Monday, May 25, 2015

Mingus Mountain 200km Brevet

Ride Report
May 16, 2015
Scenic Overlook on Mingus Mountain above Jerome

The brevet schedule in Arizona starts while most of our friends in the North and East are still in winter hibernation! Or course we start early because of the great winter weather in the Southwestern Desert, but also because we need to get the series done before the onset of triple digit temperatures!

This year, John Ingold established the Northern Arizona Randonneurs and has put together a great selection of Northern Arizona Brevets for a full ACP Super Randonneur series in May, June and July! First up; The Mingus Mountain 200km Brevet.

Eight riders lined up at the 0600 start at the Basha's parking lot in West Sedona, Arizona. The Cliff Castle Casino Hotel north of Camp Verde was only 30 minutes away from the start, so that would be the Friday night bivouac location. Clean, cheap, but with paper thin walls, it was fine until the drunk rush rolled in about 0300! Happily, the neighbors passed out quickly and the next sound was the alarm at 0500! 

John Ingold pre-rode the course earlier in the week and was the trail boss for today. Eight riders pulled on the rain gear and rolled out for the first running of a wet Mingus Mountain 200. This also was John's first brevet as an official Regional Brevet Administrator (RBA) and he did a great job!

The group quickly split and I found myself with 3 Bullshifters (Mike Sturgill, Lee Wilkening, and Brian McGuire) rolling along the generally downhill route to the first informational control in Cornville Arizona. John was waiting at the the control and checked us through. Even in the rain, it was easy to hold a 20+ mph pace. This brevet covered a route that I had never cycled before, and it was an outstanding course with good road surfaces and tremendous views!
Mike, Lee, and Brian in Cottonwood
Temperatures were cool, and the rain eased to a steady drizzle. John's route rolled through a residential section of Clarkdale, and provided a nice low traffic route to the base of the climb up Mingus Mountain.
Deb's sister and brother were born in Clarkdale!
We stopped at the base of the climb to strip off a layer and get ready for the climb. The rain had stopped, but the cloud ceiling was so low (about 4000 feet) that we would soon be climbing in the clouds! Our group split apart quickly with Mike and Lee disappearing into the mist and Brian and I settling into our own pace.

About halfway up the climb, the route enters the 'Ghost Town' of Jerome Arizona. Once a thriving mining community, it has transitioned to an eclectic combination of ghost town, counter culture pot mecca, Arizona Mining History, and Western chic and not so chic art galleries and antique stores. We rolled through early in the morning, after the spirits had called it a night, but before the mortals had hit the streets.

Enjoying the views and not really paying attention to the route, my Garmin suggested a wrong turn at the edge of town, after checking the route sheet, it was back on course, climbing the steep streets/switchbacks of Downtown Jerome.

John set up a staffed control at the scenic overlook just above Jerome. Now well into the clouds, the visibility was only a few hundred meters! Mike and Lee rolled out just as I rolled in.
John Ingold Northern Arizona RBA
John was at the ready with a full selection of snacks and drinks served with a smile at the Jerome checkpoint. I reloaded my bottles, visited with John, and rolled out as Brian rolled in!

The 'scenic' view of the clouds
As the climb continued the weather started to clear and snow was visible on the ridge line above the road cuts. Traffic was light and the road surface excellent. Combined with the cool weather it was perfect conditions for a long climb (about 15 miles).
The 'Summit' at 7000+ feet

Traces of Snow on the Ridge
With the rain jacket back on to ward off the wind chill on the decent, the route heads down toward Prescott Valley and the turn around control in Dewey Arizona. With partly cloudy skies, and air crystal clear from the previous rain, visibility was practically unlimited! The route gives up about 2/3rds the climbing, and it is a long descent to the Dewey control.

Mike and Lee were heading out as I pulled into the Maverick store to get supplies and a receipt. After a quick call to Deb to update her on the progress of the ride, I was back on the climb of the back side of Mingus Mountain.
Easier to take pictures on the uphill!
The climb is somewhat shorter, and soon John came into view at the summit with his fully stocked brevet-mobile. I was able to reload again, put my jacket back on and prepare for the long decent through Jerome to the Verde Valley.

