2013 Spring Death Valley Race Report- Official Results

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The official results for the 2013 Spring Death Valley Double Century are up!  Follow this link for full results century, ultra and double century.

REV Cycling Team members

George Vargas 10:48


Krisztian Romvari 11:56– unofficial time currently listed as DNF on the official results

Amy Snyder 14:19

Brian Dooley 15:32– FIRST DOUBLE CENTURY

We congratulate and welcome Lori Hoechlin and Brian Dooley to the Double Century Club!!

Death Valley Double Century Results

2012 The Grand Tour Highland Double Century TANDEM-Race Report

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!


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.


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.


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.

Lake Casitas

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.


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.


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 😉


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

2011 Breathless Agony Ride Report

On Saturday May 7, I completed the Breathless Agony Century.  The timed portion of the event, is 11,000 feet of climbing in the first 74 miles!

I’ve done this event six times now.  Below you will see my previous results along with links.

2004 Time of 6:50 45th place

2006 Time of 5:58 34th Place

2007 Time of 5:40 21st Place — Previous Personal Record

2008 Time of 6:09 66th Place

2010 Time of 5:59 68th Place

2011Time of 5:24  – 21st Place out of 467 four pass finishers–New Personal Record


Today’s ride was all about redemption.  If you read my report from 2010 you will see I had a very tough showing last year.  I had been in a funk and hadn’t been training.  My  time of 5:24 on Saturday is good enough to best my Personal Record from 2007 of 5:40 and more than good enough to redeem myself from last year’s pitiful 5:59!

This year although I HAVE been training I have been getting sick more frequently.  I have been sick twice in the last two months.  Each cold has cost me two weeks of setback in training and/or intensity.  It is interesting to mention that back in 2007 I previewed the Breathless Agony course a couple of times.  I trained specifically for the Breathless Agony event.  This year I have had success in a couple of races without the benefit of training specificity.  I have been training at higher intensities but shorter mileage (40-60 milers) with a century or two every other week.

On February 26, I finished first at the 2011 Spring Death Valley Double Century blog report here.  I then continued to ride hard and rode 500 miles within seven days. Within a week of  that feat I was sick.  It was the first time I had ridden 500 miles in a week since 2007 when I was training for Race Across America (RAAM).  The first part of March was a wash.  My son was sick, my co-workers were sick and customers were sick.  I couldn’t avoid it. My immune system was suppressed and BAM! I got sick. I had to sit out of Hell’s Gate Hundred because I was sick.  Just recently, after 2011 Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic, April 16, blog report here. I tried to ramp up again got up to 350 miles for the week and BAM! got sick.  So I had to pull back again.  That cold has lasted through Breathless Agony with a nagging cough.  Oh well it is still early in the season and I have bigger fish to fry than Breathless ‘Agony namely the Furnace Creek 508.  The Death Valley Double Century, Hell’s Gate Century, Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic and the Furnace Creek 508 are events put on by AdventureCorps.

Clothing— Simple Green kit, short sleeve base layer, Swiftwick 7″ Performance Socks

Bike — May I introduce you to “Felony” my new 2011 Felt F1, Shimano Di2, Standard Crank 53/39 and 11/28 Cassette, SRM Wireless Crankset with PowerControl 7 head unit, Fizik Airone Versus saddle

NutritionInfinit Nutrition self- supported except water from feed stations

Weight— 146lbs

2011 Felt F1 with Shimano Di2, SRM 7900 wireless Crankset PowerControl 7, Dura-Ace carbon pedals, Fizik Airone Versus

 Breathless Agony starts and finishes in Redlands.

The call-outs are:

1. Mile 17.8 – left turn onto Jack Rabbit Trail

2.  Mile 22.0- right onto Highway 60

3.  Mile 26.6- Beaumont Ave checkpoint

4. Mile 43.6- Mill Creek Ranger Station

6. Mile 54.6- Angelus Oaks

7.  Mile 74.2 Onyx Summit

There are three options for the ride.  You can do two passes, three passes or four passes.  I have always done the four pass option.

