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Late For My First Brevet
by Ben Coli

We had just driven across the Port Mann Bridge when I realized that I forgot my helmet.

We woke up early and had plenty of time that morning. Shane came to my house at 4:20 AM, leaving us 10 minutes to inflate tires and load the truck, an hour to drive to Abbotsford and then half an hour to register for the brevet, join the BC Randonneurs, and shoot the breeze with the other riders while checking out their bikes.

Instead, we were blazing back across the Port Mann to my house in East Van, with me apologizing three times a minute for being such an idiot, and Shane responding deadpan, “it’s okay, man.”

There was an 80 km/h construction speed zone the entire way home and I was speeding. I grew up speeding. I’ve always driven too fast, but for the last few years I’ve been trying to turn over a new leaf because of how stupid and destructive speeding is, and there I was, going 20 or 30 over the limit in a construction zone, imagining how embarrassing the conversation would be with the cop who might pull us over:

“But officer, we’re trying to get to a bike ride that we really, really want to do and we’ve been looking forward to all month! It starts at 6:00 and we don’t know if they’ll let us go if we’re late!”
Can’t you just do the same ride on your own, but just a little later?
“But then it won’t be official, and we won’t get a pin and recognition from an obscure French club!”
And that’s why you’re doing 110 in a construction zone?
Yeah, that was why.

I first heard of the BC Randonneurs earlier this year, while training for the Ride to Conquer Cancer. I figured that a 100 km ride at the beginning of April was just what I needed to get ready for my trip to Seattle, so I went on the Pacific Populaire. I’d never ridden 100 km in a day before, and finishing in 5 hours was an epic accomplishment at the time. It was great fun riding with a couple of hundred riders, and the people were really friendly, so two weeks after my cancer ride, I went out to Langley for the 143 km Canada Day Populaire with a few friends, including Shane.
We got hooked. We needed something to train for, and the only answer could be an even longer ride. Those 1200 km rides the club does sound suicidal, and even the 400s seem masochistic, but a 200 can be done without missing any sleep. Surely normal people like me (pretty flabby) and Shane (awful skinny) could manage one of those.

So we trained. We learned that riding 140 km fast without eating much would leave us feeling dead on our feet. We learned that riding 130 km on Abbotsford’s hottest day on record without having enough to drink would make us feel like vomiting and passing out. We didn’t have much in the way of success on our training rides, but we learned a lot.

Then we did the smartest things we could have done: In the week before the ride we rested and didn’t ride much. We carbo-loaded for two days before the event, to prepare for burning 2 to 3 times our normal daily caloric intake. And most importantly, we tried to get as much sleep as we could, averaging 9 hours a night in the days before the ride. This kind of preparation might sound ridiculous to anyone who is used to riding much longer brevets, but for a first-timer, it was a huge help. We rode much better than we did on any of our training rides.

When my truck pulled into the parking lot of the Super 8 motel in Abbotsford at 5:58, we saw the other riders lined up and ready to go, so Shane bailed out of the truck and ran to see if we were too late to register. Organizer Alex Pope didn’t seem to mind that we were late.
We hadn’t ever trained at 6:00 AM before, and Shane wasn’t prepared for the cold. He only had an extra t-shirt to shield himself from the Fraser valley’s morning mists, so volunteer Tracy Barill lent him a sweater.

These people were pretty awesome.

We finally got ourselves and our gear sorted and hit the road 15 minutes late. We told each other that being 15 minutes behind the pack, we were barely going to see anyone unless someone got an early flat. Randonneuring isn’t racing, though, and a lot of the other riders were conserving strength for Super Week’s 300 km ride on the following day, so we soon caught up to the pack. A big group was leaving the first control as we arrived, and we found ourselves catching up to them at every control for the remainder of the day.

We got into our pace and thoroughly enjoyed the ride. We took it easy on the hills, so as not to blow out our legs, and we powered through the flats, occasionally switching the lead when the guy in front seemed to be slowing down. It was a beautiful day and we relearned something we’d first noticed on our training rides: if you can get off of highway 1, the Fraser Valley is a beautiful place.

Then something happened as we turned up Hot Springs Road toward the penultimate control at Harrison Hot Springs: the headwind whipped us and slowed us below 25 km/h, and instead of feeling tired and defeated, we got mad. We swapped the lead again and again and we pushed our way to the control with speed. As usual, we arrived just as the big group in front of us (which we’d begun calling the peloton) was getting ready to leave. We snacked, drank a bunch of water, and then hit the road again faster than before.

At kilometer 150 — farther than either of us had ever ridden before in a single day — we both felt remarkably good and we told each other so. We sped up. Around kilometer 160, on a rough and windy road, we caught up to the peloton. We stayed with them for about 5 km, lazily drafting behind them, until I asked Shane, “how do you like this, barely doing any work?”
“It’s okay,” he shrugged.
“Do you want to kill ourselves, instead?”

Shane smiled, and feeling a little guilty about ditching the peloton without ever taking our turn in the lead, we left the pack and bore onward. We each ate an energy gel (which was another novel experience for us — they’re disgusting, but they work) and we powered into a headwind on the alluvial flats of Chilliwack and Abbotsford at 30 to 32 km/h. There were no more hills, so we had nothing to save ourselves for. We didn’t stop; we barely ever came up off of our drop bars. We switched the lead every 5 km, and then every 2 km, flogging our legs like galley slaves. We’d never ridden like this while training, but suddenly it seemed important to finish this non-race as quickly as possible. What did it matter if we destroyed our legs? We weren’t riding anywhere the next day, or the next week for that matter.

At kilometer 200 we both started to bonk. It didn’t change anything. We still had some extra snacks, but we weren’t going to stop this close to the end.

Somewhere around kilometer 205, we passed Nigel Press and Cheryl Lynch. I shouted, “we’re not doing the 300 tomorrow! Go, legs, go!” I may have been foaming at the mouth. I’m not sure either of them understood what I was saying.

About 500 meters from the finish, within sight of the Super 8, there was a tiny, insignificant rise in the road. If you were from Saskatchewan, you might call it a hill, but it certainly doesn’t qualify as a hill around here; it was more like a bump. This little bump just about killed me. Every ounce of strength drained from my body as I watched Shane power up the rise ahead of me. I just couldn’t keep up to him.

And then I told myself, “we’ve ridden this entire thing together. There’s no way we’re finishing separately,” and I stood up on my pedals and caught up.

We got to the final control and tried not to show how excited we were about finishing this piddling, insignificant little 200 km ride in a club of iron-legged maniacs. I don’t think we succeeded in faking it; we were excited.

We had hoped to finish the 211 km route in 10 1/2 hours, for an average speed of 20 km/h. We finished in 9:09, which surprised me, especially considering we started 15 minutes late.

It made me wish I could do a 300, but there was no way I was going to be able to do it the very next morning, and there isn’t another 300 on the schedule this year. I guess I’ll have to come back in 2011.

I still say 400 km brevets are for masochists. We’ll see how I feel about that next year.


Go to: Super Week Results


September 2, 2010