Saturday, May 25, 2013

ToP – Day FIVE, that’s a Wrap!

Well kids, that’s it, Day 5 has come and gone and the 2013 ToP is in the books.  Before I get into the final stage wrap up and the awarding of the Jerseys and Team Trophy, let’s take a minute to thank a few who made all this possible. 

First and foremost, for the sixth year in a row, Harold and Jim have given up their vacation time to shuttle around the courses, always ensuring that there is support for the riders.

Matty-Matt and his wrenching skills – not only does he get in some miles on the bike, but he is open for business every morning and evening to take care of any issues with the bikes.  If a part is broken, he manages to find a way to replace it regardless of where we are. 

Bobbo for the great pictures — even when his perfectionism tends to bring out our most sarcastic sides.

And finally, Leon and Cindy of Tackitt Family Vineyards, Jason and Kevin of Barrelhouse Brewing Co, and John and Terrie who opened up the Rolling Hills Ranch Party Barn for our wrap-up festivities.  

As for our final Sparkle Skirt, the honor goes to Jeff T, who is quickly becoming an internet sensation with the soon to be famous catch phrase "WORKING IT"!

Seems Jeff and Gomez, having crested one of the many thigh busting climbs had to stop to fix Jeff's flat.  This led to an ad-hoc pirate videotaping that is not to be missed.  Since there's no way to truly do it justice, I'll leave it to you all to watch, enjoy and add to his growing fan-club.

The final day every year rolls out with the same plan – it always goes something like this:

“Hey guys,” someone will suggest, “it’s the last day, what say we all stay together and just enjoy the day?” 

This is ALWAYS met with nodding heads, all north and south.  Everyone is tired and beat-up.  The days, the miles, and the pace have more than taken their toll – and the thought of taking it easy with all your new found friends seems like just the ticket.

Well, that is until the first mile passes by.  It’s about than that someone forgets the good-time feelings of the morning banter, the solidarity before the rollout.  It’s about then that someone remembers that this is the ToP, and there’s always a chance to grab one of those sweet jerseys!!!! 

So, like the six years before it, this final day’s stage continued its tradition and opened up a can of whoop-@%$.

The day’s stage was a short 70 miles with two climbs that still had points on the table for the KoM.  The first of these, Peachy Valley, was only a short roll form the start, which resulted in a couple miles tacked on to give everyone a chance to warm up.  The plan was to have us roll past the turn for the climb for about an hour, make a right, a right, a right and a left to bring us back and onto the climb. 

So there we were, a quarter mile into the ride and a quiet suggestion began to grow through the peloton, “why add those miles”, “the turns right there”, come-on, what do you say”?  It was like the devil and angel were sitting on our shoulders, and the angel wasn’t paying attention.  Well, at least that’s how it was for everyone but Pat, who had the bad luck of sitting about 20 feet ahead of the group, rolling innocently along when everyone behind him hung a left and began the first part of the climb.  Poor Pat, one moment the head of the parade, the next the poor kid who threw a party and nobody came.

After the up and down of the Peachy Valley, where any semblance of solidarity was thrown to the wind, we began the final climb up and over the last climb and onto Hwy 1.  With the wind blowing at our backs, you’d think we were in for a cakewalk.  But no amount of tail wind can compensate for the charge that would be the final 40-miles of the ToP. 

In less than 4-hours, all 25-riders were back where we’d started – the Marriott in SLO

Day 5 in the books and the 2013 edition of the Train of Pain complete. 

Well, complete except for the wrap-up party!

Let me paint the picture, fantastic wine, outstanding craft beer, fresh made artisan pizzas, a band you couldn’t help but love, the vineyard in full bloom and maybe the coolest party barn anywhere

Add to that a great crowd and the chance to raise some money for wounded warriors and their families give you a perfect ending to the week. 

As to our winners, it was a hard fought week, but the selections were made.

For Yellow, Tim continued his week with a solo break after the first climb which sewed it up for him. 

Red went to Max, who throughout the week really was the best climber – more often than not pacing Tim to the final jump.

White belonged to Chris throughout the week – and though his final day was his toughest yet, he fought it out throughout. 

Green was still up for grabs with seven sprints for the day, but once again, Andrew prevailed.  This marks his forth Green Jersey in five years (the only year he didn’t bring it home was the year he took Yellow, so we can probably forgive that one).

Rust, however, was another matter.  It really had come down to Gomez and Bobbo.  Now just to remind everyone, this is the jersey that was awarded for the rider that fought everyday, always giving it everything they had, and ALWAYS coming up with nothing to show for it.  Both of these two were the scrappers of the ride.  In every break, attacking against all odds, and always being left empty handed for their often-heroic actions.  We were down to the last 20-miles, and it was a 50-50 tie — something had to happen. 

