El Tour is always an emotional event for all involved. Coaches, parents, supporters, and the riders, of course.
It is our home town event. The one all our classmates, friends, and family members know about. It is a culture institution in town that everyone knows about and gets excited about.
No matter how you shake it is a big deal for us, and the team at large.
My experience this year was with the A team that rode in the 109 mile event.
We had an incredible support crew this year from Cathy who brought our bikes to the start at 3:30am with Daniela, my amazing wife and Director of the team, Richard, and Alex S. They got our bikes right in there at the front of Gold while Alex S. stayed out in the cold and guarded our spots.
At 5:45am when we all met at the house all we had to do was walk down the street. It felt pretty pro to know that we had our bikes at the start, food to get started, and a bag to drop at the start with our warm clothes. This year’s team was Logan, Donovan, Nathan, Marcos, Mike McKisson, Kenny Polley, Richard, Kerry, Alex S. and I, the strongest team I have ever been a part of.
Once we got to the start we found Alex, and Kathleen was ready to photo us at the start and to cheer us on.
The first 55 miles of the ride is always nerving. Everyone if jockeying for position and everyone still has platinum dreams, before the second river crossing.
So when we passed Bahati at the 3 mile mark we knew we were on. Actually he crashed and got a flat and again passed us in no time, yet it was fun to watch him take off like a rocket ship, but not the point.
He was ahead of us at the first river crossing but I tell you if there was no one around we all could have ridden through the first one. And really I wish we would have because after this crossing Donovan was unable to clip into his left pedal because it got too much mud in it. Poor kid, try as he might, could not clip in. Smashing it on the ground, pouring water on it, finessing it, nothing worked. He ILT’d (rode with one leg) the first 60 miles.
The first 60 miles we struggled to find a group that would work with us. We as a team did a ton of work in the first part before the second crossing. Almost always at the front of the group trying to close in on the one in front of us. This was to be a major problem later in the race, the amount of work we did up front.
However by the time we got to the second crossing we were in a great group. Plenty of known good riders from the shoot out where in it, and we were all feeling pretty good.
We made it out, all together, and got over the Snyder hill all intact. Nathan of course took off and passed everyone in sight on the hill. We all yelled like crazy to get him to slow and wait, but he just could not help it. He of course waited on the other side of the hill, thank goodness too, because he was gone.
By the time we regrouped things were still looking great and we had Kathleen just up the road waiting for us. We had her waiting just up Sunrise, our only registered stop. We made it very fast, had some Coke Cola, grabbed some food, and we were gone. THANKS Kathleen!!.
This was around 65 miles, we were on track for platinum and I was really starting to feel the pressure because we were on a super tight rope to make it. A lot of the kids had set this as a goal and I wanted to do everything possible to help them get it. I was not sure I was fit enough to play as big a role as I wanted and I think this added to the pressure I put on myself.
So when at 75 miles our first rider started to cramp and had to pull back I had a very hard time dealing with it. I know this team can go platinum. I know they are strong enough, smart enough, and determined enough, but getting 10 people, 5 of them kids through a century like this, all on form, with nothing going wrong takes some luck and good fortune.
It also takes great coaching. So I started to question myself. Why did I not get them to eat more? Why had I not filled their bottles in the morning with some sport drink? Did I make them work too hard at the start? Did I not find a good enough group for them? Had we not done enough training? Why did I not make sure they were eating their food? I started to blame myself for not being in good enough shape to get them to the end. I really wanted to help them reach this goal, and I felt like I had let them down.
Once these emotions started pouring in I started to press the group a bit, trying to keep the pace up and keep our slim hopes alive. We were almost at the top of the hills in the Rancho Vistoso area and I thought if we could make it to the down that we all could recover. Thank goodness at this point that Mike McKisson was with us. He helped bring calm to the group and the understanding that this was just another bike ride, not a race, and that our team was the important part of this whole thing. He helped me settle down and acknowledge that all together was all that mattered.
Miles 70 to 85 were very hard on our team. Logan and Donovan were cramping like crazy all over the place. The horrific head wind was just starting to beat us up. We were of course tired. Our goal was unobtainable, and we still had a ways to go. So by the time that we all got down to the bottom of the Tangerine hill we all took a very needed stop. Donovan and I got there last as he was still struggling with his peddle and I could only motor him down the hill so fast.
We took a calm and longer stop here and really collected ourselves again. We came to a peace with our progress and position and really then came together. Never again were we separated by another rider and our communication peaked to perfection. In our most tired, hurting place we started to do all the little things really right. Calling out the pace and pulls. Making sure everyone was eating. Encouraging each other to stay tough. Physically we were toast but mentally were really got stronger.
Once over Rattlesnake pass Logan got a flat, cramped, bonked, got off to pee and learned a whole lot about himself. He really went to hell and back on this ride, yet never once did any of his teammates think to leave him. Never once did he say he would quit. He hurt like all heck but never once thought to stop, nor did his teammates ever think to not stay with him.
This is really what this ride and team are about. Not finishing in a certain time. Not winning, not loosing. Not beating some one, but discovering yourself. Discovering true friendships. Discovering what true determination is.
What I love about this event is you are forever some one different after it. You will forever remember who was next to you on your team. There are bonds created that really last a lifetime. All of the kids on this team I bet in 10 years could tell you who was on this team and just about recap every ten miles of the ride.
Our last miles ended in perfect team harmony. Once the last pee stop was made we double paced lined in as a team. Marcos, Nathan, Alex and Kenny were the motors on the frontage road to take us home. Often having to ease for those of us that were really hurting.
I had the good fortune to ride us home with Alex up front. We finished in 5:32. 4 minutes faster than last year, yet 6 minutes behind the Dream team of 2007.
Thanks everyone for a memorable ride!
Once in we found Daniela, Damiano, other friends and family members. We went back to the house ate and came back to watch the 66 mile, and 40 mile team finish. Many of the coaches were reduced to tears after the ride and watching the others roll in.
A new El Grupo team has been born and I am so proud to be a part of it. Thanks to all.