So this weekend Muadib and I tackled the Primavera Century.
Event bike rides usually are organized around different distances and skill levels, the longer rides having more climbs etc for advanced riders the mid-range mileage routes being good for intermediate riders, and short runs for recreational riders. The Primavera Century starts and ends in Union City, near Fremont, and the loop works it’s way through Milpitas, Sunol, Pleasanton, Dublin and Castro Valley. It is a mondo ride, as far as this bot’s concerned.
I head out early to arrive at the start around 6:30am on Saturday morning, running about 15 minutes late thanks to an alarm error, but arrived to see the bleachers of the local high school decorated and pople milling around, lots of music, parking lot full, etc so i drove up the street into the neighborhood, parked, kitted up, assembled the bike, inflated tires, gathered my gear, and set off to find Muadib, who was to meet me at the registration desk. I left my cell at home, naturally, so i couldn’t communicate with him. It was 47 degrees. Much to my growing apprehension, I saw NO bikes. Highly unusual. Further, it became clear that the hubbub was a track meet. Fearing I was too late and that the century folks were already long gone (the rides are staggered longest to shortest in terms of starting times, so you arrive at the end around the same general time.) After doing two long loops wound the three block radius of the high school, to verify the start location hadn’t been moved to the nearby park or something since I last checked, I came to the correct conclusion that I came ON THE WRONG DAY. To my defense, I’ve never seen a century planned on a sunday.
Just as well, because the major windstorm hitting the bay area Saturday buffeted my building, knocked plants and trashcans and potted trees over, caused bedlam, increased chill factor, and was a total mess well into Saturday night. Quite glad I wasn’t out there in Livermore during that.
Sunday AM< same scenario, headed out early, and this time, yep, bikes and people and such, so i knew I was in good shape. 49 degrees. Met Muadib at the starter, and we took off.
The Primavera Century has a total of 5 rest stops, but we don’t like to linger, as we both get stiff if we are off the bike too long, so we mostly roll in, grab food and water, and head out again. The first rest stop took some climbing to get through, into Cavaleras. We could see the mountain above us, and I was getting that sinking feeling I get before every unknown quantity climb for the first time. Not knowing what to expect, how long, etc is the worst. Muadib did the Metric Century (67miles) version of the Primavera last year, so he knew what was coming, but my GPS was down (with the altimeter) and his bike computer was on the fritz, so we didn’t have mile by mile intel about where we were on the ride. After the first rest stop, where the above picture was taken, we head out for the first major climb of the day, what the locals call ‘The Wall’. As we clipped in, I heard one club rider say to the other "OK, prepared for the Matterhorn?" Guh.
The Wall is well named. I don’t know the percent gradient on this thing, but it’s ridiculous. It’s like a long, tightly winding waterslide up unto the trees. People were walking their bikes, stopped along the way, incredulously looking around, but we just hammered it and hammered it until we were at the summit. It was pretty amazing. Short enough, but extremely steep, and not knowing how long it was makes it hard to pace. Got through it OK, out of the saddle, but pretty beat, and my athsma and allergies were already sucker punching me.
From the summit of The Wall we proceeded to take a long winding route above the Cavaleras reservoir. This was probably one of the best cycling experiences of my life. there were rolling gradients so you mash up one grade then swoop down some tight turns and then up another and repeat. We were in big gearing and really pushing hard, and were additionally assisted by a nice tailwind. We were in a group of club riders for which this was the home turf, so we used them as a guide for speed. Which was fast. It was gorgeous. Tall tree cover, beautiful water, and up to about 51 degrees at this point.
