Anyone who reads my blog regularly may wonder why I haven’t written in awhile. Well….I was a little busy in September - away much of the month. The adventures began with a week-long visit to Bend, OR to compete in the National Masters Cycling Championships – and what a week it was! My fiance, Chris, and I have been riding tandems together for 2+ years and since January have been more competitively-minded with our training after purchasing a road tandem. But, we had never actually raced together when we showed up for the National Championships. Fortunately there were no qualification standards, but needless to say, I was a bit nervous about our lack of experience. We arrived in Bend the week after Labor Day. After picking up our race packets and submitting our bike for inspection, we were ready for our first event the following day – the 24-mile time trial. Despite some technical issues (our front wheel kept breaking spokes) we arrived ready to race.
(Don’t worry – I always wear a helmet while riding – this was just for photo ops)
Basically this consisted of pedaling as fast as possible in an out-and-back mostly flat course with a few rolling hills. Each tandem team started the race alone with the clock and then the next team started exactly 30 seconds later. For an hour and seven minutes I felt like a hamster on a wheel pedaling my legs off with my head down, my helmut jutting into Chris’ back, my only view the white line of the road. Fortunately, we had ridden part of the course the day before (before having to turn around after breaking yet another spoke) so I’d seen enough to know that the bucolic countryside was lovely, which made keeping my head down a little easier. Despite the fact that we averaged 23 mph – faster than we’d ever ridden before, we found ourselves being passed by most of the tandem teams who started behind us. I must admit that as competitive athletes not used to being beaten so badly – it was a bit demoralizing for us. Our egos were somewhat assuaged by the fact that after the race we had a chance to mingle with some of the other teams only to discover that their tandem bikes weighed about half of what ours did and most of the teams consisted of veteran racers. I must admit, too, that we hadn’t trained for a time trial per se. The training we had done included more endurance riding with a lot of climbing. We had only recently began “sprinting” during some of our rides. Had we the chance to do it over again, I would train for the time trial more specifically. Still, we vowed we would make a comeback two days later in the 52-mile road race at Mt. Bachelor.
As we arrived at the Mt. Bachelor Resort parking lot we had just under 30 minutes to get ourselves and our bike prepared for an arduous 52-mile tandem road race. The race official announced that the opening 3.9 miles would be a neutral zone and the pace car would then green light the field signaling that racing could begin. This is typical of many road races to ensure a smooth, safe start. This was extra reassuring for me (as the “stoker” positioned in the back of the bike) in that the opening 14 miles featured a high- speed descent where we topped out at 50 mph (yikes!).
With 8 other tandems in this race making up a fairly intimate peloton of high- level teams made up of Category 1 and Category 2 riders, we knew the pace would be swift. Such was the case after the terrain flattened out and then rose to the first climbs. As we rounded the first turn Chris leaned back and said to me “be ready for this turn and the quick break away”. Sure enough as the pitch of the road increased so did the pace. The leading tandems began an early attack which revved up the pace of the entire field to a level that felt unsustainable. Thus some spreading out followed. It was like “now you see em, now you don’t”!
Despite our frustration over being dropped, as endurance athletes we knew the race was far from over. We eventually lost sight of the entire group except one tandem that had a half-mile gap. If we could just catch them we knew it would not only put us back in the race, we would have a shot at not finishing last. So we stepped up the intensity and mounted an attack. We noticed them looking back periodically and sensed their counter attack. We didn’t seem to be gaining much ground, but after ten minutes or so we had closed in enough to where we recognized them from Wednesday’s time trial, in which they had beaten us by about 4 minutes. So we rode together, sharing small talk and swapping the lead position. Eventually we dropped them and continued on our mission to catch anyone we could that had likely fatigued trying to keep pace with the leaders.
By the time we reached the final 10 k ascent there were two more tandems in view. They were from different heats: one that started before us, younger and both males. This was no time let up! We dug deep. Painfully deep, caught and passed them like they were standing still. We crossed the finish line at a respectable pace. Our average speed for the entire course, with 52 miles and 3000′ of elevation gain, was 19.9 mph. The competition out there pushed us to a new level, and that really felt good. We mixed it up some of the nation’s most experienced tandem teams… And hung in there!…Wait til next year – we’ll be back.
Next up – a few hair-raising tandem adventures in Paris….stay tuned.