The Scenic View above Jerome
Not a required stop, but wanting an 'after photo,' I made a quick stop at the Scenic View above Jerome, quite a difference. John warned us about the traffic we would encounter in Jerome, and he was right. Volunteers were controlling one-way traffic sections and numbers of oblivious tourists would step off the sidewalk right into the street not hearing a cyclist approaching! 

Outside of town the E ticket ride continued to Clarkdale. After the long descent the route rolls through Cornville and approaches Sedona from the south. After a short rough patch, the road improves with a full bike lane.
Clouds on the Horizon
As a fitting end to the ride, a large rain cell appeared, and the last 9 miles were in the rain.The bike path was especially appreciated as an easy way to pass the heavy tourist traffic backed up on the highway!

The Road to Sedona
Reaching the Vortex of this tourist town, the route headed west to the Basha's where it all began, leaving the tourist traffic and rain behind! John was waiting at the stop to check me in and collect my brevet card and receipts.

This was a fantastic 200km brevet, and it could not have been better supported, bravo John! This was not a fast 200, with 9500+ feet of climbing, I was very happy to have it in the bag at 9 hours and 15 minutes, but even happier to have spent the day on such an outstanding route!

Thanks again John, looking forward to the next brevet on the Northern Arizona Series; the Grand Canyon 600!

Steve Atkins

Click here for GPS data

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Spring Classics Bike Tour

Ride Report(s)
April 2015

My bike problem (Randonneuring) can be traced back to 2005 when Deb and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary on a 12 day bike tour that included three mountain stages of the Tour de France. It was such a great trip, we put the Spring Classics, Giro d'Italia, and Vuelta Espana on the to do list. Ten years later we finally are able to check one of those off the list!

We found Cycling Camp San Diego's Belgium Spring Classics Tour via a Google search, and quickly determined this would be the trip for us, and it was! It was based around 3 of the Spring Classic professional races; Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallonne, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Included in the tour was entry in to the amateur events associated with each race. We decided to arrive a few days early and headed to Amsterdam to adjust to the time change and visit the nearby tulip fields/gardens.


After arriving in Brussels, we stored the bike case and most of our luggage in the airport lockers, and caught the train to Amsterdam. This was our second visit to Amsterdam, and Deb really wanted to see the spring flowers in Keukenhof. We arrived Tuesday afternoon, too late for the museums, but early enough to set out on foot, tour the city, plan our trip to Keukenhof, and try to shake off the jet lag.
Heading to the train station
Bike Parking at the Amsterdam Train Station
We were up early and headed to the train station to grab a train to nearby Haarlem. We found a bike rental shop there and rented city bikes for the ride to Keukenhof. It was about a 10 mile trip along canal paths and through production flower fields to the Gardens in Keukenhof.
In the tulip fields
Keukenhof Gardens
The ride to the gardens was fantastic! As we neared the Keukenhof Gardens we left the canal banks and joined what seemed like an endless caravan of tour buses and cars headed to the Gardens. Happily, the bike racks were near the west gate and we were soon in the gardens. It was beautiful with flower displays separated by sidewalks overflowing with tourists! We spotted a cafe in the gardens, and after enjoying a snack of coffee, beer, and apple pie, the crowds didn't seem so bad.

We made our way through the gardens and decided to head back. Leaving the crowds behind and mounting our city bikes, we were treated to a strong tail wind and soft pedaled all the way back to Haarlem!
Nice tailwind on the way back
The bike route generally followed canals
We returned our bikes and took a lap through Haarlem. We found a cafe on the main square and relaxed prior to catching a train back to Amsterdam. We enjoyed a fantastic meal at a nearby seafood restaurant, and with the daylight time, we were able to wander around this charming town for several hours. We agreed this was a great way to start our tour.

Amstel Gold Race

We were up early and back on the train to Brussels. We would join the CCSD at the arrival level at the airport. After transferring to the local train, gathering up 40 euros in coins to retrieve our luggage, we found Rob and Jo of CCSD and our tour companions. We were a small group; 9 riders, 2 guides, and we fit easily into a crew truck and passenger van. Those of us needing rental bikes took the truck to the rental shop. We picked up bikes (it turned out Deb's was too small) and joined the rest of the group in our first town, Tongeren Belgium. We arrived at the hotel, assembled the bikes, and set out for a shake-down ride that covered a large loop around the town.