After that stretch, we descended to the flats out by Sunol (forgive me on accuracy, I’m not familiar with this area) so we were pushing through farmland and wine country and such, the wind being OK. But we knew we were in for it when some unfamiliar riders at a following rest stop spoke about the relatively easy mileage to the lunch stop at the Garre Winery at mile 65. Regulars pointed out that we were in for hell, because the long, steep rolling climbs, 12 miles of them, were to continue before lunch, up into the hills where the wind picks up. From here, we learned, it was all headwind. And they were right. These were long, relentless climbs, not terribly steep independently but together they wore you down, like the Seven Sisters in Marin. It’s a bad sign when you are climbing up alongside wind-powered energy generator windmill things on the summit whose propellers were moving at a pitch. We felt sorry for the guy in T-Mobile kit with Spinergy three-blade time trial wheels on the bike… he was getting as much crosswind as those windmills.
The lunch rest stop was tough. This was the mileage point when Muadib and I usually are done, since we normally go after metric centuries. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve frequently done local rides pushing into the 80 mile range, but the key differnce is that out local rides target one hellacious area, and we ride way out to get there, hit this hell climb, then ride all the way back. On these organized rides, they are taking you on routes that have climbs and flats and different terrain distributed along the way, and it’s tough. Unfamiliarity is a big part of it, too, from a psychological standpoint. You just don’t have a sense of your benchmarks. We ate light, cold cuts and the like, and stretched. My ass was in trouble. I’m on a new bike this year, as you’ve read about, a Look to replace my stolen one, and it came with a little sluice plate of a saddle, which I’ve been using just to try it out. My other saddles have more support and padding, though Lung thinks THEY are impossible. Well, this saddle is like two rails with a slice of leather on them. Unforgiving. At mile 65, I was in pain, both in my ass but also my back and my quads. All that fixed gear riding has changed my gearing comfort, and I was riding this a little high on the gearing than I should have been. Fortunately, no tendon issues.
The stretch between mile 65 and the final rest stop at mile 88 was the absolute bear. It doesn’t even LOOK that bad. Just 20 miles of long, moderate grade following the freeway. Two issues: one, it’s still a moderate grade… mild, but over distance, it’s what we call a ‘Trail of Tears’ because you just get worn down over time… and two, the headwind was impossible. I was eventually ticked all the way down on my gearing and pedalling at a slow pace… shoving cookies and fruit down my gullet and burning up my 70 oz water reservoir. Everyone struggled. But the athsma, allergies and general exhaustion I was feeling were only mitigated by proper feeding and hydrating. I was bonking, but holding on.
Final rest stop, all that’s left is the Palomares Grade. This is a climb from mile 88 to somewhere around 92 or so… it’s hard to say. I heard a lot about it, so I was mentally prepared for a long haul. My body was done, my energy was OK thanks to the proper feeding, but my muscles were all fading. This was the worst time to have a bad climb. I knew it to be a winder similar to Marin Headalnds which then turned into a steeper section at the top. I ticked away on this thing, waiting, waititng, waiting for that steep uptick. I wore down to bottom gearing again, starting just barely pushing these cranks over at that point, being so beat. Finally, i saw a curve where two or three riders had stopped. I decided that my ‘don’t stop on the climb!’ attitude was pride, and that I needed to get my heart-rate down. So i pulled up as they took off, took a leak, ate some energy stuff, got my heart-rate down a bit, and then hopped back on, nothing really left in the legs and really psyching myself up for the steep section to come in this endless winding climb. Around the corner and… SUMMIT?!? Here’s Muadib with a thumbs-up, and I’m just flabbergasted. I stopped around the corner from the top. HA. So that was nice. It felt like a gift, since I was preparing for so much more, but had nothing left anyway.
We descended a long, freezing cold but spirited line down the mountain and into Fremont, passing some of what we climbed earlier, and then ultimately the flat stretch back to home base. We ended up taking a bit over 7 hours to complete the ride. And after getting home and soaking in the tub, I’m pleased to report no injury, unlike most previous years where long rides get to my tendons… Last night and this morning I’ve been hobbling around like an old bot, since all my muscles are sore and depleted, and my eyes are well-swollen… but man, it feels GREAT to have accomplished this ride. This was my first real century since I was 17.
So, success, I say!
Here’s a map of the course: