin, in Death Valley National Park, is the lowest place in North America and one of the lowest places in the world at 282 feet below sea level. The Dead Sea, between Israel and Jordan, is the lowest at 1371 feet below sea level.



BIKE- Sasha my Cervelo Soloist SL AKA Cervelo SLC-SL. Crankset 53/39 Cassette 11-23.  Zipp 808 Tubulars, Shimano Di2 components, SRM 7900 Wireless Power Meter with Power Control 7, Profile Design CSX Clip-on Aerobars.  Fizik Versus Saddle

CLOTHING- Bike Religion Bib Shorts made by Santini with gel chamois, Woolistic Long Sleeve Base Layer, Short Sleeve Simple Green/Bike Religion team jersey and Swiftwick Merino 4″ socks

NUTRITION- Maintained an average of 250 calories per hour.  My calories came from Infinit Nutrition in my bottles at the start, homemade gel made with Infinit Nutrition, and supplemented with the nutrition provided by the event.

Notice the time for wheels not rolling is only about 11 minutes.  I stopped at six aid stations.  That means my average stop was about 1 min 45 secs per aid station.  Not bad but I have to get faster than that. I didn’t go potty for almost 14 hours either. Honestly, I can’t believe I was off the bike that long.  How can I have been off the bike 11 minutes when I thought I was only at the stops 30 seconds refilling bottles?

The first wave rolled at 6:10 am from the Furnace Creek Ranch.  As soon as we made the right turn onto Hwy 127, one mile from the start, I felt the really strong headwinds (steady 20mph-30mph).  Heading out to Ashford Mills (Mile 45.5) we quickly established a small breakaway of six riders.  We, Red Rooster, Escape Goat, Wolverine, Daniel Eitman, a rider I didn’t recognize, and myself, the Red-Eyed Vireo. worked well together.  Do you notice something?  Four out of the six man breakaway are Furnace Creek 508 solo veterans or 508’ers as some call us.    I took very short pulls and hid behind bigger riders.  We were doing between 12-15mph fighting that damn headwind.

Question- when can a breakaway be established while only going 12-15mph?

Answer- When the wind is over 30 mph! Riders at the start of the 200 miles did not want to exert too much energy so they got dropped and the six of us pulled away.

Incredibly the wind was so strong that there wasn’t any advantage to drafting behind another rider.  The wind just wrapped around the rider in front of you and hit you squarely in the face, chest everywhere.  We tried echelons right and echelons left, we tried straight pace lines nothing  worked!

Three Furnace Creek 508 Solo veterans off-the-front George “Red-Eyed Vireo” Vargas, Eric “Red Rooster” Wilson, Josh “Escape Goat” Talley

George “Red-Eyed Vireo” Vargas

As you can see from the photo above I was riding Zipp 808 tubular wheels which are 82mm deep.  I was having troubles keeping the front wheel under control when the wind would shift direction very quickly and become a crosswind.  Needless to say I spent very little time in the aerobars.  My position relative to the wind AND the rider in front of me were both very important.  Not just because I was looking to be shielded from the wind but because I needed to hold a good line for the rider behind me.  When the wind would shift slightly it would violently take me off my line and startle the rider behind me.  The key for me over the first 45 miles was to ride smart, stay covered and conserve energy.  The Zipp 808 wheels were unquestionably the worst wheel choice for that day but that is what I packed for the race and I didn’t have a choice.  I had made homemade Infinit Nutrition gel and stayed on top of my fueling regiment.  I already had an idea this was going to be a longer than normal double and being more aware of my fueling needs would be the key just to complete the event.  I had planned for 12 hours of nutrition but as you will see it took way longer than that. I was going to come up short with my self-contained nutrition strategy.

As I learned years ago, the lead group blows past the Badwater checkpoint at (Mile 17.7) and doesn’t take any support (fuel or water).  When you line up at the start you should be prepared to ride from Furnace Creek to Ashford Mills (45.5 miles) if you want to ride with the lead group.  Under normal weather conditions that’s not usually a problem.  Typically there are tandems at the front and the pace is fairly high.   Spring 2010 I was part of the lead group and we reached Ashford Mills in less than 2 hours.  This year with the winds it took us 3 hours and 6 minutes to cover those first 45 miles.