I rolled at 7am with the Santiago Cycling club.  It was a nice sized group of at least 20 riders.  In the group was Doug “Polar Bear” Patterson, Vance McDonald and a few other familiar faces.  I chatted with them until the first little climb.  Every year that first little climb gives me an indication of how I’m going to do for the event.  The pace was set by the Santiago boys but when they started to fade I came to the front quite effortlessly.  I rode on perceived effort and slowly ramped up the intensity.  When I thought I was going hard tempo I looked down at my SRM PowerControl 7.  I was surprised to see really good numbers — over 300 watts. That’s when I knew I was going to have a good day!!       

Above is the graph of that little climb that comes early in the event (mile 6.5-8.5).  

Data above is from the start in Redlands to the left turn onto Jack Rabbit Trail — Pass 1.

I was in various pacelines.  As usual, riders sat upfront pulling along as the other riders just sucked wheel.  It happens at every recreational century and most doubles.  It’s a annoying to me because ALL of us could be going A LOT faster.  I got to the front and rolled off instantly.  I then instructed the next couple of guys to roll-off quickly as well.  In a short amount of time, the riders that followed my lead in creating a more active and participatory paceline, roll off the front of the massive “paceline” behind us.   We  averaged  20.5 mph, my normalized power was 223 watts (3.4w/kg).  The 18 mile, 1.000 feet of gain section from Redlands to Jack Rabbit Trail took me 52:53

Jack Rabbit Trail Climb Power data from Training Peaks WKO 

Grade Analysis for Jack Rabbit Trail from Garmin Training Center

I hit the base of Jack Rabbit Trail at 7:54 am 54 minutes after my starting time of 7am.  It’s hard for me to characterize the climb on Jack Rabbit Trail.  It is a paved road with potholes that stretch across the width of the road, sand, loose rock, sand traps and so on.   Sounds like fun huh?  Well it would be if it wasn’t for the other 200 riders you have to weave through to get to the top of the climb.

My average speed for the Jack Rabbit Trail climb was 12.2 mph and my normalized power was 254 (3.84 w/kg).    I felt really good on this climb.  The 3.7 mile dirt climb with 900 feet of gain took 18:25.  

Oak Glen Climb from Beaumont rest stop 10 miles 2300 feet of gain

Grade Analysis of Oak Glen Climb from Beaumont 10 miles 2300 feet of gain

I believe this is Tony 

I began the Oak Glen climb at 8:27 am, 1 hour and 27 minutes from my starting time of 7am.  I consider Oak Glen Climb, Climb #2, the hardest of the four climbs in Breathless Agony.  The last two climbs, Angelus Oaks and the Onyx Summit, are much longer but the grades aren’t steep.  Oak Glen has the steepest ramps of all four climbs.  There are various times when you will hit 10% grades on the Oak Glen climb.  I was on this climb a few minutes when I was passed by two strong riders.  I jumped on their wheel.  I stayed on their wheel until that self-preservation instinct got the better of me.  My thoughts were “Wow, I’m going really hard right now.  I don’t know how long I can hang on.” Finally, I thought of the last two climbs and wanting to conserve energy for them.  I bowed out gracefully.  It took me 5-10 minutes to get back to  my own climbing pace.  I didn’t blow up but I was REALLY close.  These two riders I know personally from the Orange County club rides.  One is a former pro road cyclist that races on a Masters Elite team  and the other a pro mountain biker.  I was feeling good but I’m not THAT good 😉  I saw quite a few of my friends on this climb.  I crested and began the high-speed descent down towards Mill Creek Ranger Station.

My average speed for the Oak Glen climb was 10.9 mph and my normalized power was 229 watts (3.46  w/kg).  The Oak Glen climb from the Beaumont Rest Stop took me 55:06 INCLUDING the two minutes stopped at Rest Stop which would have taken me half that time in an AdventureCorps event.

In my opinion, the organizers need to go to chip timing like AdventureCorps.  The clipboard army just doesn’t cut it anymore — not with over 800 riders and only three people per rest stop checking everyone in at each stop.  This event has grown significantly in the last four years — more than double as many riders!  Time to get more efficient or do away with timing the event!  How stressful must that job be for those volunteers?!?!

