Tuesday, April 04, 2006

My First Century: Cactus Hugger (S. Utah)

The plan was to ride the annual Cactus Hugger Century ride on April 1st in Southern Utah with my 61-year-old father. He has ridden several centuries including the 200 mile LOTOJA classic a couple of years ago but hasn't done much cycling in the last six months. I've been riding a lot in the last several months but I'm new to the sport. Since it was my kids' spring break last week, we arrived in Utah a full week early so we could spend time with family and friends. I was glad we arrived when we did because it gave me a chance to put in a full week of low-to-medium intensity rides at 4500 to 6500 feet to get used to the altitude and low humidity.

The night before the ride, my dad and I loaded everything into the SUV and went over the pre-race checklist. Shoes--check. Gloves--check. What to wear, that's a tough one, probably need layers--check. Sesame crunch candy--hmmm, must have eaten it all on the plane out to Utah.

We drove over to the start/lunch/finish area and met up with a couple of friends. We rode the first 11 miles or so with them in a decent paceline but got separated when they stopped at the first rest stop. I thought for sure they would catch us coming up "The Wall" (I don't know the name of the hill but it's pretty steep) so we kept riding. In retrospect I should have stopped as well because I needed to go potty before we got to the 2nd stop at mile 31.

The first 35 miles of the ride goes from St. George to Cayenta, then winds up to Gunlock, and finally climbs up to the top of Veyo hill. According to my Garmin, there a difference in elevation of nearly 2000 feet from the valley floor to the top of Veyo hill with lots of up-and-down rollers in between. From Veyo, it's mostly downhill through Snow Canyon with one steep (but fairly short) climb right before you arrive back at the start where lunch is served. Since Dad hadn't ridden much since his knee surgery six months ago, my Mom made me promise that I wouldn't let him try to go the whole way. So we stayed together until lunch after which I went solo and he picked up my family in the car and looked for me on the course. That way my kids got to see me riding along which was cool.

The rest stop at mile 31 was the highlight of the ride, IMO. There was a feeling of euphoria knowing you'd just finished climbing a tough hill and had lots of downhill in front of you. And there were fresh baked goods, including the best cherry turnovers I had ever tasted. Milk would have been nice but I know that the hard core nutritionists will all jump in to tell me how bad it is to drink milk during a hard ride. Whatever. I ate three turnovers but should probably have taken three or four more with me. Had I known the other stops would not have similarly delicious goods I would have done just that. My only other gripe was that they didn't have ice cold soda for lunch or at any of the stops.

The weather was weird. It was really cold during some parts of the ride and warm enough for short sleeves during other times. By lunch time it had settled into a breezy 55-60 degrees or so, nice riding weather except for the wind.

I was expecting the 2nd half of the ride to be easier than the first but it wasn't, for four reasons: (1) I rode the whole way by myself, (2) there were a lot more rolling hills than I had expected including a fairly steep climb from miles 80-82 and a three mile climb from miles 92-94, (3) really crappy roads for what seemed like about 20 miles, and (4) the descent into St. George was made difficult by a very stiff headwind.

My dad held his own on the flats and downhill sections but his weight (he's carrying an extra 20 pounds more than normal due to inactivity while recovering from surgery) took its toll on the hills. Still, we averaged a respectable 15mph and had a very enjoyable time. I averaged about 19.5 mph from miles 53-87 but it took me a full hour to cover the last 15 mile leg into St. George. I'm sure fatigue was a factor but the wind was crazy. There were several downhill sections where I had to keep pedaling just to hit 16mph. Wild.

I thought the course was really well done: 104 miles of rolling hills with a few fairly good climbs, plenty of rest stops, several SAG wagons for people who had mechanical problems, a well marked course (if somewhat complicated as it wound through subdivisions on the way back into town), and we didn't get rained on this year. I would have liked to spend more time in a paceline, but that was no big deal.

In all, it was a great first century ride--hopefully the first of many. But for the next month I'll turn my focus to improving my speed and aero position as I prepare for my first 20km TT.

On a side note, I rode all three of my dad's road bikes this week: the Giant OCR 1 which has been relegated to "extra" status, his Marin San Marino w/ Campy Chorus (which I rode twice on his trainer only after promising not to adjust anything), and the $999 Costco Fezzari w/ Shimano 105 that he keeps in his St. George vacation home. I did two hill interval sessions, two rides on the trainer, and two easy rides in St. George to make sure the Fezzari was adjusted to my size. All three bikes were certainly good enough for someone of my limited skill level.


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