At Ashford Mills (Mile 47.7) I made every effort to be the first to pull in and the first to roll out of the stop.  Three scoops in each bottle for the long trek (time wise) from Ashford Mills to Shoshone (75 miles).  I had a small gap from the aid station and saw two riders approaching.  It was Escape Goat, and Daniel Eitman.  I spoke to them about working together to stay away for the rest of the day.  However, each time I got to the front to set tempo on the climb I would pull away.  So I rolled off a couple of times, sat behind them and let them set the pace.  After the third time of me rolling off I just told them that I had to go.  I was feeling good on the climb and knew this is where I needed to make my move.  I climbed Jubilee Pass (El 1290) and Salsberry Pass (El 3315) alone with no one in sight behind me.  When you feel good and you feel like you are on a good day you make your move.   We are a close knit group in the ultra community.  You ask and encourage your breakaway companions to come with you.  But there comes a time when a gentlemen’s agreement is formed and you take your leave and pursue your dreams and your goals.

I was in and out of the Shoshone  aid station (Mile 74.4) as quickly as possible.  My goal was to get back to Ashford Mills as soon as possible BEFORE the winds shifted to take advantage of what should be a tailwind.

On my way back from Ashford Mills (Mile 103.2) I caught a tailwind for just a few miles. I was going 25-30 mph.  I was so happy to not be fighting the headwinds anymore.  I had fought them for 100 miles already!  I was thinking “awesome my strategy worked”.  Killing myself over the previous 50 miles over the climbs had put me back on the valley floor with a tailwind.  I thought I could really make time while the others were still climbing.  But then BAM! all of a sudden I hit a wall of wind.  The scary thing was I could see the storm front moving in.

In the valley, there is nothing to stop or even slightly slow down the wind.  No buildings or trees at all.  Death Valley is basically a funnel or more appropriately today it was a wind tunnel. Riding in the wind is more mental than physical it wears on you and wears on you and wears on you some more!  Of course, it’s harder to push the pedals against the wind but what’s much tougher is looking down and seeing that all that effort is only moving you at 6 mph. Yes, that’s how slow I was going for extended periods of time.  It’s so discouraging.  I was doing the math in my head calculating my current average speed and the miles I still had left to ride in the double.  When I ran the numbers it was quite daunting.  I then thought, “I just need to get to Badwater (Mile 130) and reassess”.

You can see the storm front moving through the valley in these pictures.

But getting to Badwater wasn’t easy. The wind was so strong (steady 35mph- 40mph) and gusting to 50 mph that I didn’t receive any help from the century riders on their return leg.  You could see the storm front coming down the valley.  It was an awesome sight! This white wall of water, ice and sand moving its way south through the valley as you were heading North — eventually this wall smacked me in the fasce. My thoughts were, “Brace for impact lol! This is going to hurt!” Headwinds in both directions are very discouraging but remember stay the course and things will turn for the better.

The wind was blowing so strong it reminded me of the 2009 Furnace Creek 508 – a 508 mile non-stop ultra with 35,000 feet of climbing.  I will never forget how strong the headwinds were that year.  Let me set the stage.  The Furnace Creek Ranch is Mile 252, Time Station #3 during the Furnace Creek 508.  It was around midnight when I left the Furnace Creek time station en-route to Shoshone.  Little did I know it would be mid morning before I would reach the next time station.  74 miles took me 10 hours and 41 minutes!

It was dark and the only thing you could see were the blinkies of bikes and the amber flashing lights of the follow vehicles in front of you.  The winds were steady at 40mph and they were gusting to 60+ mph.  Here is an excerpt from my race report of my 2009 Furnace Creek 508. Remember I said that I replay things in my head  — one of the things I replayed in my head was Isabelle Drake and I leapfrogging each other and motivating each other to ride through the windstorm to the other side.  When you get a chance you should read the rest of the post.

“Daybreak did bring slightly better conditions but only slightly. Or was it that I was refreshed from the hour off the bike? One thing I’d like to mention is the tenacity and will power Isabelle Drake, who was part of a 2X Sandhill Cranes, displayed while on the Furnace Creek to Shoshone leg. She battled through the night in short spurts just like I did. We would leap-frog each other and give each other motivation to continue. One time when I pulled over exhausted she even said to me,  “Don’t you stop [quit] and leave me out here!” Isabelle you’re an inspiration. I’m proud of you and glad to have witnessed your ride!”