Mill Creek Ranger Station laying Felony down – Note a member of the Clipboard Army

Felony – 2011 Felt F1 with Shimano Di2 – electronic Dura-Ace

I left Mill Creek Ranger Station at 9:39 am 2 hours and 39 minutes after my start time of 7am.  I began the Angelus Oaks climb knowing that I had 30 miles of climbing with little to no respite.  But what I had as motivation was knowing that I actually had the possibility of setting a new Personal Record (PR) on the Breathless Agony course.  The calculations I had going through my head were these:

1.  It was 9:39 am

2.  Last year I totally tanked on the last two climbs (no fitness)

3.  Last year I climbed Angelus Oaks in 1:17

4.  Last year I climbed Onyx in 1:39

5.  So if I did the same that would be 2:56 minutes added to 2 hours 39 minutes already done and that is 5 hours and 35 minutes.

6.  My previous PR was 5:40

7.  So worst case scenario if I rode the last two climbs at the same pathetic pace I did last year I would PR

8.  BUT I was in better shape on Saturday May 7, 2011

9.  Hence all I had to do was ride within my limits on the last two climbs and BAM! new PR

It was at Mill Creek Ranger Station where I linked up with my photographer and friend, Lisa.  She was kind enough to come out and take some pictures so I would have something to share with my readers.  I climbed through Damnation Alley and felt fine.  I had a few riders pass me but less than a handful. At the left turn where there is also a turn off for Forest Falls I was expecting to see a water stop.  The past few years I have done the event there has been a water stop.  I timed drinking my bottle so that it would be empty by the “water stop”.  I was disappointed that it wasn’t in place.  It was only a temporary setback because the weather wasn’t that hot and we are already close to 4,000 feet elevation.  The toughest part of Damnation Alley is all of the surrounding terrain goes up with you and you don’t have any visual clues that you are climbing…but you are!

Thank you Swiftwick for my 7″ – can you say happy feet on a climbing century?

I climbed from Mill Creek Ranger Station to Angelus Oaks in 1 hour 7 minutes 21 seconds my stop to refuel was 45 seconnds.  My average speed to Angelus Oaks was 10 mph and my Normalized Power was 205 watts (3.10  w/kg) 

1.  I climbed to Angelus Oaks in 1 hour 9 minutes which was 8 minutes faster than last year.  So I have just banked 8 more minutes!!  On pace for a 5:27!

Angelus Oaks Grade Analysis 11.2 miles 3,050 feet of gain

I began the climb to Onyx Summit at 1049 am 3 hours and 49 minutes from my start time of 7am.   The last climb isn’t that hard but you are fatigued and so it feels harder than it really is.  Additionally, you are at altitude from 6,000 feet to 8,443 at Onyx Summit.  Leaving Angelus Oaks the road has a lot of rollers and you get a chance to recover a little from the 11 mile climb from Mill Creek Ranger Station to Angelus Oaks, Climb #3.  But now you have a long protracted 19 mile stretch from Angelus Oaks to Onyx Summit.  I say it that way the rollers do get a tad bit annoying.  You see the 6,000 elevation sign twice.  You even hit 45 mph on one of the rollers- which now puts you on notice that you will have to climb that roller on the way down to Redlands.  A descent of 45 mph means a climb of 7- 7.5% on your return 😦

Between Angelus Oaks and Barton Flats I was feeling flat.  I had worked so hard to get to Angelus Oaks under 1 hour 17 minutes (time from last year) that I was having a tough time recovering and getting back in to a comfortable groove.  I was also experiencing cramping.  My right inner thigh and my left calf were sporadically tightening up.  When I’m in good form I rarely cramp.  But the other side of this is that Breathless Agony doesn’t really supply quality endurance fuels.  They still treat this as a recreational century and provide the type of food you would eat while touring.  I would prefer to see tables of that and one table for the experienced endurance athletes who prefer to go on liquid nutrition only including electrolyte capsules.  End Rant!

