Our dear friend Slate Olson in Portland, OR lit a fire under some Oregon ass in 2008 with the 1st annual Rapha Gentleman's Race. The concept was plainly called out in the inaugural t-shirt: Unsanctioned, Unmarshalled.
Paralleling the Rapha brand, the 1st Gentleman's Race was slightly exclusive, a bit of an odd-ball format, and had just enough perversion to make it interesting and elusive: 20-30 by-invitation only teams riding 6-up, staggered in a start order based on composite team ability; the splits and gaps created by a very complex and proprietary equation, only known by Sir Olson.
Hup United was invited to RGR #1 and had a good start, but a poor finish. I will be the first to admit that I did not take enough personal interest in knowing the route inside out, nor could I have completed the ride on my own knowledge. And, in 2008, Hup United DNF'd, and soon our performance was the joke that started every Portland Party: Hup United, the Gentle Lovers, and Team Beer are in a boat....
In 2009, we were essentially not asked back to the RGR. Fair enough.
This year, I politely petitioned for a spot back in RGR. Slate was kind enough to consider this plea. I had a team in mind, and knew the importing of Nor Cal Hup United would do the trick, and put us back on the board.
And so the odyssey begins....
I guess everyone who rides bikes needs something to dork out about...whether it's a piece of clothing, an obscure European tire, or an exclusive race. The RGR is a special race: It's Pro Tour length, it climbs like an Alpine stage, and finishing is not a sure bet.
This year, the course was drawn out to be 123 miles in length, approximately 6800 feet of climbing, (yeah right) and Slate was guessing teams would be finish in 6 hours. (good one)
Nor Cal Hup arrived in style, in an unmarked, un-sanctioned 14-passenger van. It was, however, heavily supported with PS3, which apparently when climbing up and over Shasta, wasn't always in sync with the driving games being played inside.
Our team was comprised of Damian H., Chris S., Greg K, Fred H., and Chip L. Like most Hup gatherings, I had met only 3/5 Hup guys, though I of course knew Chip and Greg by name and by email.
It was only after the event that I realized our team on paper was the ideal team: mountain bike background for all riders, strong cross skills, road-like fitness, scrappy as hell, and mellow. This proved to be key.
Our start time was Slate(d) for shortly after 10:00 am. It was 95-degrees when we started. We received a transport in said 14-passenger van from my lovely fiance, all of 5'2 and One hundred and Nothing pounds. How this White Whale didn't swallow Beverly alive, yet showed up in the Chris King parking lot is a mystery to all of us, and a huge key to making our day go fantastically.
The course started out with a wicked-sketchy (wah!) gravel downhill with about 3 hairpin turns. Nothing like biting the dust with 122.9 miles to go. We avoided crashing off the bat, and this was a good sign.
The first major gravel section began around mile 35 at Pittsburgh Road. About this time, we started seeing lots of teams, and were trading positions back and forth.
After a short but quite steep climb of 5 miles, we began the descent that would become the turning point for most teams. The carnage on the side of Pittsburgh Road on the downhill was uncanny. Nearly every team was stopped on the side of the road with flats. We first passed Left for Dead. (Selman's first flat) We then passed Chris King. We then saw Studio Velo. At this point in the race, we were picking off teams left and right. And then......we flatted.
It was a quick and easy change, and we were back on the bike again in no time. This would turn out to be our only flat of the day. After passing so many teams, nobody was saying it aloud, but we were near the front, if not in the lead at this point. We were having some incredible luck with tires and wheels.....
From here, things get a bit blurry for me. At one point we stopped by an innocent church with lots of folks hanging outside drinking sodas and we saw cyclists hanging out under tents. We stopped, we were (really!) offered drinks, and then suddenly we were promptly asked by neck-tatoo guy to leave immediately and find our own fucking rest stop; we had crashed a family reunion. Fine, be that way! About a mile down the street was bodega #1, where Slaven purchased CRC's first 12'er of PBR. Uh...pass.
Nor Cal Hup had done recon the day before in full tights and mutts, and knew the feature of the day would be the climb up Otto Miller. This came at mile 70, and would be an honest 10 mile climb to check point #1. Before that, we'd ride the flats through Scappoose and be treated to a balmy 105 degrees. WTF?