So off they went, head to head for all the glory. 

Once we all were back to the hotel, I asked, “so, who won?”

A short pause, followed by, “oh, it was a gentleman’s finish, we rolled in together” 

“Well”, I said, “if no one won, than I guess the Rust Jersey stays in the box this year.”

Bobbo, sensing that is moment of glory on the podium was slipping through his fingers quickly corrected. 

“I did take the two sprints,” he boastfully protested.

“Great”, I replied, “looks like we have our rust winner! 

“Wait a minute”, Gomez complained, “I towed you across the whole last stretch and you’re stealing the win!”

Remember, I said the Rust signified the poor guy that sacrificed day in and day out, coming up with nothing for all his effort. 

So sorry Bobbo, looks like the first Rust Jersey wearer for the ToP will be Gomez!

As for the Team Trophy, San Diego takes it home for the second year in a row! 

All in all, this was a great year, lots of wonderful memories for all concerned.  Next year’s ride is only 362 days away, so if you’re going to be apart, you’d best get training.

  • 432 miles completed
  • 25,100 feet of climbing

Friday, May 24, 2013

ToP Day 4 – The Yellow Jersey Doesn’t Pull!

Day Four of the ToP, and the miles were showing at the breakfast tables. Forcing down yet another rubbery pancake or lukewarm omelet became a bit more difficult, the OJ didn’t seem as fresh, and the coffee – just a tad more bitter. This is the cost of 3-hard days of punishment behind us with 103-miles in the heat and wind looming over the day’s horizon.

Today’s route would take us on a broad clockwise loop out of Paso Robles, up into the foothills crossing two lakes and eventually returning by way of the Pleasant Valley Wine Trail. It turned out to be one of the nicest, both roads and scenery – taking in some great aspects of the Paso region.

But enough of this, lets get into the important aspects of the day – it’s time for the dis.

As always, we began with the presenting of the Sparkle Skirt. Though only the first year for this auspicious award, it has now taken on a whole new status.

After tremendous discussion, it became apparent that we needed to recognize not one, but two riders. Both representing our military warriors, both highly decorated for their exploits in foreign lands, and both now sporting a sparkly red skirt that, I’m sure surpasses all that has come before.

Our dynamic twosome, no longer Army of Ones, distinguished themselves through their gallant attempt to change a split tire. The problem is that this complicated process began only moments before the day’s grand depart. It began with our White Jersey holder, Chris recognizing the damaged rubber as he was preparing to jump on his bike. He than began a confused, and often hysterical dance from van door to bike, to door and back – all in an attempt to try and find a replacement. Finally after what seemed like an eternity, a replacement was found and the difficult job of replacement began. 

After bruised fingers and ego, along with even more precious time had elapsed, the tire was in place, the wheel back on the fork. It was at this point that Chris broke a cardinal rule in his profession – NEVER LET THE SURGEON ASSIST THE PA. Really, NEVER DO THIS! Trust me, it will result in failure! And sure enough, allowing Curt to touch a bike tool, place it into action, and attempt a repair almost immediately caused a major blowout – sending all the military members of the ride ducking for cover – sure that it was incoming fire! At this point, the two Medical Officers, the pride of the Army, were told to stand-down and let a real professional take over. To this end, El Jefe shouldered them aside, grabbed the wheel, a tube and new tire and had the bike ready to roll in about 2 mins (all while instructing on the proper ways of bike maintenance).

It deserves special note that Chris, still smarting from the controversy of the previous day, elected to not take the easy buy-out and wear his award with true Army Pride! Curt, on the other hand, couldn’t pull out his “Jackson” fast enough!

Throughout the day, that Sparkly shimmer of Chris’ skirt winking in the sunlight as he lifted the pace and dropped the lesser soles stood as a tenfold beacon in the night, the true reminder of Duty, Honor, Country.

Maybe it was the Sparkle Skirt, maybe the appearance of fresh legs in the peloton – either way, the pace today was relentless! From the first rise in elevation the lead riders, 15-strong, began a hellish pace that would blow the field apart. The early instigator, Gomez was driven to frenzy with dreams of Rust dancing in his head. This lasted for about seven miles – of course, with nearly 90 left to go it might not have been the right strategy for the day. 

Meanwhile, the real heavy lifting from El Jefe, Bobbo, Chris and today’s guest rider Len was well underway. Throughout this, the Yellow Jersey staunchly refused his turns at the front. When forced into it through physical shoves and jabs, he would soft-pedal, shedding the pace and causing almost immediate overtaking by the group. Finally, after more than 20-miles of pain and suffering, El Jefe turned to our Yellow Jersey – the conversation going something like this,

“Tim, we’re dying here, can’t you lend us a hand into these winds?”

Staring him coldly in the eye, he calmly replied, “The Yellow Jersey Doesn’t Pull

Shamed into the realization that they were mere minions, El Jefe was left speechless for maybe the first time in his life. To my thinking, being able to stun Andrew like this was even more impressive then Tim’s ability to accelerate away on the steepest of climbs.

As for our earlier instigator, Gomez, the ride turned truly ugly, his efforts having burnt out any matches still within his quiver. Scott and Wendi rolled up on him outside some wayward country store - shattered and forlorn. His faithful lieutenant Rich at his side; the two of them stuffing Klondike bars in a last-ditch effort to recover. 

We’re down to our final day; this one will take us back to SLO. We’ll finish out the week with the wrap-up party, so stay tuned on Friday for the final wrap-up and awarding of the jerseys and team trophy.

352 miles completed
21,900 feet of climbing

No change in the Yellow and White, with Tim and Chris looking extremely strong. 

The Red and Green have also shown selection, with the Red now cleanly down to only two.

Tim – 16
Max – 15
Chris – 9
Jeff - 6

For the Green, it looks tough to unseat El Jefe for his 4th ToP win – but the final stage includes the highest number of sprint points for the week and some concentration and snappy legs can still rule the day.

Andrew – 26
Gomez - 12
Bobbo - 10
Rich and Haggis tied with – 6

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

ToP Day 3 – Duty, Honor, Country is No Match for the Free-Wheeling Course Ethics of El Jefe

Stage Three, the Queen Stage.  The mid-point of every Grand Tour is known affectionately as the Queen Stage, it marks the half-way point, it takes the riders over the hump, and it is more-often than not the hardest stage of the ride.  Today met all the criteria with two massive climbs, more of the wind, some great sprints, and just a touch of controversy.

At only 78-miles, the route took us from San Luis Obispo to Paso Robles, for our first hotel change.  While Paso is only 30-miles by direct route, Carter managed to find the most challenge available to make up for the lesser distance of our previous days.

As always, we began with the rider meeting and the presentation of the now infamous Sparkle Skirt.  Often, these decisions are quite difficult, but today’s was simple – after the initial draft route was sent out to the riders in early March, we received a quick reply.  This from a first-year rider, so one can excuse the naiveté that would compel this action.  The e-mail pleaded, implored and cut right to the essence of our very manhood with a near demand that without yesterday’s See Canyon inclusion the 2013 ToP would be doomed to failure.  Carter, being the push-over to idle threats that he is capitulated, adding the Bastard Climb and crushing the peloton – some may never truly recover.  So Day-Two’s Sparkle Skirt belongs to none other than our current Yellow Jersey, Tim Page (who we will NEVER ask for route advice again).

Today marked another ToP tradition, the recognition and celebration of Birthday Boy Matty-Matt, who seems to milk this auspicious occasion in greater and grander fashion every year. For this year, along with a rousing 
sing-along and his honored lead-out of the grand depart, Matty-Matt decided that to usher in his 45th year, he should leave a bit of himself in Templeton, just a few short miles from the day’s finish. 

Seems he was innocently riding along when he was joined both by the Yellow and Red Jersey, Tim and Max.  At this point, our dynamic duo were so far ahead that they decided to call it a day and roll in with Matt, a true showing of solidarity among teammates.  Of course this is where it all went south.  First there was a question of just how far to the finish, this was followed by an off-hand reach into a jersey pocket for the route card – just as the front wheel hit a large rock and the site of Matty-Matt doing his best impression of “stop-drop and roll” across the asphalt.  This resulted in large areas of body now covered in road rash, the demise of one Galaxy II by Samsung, and some now noticeable blemishes to his brand new bike – I’ll let you take a guess which of these carry the greatest degree of pain and suffering!

All this occurred long after the roll-out controversy, where one side heard Matt leads out and the other heard everyone hold up while our White Jersey leader changes a torn tire.  This difference in viewpoint is akin to that great American feud between the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s.  Never in the history of the ToP have we seen such violence of words!

This all came to a head on the second climb of the day.  With the early departures scoring their climbing points of the ride on the first climb, they were feeling confident that they were now in the driver’s seat

To get in the driver’s seat, it required a hard drive of 20-23 MPH average to the climb, dropping the very birthday boy they rolled out before the main group to support.