Here are comments made by the Race Director regarding the winds at the 2009 edition of the Furnace Creek 508

“Turning east onto Towne Pass, the 10-mile, 5000 foot ascent which is the entryway to Death Valley, the (wind) began to blow in a less favorable direction. By the time the racers started to traverse Death Valley proper, near the giant sand dunes at Stove Pipe Wells, the wind was blowing a steady 30mph from the south, with sand blowing across the road like a river.

As the race route turned due south on the way to Furnace Creek (the halfway mark) and beyond to Badwater, the wind was blowing straight in the racers’ faces at 30mph or faster, with gusts up to 50 to 60mph. Some racers walked their bikes into the wind. Many averaged no more than about 5mph through the night. Race leaders required over six hours to cover the 73 miles from Furnace Creek to Shoshone. The wind truly terrorized the competitors in this year’s race, easily outblowing the “thermonuclear headwinds” of the 2004 race.”


“29 of 59 solos finished = 49.1%. That is the lowest finishing rate in a decade (finishing averages went up when the race organizers implemented a selection process, rather than first come, first serve, to determine the race field). The historical solo finishing average is 58.6% (638 of 1088 entrants) after 25 races on this race route.   Source

It might have taken race leaders over six hours to complete the Furnace Creek -Shoshone section during the 2009 Furnace Creek 508 but it took me over 10 hours. The race leaders were far ahead of me as they entered Death Valley as such the avoided the worst part of the windstorms that us midpack riders had to experiences.

Now here I was in 2011 in Death Valley again battling headwinds…IN BOTH DIRECTIONS!  Tell me again why I have to be present during such epic wind conditions during my races in Death Valley?  Oh right because doing an 1 hour Criterium (going around in circles) in an industrial park doesn’t do anything for me.  But they call that “real racing” when I talk to them ha!! Oh OK got it now 😉

You may be asking yourself why am I talking so much about 2009 Furnace Creek 508 when this is a 2010 Spring Valley Double Century race report?  Right?  Well the main reason is that the wind conditions were far worse on the 2009 Furnace Creek 508.  Knowing I had survived that horrible windstorm in 2009 allowed me the mental strength to keep going.  Again, something else I replayed in my head was how bad I suffered on that night.  I thought about how much I doubted myself and my ability to continue.  I thought about how much will power it took for me to get to Shoshone.  And once I put things in perspective, I realized that the winds I was experiencing were not as bad as they were in the 2009 Furnace Creek 508.  There was no way I was going to DNF this Double Century.  Ever since the 2009 Furnace Creek 508 , I no longer look at headwinds the same way I used to.  Now when I hear people complain about headwinds (less than 30 mph) I think to myself “man they need to HTFU”. People need to experience 10, 12, 16 hours in 60 mph gusts after already being on the bike for 250 miles and 18 hours before I will feel any sympathy for them.  Rule #5 HTFU Finish what you started.

Here is a video from the 2009 Furnace Creek 508 of the morning after when the winds had died down significantly.  But you can see they are still bad.  I’m going less than 10 mph.

Badwater (Mile 130.9) I stopped and had a Coke.  I couldn’t believe how many people were sitting there.  They looked defeated and yet they were only 17 miles from Furnace Creek.  17 miles from the sanctuary.  Not the finish line mind you, because as a Double Century rider once you arrived at Furnace Creek you still needed to ride another 50 mile out and back to the North end of Death Valley National Park towards Stovepipe Wells and back.   But for century riders it would be the finish line.  I wanted to put each rider back on their bike and send them down the road.  But riding against strong headwinds is something you have to WANT  to do not have to do.  You have to WANT  it.  They didn’t want it bad enough.  I thanked the volunteers, gave Emperor Moth a high-five and rolled on.


Saturday’s ride was definitely a war of attrition.  I received motivation from seeing other riders DNF (Did Not Finish).  Allow me to explain it’s not because I’m gloating that other people have failed to achieve their goals.  Or that they lost their fight with their demons, gave up and quit.  No that’s not it.  It’s because when I see SAG vehicles loaded up with bikes on every hook and people piled into every crevice in the bed of a pick-up truck, illegally of course, I think, “yep it’s really tough out here but I’m still standing!” I remember seeing many vehicles with bikes on them.  I later found out that people (family and riders that DNF’d) volunteered to shuttle riders back to the finish because AdventureCorps’s SAG vehicles had reached capacity. Remember we are talking about 100’s of riders DNF’ing!!  I remembered the CNN overhead shots of the mass exodus from Baghdad during the Gulf War. Yep it looked like that!