I was convinced that one of the keys to the day would be to keep core body temperature down throughout the day. IN 2005, Watts were all the rage. In 2010, it seems like research and dorking out was all based on core temperature. I followed the recommendation of A.Lim to fill a stocking (black, knee high) with ice, insert at back of jersey near neck, and repeat. Possibly the best advice ever to found from the annals of the Bicycling Magazine.
About half way up Otto, things started taking a slight turn for the worse. We were still only sitting at 1 flat, we were staying ahead of many if not all teams, but our man Fred H. was starting to get "quietly dizzy". At a certain point, we stopped, and I vividly recall Fred throwing his bike down, and barely being able to chat.
This was not good.
It's surprising to me that more of us were not having heat sickness issues. It was literally over 100, and we were riding probably one of the longest rides of our lives. After getting Fred to a point of talking, (this was a step) no wife, girlfriend, medical professional, nor race director in pink shorts would probably have given us the green light to continue. But, Fred would later tell us that there was NO WAY Hup would not finish in 2010. And he did us proud!
The mantra of the day, and the key to our success was a simple word: "less". Less as in, "less tempo at the front, please". We were not shy nor ashamed to ask for, or use this term often. By commanding less, we stuck together. Continually through the day, we commented on how many teams were so overtly split up; we'd see 1's and 2's of a team here, and then 10 km down the road, 2 more would show up. We opted against this tactic.
Our pace throughout the day was always sustainable. Damian was adamant about this from the first email soliciting participation. It's bad enough to be in a hard spot, on one of the toughest days to date on your bike, but it's even worse when your own team starts pulling away from you, or just motors off and says "catch up".
And so with "less" always on the brain, we hung tough. We were always 6-up. Sometime slow, sometimes fast, but we were 6-up.
After doing the 20 mile loop from checkpoint 1, back to checkpoint 2, the sun was setting, and we could taste Chris King's Blue Anodization from the top of Dixie. The carnage at check #2 was quite sobering, and really summarized how the day went for so many teams: Motofish, out. Team O, vomiting. A. Reed, heat stroke. For us, we were still together, lucky as hell with only 1 flat. We were hearing horror stories of 10 flats here, and 12 flats there. Do the math, and when you're strung out and trying to change a fucking Campy rim and a Conti tire, the split is at least 5-19 minutes. Multiple that by 10 flats, and well, you're done for the day.
The race finishing stretch was along Skyline, down the hairpins of Germantown, onto Hwy 30, and right, not straight through on 30 uh hmmmmm, onto St. Helens. The finishing circuit to CK reminded me of the Judson Ride in Chicago through the "crit zone", or whatever they call it. By the time we rolled into the parking lot, only to be greeted by said van and said fiance, we had spent 10 hours on the road, climbed 8500 corrected feet, over a span of 40 miles of gravel and 105.8 degree max temp.
The showers at CK were so nice, so needed. Damian nearly lost his wedding ring in the showers, but I digress.....Chris D., marketing honch at King, actually stopped into my studio yesterday (to do business in the BIG, SCARY city) and mentioned that he was the last one at CK that night, and the entire facility was respected, tidy, and not trashed. That was really good news to hear.
Even after Cobra Dogs and Spicy Burritos (Jay Sycip?) we were needing more food, beer, and compression uniforms. After a long day on the bike, the best day on the bike for most if not all of Hup United, we rolled back to our hotel, killed 3 pizzas, and kicked it in the comfort of our North Portland Residence Inn.
An email string went around on Monday AM, and I asked Damian how the drive went. "You would have loved it, we relived the race at least 15 more times".
It's still not entirely clear how we placed. We heard one stat that among 28 starting teams, or was it 30, there were only 5-6-7 teams that finished the entire course, with all members. I'm entirely convinced that number is even smaller, but regardless, we were in select company.
I love the fact that a women's team won the Gentleman's Race. I also love the fact that multiple fast teams choked so hard on their egos. I was extremely proud of our team, of all the Nor Cal guys and for Beverly's help, and in light of Hup United Portland being officially declared dead at 4:26 pm on Monday by Slate, I left the small village thinking that Hup United still lives.