Regardless, the die was cast, the chickens had flown the coop, and the tempest in the teapot was underway. For it was the second climb up Santa Rosa Canyon, the significantly difficult of the two that saw this come to a head.
It began with El Jefe, who was leading out Chris into Cambria, the last town before the climb.  The route intended a short roll into town with a turn at the third street and onto the climb.  This was the route that our early leaders of Gomez and Jeff T had taken.  El Jefe, who believes that a direct line is often the better choice turned instead at the first turn –thus shortening the lead in run by as much as a mile (or so), with 13-miles of hard climbing, most would feel this was statistically insignificant – and in El Jefe’s view, well within the spirit of the ToP. 

Also in keeping with the El Jefe rule of riding, since there were no more sprint points left to contest, he only had to make it up and over the climb to complete the day – which meant this was a perfect time to stop, have a coffee and a couple pastries while trying to coax others into his ways.
Chris, fresh off the Plain at West Point and already on the climb, had slowed to a near walking pace because he was concerned that he’d made an error – Gomez and Jeff, spotting their prey attempted to surge by – indignant that their early, and some say sneaky departure was threatened.  Allegedly, heated words were spoken – Chris obviously having cheated, otherwise how else could he have gotten ahead.  Chris, the weight of the Long Gray Line heavy upon his shoulders, answered their accusations with judicious use of the LA “LOOK” – glancing back, a steely-eyed stare, followed by a blistering acceleration that left them shaken and dejected. 

Another one in the books – only two days left for the final selection of our jersey winners.  Stay tuned, this is heating up! 

251 miles completed
16,200 feet of climbing

Yellow still firmly on the shoulders of Tim, while Chris has held onto the White for another day.

The Red and Green saw some shaking with some new names on the board.

Tim – 12
Max – 7
Jeff - 6
Chris - 4

Andrew - 14
Gomez - 12
Rich and Haggis tied with - 6

Monday, May 20, 2013

ToP Day 2 - Sparkle Skirt

Year after year, Day Two of the Train of Pain rears its ugly fist of fate and crashes down on the heads of the hapless riders – WITHOUT MERCY!  It all starts innocently enough, happy faces at breakfast, all jovial and full of moxie.   Four-top tables crowded with food and sometimes-merciless ribbing – still an hour to go before the shenanigans begin. 

It never fails, all the happy smiles disappear – only to be replaced by sunken eyes and hollow faces by the days end.  Today would be no different, but we’ll get to that.

Tradition dictates that the ToP recognizes a significant event from the previous day – this can come in the form of a heroic ride, ruling the roads, perhaps suffering through some injury or aliment, but stoically pressing on – unwilling to say die.  But more often, it’s that event that we can, in all good humor, make fun of the poor soul for. 

For this year, we introduced a new award to mark this particular category, the Pink Sparkle Skirt.  The rules are simple, each evening, a panel is convened to discuss the possible candidates; events are weighed, and only after full consensus is a winner determined.  Only the Catholic Conclave can claim greater secrecy.  Once selected, the “winner” is required to don the sparkle skirt and wear it with pride through the day’s stage – or, they can take the $20 buy-out, which must be settled by the end of the day.

For 2013, our first Sparkle goes to Bobbo – his exploits the previous day, causing near pandemonium in the peloton.  While his efforts resulted in absolutely nothing for him, it set the tone for the week; temporarily crushed the hopes and dreams of the favorites and set into motion the painful retribution that is sure to come.

Today’s route, an 83-mile loop looked tame enough on paper.  Relatively easy for the first 11-miles where we began the first of two out and back legs.  The first of these was a lovely 10-mile stroll along Lake Lopez – nothing steep, not hot and no wind – we’ll call this the calm before the storm.

It was the second that changed the face of the day.  Huasna Canyon was a 24 mile leg – 12 out, 12 back, with rated climbs each way, and the first real opportunity to score best climber points.

The lead group had thinned by the start of this leg, not because the pace had increased, not because there was a climb to form the selection, nope – it was a flat.  Now don’t get me wrong here, in normal circumstances, a flat tire for the SD crew would result in a group stop, help if needed and back out together.  But this is the ToP, and stopping to help or wait is a sorry sign of weakness.  So after some immediate confusion the word traveled forward that some poor sap had flatted, for those lucky enough to be ahead in the line, this was the opportunity to dash off, the road and conscience clear ahead.

It was only after a quick look around that we realized that is was Haggis who punctured – yup, the only shot for sprint points for the hapless OC/NorCal was out of the hunt – while his teammates were racing ahead.