My pace was getting slower and slower I could feel my PR slipping away.  I was cramping I was fatigued and I was alone on the road.  It was strange that there were over 800 riders on the event and I couldn’t see anyone behind me or in front of me as far as the eye could see.  The fact is I had passed everyone on the road ahead of me.  I had been passed by faster riders and now I sat in that “no man’s land” between the fast riders and the slower riders.  So what did I do?  Well I starting replaying in my head the events of the day.  The times I felt good, the hundreds yes literally hundreds of riders I had passed in the first two climbs.  I replayed my good climb up to Angelus Oaks.  I thought about some of the riders that I had worked with on previous climbs and wondered where they were on the course now.  While all this was happening my cramps subsided and the mileage kept ticking away.

I knew the summit was just after mile marker 39 on Hwy 38.  I kept counting down each mile and then finally three riders caught me.  I needed these three riders to remotivate me.  I jumped on their wheel and surprisingly I found their pace comfortable considering it was faster than when I was going it alone.  I rode with them. sitting on the wheels, hoping not to get dropped, for a few miles until I got back into a good place- mentally and physically.  When I recovered I stepped up the pace a little and found myself riding away from the three riders.  Once I saw the 8,000 foot elevation sign I knew I was only 443 feet from the summit- it was close.  I thought about Newport Coast Drive back in Newport Beach which is 450 feet of gain in a 1.5 and convinced myself that I was on that climb just doing 1.5 miles.  The mind is a powerful thing vastly more powerful than your body –USE IT!

Many of didn’t know my friend Dan “Crane” Crain and another link  here .  He was an amazing cyclist with 106 double centuries seven Furnace Creek 508 finishes including one solo with a very respectable time of 33:13.  But more than that he was an amazing person.  I remember running into him, quite literally, one day in March a couple of years ago.    My son, Alexander, and I were just coming out of the Back Bay in Newport Beach.  We turned on to the sidewalk off of Bayside heading North on Pacific Coast Highway, and here comes Dan also on the sidewalk.  He was doing March Madness with the Davis Bicycle club.  When we recognized each other we stopped and chatted a few minutes.  He was so kind to my son.  My son was not yet 5 and he sat and talked with him for a few minutes.  Even though he was obviously in the middle of a ride and in the middle of a month long “competition” he took the time to talk with my son– that’s just the kind of guy he was.

I remember riding a 600km (375 miles) with Janet Christiansen and Dan.  We were off the front of the bunch and chatting sparingly because the pace high.  As we were cresting a climb he said “you feel that breeze?  That means we are getting close to the top of the climb.  You’ll always feel the wind pick up as you near the summit”  I have never forgotten that conversation.  I think of Dan almost every time I summit a climb.    I consider it Dan’s spirit living (Dan Crain’s Spirit) on when I feel that breeze in my face.  Dan was hit by a car in the Newport Beach area, on a climb, and died a week later in the hospital.  I believe it was from complications from one of his surgeries.  Dan was in my thoughts on Saturday.  I will miss you Dan.

At exactly mile marker 39 I saw Lisa again.  I hadn’t seen her since early in the climb.  She misunderstood me and thought I wanted her to go to mile marker 39 instead of what I really said which was mile marker 39 is near the summit.  Oh well it was good to see her again.  She was still taking pictures bless her.  Seeing her, seeing mile marker 39 was all I needed for that last push to finish the climb– and the event!

Just for fun I’m including a picture of when I rode my fixed gear (49 x 18) to Big Bear City passing through Onyx Summit twice back in 2009.

When I reached the summit, I checked in with the timekeeper and I heard my time as 12:25 pm.  I had done it I had set a new PR!  At the time I thought my time was 5:25.  But later I found out that I actually started at 7:01 and so my official time ended up being 5:24– even bettah 😉

I was interviewed on Hi-Definition video by my friend Chuck Bramwell.  I CAN’T wait to see how tore up I look in that video 😦   I then went to the table and was disappointed again with the food choices.  Luckily, I found two hard boiled eggs — awesome good healthy protein!!  I didn’t hang out at all at the summit.  I still had to drive to San Diego to pick up my son.  As soon as I had some food in me and fluids on board I took off down the mountain.  It’s another 1 hour 40 minutes to get down so you need to eat at the top.

