“Hey, a peloton!” we overheard a local out for a lunch ride say as we climbed past him on Skyline Boulevard, headed into the Redwood Regional Forest on our pre-Prestige Friday training ride. Surely, ‘peloton’ would have more accurately described any number of race or group ride situations we’ve been in before, but this was our Rapha Prestige composite team’s first time out on the road together. Our “Dream Team” comprised three LPV (Mia, Jannette, and this author) joined by Daphne K. and Maria L. from the Chicago Cuttin Crew, and our 2012 teammate, Liz So. To be recognized as the unit we were striving to become by 7:33 A.M. the next day filled us with pride and the sense that the team we had formed for this event, was, in fact, much bigger than the sum of six individuals.
That first ride together, following a rocky arrival in San Francisco the previous day, would end up being the key to our success at the Prestige. Our “dress rehearsal” seemed to expose every possible weakness or challenge we might face on race day: inadequate cue sheets, missed and wrong turns, group separations, no cell phone service, mechanical issues, and even a crash–fortunately, no injuries. By the end of that ride, we had less anxiety about the physical challenges of the race (110 miles horizontally and 10,000 feet vertically) than about our ability to keep our group on course and all together–the singular rule in the scoring of this race being that the clock stops only when your last rider crosses the finish line.
Determined to let neither navigation nor separation get the better of us, we made a plan for regrouping after climbs and descents, or before any tricky turns. Then, we feasted on the first of several dinners to be prepared by our amazing soigneur team, Lynne and Larry Moore, and spent the rest of the evening huddled around various screens and poring over maps, a last-minute cram session on the route, which had been released just two days prior in the midst of a pre-trip bike-boxing, errand-running, exam-taking flurry.
On the morning of the race, less than one hour before our scheduled start time, we were informed at the captains’ meeting that two sections of the published route had been revised to avoid dangerous road conditions discovered during the final course check. That these revisions reduced the amount of off-road riding we would have to do elicited reactions varying from relief to disappointment among our diversely skilled and equipped crew. In common, however, we feared the meticulous cue sheets we’d spent precious sleeping hours on would be worthless. But, there was nothing more we could do except simply what we had come to the Prestige to do: ride up and down mountains, help each other, savor this unique opportunity to witness 112 other women doing the same, and finish as a team.
Lynne and Larry, crewing our fantastic support vehicle, worked from dawn till dark for us. Somehow Lynn and Larry were always there at exactly the right moments with exactly what we needed, refreshing our bottles on summit tops, appearing out of nowhere with relief for sunburned lips at an unscheduled pit stop, or a simple thumbs up, peace sign, or wave given from their Suburu’s rolled-down window. Sometimes nearly missed, these tiny gestures provided a moment of relief from the monotony of road and were always a comforting sign that we had not gone off course. During the race they carried our water, our snacks, our fancy sandwiches, and our extra clothing. They carried our talented photographer, Samuel Copeland from Tenspeed Hero, who also worked tirelessly documenting our struggles, triumphs, teamwork, and beautiful cycling-wear against the California landscapes. They carried extra of everything in case we got into a jam. Luckily, the only jams were on bread with peanut butter, and we pulled off the rest of this crazy adventure without so much as a punctured tire. Our finishing time was roughly in the middle of the times posted by the fastest and slowest teams, who would take home the 20 bottles of champagne and lanterne rouge caps, Victorious Secret Sauce and Ironclad-Yakima respectively.
Still, eight plus hours on a bike is no piece of cake. If you’ll excuse one more food pun, a piece of cake was what we enjoyed upon arrival at the finish line. Something gooey and chocolatey and delicious courtesy of Vive La Tarte bakery, title sponsor of another Prestige team. The “Tarte’s” support vehicle was a pie van, which we must assume is a pastry chef’s version of a food truck. From the window of this pie van, a very cute dog and several people shouting, “Go Chicago!” provided much-needed encouragement as we ascended 3,800 feet up Mt. Diablo, the longest sustained climb of the day.
These cries from the pie van are just one example of the encouraging environment and welcome feeling we found at the Prestige and throughout the rest of our adventure. Seeing familiar faces as we moved around from the East Bay to Sacramento to Folsom, following the first stages of the Tour of California and visiting one LPV’s hometown in Placerville, we felt incredible love wherever we went. Until next time, California…we hope to be riding in your sunshine, smelling your eucalyptus trees, and meeting your friendly people again soon.