Austin Diary II

The alarm went off and I sprang out of bed. I felt dreadful, as if I’d been asleep for only 5 minutes. I went into the bathroom and, as I was brushing my teeth, caught sight of my watch – 22:05! Yes, I had only been asleep for about 5 minutes. I had set the watch on my mobile phone, totally forgetting that it was still on CET time. I went back to bed.

The alarm went off and I sprang out of bed. I checked, it was 04:00am. Everything had been laid out the night before, checked and double-checked, to ensure that it was all  present and correct. I washed, dressed and ate breakfast before making my way out of the hotel for my taxi-ride to Drippin’ Springs. Ricky, my cab driver, didn’t seem too sure on the exact location but fortunately we had a fellow participant leaving the hotel at the same time, who had driven the route yesterday. We gratefully followed him to the drop-off point.

It was pitch black, not too cold and just after 06:00am as I rode the mile or so from the car parking to the start. There were some krieg lights and volunteers helpfully waving torches but I couldn’t see much: easily the scariest bit of the whole event.  I eschewed any hot drinks, preferring to slowly and regularly sip water before availing myself of the portable facilities – nice touch. I was one of the early birds and made an executive decision that I was going to start at the front of the 90 milers.

Austin Start Line
Fatty and the Fatties

This turned out to be a wise decision as the highest fund raising teams were beckoned forward to the start line where we were feted and entertained by the Livestrong folks. A few words from Lance and then we were off. Lance and his celebrity chums were given a 6 minute head start. Word must have reached him about my training regime.

Lance at start
Lance readying himself to flee

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had heard various tales about the state of the roads, we were after all in “Texas Hill Country” and would be fording streams and cow guards. However, while the tarmac was a little rougher than I’m used to and cow guards, like most obstacles, are no trouble if you tackle them head on, the route was fine, not too much sand and gravel. The route was undulating and unfamiliar, there were a couple of steepish climbs of over 10%, but they lasted no more than 500 metres. More importantly, the descents were straight and fast. I sheltered from the wind by riding with four young guys from Texas who, like me, stopped only when necessary to fill up their bidons. There were power stops every 10 miles with drinks, eats, mechanical and medical assistance and more of those portable facilities. In addition, there were riders on the course checking if you needed, water, mechanical or medical help.

Riders overtaking shouted “on your left”. There was no undertaking and no dangerous riding. I did see a couple of crashes but nothing too serious. Although the guy that crashed the cow guard will probably be facing an expensive dental bill.  There were rolling road closures and every turn and junction was manned, so there was no need to stop. The route was well sign posted, particularly all the hazards. We had plenty of support on the road from those living in the area who were sitting by the roadside, refreshments to hand. There were around 3,800 riders and I would estimate they were split 1/3rd women, 2/3rds men with an average age of 35. I made better time than I anticipated and was greeted at the finishing line by the Fat Cyclist himself.

I should also thank  all of the 900 volunteers who worked so hard to ensure the participants had a wonderful, safe ride.

My abiding memory of the event wasn’t Lance, or even the Fat Cyclist, it was all those cancer sufferers and cancer survivors who took part and were quite rightly honoured, however far they cycled.

The ride

For those of you not taking part in this week end’s Livestrong Challenge, I thought you might like to experience the ride second-hand. These details have been taken from www.livestrong.org. My annotations are in italics.

The 90 mile (145km) course will take you deep into Hays and Blanco Counties on lonely and picturesque country roads that are responsible for making Lance a household name. I thought winning the Tour de France made him a household name! 

The course departs out of Dripping Springs, ‘the gateway to the hill country’, onto a complete lane closure on Hwy. 290. Riders will make a right hand turn onto Roger Hanks parkway where the beauty of Hays County begins.   After winding around the rivers and streams of the Texas countryside (hopefully you’ll see a Texas longhorn and a white tailed deer or two but nothing more sinister), you will continue in the direction of the quaint town of Wimberley before turning on River Road and beginning your ride alongside the Blanco River. Here the course becomes more rural (rural’s not a good word, it conjures up pictures of uneven tracks rather than smooth tarmac) as you make the journey towards the town of Blanco where a well deserved Power Stop (this is presumably where I get my batteries re-charged) will be waiting. From Blanco, you will head home (I think not) where an amazing (I’ll be the judge of that) post event party will be ready for your arrival. I suspect by the time I get there the party may well be over or, at least, running out of steam. The total climbing elevation for the 90 mile (145km) course is 2,782 feet (a bit, but not much, more than Col de Vence).

Due to the varying difficulty of the LIVESTRONG Challenge courses and in an effort maintain a high safety standard, the LIVESTRONG Challenge Ride support (Mechanical, Medical and Course Signage) will end 8 hours after starting (4:00pm ). If you are still on course after 7.5 hours (possibly) and on pace to not finish in 8 hours (hopefully, not), you will be politely asked by our staff to allow a SAG vehicle (aka the Broom Wagon) take you to a safe location near the finish line. Here, you will be allowed to ride through the finish and enjoy the post event party activities.