The canyon leg turned out to be just a bit more effort than was expected.  The mild climbs included some 12% sections; the cool lake weather of earlier was replaced with dry, hot rough roads.  While the lake leg had a clear U-turn point, the canyon was nothing close.  Those in the front crested the third climb, looked ahead at what appeared to be a near cliff and wisely decided that that was as good as anyplace to turn.  The follow-on riders, lulled into a sense of fair play foolishly rolled up and over – and over – and over!  We later learned that no local would ever be so silly as to take on that last section.

Meanwhile Haggis, who was still steaming at his misfortune, was beginning to learn that the ToP rewards initiative.  His ploy became to slow-roll along until the lead group came bombing back. 
Crouching silently behind a crop of shrubbery, he leapt out, brashly making his presence known and daring anyone to say otherwise.  There were sprint points ahead, and he had to in the game to play.

It was as the lead group sped back from the canyon that the first true “incident” occurred.  While there is some debate in the exact details, the consensus was clear – and will be forever known as the ferocious squirrel and the Italian Stallion.  Some would say it was matter of language differences, perhaps the immediate shot of adrenalin as the natural instinct of fight-or-flight kicks in, either way, they say nothing curls the hair at the back of your neck like the sound of a squirrel scream – except maybe the sound of Max’ as the poor fuzzy-tailed rodent darted out, darted back, and finally stood – it’s big black eyes wide with fear.  As the following bikes scrambled out of the way of the impending doom some swear that they heard the poor animal scream out “I’M TELLING THE POPE”.

Now this could maybe have been brushed aside as a one-off in judgment, but upon returning to the hotel, our Red Jersey front-runner Max – who I need to mention was born and raised in ROME (Italy, not New York), passed up an opportunity for a private tasting at Baileyanna’s Winery to dine at the Olive Garden – the OLIVE GARDEN for gosh sakes!  If the Pope was angered over the ferocious squirrel and the Italian Stallion incident, he surely was going to pass some sort of edict over this!

Our route ended with the “Mother of all Climbs” - and trust me when I tell you, that that is the least offensive description for this.  Known as See Canyon, apparently it is a must-do for any hard-core cyclist, and one that Tim Page insisted needed to be included.  While Carter is usually fanatical in his research and relentless in his pursuit of the perfect route, he clearly failed to ask a few pointed questions as just why this is such a must-do.

Nearly everyone had to stop – about half-way up I found a shady spot in the middle of the road, threw down my bike and collapsed to the road.  Sitting there, cursing all that is human that compelled me to even attempt this hellish climb.

All in all, Day Two met all expectations for the ToP; it’s now in the books.  Two down, three to go.

Standings so far
173 miles completed
10,200 feet of climbing
Yellow – Tim Page still leads the pack with his crushing attacks
Sprint points
            Andrew – 14
            Haggis – 6
            Gomez – 5
            Tim – 6
            Max – 3
            Chris – 2
White – The young kid from West Point, Chris Cordova is the rider to beat
            Bobbo still remains the animator, but we’ll need to see some true Jerry Cook actions or this one will stay in the box.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

ToP Day 1 – It’s not the “Trolley of Discomfort”

The Train of Pain (ToP) actually begins the day before we get on our bikes and roll out on stage one.  It’s the “Pre-Ride” day; the day everyone arrives, the day they begin to size everyone up – who looks strong, who has that look in their eye, who looks like they should have eaten a few less of those delicious Krispy Kremes.

It’s also the day that too much sun, too many Stella's and WAAAAY too much revelry following the kick-off dinner can un-do weeks of training and preparation.

Welcome to everyone to the 2013 Train of Pain – the stomp through Big Reds country.  As a quick update, this year’s fun and games take place in San Luis Obispo County, home of some of the best bold red wines in the nation.  It is also home of some great climbs, strong winds off the cold Pacific Ocean, and warm sunny days.

This year’s ToP will cover just shy of 500 miles over our 5-days of riding, will include 25 riders – and our two brave and some say foolish drivers, Jim and Harold.  We’ll continue our tradition of awarding the efforts with the jersey and team competition (which will once again be judged through some fairly suspect methods, but remain the most sought after award in sport), as well as our daily write-up, guaranteed to contain at least some aspect of truth.

To recap for our past readers, and initiate those new to the blog, though this is a “non-competitive” ride, who are we kidding? There is nothing non-competitive in any of the riders.  So beginning with our first event, a short, fast run from San Francisco to Redondo Beach seven years ago, from the very first hour the game was on.  We quickly developed a hierarchy to recognize who lived the ToP ethos the best each year.  This was done through the awarding of jerseys, each year the categories growing to encompass the feel of the ride.

