Princeton 200k Brevet Report

Today was the Princeton 200k Brevet, running out of, umm, Princeton, and looping north and south and finishing back in Princeton. I was a bit apprehensive about the ride, and the reasons were many–it was out of town, it was really hilly, and, oh yeah, it would be the longest ride I’ve done. But off I went, arriving in the Forrestal Village parking lot in Princeton around 06:15. I signed in, got my bike inspected, and stood around and saw what there was to see. The selection of bikes and riders was quite diverse–multiple roadies sporting carbon (or titanium) bikes and lots of aero bars, the usual assortment of older randonneurs, with various bikes, the nicest of which was a Serrotta with Terraplane-ish seat stays and Vanilla, someone on a fixed gear(!), and a guy on a recumbent (a nice rando model) who was wearing what looked like bedroom slippers.

At 07:15 we rolled out of the parking lot for the “flat” first leg, which was roughly 40 miles. The groups sorted themselves out in a few miles, and I found myself with the front group, moving at a comfortable pace. Several folks stopped to make bike adjustments, and two of us pushed on. This would be a Bad Decision. A few miles later, my riding partner, Todd, and I absolutely, completely misread the cue sheet and went left instead of right. About three miles (and several descents) later, we sorted out our mistake, turned around, and climbed. And climbed. Finally, we were back on course, and we caught a few folks, and headed to the first contole, with only 30 minutes to spare. Not good, considering we just finished the easiest stage. Humm. After a short break and lots of water, we headed to the hills.

Adamic Hill Road was first. This was steep in parts, but really a fine climb, with plenty of switchbacks and little chance for recovery. Interestingly, despite the relative low speed, we began to make up time. I think I passed six people on the climbs, and we picked up a few more on the rolling flats above the climb. I felt good on the climb, happy for the extra cog in the rear, and managed to maintain a very steady pace without getting out of the saddle. I’m still parsing whether or not the climb was true Dirty Dozen material–perhaps, given that it was long, and included stretches of 20%+ slopes. Todd and I made a good riding team, with me pulling us up the hills and Todd pulling us along the flats. A long descent led us to the controle in Stewartsville, where I ate a PB&J and drank a Coke. The controle, and our pace, allowed Todd and I to re-group with more of the field.

A short section of flat road led to the base of Fox Farm Road, the second of the nasty climbs. Fox Farm reminded me of the Center Avenue climb out of Aspinwall–dead straight, with alternating sections of steep and not-so-steep. Again, my pace was even, and I felt good, staying in the saddle and passing more folks (it’s funny, passing people when only doing 5 MPH). There was an information controle at the top of the climb, and we paused only briefly. It was at this point that things started to get hard for me. The wind kicked up a bit, and along the rollers on the ridge, we fought a constant headwind. Staying in touch with Todd became difficult, though he kindly kept his pace so there was never more than a quarter mile gap between us. I wasn’t eating enough, and running low on water. Though this leg was no longer than the second, it seemed interminable, and to make matters worse, there was another, more moderate hill, before the controle, Tunnel Road. Todd and I regrouped at the base, and quickly caught two more riders. Tunnel Road is best described as a classic, steady ascent–no steeper than 7 or 8%, and nicely shaded, for the most part. Todd and I took turns at the front, and soon dropped our companions (again, this makes it seems as if we were pushing the pace, but given our 8 or 9 MPH average, this was hardly the case). Once at the top, to make matters worse, my back began to tighten up, and staying in the saddle didn’t make it better. Given that it was a long descent to the last controle, I just had to sit in and suffer.

As we rolled into the last controle (the same as the first), we were shocked to see the lead group sitting on the curb. They hadn’t been there long (in fact, they hadn’t started eating yet), and we expressed our disbelief that we had made up so much time, especially given our 12 extra miles. I told Todd I was going to relax a bit and stretch. I ate Combos and Fig Newtons, drank a bottle of water, and popped a few electrolyte tabs. I was feeling better, and thought if I could get my back to loosen up, the final 40 miles would be bearable. Todd and I saddled up a bit before the lead group, and within two miles their tight pace line zoomed past. I told Todd to feel free to latch on, but he was comfortable this pace, and we continued. Soon enough, my back tightened up again, and the headwinds kicked in, and I fell off the back. Oh well. One final climb, Montegomery Road, loomed. This was much like Tunnel, steady for about a mile, but much more exposed. We caught another rider at the base, and pushed on in a nice paceline. Within half a mile, we dropped the rider (again, at a speedy 8 MPH), and we were on the flat gravel section at the top of the climb. This was a fine bit of road–hard-packed dirt with some gravel–and we noted that some folks would be cursing this stretch (Todd was a ‘cross racer so he had no issues with the mixed surface). There were a few swoopy bits, much like Old Mill Road, and I surprised Todd when I passed him doing 25 MPH (since he had again gapped me on the straight bits). It was, as they say, all downhill from here). My back hurt again, and my pace slowed. The winds were in our face, and Todd pulled away. Within about five miles, two other riders caught up with me and pushed on to Todd. About a mile from the final controle, I made contact with the group again, and we rolled into the final controle together, with a time of 10 hours and maybe 35 minutes. The lead group was already in, but that was it. Despite my achy back, I felt quite good about my ride, especially given the 12 extra miles. Makes me wonder what could have been without the extra distance. Live learn, though.

The Cannondale performed quite well. The nine speed cassette was key, as was the compact double up front. I don’t think my position on the bike is that off, though I may raise the bars a bit. A new saddle may be in order too–the Turbo wasn’t uncomfortable, but I think I could have been a bit more comfy with a better, newer saddle. Aside from my blunder in the third leg, I took in enough food (a full package of Fig Newtons, two GUs, an energy bar, a PB&J and a package of combos) and water. Maybe the electrolyte tabs, maybe they didn’t, but I would certainly use them during another long ride. I supplemented my water with electrolyte drinks, too. I’m quite pleased with how things turned out, and besides the navigational issues, I’m not sure I could have done anything better.