Davis 200km Brevet, CA Felix Wong

The 1999 cycling season has begun! My sights this year are squarely set on a number of major cycling milestones: my third consecutive California Triple Crown, the CA Triple Crown Stage Race, and the One Thousand Mile Club. It will be quite a year, and it’s time to start racking in the miles NOW.

To start out the season, I picked the first 200-kilometer Davis Brevet as my first ultramarathon ride. I first started getting interested in the Brevet Series after my friend Dan told me about it, as it is a qualifying event for the quad-annual 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris, the most prestigious amateur cycling event in the world. Well, maybe I’ll do the PBP in 2003, the next year it will be held. In the meantime, my focus is on this early season 126-miler.

The weeks prior to the event I had prepared myself more thoroughly than ever. In addition to riding some significant miles during the weekends and some intervals on my trainer during the workweek, I did a rain ride with Dan to simulate conditions in Davis. That ride promptly persuaded me to invest in some rain gear for the first time in my life. In line with my increased discipline in training, I also diligently did a bit of yoga every single night to increase my flexibility and maintain muscle suppleness. Finally, not to ignore the mental aspect of any activity, I practiced visualization before and during rides, as a tip from my friend Adrienne, an elite waterskiier who is currently ranked 41st in the entire world. All of these steps not only helped prepare me physiologically and mentally, but added confidence. “I am prepared. Bring on the ride.”

Not an Auspicious Start

If the misfortunes of the 12 hours prior to the brevet were any indication, this was going to be a rough day. First of all, I was to make the traditional visit to my friend Pin-pin, along with my ol’ cycling bud Ken, and stay over at her place before waking up early for the ride. There was just one problem, however… being the typical scattered-brain traveller, I had forgotten to write down her appartment number and phone number. So when I got to her appartment complex, which had at least 400 appartments, I had no idea how to find her.

After a call to her old roommates and Ken, I was able to find out her appartment number. However, despite looking for it for at least half-an-hour, I still could not find it. Ken, fortunately, was more on top of things, and while he was on his way, he gave Pin-pin a call and told her I was wandering somewhere outside and asked her to look for me. Imagine me walking along the street totally discombobulated, talking on a cell phone with Ken, only to turn around and see the person I was looking for. Yay Pin-pin, she found me.

I would get a good night’s sleep at her place later that night, and managed to wake up at 5:30a–early enough to even do some email before the ride. Then I got the start at 6:10a–that’s 50 minutes before the race would begin. Plenty of time, huh? Well, it took 40 minutes to put on my shoes, neoprene booties, rain jacket, and headband; stuff my jersey with my camera, granola bars, a few dollars, and identification; and mount my lights on my bike. Still had ten minutes to go when, having only to take Canny’s front wheel from the trunk of my Porsche and put it on, I realized the tire was flat. Still, it was feasible that I could fix it in 10 minutes, but I wasted too much time fumbling with my CO2 inflater, which I hadn’t used in a year or so. Oof. Thankfully, I was able to borrow a floor pump from someone, but while I was putting on my lobster gloves and helmet, riders were given the go-ahead to start and soon I was left there in the parking lot almost all alone. The brevet had begun.

The Ride

“The Chase”

I took off from the parking lot at least 2 minutes behind everyone else, and hence when I started pedaling, the pack was already out of sight. I knew the general direction they had ridden in, however, so I rode that way while hoping that I wouldn’t inadvertently go off course. Three minutes had passed… then six… where is everyone?

I was about to pull out my map when, lo and behold, I saw cyclists up ahead, far in the distance. Now sure of where I was going, I gradually increased my speed to 22mph or so. I was feelin’ good.

And surely and steadily, I was reeling in the pack. I looked down the road: there had to be at least 100-200 cyclists up there, forming a long train. It would be a few more minutes until I had finally reached the caboose. But when I did, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief: I now had the benefit of the draft, where energy expenditure must be at least 20% less at speeds over 20mph. The chase was over.