As I neared Furnace Creek I remember passing a recumbent rider who said “just one mile to go” I replied “for you maybe! I still have another 50 miles!”  I then looked back and said “Well done…”  I wonder if he heard me over the din of the wind.  He was one of the few centuries riders to finish! Good for him!!

2011 Brain Bike ride with Carla Ryan of Garmin Cervelo on her Cervelo R3

The week preceding the Double I spent Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at Cervelo Brain Bike.  It is a three-day course where Cervelo educates their dealers on everything from frame design to aerodynamics and more. We spend time in lectures, sharing our meals and yes riding new model Cervelo bikes.  At every opportunity that I had I sat down with Phil White, co-founder of Cervelo.  I’ve known Phil for several years now and it’s nice to know that even though Cervelo has grown almost exponentially over the last 10 years that he is still approachable and down to earth.  One such time, we were having a drink and talking about the Cervelos I own and how hard it has been for me to sell them. I own four of them – three road and one time trial.

I still have a 2007 P3 Time Trial bike, an 2008 R3-SL somewhat dedicated climbing bike (I say somewhat because it’s so awesome to ride anytime 😉 , and a 2008 Cervelo Soloist SL or Cervelo SLC-SL as it is also known.  I mentioned to him that I had stripped down my Cervelo Soloist SL, taken pictures of it to post the bike on eBay, but just couldn’t pull the trigger to post it.  He replied saying the frames were rare and that he didn’t know if he would sell it.  I added that I was interested in selling the Soloist SL for the new and improved S3.  As I looked into his eyes I saw a glint of proud ownership.  I then realized that the SL projects, R3-SL and SLC-SL, were projects he was personally involved in.  The Cervelo Soloist SL was his baby.  He shared with me how important the SL projects were to Cervelo.  How the R & D from those projects made huge advances in Cervelo’s technology.  How the lessons learned from the SL projects really set the ball rolling for more advanced carbon fiber design. My conversations with Phil are another example of things I replayed in my head during the race.

Phil White, co-founder of Vroomen-White Designs, Cervelo Bicycles

Well that was all I needed, I wasn’t going to sell Sasha!  I rebuilt Sasha on Thursday night after work (after 7pm) with my Shimano Di2 group, SRM 7900 wireless crank power meter with Power Control 7 head unit.  I did a short test ride in the parking lot at almost 9pm.  I slept in Friday morning.  I needed the rest more than an early morning ride on the bike.  So essentially, I built the bike and raced it on Saturday without performing a proper test ride before Death Valley.  Risky?  Nah  I am meticulous, careful and precise.  I believe somewhere in my lineage there has to be some German or Swiss genes in me 😉

Back to Death Valley

Once I arrived at Furnace Creek (Mile 150) I refueled and picked up my long sleeve 100% Merino Wool jersey from Woolistic.  From Furnace Creek you do a 50 mile out and back loop to Stovepipe Wells.  As I was returning from Stovepipe Wells I started to see riders on their way to Stovepipe Wells.  I hadn’t seen the Double Century riders for many hours.  I had been off-the-front of the race riding alone since Ashford Mills mile 43.   I was now 175 miles into the event.  I saw  Escape Goat only three or so minutes behind me.  Wow that was way too close with 25 miles to go.  He yelled out “You’re the man!”  He is really a good sport, a worthy adversary and a good friend.  It was several more minutes before a saw a few more riders.  And then it hit me — I realized I now was THAT  guy!  The guy that I always see going the other way to the finish with a huge time gap on me.  I was just 25 miles from the finish but I couldn’t let up.  I couldn’t get complacent and I couldn’t get caught!

Red-Eyed Vireo and my friend Escape Goat at the finish of 2009 600km Brevet 375 miles and 18,000 feet of climbing in 27 hours


In the end, all my efforts all my pain and suffering were rewarded with my first win at the Death Valley Double Century.  Yes all those conversations with myself paid off 🙂

My equipment and clothing choices were almost perfect.  The only thing I would have done differently is the aforementioned poor wheel choice.  A lower profile wheel like the Zipp 404 might have been better.  The difference between the 404 58mm and the 808 82mm would have made the front end more manageable in the winds.  It was tough riding in a paceline and holding a good line.  It takes plenty of experience and skill to ride Zipp 808’s in a paceline with the wind conditions we had.  I could hear, my friend Wolverine, exclaim when I was blown off my line and he was behind me.

