To borrow a phrase, "It was the best of rides, it was the worst of rides..."

The 2012 L'Etape Du California was both. It was at once the most difficult experience I've had on a bike, but also, in a strange sort of way, one of the most satisfying. I have never suffered on a ride as much as I did on GMR and on the final climb to the Ski Station, but in the end, I accomplished my goals and even enjoyed looking back on it all.

For those who don't know, L'Etape Du California is a Gran Fondo style race/ride covering the same route as the queen stage of the upcoming  Amgen Tour of California (ToC), from Ontario up to Mt. Baldy Village, over GRR, down East Fork to Azusa Canyon, then over to and up GMR, back over GRR and then up the rest of Baldy to the Ski Station, about 80 miles and 12,000 feet of climbing.

This year L'Etape Du California started at the Ontario Convention Center instead of downtown Claremont as it did last year. The ambiance suffered accordingly. No quaint downtown, just a sterile tilt-up construction convention center. The parking situation was much improved, but it seemed much more like an industrial area crit start, than the ToC.

We had five CV riders and one "Friend of CV" at the start, including Ryan M, Dave S, George T, Paul L, Marty B, and me. The ride started with the traditional (second year in a row) introduction of the VIPs, including Floyd Landis, Nelson Vails (Olympic silver medalist), and Bill Walton of UCLA & NBA fame, among others.

As with last year, riders were allowed to self select their starting groups, with fast (racers) first, then medium paced, and then slower. The first thing we all noticed was that there was a significant difference in the attendees from last year. Marty Brown said it best. He said these are all racers or potential racers, the cyclo-tourists learned their lesson last year and stayed home. At the start all of us but Paul chose the racer group. Paul, planning to noodle the entire ride, went to the slower group. 

The ride started very fast. The VIPs were allowed to go a couple of minutes ahead of us, so our group was chasing fast from the beginning with Amgen guys chasing on the front. Because we started in Ontario, there was a much longer gradual "false flat" all the way up Euclid to cover before hitting the mountain. This made for a fast, tough start. 

While our heart rates rose, I looked over and saw Nelson Veils holding onto the SRAM support car all the way up the road. I guess he earned the right to do that a long time ago.

Ryan stayed up near the leaders on the first climb of Baldy Road, while George & I rode a good tempo behind, passing several guys, but not going crazy. Dave, who had dropped his chain, came past us, but then waited on the top. Marty and Paul were behind and we didn't see them on the ride from that point on.

With Ryan up the road, and Dave taking it easy on the descents, George & I set a fast pace through Azusa Canyon. As we left the canyon we saw a couple of crashes, guys who had given too much and were at the limit and couldn't hold it together. One happened right on our wheel as two tired guys didn't hold their line and collided. I hate that sound.

Once we hit GMR, my challenge began. Last year I saved myself for this climb, but this year I decided to try for a higher overall ride time placing, so I set a good tempo from the start. I felt fine on the first part of GMR, but about halfway up I began to have issues like I have never had before on that climb. I began to lose power in my legs and my arms were even killing me. It was very strange. I just slowed the pace and determined to push through it. Soon George was out of sight and Dave came up and then past me. When I got to the rest area at the top, George and Dave were there and so was Ryan with ice on his legs. He had a similar problem on GMR and decided to take precautions and not go to the Ski Station. Ryan has been getting some big results, including age group wins, in triathlons, so he did the smart thing by not chancing it.

At the rest area I ate PB&Js like there was no tomorrow and drank cups of coke and Gatorade. Once we started back up GRR I began to feel a bit better. Dave, George, & I went over GRR together and then started the final climb up to the Ski Station together. As a climber, Dave started the climb at a strong pace. George was on a super day and he followed Dave. Behind I knew that I had to just slug it out in my 39x28.

On this day the final climb up to the Ski Station was the greatest challenge I have ever faced on a bike. Even though I had recovered from my problem on GMR, the 5 miles of 10% to 17%+ climbs made it very tough after all I had experienced already. It was just turn the pedals over, and over, and over, no weaving the bike, no stopping, just turning them over straight up the road. My advantage was that I know that climb well so I knew exactly what I needed to do to survive it.

Crossing the finish line was very satisfying. I finished in 6:31 which was 114th out of almost 1,000 on the overall ride time, and 19th in the 50+ (out of about 170). For as bad as I felt on GMR and as tough as the last 5 miles were, I am very pleased with that result. Last year I focused on the KOMs, rode easily on the rest and ended up with an overall of about 225th, so I accomplished my goal of moving up significantly on the overall ride time.

Now for the really impressive results for CV! Dave finished at 6:19 for an overall ride time placing of 82nd, and a magnificent overall 4th place in the 55+, a great result! George finished at 6:22 for 87th overall and 22nd in the 45+. George did a fantastic ride as well!

At the top Dave met an acquaintance of his who travels the world riding events like this & he said that this day was the toughest ride he had ever done. Ditto.

From the top it was a slow roll down 20 miles to the start to receive a very nice medal and lunch. Ryan was waiting for us and was feeling better. Marty came in a little after us. He also decided to turn off at the Village. He did a great ride for not really training. Paul decided to pack it in after Azusa Canyon, so we didn't see him at the chow line.

I can't wait for Stage 7 of the ToC on Saturday, May 19th. So far Marty, George, & I plan to ride up to watch the pros. It was a great time last year. I plan to send out an e-mail invite.

God bless & see you out there, Ed

PS: No pictures, as we were all too wasted to use the energy...



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