Levi Leipheimer has had us fooled for all these years. I don't know about you but I bought the whole soft-spoken nice guy image hook, line and sinker. On Saturday his Granfondo convinced me he's been hiding a mean streak... a dark, bitter secret that finally surfaced on the back roads of Sonoma County.
I couldn't sleep Friday night thinking about the first vicious pitch of Coleman Valley Road. It's been in my head since I watched it put the hurt on the Occidental Continental riders (except for Ira and Jeremy). Add to that I'd been out shooting cycling and not riding for much of the preceding two weeks, so deep down I knew I was in for a beating.
I expected the beating would come on Coleman Valley Road and with any luck my body would roll down the hill and be washed out to sea, but Levi's nefarious plan put the boots to me sooner. Tim, Georges and I rode from our hotel over to the start and instantly realized we had no chance of finding our fourth, Murali, among the thousands and their bikes. We settled for getting in line well back in the pack and keeping our eyes peeled for him. Miraculously I spotted him and our group was complete. It took about twenty minutes after Levi rolled out before we crossed the timing mat. Any longer and I'd have cramped pushing myself along on one leg in the stop and go traffic. Two minutes after that we lost sight of Tim and Georges and never saw them again for the duration. And here I was agreeing with Michael Barry about race radio today.
We rode easily to Occidental and caught the back of a four-man express train to Cazadero (Khazad dum in dwarfish), from there we began the climb of King Ridge Road. Lulled by the gentle beginning, this is where Levi sprung his trap. Up and up we went, over several false summits, cheered along by dozens of accomplices disguised as residents; they monitored every pedal stroke. Convinced we'd reached the summit we binged on sandwiches, fig newtons and bananas in preparation for the descent to the coast. Not so fast, between mile marker 30 and 50, the accomplices perpetrated an elaborate subterfuge. First we plunged down, on roads too steep for goats, till we reached a sufficient altitude where the climb back threatened to bring lunch right back up.
Disoriented and slightly nauseated we actually rode in circles for an extra hour as road signs were switched and we were shunted back and forth on secret spur roads, most of which were false flats until we'd been sufficiently punished. I estimate there were forty miles between markers 30 and 50. Clever Levi, very clever.
When, at last, his minions allowed us to get off the ridge, we descended into a freshening gale that whipped a picturesque coast into a white foaming lather. We struggled to stay upright on highway one as 35 mph gusts pushed us about. Ironically I was actually glad to see the left turn onto Coleman Valley appear when it did. My lower back was a constricted disaster but Murali was climbing strong. He pushed ahead as I struggled to find the right tempo for the intermediate approach. I kept looking up and to the left for that ramp; the one DWP described as a headboard. Then it loomed above me and there was no escaping it. I put my head down, focused on my breathing and climbed the bugger. Above the tree line, the wind actually was quartering behind me and that helped. I rounded the first big right hand corner and knew I had it. From there Murali and I rode steadily inland like polar explorers as the wind howled through roadside fencing... riders above and below us strung out like pickets on that god forsaken hill.
Back in the trees the road continued to angle up and down with the promise of a sharp short descent to Occidental one or two turns away, always one or two turns away. Eventually we passed the clapperboard-sided buildings on main street and began the final rush back to Santa Rosa. With the climbing over I found my legs again and actually ripped it when we hit the dirt for two miles of bike path at the last. It felt great to spend the last bit of energy drilling it on the rough stuff.
Murali and I shut it down and rode casually up the drive and across the timing mat to end our day. We chatted with a few people including John of Family Cycling Center who'd done the Specialized Vegas ride, the sun was shining and it was great to be done. I needed a shower and just wanted to get home, so I said my goodbyes and rode back to the hotel. Unfortunately it never occurred to me that I shouldn't ride back through the timing gate, which reset my finish time 35 minutes back. Not too bright.
I rejoined the bike path over to the Hyatt. The wind was gone, the temperature perfect, as I rode alone in complete silence. The enormity of the ride was setting in and I'm sure I was smiling to myself. Levi definitely has a mean streak ;-), and his ride took me to the edge of my abilities and stamina where ultimately I found a peaceful sense I'd given it my all. And that was his plan all along.
I washed the Mad Alchemy off my legs, spent ten minutes in the steam room and dressed for the drive back to San Jose. Quite a course and quite a day. I'm sure I'll sign up for punishment again next year Levi.