To the Hills and Mile 63

Feeling relaxed and still strong, I spent the next hour gradually working my way to the lead pack of 20 or so riders. The pace was brisk, the terrain still flat, and the weather was still good… well, at least dry. Twenty miles had passed, and the route was looking very familiar: I had ridden this way in the several ultramarathon rides I had done around Davis. We would reach the hills very shortly.

And at mile 25 or so… our first hill. Well, actually, it was more of a small knoll. Laughable compared to what I was accustomed to in the San Mateo/Santa Cruz mountains, to say the least. But to my surprise, the pack immediately became fragmented, with the majority of riders dropping back. Almost instantly, I was surrounded only by approximately 10 riders, and I now had a clear view of the front. And soon, of the famed “Cardiac Hill” up ahead.

Actually, despite the name given to it, I’ve never thought Cardiac was all that steep. Today would be no exception. Something that probably helped immensely every time, however, was a checkpoint located midway up it. This time the checkpoint would be at a lone store. I was pleased to be the 14th or so person to sign in… what a way to go from being off the back of the pack just a couple of hours ago. The rest would be short-lived, however, as when I noticed many, many cyclists filtering in, I decided this time I’d get a jump on the pack. I take off after refilling my water bottles and snapping a few pictures.

The next 30 miles would be something of a blur, with several descents and ascents. I remember distinctly getting passed by a female rider numerous times on the ascents, although I would whiz right by her on the descents. We would continue this yo-yo-ing pattern for an hour, until… pssst. Oh no, another flat tire.

Fortunately, there would be a support vehicle around the corner, and with the aid of the driver’s floor pump, I was back on the road. Nevertheless, I had lost 15 minutes, and had cooled off considerably. My spirits were still high at that point, all the way until the 2nd checkpoint–the turn-around point, and top of the ride–but things would change, and not for the better.

From Mile 60 to 90

By the time I left 2nd checkpoint, the constant drizzle had turned into a dreadful downpour. The roads became slicker, the air became seemingly colder, and the outlook of the ride was grimmer. My rain gear had kept me remarkably warm and comfortable for the first half of the ride, but how would it (and I) fare in the second half?

All of my clothing was saturated with water. This included my supposedly “waterproof” Pearl Izumi lobster gloves, and my two pairs of Coolmax socks covered by my cycling shoes and neoprene booties. My clear plastic rain jacket, while definitely waterproof, did not breathe, and a light film of moisture on its inside was visible from the outside. None of this had posed a big problem in the first half, where I was climbing at lower speeds and burning more energy. Miles 60 to 90, however, were predominantly downhill. The first descents were particularly steep, too.

So there I was, riding the brakes while simultaneously pedaling, in an earnest attempt to stay warm. My hands were freezing at this point, and my heart rate was way down. Everyone seemed to be passing me at this point, but I stuck to the same strategy: keeping lower speeds to reduce the chilling convective effects of the air currents around me, and pedaling to produce more body heat while preventing my legs to stiffen up.

But it was all essentially in vain. Normally I love downhill sections, where I can get in a tight aero-tuck while carving through turns in the roads at blistering speeds. But today was different, as Mother Nature’s tears of winter came beating upon us. Safety, comfort, and warmth were now paramount in my mind. The first goal was attainable at the slow speeds I was going; the latter two were not with the gear I was having.

Memories of a Bay Area training ride a few weeks before came to mind. There I was wearing two less layers with no booties, full-fingered gloves, or waterproof rain jacket. It was raining just as hard, with winds of at least 40mph. Yes, I was COLD. To my surprise, however, I felt at least as cold on this ride despite the specialized rain gear, and I still had over 50 miles to go. What had I gotten myself into?