For this year, our breakdown follows along the historical path of those lesser grand tours, like the Tour de France.

The coveted Yellow Jersey denotes the strongest rider – that stalwart Denison of Virtue that has undoubtedly given up any semblance of social and family life, instead dedicating their waking hours to training, map study and a near monistic dedication toward diet and fitness.

Next in the hierarchy is the Red Jersey – typically awarded to the finest climber – but for ToP, it means that perhaps a little more work and a little less time glued to the “Vampire Diaries” might have made the difference.

Our Green Jersey is the best sprinter – the rider that knows the city limit signs and can jump out of the pack – laughing at danger and throw their arms into the air as they click off another three points for their efforts.

The White Jersey is given to our best new rider – these poor souls rarely understand what it is they have gotten themselves into.  Their success is often the result of their innocence, their labrador puppy enthusiasm, and the ignorance of the unknown.

New for this year, the Rust Jersey will be awarded.  This is in honor of Jerry Cook, who last year – day after day, went to the front and gave everything he had.  Headwinds or hills, he tried in vain to crack the leaders, only to end up with nothing for his efforts.  From this daily self-flogging, the Rust was born.  That rider that continually gives it a go, fights for some small level of accolades, and crashes in epic style will be the one to claim this beauty!

Stage One is now in the books, and with it we have our front-runners for each of the jerseys on the board.

The day began with a horrific wind whipping out of the northwest (though as a true mystery of all mankind, it seemed to be on our faces throughout the day's efforts).  With 93 miles and just shy of 5300 feet of climbing, it was looking like a long day in the saddle.

With less than a mile from the start, the first of the games began.  Our original Yellow Jersey winner, Tom Armbruster, leapt from the back of the peloton - taking Bobbo and our newest rider Steve “Haggis” Ramsey with him.  Quickly gaining a small gap, they were blessed with the luck of the traffic light, when the whole of the remaining group was caught out.

The long light, and the scheming of the break meant that the erstwhile threesome was out of sight and off on their own.  But eight miles up the road their luck ran south.

Haggis, a slow leak in his rear tire forced them to stop.  Realizing that the gig was up, Tom – always conniving and stirring the pot – convinced them to duck behind the nearest building and wait for the peloton to roll past.  The plan, to dash out and chase them down, feigning innocence with a “Hey guys, what’s you doing?”

Of course, the group was nowhere in the loop, and driving the pace in a vain attempt to close the gap.

This is where the threesome’s plan fell apart – as the unknown chase was occurring, the peloton’s pace was screaming as they worked together like a fine Swiss watch.  Mile after mile they rolled, the pace frantic as Tim and his trusted lieutenant Max saw the jersey falling through their fingers.
At the halfway point, the route did a figure eight, peeling off into the steep, dry foothills for a 40-mile, headwind-blowing loop.  The true picture still unknown to the group, they dove into the fight – setting a blistering pace and peeling rider after rider with the speed and fury.

The reality, our threesome was easily 30-mins behind, still fighting to correct their miscalculations.  By this time, the threesome was now a twosome, as Tom – who was the instigator of the whole scheme.  Because of that, he started the long loop even further back, but still suffering from his recent Achilles surgery, decided to play it smarter and turn back.

Arriving back at the aide van, he realized that he was once again ahead of the true leaders – and Jim was unaware of his subterfuge!  Giggling and smirking like Calvin and Hobbes, he quickly remounted and dashed up the road.  15 mins later, Tim, a froth formed and hardened and the 1000-mile stare of too much wind, too many miles and too little water came screaming to a halt like the arrival of the pony express.  After gulping down a Gatorade and a handful of potato chip remnants, he managed to form some semblance of a sentence,
                                             “How”, pant, pant, “Far”, pant, pant, “Ahead?”
As his eyes began to roll back, Jim, as always wanting to help in any way, let him know that he was in second place, but the gap was far and the road was long.

Dejected, and somewhat emasculated – having been riding the high life as the 2013 ToP favorite, he let out a heavy sigh, heaved his leg back over the top tube and pushed off.

It was only after finally catching Tom, only feet before the finish, that the truth was made clear.  Tom, still smirking, looked him straight in the eyes and said welcome kid, remember, this ain’t the Trolley of Discomfort!

One down and four days to go; our standings so far:

93 miles
5300 feet of climbing

Yellow - Tim Page
Red - Max Affarano
White - Chris Cordova
Green - Andrew Lee
Rust - Bobbo

Team Standings:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I've been to hell, and it is cold and rainy . . . .

