It was a year ago last week that I returned home from a European spring racing campaign for a little American decompressing RnR before Tour of California and the second half of the year. To put it mildly, it was a challenging spring where I was trying to meddle some lemonade out of tendonitis plagued lemons. In that situation, half the battle is putting on a smile and telling everyone that everything is peachy and that tendonitis and time will heal itself. The other half is convincing yourself that’s the truth.
Planned all through the spring by my good friend and photog to the stars Chris Milliman, I had the perfect slice of welcome home goodness in the form of UVEpic – a hundred mile group ride of which more than 70% is dirt(!) with friends, friends of friends, and “that fast dude with hairy legs from across the state”. The email invitation which begins small, slowly seeps out to riders worthy of an epic with probably 50 or 60 people ultimately get the nod of approval. If the weather is perfect probably a third of those will attend because of family commitments, conflicting race schedules, travel to the nether reaches of New England, and whatever other lame excuse people can spew out. If the weather is junk, however, then maaaaybe ten neoprene and Gore-Tex clad idiot cyclists will show. With sun and temperatures in the 60s all week leading up to last year’s UVEpic, we woke up on ride day to a sloppy sheet of white on the entire Upper Valley of New Hampshire and Vermont in the form of frigid April snow. Crud. We still rode, but our century turned into about fifteen treacherous miles until safety and good sense prevailed when we ended up at the pub. Un-crud.
Fast-forward one year to this past weekend and things are peachy. They’re downright awesome in fact! I’ve had a very successful start of 2012, factoring into wins at Tour of San Luis way back in Argentina in January, followed by wins in Italian races to follow in February, then an excellent Classics run. Riding for a guy like Peter Sagan makes it easier to have such an “excellent” cap to the spring, but lest we forget that it’s riders like me that help make him look so fast and savvy on a bike. You’re welcome Peter.
A few iterations of the UVEpic have spun off over the past year so that we’re now onto version 6.0. Chris meticulously studies the countless roads, dirt roads, fire-roads, and strade marroni (brown roads, as opposed to stradi bianchi) that spider web all throughout the Hanover area. As a friend on the ride yesterday said, “I’ve lived here for ten years and I’m still finding incredible new roads all around me.” Beat that Boulder. Zing.
I had the distinctive and fortuitous pleasure of being back in America when version 6.0 was rolling out this year. Making it to the start was less of a To-Do and more of a Must-Do when I once again found myself home after the European spring classics and before Tour of California. The only stick thrown in the spokes was the 60s, 70s and sun all the week leading up to the UVEpic-6.0 and the contrasting angry lightning bolts and massive rain drop icons on the weather forecast icons. But gosh darn it, when you’re going to ride an epic, you may as well make it an EPIC.
To take the snap out of my step, I rode 99 miles (with just 1% of it on dirt) the day before with the coincidental pleasure of seeing the Dartmouth collegiate bike race with my beloved Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference. I got my start in the sport with collegiate cycling and I shed a tear with nostalgia, seeing the abundant mismatched kit intertwined with the well dressed folk sporting more carbon wheels than were raced in my day, the full white skinsuit with TUFTS hand inscribed on the back, and the jorts (jean shorts) competition taking place post race. UVM won that competition, but they weren’t even trying. (Seriously, collegiate cycling is incredible. I donate a lot of my gently used clothing and equipment to local colleges and those poor, leg shaving co-eds need all the help they can get. You should contact your local college and do the same. Or go marshal a race or coach a team.)
Here’s that 1% of dirt on Saturday’s ride.
I’m honestly having trouble producing the words to describe how awesome Sunday’s UVEpic was. With the lowest point coming early in the form of Chris’s tubulars feeling spitefully jealous by just how bright his shoe covers were and therefore spouting out latex with a messy, foamy cloud, the rest of the ride was the tops.
We had seven hours budgeted from start to finish – which I figured was a ridiculous over estimate – and it turned out to be a hair short. With short punchy climbs the order of the day, more often than not tipping over the 20% gradient line, we quickly and easily (…or not so easily) notched more than 3,500 meters of climbing. By comparison, Liege-Bastogne-Liege which I’ve raced twice and which also took place yesterday is about 50% longer than our ride and has a small sliver more climbing. Again, zing… to the legs.
Jersey pockets are accommodating, but more than seven hours of tough riding requires more fuel than you can cram into a jersey pocket. Moreover, one of the best parts of riding these far reaches of New England are the village center stores, selling anything from red pickled eggs in a three gallon jug (which we avoided) to maple whoopies pies (which I purchased the last one) to the ahem… “white trash mocha cappuccinos” – a heavenly mix of 1/2 coffee and 1/2 instant $0.99 impossibly sweet hot chocolate. These steamy beverages served exclusivity in environmentally hateful containers compliment a mid-ride whoopie pie on a chilly, dank spring day perfectly.
Those aforementioned angry lightning bolts and massive rain drop icons in the weather forecast? We apparently had a ginormous umbrella over our ride the entire days because the few miles of pavement were virtually bone dry, the 70+ miles of dirt were matted down perfectly by rain the night before, and I could count all the mud puddles I saw the entire day on one hand. What’s more, within ten minutes of putting my bike in the car and swiftly shuttling south for a family dinner, the skies opened up and I drove through one of those it-cannot-possibly-rain-any-harder deluges.
I pin on a number and race because I love racing my bike. But rides like yesterday, UVEpic 6.0, one of the top 3 bike rides in my life? THAT is why I ride a bike. Thank you Chris and everyone else who helped make it awesome. I already know that UVEpic 7.0 is in the works and I can’t wait.
Here it is: