Back in February my wife Juli dropped me off in a Sausolito parking for my first Rapha gentlemen's ride. Standing there in a freshly pressed Rapha uniform with my shiny black plastic bike I felt like a kid on the first day at a new school. I watched the Continental crew spill out of their vans with an alleycat-road-rat-art-school-messenger vibe and immediately knew I was in for a beating.
It only took 65 miles to put me down for good, but as it turned out the cool kids were, well... cool. Slate, Daniel, Aaron, Jeremy, Ira, Cole and Luke made the day as satisfying as a hot slice of Occidental cheese pizza.
Sunday I showed up for round two, this time on more familiar turf for a 67-mile coastal loop beginning and ending with host Palo Alto Bicycles. No illusions about riding with the fast group this time, I'd steeled myself for survival, riding the entire route solo the previous Saturday. The bookend climbs of Page Mill and Tunitas Creek were the main course with scenic Pescadero and Stage Roads thrown in for ruffage. I shelved the plastic bike, opting for my titanium Enigma Eulogy, not wanting anyone to mistake me for Andy Schleck having a bad day. As if.
The parking lot behind Palo Alto Bicycles filled rapidly in the hour before the 10 am start. It looked like about fifty riders were prepared to sign the waiver without reading it and take their chances. Plenty of Country, Lightweight, Classic and Club jerseys were in the Rapha mix. One rider who bore a remarkable resemblance to a Hanson brother had on the Team Issue. Yours truly was riding for the Rapha Allblacks: black Lighweight Jersey and black Touring Shorts over Bibs and Baselayer; black Rapha Cap.
A few minutes after ten we rolled out onto University Avenue, trying not to connect with our inner critical mass. I enjoyed the fact I actually knew where I was going so I rode close to the front till we got to the start of the climb up Page Mill Road. As soon as the hill started to bite the train powered ahead leaving the sick and wounded behind. Is there anything more annoying than listening to other people talking on a climb when you can't?
At the intersection of Moody and Page Mill the ugly stick comes out and there's nothing but suffering until the fourth gate into the Nature preserve is behind you. I seem to remember Cole's mustache and toothpick coasting back down the hill looking for strays. Shortly after that Aaron and Hahn appeared and escorted me to the top. I was working, they were slumming but we had a laugh when an overachiever in jean shorts passed us on a mountain bike.
After a quick nature break at the intersection with Skyline I rolled onto the panoramic descent of West Alpine alone. For the first two miles the road is gloriously open to the sky before forking right and tunneling sharply downward through deep forest cover to emerge at the base of Pescadero Road and Haskins Hill. The big surprise of the ride came on this climb when the lead riders were stopped by the CHP and a life flight helicopter airlifting a motorcyclist who'd left the road on his Ducati 848. I don't know what's more frightening listening to sport bikes approaching at high speed or reading that thread.
Doubling back on Pescadero, the ride pacelined its way along Hwy 84 to San Gregorio and a chance to re-provision at the General Store. I kept the stop short, filled my bottles and tucked an extra water in my jersey for the return leg. When I left, Cole was seated comfortably at the bar enjoying a cold beer. Bastard ;-)
The lead group caught me about five miles later on Tunitas Creek. The tough part of the climb lay ahead so I took a minute to eat a ProBar, drank the extra water and slung my helmet from my bars till the summit. From there it was more or less downhill to the finish and dinner.
Back at Palo Alto Bikes I cleaned up at the car, got out of the Touring Shorts that had performed so admirably and put on Rapha's Fixed Shorts for the post-ride buffet and screening of MasterLink Films "Road to Roubaix." The film rivals "A Sunday in Hell" as the definitive record of the Queen of the Classics... this time documenting Stuart O'Grady's inspired victory in the 2007 race. Awesome film. Johnny Green, former road manager for the Clash and cycling aficionado provides some of the best commentary in the film.
And with the final credits another great day with Rapha was in the books. I didn't get any ride time with Daniel or Slate, but Mark and Hahn were great company on Page Mill. Many thanks to the team at Palo Alto Bicycles for hosting the day... first class job.
All of the Rapha kit mentioned can be purchased at Palo Alto Bicycles and online at Rapha.