The food at Redlands was supplied by Bristol Farms.  It was Mexican fare and it was very tasty.

Lastly a treat for my friends at Lunar Health and Wellness in Newport Beach

My friend and multi-category hall of fame cyclist John Howard, and I spent a few minutes chatting at Onyx Summit.  My relationship with John began back in 2003.  I had just completed my first year of Ultras.  I had no clue what I was doing about bike fit, stretching and riding a bike– seriously.  For those that are new to my blog here is a quick recap.  In 2003, I completed the Grand Tour Highland Triple Century- 300 miles (yes that was my first Ultra cycling event– crazy yes I know) in June, the Tour of Two Forests in September, and the Death Valley Double Century in October. I suffered incredibly my first three events. The summer of 2003 was a very hot.  The Did Not Finish (DNF) was more than 50% at the Death Valley Double Century where it was over 100 F degrees.

Here is an excerpt from the Event Promoter’s report:

“Hotter than hell” temps made for a tough day for everyone at the annual Fall Death Valley Century and Double Century, held October 18. With the mercury rising beyond 100 degrees, just 76 of 169 double riders completed the 200 mile distance,”


2003 Death Valley Double  Century Southern Route I finished 14th, 14:42

I had only been back on the bike 8 weeks after two years completely off the bike when I did the Grand Tour Highland Triple.  In 2001, I had sustained injuries when I crashed on my bike.  I broke my left hand and jammed my neck as I pile-drived myself — headfirst at over 30 mph.  My neck has never been the same and hurts like hell when I ride my Ultras.  Dealing with that pain takes my mind off of  the other things that hurt while riding 😉  By the way, before that crash and subsequent two year hiatus off the bike, I had never ridden more than 125 miles ever!!

In the winter of 2003, I called on John Howard to help me with the essentials – like BIKE FIT!  Duh!  He set me up very comfortably and powerfully according to the Compu-Trainer.  He then gave me a hand-out with stretches but also demonstrated the proper way to perform them.  We then had a discussion on nutrition which is a very important element of Ultra Cycling.  After the official business concluded we talked about his achievements and my dreams.  I was so inspired I couldn’t wait for the 2004 season to start.

My relationship with John has continued through the years as I have called on him for advice from time to time.  In 2007, his facility along with John Martinez sponsored my two-person Race Across America team.  Here’s an interesting little story.  One day in 2009, on the Wednesday Camp Pendleton ride we were at Starbucks in Carlsbad getting ready to roll off.  John showed up and he greeted me by saying “Hey Mr Ultra” .  I looked at him and said, “John if anyone is Mr Ultra it would be you!”

Well now our paths cross again.  He is a strong proponent of CVAC sessions.  Here is a recent article John has written about his experience with CVAC and his success at El Tour de Tucson as a 63 year-old.  I have recently stated taking CVAC sessions.  I was initially interested in the performance gains I may obtain.  But I also learned that my exercise induced asthma and sleeping issues might also be helped by CVAC sessions.  What are CVAC sessions?

What is the CVAC™ process?

Answer: The Cyclic Variations in Altitude Conditioning™ (CVAC™process is a patent-pending methodology that applies rhythm-based changes to pressure, temperature and air. A proprietary, high-performance altitude simulator is required to deliver the CVAC process.


Although I have just started taking CVAC sessions I may be receiving performance gains.  I have PR’d a local hill climb in Newport Beach, Newport Coast Drive by 19 seconds!  And now at Breathless Agony I PR by 16 minutes!  I’m training a whole lot less because of my work schedule so something’s going on.  Let’s wait and see how the rest of the season plays out.  Meanwhile wish to thank the good folks over at Lunar Health and Wellness in Newport Beach.  Thank you for helping me achieve my goals this year.

John Howard and George “Red-Eyed Vireo” Vargas

“The Pod”

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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.

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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