EPIC TRAINING TIP: In bad weather you just have to persevere, endure and eventually you will be rewarded with better weather or even better THE FINISH LINE.  The challenge is staying mentally focused and realizing that something has to give to get better.  That something shouldn’t be you, it can’t be you, it HAS to be Mother Nature, she has to relent and allow you to pass and continue on your journey.  One thing you must do when riding is to embrace mother nature you can’t fight her.  She is a worthy antagonist and she brings out the best in you.  As the protagonist in this story you will prevail.  The hero always prevails.  Learn to flow with her not resist her.

People often ask me “who do you ride with?” I often reply with “I train alone”.  Why do I train alone?  Well let’s take Saturday’s double century as an example, I rode alone for 150 miles.  For a lot of my friends that’s a full week of training 😉  On many of my double centuries I have been in no man’s land just behind the fast group and ahead of the slow group.  I spend lots of time alone at Double Centuries and of course on the Furnace Creek 508 there is no drafting in packs or pace lines it is a essentially a 508 mile time trial.

EPIC TRAINING TIP: If you aspire to be an ultra cyclist then I recommend you train alone at least once or twice a week.  You want to be pushed, or need motivation to get out of bed fine join a group ride.  But I suggest you ride to and from the group ride.  I strongly recommend you ride a solid six-hour training ride ALONE.  Why do I train alone? Because 150 breakaway is a lonely time on the road! But it doesn’t have to be.  Replay the conversations you’ve had and relive the memories of your dearest friends, your idols, or your family.

I have and idea for the 150 mile “option” of the Death Valley Double Century-why not call it the Furnace Creek 150.  It’s interesting to me how many riders DNF (Did Not Finish) the Double Century.  It’s a pretty powerful vortex that sucks riders into the Furnace Creek Ranch and doesn’t let them escape 😉

On Sunday the weather was ideal for racing.  What a difference a day makes right? 24 little hours ….

Huge thanks to all the volunteers.   AdventureCorps for putting together a well supported event.  Even with the huge DNF rate AdventureCorps seemed in control.  Chris Kostman is a true leader and it showed on Saturday.  Huge thanks to my sponsor for covering my entry fees and lodging in Furnace Creek.  So many more people to thank: Simple Green/Bike Religion, Swiftwick Socks, SRM Power Meters, Fizik for their saddle and awesome insoles, Woolistic for their 100% Merino wool base layers.  Adobo Velo thank you for always inviting me into your family and sharing a meal with me.  You guys rock!

George “Red-Eyed Vireo” Vargas places first at the 2011 Death Valley Double Century Southern Route. Finish line photo

One last thing– I had a Police song stuck in my head the whole day and night.  The simplicity of this song: three chords, a groovy baseline, steady back beat and the lyrics make this a great song for me.  It’s from 1980 – When the world is running down you make the best of what’s still around…  Adopt that attitude find things that are positive and still working “when the world is running down..”

Don’t miss Sting in his Speedo’s at 1:20 😉

Turn on my V.C.R.
Same one I’ve had for years
James Brown on the T. A. M. I. show
Same tape I’ve had for years
I sit in my old car
Same one I’ve had for years
Old battery’s running down
It ran for years and years

Turn on the radio
The static hurts my ears
Tell me where would I go
I ain’t been out in years
Turn on the stereo
It’s played for years and years
An Otis Redding song
It’s all I own

When the world is running down
You make the best of what’s still around
When the world is running down
You make the best of what’s still around

Plug in my M.C.I
To exercise my brain
Make records on my own
Can’t go out in the rain
Pick up the telephone
I’ve listened here for years
No one to talk to me
I’ve listened here for years

When the world is running down
You make the best of what’s still around
When the world is running down
You make the best of what’s still around

When I feel lonely here
Don’t waste my time with tears
I run ‘Deep Throat’ again
It ran for years and years
Don’t like the food I eat
The cans are running out
Same food for years and years
I hate the food I eat

When the world is running down
You make the best of what’s still around
When the world is running down
You make the best of what’s still around

When the world is running down
You make the best of what’s still around
When the world is running down
You make the best of what’s still around


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