Gila River Valley 200k

A 200k brevet is an interesting event. You can ride them as a normal brevet at a typical brevet pace or you can push your limits and attempt a personal best time.

For those not well-versed in the metric system, 200-km is 124 miles and the on-line map shows it as 126.2 miles.   Close enough!

To a non-cyclist, 100 miles sounds daunting and 126 miles rises a bit above that. When you think about doing it as a fast training ride, it’s amazing to a non-cyclist that a ride that distance can be considered “training”.

I’m fortunate – I know or am acquaintances with a few elite ultra-distance and brevet riders: Kurt Searvogel, John & Jacquie Schlitter, Willy Hunt, Dana Liberman to mentioned just a few. These folks have ridden RAAM on one or more occasions and have ridden every ultra-distance length and brevet available.

Dana owns Bent-up Cycles and manufacturers the Carbent model – an elite level, semi-custom recumbent. When he mentioned he was going to ride this 200-km brevet, I was excited at the opportunity to ride with such a good rider and at the same time, apprehensive … at riding with such an elite rider.

Dana arrived at our home around 10:30 pm on Friday evening and we quickly got his oriented to our house and spare bedroom. With an alarm set for 0430, we were both anxious to get some sleep.

On events like this, I usually don’t need an alarm – my internal clock wakes me up before the alarm so I up and getting dressed right on schedule. I banged on the door to Dana’s room and we were ready to head out for breakfast at 0500.

After breakfast with David Brake, we drove to the route’s starting point where 17 or so other riders had gathered. We had talked a little bit about the ride during breakfast – and it became clear that Dana was primed for bear. He wanted to go fast.

When you have a group of fast riders and are trying to hang on to the back, the only objective is to “not get gapped” meaning you didn’t want to lose contact with the group. If that occurs, you lose the advantage of drafting.

I decided that would be my strategy – not to get gapped. I was still a bit apprehensive – there are some fast, talented riders in the AZ Brevet group. I’m not one of them – I’m an average brevet rider who has had a bit of success built more on perseverance than speed.

Tom Baker gave the group last minute instructions and at 0700 we were off. Normally, I hang off the back and set my own pace. Dana and David went by me and I jump on David’s rear wheel. We passed the pace line and Dana said his “good mornings” to the group. I think they were a little taken back that someone was setting a slightly faster pace than theirs and quickly decided not to let us go. Instead, they locked onto us and we were off!

I know these guys didn’t need us – they’re fast enough and fit enough to kick my butt every day and twice on Sundays but it was nice while it lasted.  I knew it wouldn’t last long – and that’s ok too.

I had the route loaded into my Garmin via bikeroutetoaster & Garmin’s Training Center software and immediately had issues. It kept routing me back to …somewhere else that I didn’t want to go so on the fly, I loaded the route that I had created from Garmin’s website. This is a Garmin Edge 810 and I’m still working out the issues and particularities of using it. Beyond that initial issue, it worked perfectly.

Speeds were fast – to me – and I knew I couldn’t maintain that speed over 126 miles but I knew I could hang on for the first 50-60 miles or so.

Our first town to pass through was Sacaton – a small spot of hard-scrabble Arizona small town that has one small climb out of town. From there, we turned towards Casa Grande where we encountered a stage race going in the opposite direction. The climb allowed the stronger riders to forge ahead and I found myself riding alone. I did catch and pass one or two riders though.

Every brevet has a well-defined set of stops called “controls” where you have to stop, check-in or answer a question on your brevet card to prove that you were there. You also note your time to insure that you were there during the control’s hours which are set based on a minimum and maximum speeds. Brevets aren’t races but many strive to go fast. The maximum speed is something like 30-kph or ~ 18 mph. When you add traffic lights, slowing for turns, etc, making it to the control before the opening time can be a challenge depending on the course.

 

The control at Casa Grande opened at 0834 – I arrived at approximately 0845. Dana and David were behind me a few minutes. They had stopped for a nature break or something outside of Sacaton and I kept riding knowing that the small climb out of Sacaton would allow them to catch me. They didn’t – it was the only control of the day where I beat them!

Here’s a snapshot of our pace – 33 miles in about 1:45.

Not bad but I knew I was pushing my own personal limits. From the first control, we rode through Casa Grande on streets that have seen better days – the pavement was rough, there was the occasional pothole and we hit the occasional traffic light which kept the group pretty much together.

I hadn’t really noticed the wind that much up to now but as we turned towards Eloy, it was obvious the wind was from the east and blowing fairly hard. It became a quartering wind and that made it a little more difficult to get a draft from the guys in front. That meant I slowly lost contact with the main group and arrived at the second control a few minutes behind everyone else – including David and Dana.

This control had a challenge question that you have to respond to and prove that you were there. In this case, it was asking about the clearance of the gas pump cover. It’s clearly marked but again, you have to be there to see it so you can accurately respond.

From the Circle K in Eloy, we turned due north and the wind was more evident as it push me around a little. Flags were straight out and road signs were shaking! I knew that the route eventually turned due east which would put us into the teeth of the wind. Once we made the turn, my speeds dropped significantly from the previous 18+ mph to 10-12 mph and occasionally, even slower. Dana and the faster riders slowly disappeared from view!

At this point, it was just David and myself and you can see where we stopped three times for various issues – mostly “nature breaks.” I was so thankful when the route turned back to the north and then towards the west. Again, you can see our last stop and then the benefits from the wind as we went back into the 20’s again.

The long stop is at the Circle K in Florence where David and I both refilled our bottles and grabbed a bit of energy food & drink. Oh, and rest.

At this point, like most rides at the 75-80% point, finishing isn’t really a question – it’s the final time. My delusions of an under 8-hour finished were long gone but I knew it would be close. The wind was still blowing out of the east but the only track back into it was on the Merrill Ranch Parkway and luckily, it was only a few miles long.

From there, it was literally a sawtooth ride – a jog north, a job to the west, back to the north, back to the west. You can see my speeds during these runs. From the Circle K in Florence to a brief stop to answer another control question, except for stop signs and lights, we barely slowed until the finish.

The final few miles into the start are always tight with traffic.   Mostly the traffic was polite – some more polite than others as usual.

At the finish, Tom Baker greeted us, recorded our times and we signed our   cards. Then, he mentioned that Dana and a few of the other fast guys were at a nearby bar – sitting outside waiting on us. It’s a nice way to end a ride – a cold (diet coke) outside with friends!

Dana is clearly a much more talented rider than me. We were happy to have him as a guest in our home and for the opportunity to ride a bit with him.

(Steve Adkins is one of those fast guys – his report is here and it’s worth a read also!)

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3 thoughts on “Gila River Valley 200k

  1. Gerry: What a great ride. Thanks for stopping and waiting patiently while my stomach cramps resolved; must have been the new energy bars I was trying. I’m sure those two stops cost us at least 15 minutes and a sub 8 hour finish. You’re a great friend and a strong rider. And what a hoot it was to see Dana put on a good show.

    • You know me – no man, or woman, left behind esp when they’re not feeling well. In addition, it was nice to catch my breath after fighting the wind. On the 400, unfortunately, I’ll have to dial it back a lot. There’s no way I can ride that fast/that far. The traffic as we go through the east valley at night has me concerned also. Last year, it was a little tight in one or two places. More riders means more taillights & hopefully, more visibility. I rode the last of the 300 with Matt J. He’d be good to ride with – steady, strong, smart, nice guy to boot.

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