They also helpfully include a few tips on bicycle safety which, naturally for such a litigious nation, include the bxxxxxxg obvious; such as:-

1. Crossing Fast-Moving Traffic – There are a few points in the course where you will have to cross fast moving traffic. These intersections will be controlled by Hays County police officers. Please make sure that you use extreme caution when crossing the road and follow instructions given by officers. Why would’t you?

2. Steep Climbs – Every LIVESTRONG Challenge event has at least one ‘good’ climb. Please make sure you read the course descriptions, cue sheets, study the course profile and train appropriately. If possible and when safe, it is a good idea to pre-ride the course to know what you’re up against. Looking at the course profile, I’m not too sure which one’s the steep climb. 

Map and profile
Map and profile

 

3. Steep Descents – What goes up must come down. With every good climb there is always a fast descent and the Challenge is no exception to this rule. Please be prepared, watch other riders around you and look out for signage and course marshals indicating a steep descent. When descending, it is always a good idea to have your hands on the brakes just in case – when using the brakes, do not press on just one – slowly press on both sides to ensure a safe slow down. Note to self: steer well clear of cyclists who do not know how to use their brakes, presumably they’ll have a big red “L” on their backs.

4. Cattle Guards – Cattle Guards are a staple on Hill Country roads. These are put in place as a barrier for cattle while allowing for motor, pedestrian and bicycle traffic. To ride over a cattle guard safely, take a straight line (or else your wheel will get stuck in the guard and you’ll fall off, probably taking out several other riders and getting sued for dangerous cycling) and do not pedal. Some cattle guards are very smooth and some are rough. If you have any doubts, please do not hesitate to get off your bike and walk across, but watch your step–your bike cleat can (will) get stuck in the metal grates. Pay special attention to course signage indicating a cattle guard.

5. Low Water Crossings – You will encounter a series of low (how low?) water crossings during your journey through the Hill Country. Depending on the amount of rain, they have the potential to be moist and slick. Our course team will monitor the crossings during the weeks leading up to the event. Please pay close attention to course signage and volunteers when approaching the low water crossings. Do not hesitate to walk across if you are not confident riding.

I will not be twittering while riding but I’m pretty sure Lance will. The Fat Cyclist is bound to have a race summary, with photos, up on his site well before I get back to France, so if you can’t wait, you know what to do and where to go………………

Fashion victim

When my beloved first started riding, I diligently researched which would be the best kit for him. The answer is the one with the most lycra. One of my pet hates is seeing riders wearing bib shorts where the lycra has long since departed. I appreciate that it may have a comfortable chamois, or have sentimental memories, but guys when those bib shorts start to sag, please, please buy yourselves a new pair. Likewise, can I caution against the wearing of white bib shorts. Before you buy, check in the mirror, even the smallest butts look bigger in white plus they get grubby really quickly and see-through when wet – nough said.

You can tell that I’m a firm believer in “dressing the part”. Ok, so it’s not going to make me go faster but I need all the help I can get to look good on my bike. Stylish, comfortable kit helps [me].

My bib shorts of choice are Assos. Yes, I know they’re expensive but they are IMHO the most supportive, hard wearing and seemingly road rash resistant, come in my favourite colour (black) and in a variety of lengths and thicknesses. I will concede that the overall fit could be better. I do find that the ladies sizing tends to be narrow in the leg and large in the beam. The most comfortable fit and chamois, but not the best lycra, is to be found in my Rock & Racing bib shorts.

However, my passion for Assos doesn’t extend to their tops. No that I reserve for Rapha (www.rapha.cc). I just love their smart, retro styling, choice of colours and keen attention to detail. Unfortunately, they don’t do a range for us ladies so the jackets (yes, I love those too) and jerseys tend to be a little long in both the body and arms. Again, the best fitting jersey is my Rock & Racing one. Normally I wouldn’t wear a pro-team jersey (I am so not worthy) but few in France have heard of the Rock & Racing team.

I also love the cycling tops from Twin Six (www.twinsix.com), suppliers of the Fat Cyclist jerseys and incredibly generous guys. Their tops are very reasonably priced and fun. Not a bad fit, I wear a men’s medium as I find the ladies jerseys are too short in the body. The only downside is that the material does pull easily but frankly, at their prices, who cares.

On all club rides and any sporting events, I proudly wear our club colours, though only on my top half. Unfortunately, I find the pads in the bib shorts to be a painful anatomical fit which no amount of chamois cream can soothe.

Postscript: Hurrah, Rapha now have a ladies line and I love their 3/4 bib shorts for the cooler months. Sadly, they don’t do bib shorts for the rest of the year, just shorts!