As we enter the first weekend of the “off-season”, I’d like to make a recommendation: ride your bike! Granted, I’m sure many of you were already planning too—in fact, you probably never stopped. But if you’re like me, lately you might have been spending more time watching people riding their bikes than you have spent riding your own.
For fans of the sport at the professional level, riding bridges the gap between observation and participation. Sure, we can’t all go out this weekend and ride the Muur de Geraardsbergen, but we might have a hill in our area that’s just as daunting—at least relatively. For me, the realization that I needed to spend more time on my bike came weeks ago during a rainy Saturday spent with hundreds of other amateur enthusiasts at the Univest Grand Prix Cyclosportif.
In August, the Sportif’s organizer, Brian Ignatin, offered me a guest entry in the event (i.e. I didn’t pay to ride, Mr. FTC). Grateful for the invitation to an event I had good things about, I offered to share my experiences with all of you (albeit belatedly).
So waking early on Saturday, September 12th, I packed my bag with gear and loaded my bike in the car. It was rainy, but relatively warm—a knee and arm warmers kind of day. My friend and fellow Pavé rider, Greg, had agreed to join me, and together we were to embark on the longer, 100km loop—the loop the pro race follows before returning to the town of Souderton for several smaller, local laps.
We parked, aired our tires, embrocated our legs (you didn’t think I wouldn’t, did you?), and rode-off to find the registration area for our numbers and timing chips.
Numbers and timing chips? You see, this is indeed a cyclosportif event, and—as I would soon learn the hard way—something for which time is taken, results are produced, and some people even (gasp!) train for it. It was not the leisurely Saturday metric century I had been expecting. But I digress.
We attached our numbers, pinned our chips to our shoes (they can’t touch metal, interestingly enough), and made our way to the throng of people waiting in the staging area by the Start/Finish line.
I was pleased to see hundreds of riders eager to begin, cheery and jovial despite the glum weather. It’s a true testament to the efforts of Brian and the mastermind behind the entire Univest event, John Eustice. John and his team have done everything necessary to give their race the look and feel of a real European classic—down to the last detail. I might as well have been at the Tour of Flanders Sportive or L’Etape du Tour. Everything was handled efficiently, professionally, and ran as smooth as a well-lubed drive train.
But back to the ride itself: after a quick “celebrity” call-up, Bobby Julich and I were off. Yes, you read correctly, Bobby Julich was there, and he was one of my companions on the front row. (Yes, I was a little embarrassed.) I didn’t talk to him, though, for at the gun there was an immediate scrum of riders eager to ride beside or behind him.
(Thus begins the part about me learning things the hard way.)
Clipping-into my pedal, I was shocked at how fast the ride started. I felt as if I were back in Belgium (it was raining, remember), desperately trying to follow the “right” wheels to get myself within shouting distance of the lead group. (The only difference being the several thousand kilometers of training missing from my legs.)
By mile 5 I was already cramping, over-heated, and halfway through my first bottle. Oh boy, I remember thinking, this can’t be good. Greg was nowhere to be seen—he didn’t get the call-up and started in the back—and I had no luck finding anyone who seemed willing to ride the pace I was hoping would get me to the finish in one piece. At that moment though, Greg drifted-up beside me, effortlessly spinning his legs in that tortuous way he always does. He asked me how I felt. Not good, I replied, grabbing his wheel. However, a few miles later, and Greg was gone, whisked away by a faster group while I slowed to remove my jacket.
I chased for a few miles, hoping to latch-on to a pack of about 10 men who seemed to have a chance to make it back to the leaders—
(Wait a minute! This was supposed to a ride report, not a race report, right?)
At this point in the ride, for no particular reason, I gave-up. Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t give up on the ride, I just gave-up on riding it fast. I had plenty of food (in addition to the prospect of two well-stocked and staffed rest stops), I was appropriately dressed for the weather conditions, and my camera was safely tucked inside my jersey pocket. So I decided—as the Bike Snob might say—to stop trying to shotgun the ride when I could be enjoying it sip by sip—slowly.
So I cruised, stopping for everything: funny signs, families of fans, quaint shops and homes, to name a few. I even saw a suspension bridge wide enough for just one person and a mailbox in the form of largemouth bass. In short, I took my time to enjoy the ride, mile by mile. I had no need for my cue sheet; the route was clearly marked for the pro race still to come through. And the rain held-off just enough, and the temperature stayed just high enough, that I was never uncomfortable. It was a terrific experience–all because I decided to take my time.
Arriving back in Souderton several hours later, I crossed the line and was greeted by friendly volunteers who took my timing chip and gave me a wristband for a hot lunch pasta and garlic bread. Greg was waiting by my car, and after a quick change we ate and cruised through the expo area. After lunch there were raffles, results, and low and behold, a bike race to enjoy!
In the end, it was a wonderful day that offered opportunities for both riders and fans, one made all the more enjoyable by the fact that I rode slow enough to enjoy it.
Next’s year Univest Grand Prix Cyclosportif will take place on Saturday, September 11. Mark you calendars now, and go to the event’s website for registration information. As for me, I’ll certainly make an effort to be there again—with more miles in my legs. But despite my hopefully increased level of fitness, I still might take it slow. Just because.
Enjoy your weekend! Here’s hoping you find the time for a nice, slow ride of your own–fast ones are okay too!