Day 4, the queen stage. This is the term that denotes the hardest stage of a race - and it was supposed to be today's. However, Mother Nature had something all together different to say - but more about that in a bit.

Today's route took us from our hotel in Grass Valley, out into the hills, eventually bringing us back to town and a well-deserved feast with Andy De Meyer's family. A table full of grilled meats, homemade beans, salads, cookies, fruit and more than enough beer and wine to keep everyone fat, dumb and happy. Added to that was true hospitality and Great Pyrenees dogs – two of them, and they weighed more than most of the riders.

As it turned out, Andy's family lives right along the course, just 4 miles from the hotel. They pulled out all the stops and opened up their home to 34 starving men – all I can really say is what the heck were they thinking!!!!!!!

As to the ride, while the weather did not cooperate, the course was spectacular. Saw tooth terrain, tall trees, rivers, covered bridges, and absolutely beautiful country. Of course, there was also the rain - the cold, wet, really cold rain. This is the kind of rain the soaks straight through. It dribbles down your neck, it stings your eyes, it soaks your feet and turns your hands to clumps. But all that pales when compared to the pad in your bike shorts. The pad that was so carefully prepared with chamois cream before the start of the ride; the pad that soaks up the rain, mixes with the cream and seems to stick and slosh with every pedal stroke. Ah, the pad!

That evil rain held off for the hour anda half, but then came on with a gusto - dry, than downpour, with almost nothing in between. To add insult to injury, Carter had designed today's route so that it passed directly in front of the hotel at the 70-mile point, 24 miles of hills and that cold, wet rain to go.

Now folks, I think of myself as a hard man, a guy that embraces the suffering of both work and sport. An individual that can put up with almost any discomfort. In fact, this is how I think of all the riders on the ToP; remember, this is the Train of Pain after all. So knowing this of myself, you can imagine how I must have felt when I got to the hotel, still with miles to go, and instead road straight into the lobby, set my bike aside for Matty-Matt to deal with, and staggered up to my room and strait into my shower.

Well, you'd be wrong, because I didn't feel the least bit of guilt – in fact, almost everyone else was making the same decision. Remember, I said almost - yesterday's black jersey winner, Jerry Cook, was our lone, stalwart hero; the only one to continue on. He reached the hotel, changed into dry clothes (again, the soaked chamois picture); once dry and relatively warm, he jumped back on his bike and finished off the loop. An hour or so before this monumental decision, as he and I were still finishing off the first loop, he said, "this is the best vacation, all I have to do is ride my bike", apparently he wanted to get his miles worth. Rumor hasit that his gloves iced up as he crossed the 4000-foot elevation - sure, he's hard, but the way I see it, that shower sure felt nice.

As has been the case each day, there were the occasional missed turns – those moments of inattentiveness that result in extra miles, climbs, and curses. Today was no exception, the big difference is that it involved the route planner, Carter, our map savant, who was among a large group made up of Tyler Borgwordt, Dave Crowe, Mike Armbruster, and Scott Duncun. It seems that Carter had made a mistake on the route card – listed a left turn when we needed to go right. An innocent mistake that is completely understandable when you stop to consider that he has listed hundreds of turns over the course of the trip. And while by and large, everyone was able to figure out where to correct, it was Carter, of all people that led his group astray. This little snafu added miles to their trek - again, miles in that rain.

Eventually, the group fell apart, mutiny ensued and they went their separate ways. This left Tyler and Dave to find their own way. As they rode, the temperature continued to drop, the rain to fall, and the joy of the open road to disappear all together. Spying an awning in the distance, they saw their temporary salvation, Any Port in the Storm as they say.

While huddling together, a few moments of respite, the owner of the shop they had chose as their salvation opened the door a few inches; handing Tyler a large cup of hot water, and with the sweetest of grandmotherly voices said, “This is to warm up your hands young man.” This pretty much sums up our experience in Grass Valley.

So, what of this morning’s Black Jersey presentations? Today we had two winners; as you might recall from last nights write-up, the NorCal express took off at mile one, ripping the legs off the rest of the group. This plan was hatched the night before in a closed-door meeting – a meeting called by the team leader, Tom “Dr. Evil” Armbruster. For hatching such a devious, and painful plan, he truly personified the spirit of ToP.

Our second winner, Paul “the Tard” Gruebel was a rider who is back after a couple years away – years that included a significant increase in waistline and only slightly less of a loss of power on the bike. His last ToP was the infamous Portland trip, a trip that included 4 of 5 days in the pouring rain (maybe this weather has something to do with him, but I digress). That Portland edition, he was continually in the mix for the yellow Jersey, battling day in and day out – a never say die approach.