I tried to stop thinking about that, though. Instead, I tried to focus on getting from climb to climb, ascents being what I anxiously anticipated due to the reduced windchill and greater energy expenditure. Finally, hours later, I get back to Cardiac Hill, which I had climbed earlier from the other direction. And like in the morning, I would stop at the store that’s halfway up that hill. But this time I wouldn’t be stopping to sign in at a designated checkpoint. Instead, I would enter the store to try to accummulate just enough body heat as possible so that I would be able to finish up the final 35 miles of the ride.

From Mile 90 to the End

The store had to be at least 30 degrees warmer than the outside air, not even taking wind chill into account. In the restroom, I rung out my gloves, ran hot water over my hands, and splashed warm water on my face. Then I munched on all the food I had and purchased some additional Power Bars, all while jumping up and down to stay warm. And yet, after 20 minutes, I was still shivering. I looked outside, and the rain seemed to not only be coming down harder, but was travelling at a 45 degree angle. Oh, wow.

“How the heck am I going to go out there and finish this thing if I can’t even stay warm inside here?” I asked myself. Briefly I pondered the possibilities. There were only two options: either ride back to the finish on my own power, or give in and take a SAG vehicle. Common sense told me I should take the latter option, lest I get hypothermia. But I’ve never had to abandon a ride like that in all the years I have been cycling.

And no SAG vehicle was in sight to tempt me, anyhow. So it was back on the bike. I clipped in to my pedals and braced myself for the chilling air current that would sweep right against me down Cardiac Hill. One pedal stroke at a time, 90 times a minute… this is all I could really think about. It is all I can remember now.

But at last, I am away from all hills and treacherous descents, now riding through the flatlands of Aggie country east of Davis. Even this did not end my frigid suffering, however. The winds only seemed to have picked up, especially when I was riding in the southbound direction, and the air was cold enough that I could see my breath. And the rain, of course, still persisted.

I pass Mile 105… then 110… then 115. Just 10 miles to go. It wasn’t so far, I tried to convince myself. But I was breathing hard at this point, not so much from fatigue, but mainly to generate a tad more heat on the inside of my cheeks via the friction caused by expelled warm air. I also was moaning with every breath, if only to symbolize the bicycling zombie I had turned into.

But as with every ride, there is an end. As I rode into Davis, all I could think about was throwing Canny into the back of the Porsche, turning the heater on full blast, and getting some warm Taco Bell food. It’s funny how one’s focus can change in 10 hours from finishing the ride in good time to just finishing intact, without hypothermia.

And finally, it’s time for me to dismount. The registration tables are in sight, and I wait in line to sign the register, declaring that I have survived, somehow, some way. During this wait I was now shivering uncontrollably and still breathing hard.

One of the cyclists in front of me couldn’t help but chuckle at my state, and I tried my best to smile. “Way to go, you did it,” he exclaimed. Yes, I guess I did. And despite the suffering at the end, I know I’d do it again. Hopefully with Gore-Tex, though.

Ride Data

  • 126 mi.
  • 7:02 start, 16:57 finish –> <10 hours
  • Average Speed: 14.0 mph moving, 12.6 mph overall
  • Max Speed: ~40 mph
  • Total Climbing: 7,500 ft

Rating

(1=ho hum; 5=best)

  • Scenery: 4
  • Support/Organization: 4+ Surprisingly good for a low cost ride.
  • Food: 3+ Well stocked.
  • Weather: 1 Despite my new rain gear, I have never been so cold for so long in my life.
  • Relative Difficulty: 3
  • Overall Rating: 3. A fun and beautiful ride dampened by bad weather.

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Trying to catch up with other cyclists in the 1999 Davis 200k Brevet.Trying to catch up with other cyclists in the 1999 Davis 200k Brevet.Catching up to the pack of cyclists in the 1999 Davis 200k Brevet.In a paceline in the 1999 Davis 200k Brevet.At a rest stop in the 1999 Davis 200k Brevet.red Cannondale 3.0, 1999 Davis 200k Brevet.side of road, 1999 Davis 200k Brevetuphill road, 1999 Davis 200k Brevet

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