On Sunday, I rode my first organised bike ride. In the UK they’re called ‘sportives’ but I don’t think they’re called that here. The Tour de Peninsula was very local to me and covers many of the roads I usually cycle. There was a 20 mile, 31 mile, 56 mile and 63 mile (100km) option. I was to ride the 100k.
Clearly I could have ridden this route any weekend without paying for it but I wanted to do this because I wanted to get experience of what an organised ride would be like, prior to September’s century. What were ride logistics like? How is the route marked? What’s it like to ride in a pack? What would aid stations be like? And also, my lovely friend Kat from church was also riding it, so I knew I’d get good company for the duration.
Going into the ride, I was surprisingly nervous… much more nervous than I’d be for a big running race. It was all the unknowns that made me nervous – the questions I wanted to find answers to. In addition, the distance was new and it was a very hilly route. I was particularly nervous about whether or not to ride it clipped in. I had a short ride clipped in with the Dude on Tuesday and it went well – but there’s a great difference between clipping in at 5-year-old pace for 5 miles and clipping in for 65 miles up some giant hills. The night before, I got everything ready, packing both running shoes and cycling shoes. We’d see.
I was up at 5am. Made some scrambled eggs. Pumped up Margarita’s tyres and snuck out the house at 6am. At this point, my stomach started freaking out (nerves) requiring an urgent loo stop en route and then, once I got to Coyote Point, a frantic dash to the loo there as well. I was super-nervous. I calmed down once I bumped into Kat and her massive grin. We picked up my number – should it go on the front or the back? Apparently I could choose. Weird. And I also chose to ride clipped in. I visited the on-site mechanic who loosened the cleats for me to make it easier to clip in and out, and decided to suck it up and give it a shot.
I’m always intimidated by other runners at races and for bike events it was even worse. Everyone seemed VERY capable and experienced. There were a lot of VERY expensive bikes around. We cycled over to the starting chute and positioned ourselves towards the back. A guy cycled over, failed to unclip and toppled over before the ride even began. That made me feel better. There was a countdown and we were off.
The first mile headed down the Bay Trail and onto the roads. It was fairly busy but we rode steadily, let people pass us and before long we were heading into San Mateo. Through the town centre we had our own dedicated lane, which really helped. There were lots of lights so I focussed on unclipping my right foot in good time, and we made it through town and up the 7 mile hill to the Ralston Bike Path. There was an aid station at the top, we stopped to drink and then plunged down the bike path to Canada Road. Canada was a lovely 7 mile stretch where we were able to get cycling steadily, talking non-stop. The miles flew by with Kat’s excellent company. There was one guy riding the whole thing (63 miles) on a unicycle – we passed him a few times before passing him for good, I really hope he survived!
Eventually we got to Woodside and started the ride up Kings Mountain. At this point, we were temporalily joined by a local bike club out on their ride. All of a sudden, the road was FULL of cyclists…it was like I was in the Tour de France. I was totally surrounded and just kept frnatically pedalling, if I touched the brakes, we’d all DIE!!! I’ve always wondered how it feels to be completely swallowed up by the peloton, well now I know and it was most scary.
Kings Mountain was LONG and steady. All conversation stopped and we were surrounded by the panting breath of cyclists. We ground our way up and eventually got to the top. There’s a t-junction at the very top and on the other side of the road was an aid station. I was concentrating on checking out the traffic to be able to cross the road, suddenly realised I hadn’t unclipped…and squealed loudly as I toppled over to the side. I scraped my knee and bashed my boob but nothing dreadful. I did exclaim ‘Ow, my boob’ in front of the hundred or so lycra-clad men watching from the aid station. Great. Whilst we were at the aid station, at least two other cyclists got to the top and fell over, which made me feel better. Note to self – be sure to unclip at the top of hills.
Next came a seven mile stretch down Skyline. I didn’t enjoy this. It was fast and downhill, the road was gravelly, it was damp and both cyclists and cars were fast. I was pretty scared and rode very cautiously. I was very slow but I’d rather be slow and alive so I am unrepentant. We plunged down West La Honda Rd. This was magical – a lovely little road through redwoods and then opening out with pretty views. I felt much safer going downhill here so got some good speed up, and loved this stretch. We expected the climb back up to Alice’s to be brutal but it was actually pretty easy and we were jubilant to reach the top again. We plunged down the descent back to Woodside. It was very fast and curvy but I was feeling pretty confident so I rode much faster. I was still very slow compared to other riders but I really enjoyed this descent.
Back through Woodside, back along Canada and up to Ralston. 20 miles to go. Feeling good although my neck and shoulders were aching. We cycled up to Crystal Springs – this was the 5th hill and my legs were tiring. We appreciated the flattish stretch along the reservoir but had to step aside for an ambulance to come flying past. Two groups of riders came past later, wheeling fallen comrades bikes – that was sobering. The climb out of Crystal Springs was brutal but we then had three spectacular downhill miles to Millbrae, a dedicated lane through the Millbrae traffic and then finally the three easy miles along the bay back to Coyote Point. We’d made it. We squealed with excitement as we crossed the line!! We’d done it!
There was no free food at the end, which surprised me, but a local retailer was selling good food cheaply so we filled our faces and limped round the little expo before hugging goodbye. I cycled two extra miles to make it to the necessary 65 miles I had to cover this weekend and drove home to my boys.
All in all, I think it went well. I felt pretty strong throughout, although I am very slow so I don’t mean to imply ‘strong’ means ‘fast’. We averaged 11mph on this ride, which is crazy slow although with 4,700 ft of climbing, I’m not surprised. I was VERY happy that I clipped in and only fell once, I count that as a real big step forward as a cyclist. And I LOVED Kat’s company – the miles flew by as we chatted, it was so much more pleasurable than riding alone.
Although I have nothing to compare it to, I was hugely impressed by the organisation of this ride. There were plentiful aid stations, all with a lot of food and drink. The volunteers were absolutely wonderful, so smily and encouraging. At every junction there was a volunteer with a flag so it was impossible to get lost, and also lots of route-markings as a back up. I was really impressed with it as an event and would heartily recommend it to local cyclists! We got a really nice free cotton t-shirt that I really liked! The only extra I’d suggest would be a free buffet at the end, even if it was just bagels/doughnuts etc.
All in all, an excellent morning, with a scraped knee, a big thigh bruise and a sore boob as souvenirs! 7 weeks to go to Surf City!