Now back on the ride, his weight once again where it belongs, he began the week with dreams of yellow. As the NorCal train left the station, he sat up, smiled, and threw in the towel. Deciding instead to pull the main group for the majority of the route, content that there was nothing more to prove. He left here an angry rider, arrogant and proud. He returned the rider of the people – we’ll call it Tard 2.0.

Our Jersey hunt continues, with the Yellow and Red mostly decided; the Green is the hot competition for tomorrow, with several opportunities to capture some much needed points.

Grass Valley to Grass Valley

  • 70.7 miles (91.8 for Jerry), 347.3 total
  • 6,385 ft of climbing, 27,476 total

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


What a day; battles on the road, stunning countryside, and a moment or two to ham it up!

Today’s route took us from Jackson to Grass Valley, covering some of the most picturesque and challenging roads yet. The ride rolled out the first 5-miles of Day-2 before heading Northwest towards the high foothills. Along the way we were treated to a crossing of the Foresthill Bridge, which spans the North fork of the American River. This the highest bridge in California, third highest in the country and the seventh in the world. At 730 feet, this thing is TALL!

When we first looked at the route map, it seemed that the bridge was built to avoid the descent and climb out of the gorge. After yesterday, everyone was glad for that. Of course this was not going to be the case; while it does span a large section of the gorge, it still required a screaming descent of 1300 feet, followed immediately by a long slog up the other side – then we got to cross the bridge. This was obviously some engineer’s idea of a great joke, let’s send the poor sods into the Pit of Despair and see how they do!

As always, the day began with the Black Jersey presentation – this was a tough one – throughout the group, everyone had an epic day, everyone rode at his limit, but not everyone could get the jersey. So we had to look for something special, and in this we found Jerry Cook. Jerry had a less than desirable first two days of his maiden ToP: on Day-1 he broke his rear wheel – now this happens, after all, it’s a machine, and machines break. No problem, he was able to borrow a spare wheel.

Off he went on the monster Day-2 ride. Six times, he made wrong turns, sending him over hill and dale; six times he added miles and elevation gain; six times he could have thrown in the towel. To add insult to injury, at some point he managed to break the borrowed wheel as well. Finally making it back to the hotel, he got a third wheel from Matty-Matt and set back out on the route to do the final lap – alone, in the wind, and with no support vehicle. So for his never-say-die ride, Jerry is our Day-2 winner.

Today marked the middle stage of the ride; with only two more days to go, the boys from NorCal/Pacific Northwest, Nate; the brother’s Armbruster, Mike and Tom; and the ever-young Scott Duncan hatched a plan. Only a mile into the day, they leaped off the back of the group and made a dash for freedom.

It was like a freight train heading up the side of the group and off the front. Zach, who has been edging closer to the coveted Yellow Jersey hesitated thinking they were just messing around, after all, there were still 88 miles and thousand’s of feet of climbing to go. But after the fifth or sixth shout to him to chase, he finally headed out. Young and strong, as fast as the NorCal guys were going they weren’t going as fast as he was. Within what seemed like a blink he had closed the considerable gap and joined the breakaway. For the rest of the riders, it was sweet scene to see the small group rocket away – now they could sit back and enjoy the day.

Five to Six hours after setting out from Jackson, we arrived in Grass Valley – WHAT A COOL TOWN! The town is filled with extremely nice people; some fantastic restaurants; and nice historic downtown to wander through. Of course, no one seemed to have much gumption for sightseeing. So instead it was check-in and stagger off to rooms for much-deserved showers.

One of the great treats of the ToP is that we get to eat as much as we can consume. A day like today will burn 6,000 to 8,000 calories, which is nearly impossible to get back down. This means that as soon as we reach the hotel, get a little cleaned up, it’s off for the first seating. Three or four hours later, it’s off on the hunt again. Tonight, that included a stop to see Bob and his awesome crew of Alex and Vickie, of Gold Rush - Burgers, BBQ and Ice Cream Parlor, who opened up after hours for a large group of us on the search for milkshakes and Hobbit Dinner. Smoked burgers, never had them before, and BOY have I been missing out.

Finally, I need to call out another birthday, Jeff Theders. With the pace and pain of this year’s trip, there were no gifts for Jeff this year – but wish him happy one all the same.

Jackson to Grass Valley

  • 90.7 miles, 276.6 total
  • 7,749 ft of climbing, 21.091 total