Sunday, March 22, 2009


Santa Cruz Randonneurs 300k Brevet, March 21, 2009

The weather forecast predicted rain showers for later in the afternoon, which was enough to make me mount fenders on the bike again and to bring my new Showers Pass Elite jacket. There were some clouds coming up in the North during the pre-ride meeting at the Santa Cruz Lighthouse and Surfing Museum already; but we (a little over 30, I think) were going South and didn't worry about them just yet.

I knew most of the route from various brevets in the last few years. The first 12 miles through the Santa Cruz agglomeration are not particularly rewarding. It takes some chatting with friends to while away the time spent at red traffic lights. Unfortunately, those traffic lights also tend to break up the peloton; and so, after the first hour, I ended up with a faster pack ahead, while my friend John C. followed in a group further behind.

I kept telling my fast companions "I don't belong here" and "I will soon fall back and wait for my friend". Over the last years, I had been in similar situations more than once. That's when I got used to getting dropped at one of the ever so slight uphills, or left behind during an acceleration into the wind after a tight turn. At least, I was a little bit further down the road already, which helped delay the ultimately unavoidable and for me (clandestinely) ever so embarrassing moments of having John C. wait for me.

However, it appears that I have become just a little bit stronger, this year. In addition, some shameful (but also skillful) wheel-sucking instinct was overriding my still evolving randonneur ethic; and as a result, I arrived at the first control stop in Marina (mile 40) much faster than I deserved. And when I insisted that I knew very well about my limitations (little engine and all), the other riders called me, in a flattering way, "sandbagger!" I knew what it meant; here is the definition: "deliberately underperform to gain an unfair advantage."

No, I didn't deliberately underperform - quite the opposite; and the only unfair advantage I can think of is that I used my downplaying as excuse for drafting them without sharing the workload into the wind. Still, I was aware of my difficulty to let go of pursuing a good personal finishing time. Even though I didn't attempt any more to stay with the faster riders (for the simple reason that I knew I wouldn't be able to on the upcoming rollers) and let them leave the Marina control well ahead of me, I didn't wait for John either. I feared getting cold and decided to move on. John would surely catch up during the 50 miles to the next control at Miller's Ranch.

This was a good intention and a good plan. It didn't take into account, however, the temptation of latching on to the friendly tandem of Spencer and Joann when they passed me. Like a child in a candy store, I just couldn't resist. I enjoyed their company (and had the impression it was reciprocal), pushed my little legs much harder than I would have if I had stayed alone (thinking of how this would make me stronger in the future) - and also felt like a jerk, and guilty. At least, I would get punished for it later in the day, when I would limp home into some headwind with cramping muscles and general exhaustion, right?

When we entered the hills west of Greenfield to the Miller's Ranch control, it was time to face the beginning of my punishment. I couldn't stay with the tandem any more; the legs hurt pretty bad, and it was clear that I had reached my limitations. The illusion of being worthy of a 13-14 mph brevet was over. 

The control was manned by Scott (the one I mentioned here), and I saw there the Spencer/Joann tandem and John D. for the last time in the day. The area was most beautiful under a sunny sky, with a small river running through the valley, and spring-green meadows dotted with Californian poppies. Time to stop for pictures, and to finally take it really easy!

On the way back, I crossed John and estimated that he was about half an hour behind me at that point. I shouted out that he will catch up with me. I stayed about half an hour for lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Greenfield, but not long enough for John to come in. I crossed him again on my way out and told him that now I was really slowing down, meaning: you will catch up easily, now!

But, as you might guess, this did not happen. Other smaller groups of riders passed me and encouraged me to join them; and even though I didn't stay with them at first (I diligently put on all me rain protection when the first drops fell, and removed it again 15 minutes later when it was apparent that we would likely stay dry, after all), Kevin and Kim didn't leave me much of a choice, engaged me in a conversation and dragged me along until I recovered my legs and felt again as if I could ride on forever. While we prepared for night riding at the Marina control, Michael joined us for the last 40 miles, and together we marveled at an unusual southwest wind that pushed us rather comfortably back to Santa Cruz. I enjoyed the benefit of knowing the route better than any one of my companions, and they appreciated it. The roads were still wet from recent rain showers, but we stayed dry. I didn't pay attention when we arrived, but we finished in less than 15 hours. 

Due to particularly good company, John C. had extended his lunch break in Greenfield much longer than planned and couldn't make up the time on the way back because his conditioning had suffered from too much involuntary time off the bike over the last weeks. Instead, he accompanied and coached a young rider who was at his very first 300 km brevet: quite a rewarding experience, as he said on our drive home (we were carpooling). - And I still felt like a jerk.


  1. "Jerk", certainement pas!
    "Sandbagger", je cherche l'équivalent en français mais ne trouve pas... est-ce un terme employé chez les coureurs professionnels? Est-ce spécifique au vélo? Quel rapport avec "sable" (sand)?...
    Quoi qu'il en soit, il me semble que tu cherches simplement à donner le meilleur de toi-même, personne ne peut te le reprocher!
    Bonne route ce week-end,

  2. Good questions - which made me research the answer. I know it was jokingly flattering in my case (suggesting that I was simply stronger than I let it appear); but the expression has otherwise a very negative history and connotation. Here are some references: (scroll down to "Thud")