Shake down ride in Tongeren
Our first full day of riding would cover 50 miles and take us to the town of Valkenburg and back. The Amstel Gold Race includes 3 laps and finishes near the top of the famous Cauberg climb in Valkenburg.
Crossing into Holland
The roads were in great shape, and while is was quite chilly in the morning, the sun was out and the weather was perfect. After some urban riding through Maastricht, we found ourselves on the Amstel Gold route and coasting into Valkenburg.
On the Amstel Gold Race course
Its Holland, not Michigan!

Downtown Valkenburg
We found the group at a sidewalk cafe, and after snack of coffee, beer, and apple pancake, we made our way to the Amstel Gold Experience and nearby Pearl Izumi outlet store before heading back to the hotel to rest up for the Toerversie (Tour Version) Amstel Gold Race.
At the base of the Cauberg
Amstel Gold Experience

After cleaning up at the Hotel, we toured the Tonengren Cathedral before piling into the van to tour the nearby Bink brewery. It was a nice tour with great beer. The owner/brewmaster entertained us with an interesting history of Belgian brewing and we enjoyed several of his tasty products with fresh bread, cheese, and meats.
Bink Brewery Historic Tavern

Tonengren Cathedral

We returned to the hotel, had a full meal, and retired early.

Two of us decided to ride the Amstel Gold long version (250km) so we left early with the bike van. Larry and I set off together, but were soon separated in the mass of confusion around one of the first turns.
The start of the Amstel Gold Tour Version
The riding was fantastic on good roads. The weather was perfect, cold at start and sunny and cool for the rest of the day.
Time to lose some layers
First feed station
Since there are 4 different lengths for this event, the route is a little tricky. Often we would share the route with other riders, then split off. At one point it seemed riders were coming and going in all directions! Even with my Garmin, I somehow missed a turn and ended up riding the Cauberg 3 times. Eventually, I ended up repeating the first loop, and made my way the the Cauberg the last time covering 200km and climbing over 10,000 feet!
Our finisher medals/bottle openers!
Deb rode the 65km version which also included a trip up the Cauberg, and was waiting at the finish line when I came through the last time!

We returned to Tonengren for a group dinner to celebrate our day.

Sunday morning (race day) we rode in the van back to the Valkenburg area. Deb and I took our bikes and made the 10km trip to Valkenburg. The town was packed with race fans eager to watch the racers come through. We did a little shopping and rode back to the van. The CCSD folks picked great spot where the race would come through several times, close to a cafe with a TV so we could continue to watch the action!
We positioned ourselves at the top of the hill, where the team songniers were at the ready with food, water, and wheels. An errant water bottle rolled into the field and CRASH the group went down right in front of us! One of the Cannondale riders ended up being loaded into the ambulance!
We could see the race approach from miles away

Deb's Orica bottle, my beer bottle
After the race, Rob arranged for us to return Deb's bike to the rental shop in Brussels. It was a better fit, not perfect, but we were appreciative of the side trip. We drove back into Tongeren for a group dinner.

Fleche Wallonne

With our bags packed, we would ride to the next town, Villers Ste. Gertrude. It was about 45 miles, with some steep climbing. Deb did awesome and the views were tremendous.
Spectacular ride to Villers Ste. Gertrude
The route included mostly farm roads and a few trails. On one of the trails, my rear tire blew. It was a sidewall cut, but I was able to 'boot' the tire with an old Powerbar wrapper. That repair held for the rest of the trip!
Better, but still too small bike
WWII Memorial

We loved the low traffic farm roads

Historic Durbuy
We arrived in Durbuy for a late lunch and with some very steep climbing to get out of town, we rolled into our second hotel in Villers Ste. Gertrude just before dinner. The innkeeper prepared a great meal and we retired early for the next sportive.

A local bike club sponsors the Andennes classic that covers much of the Fleche Wallonne route, including the famous Mur de Huy climb. There are three versions, several of us selected the 145km version and we were up early to the start in Andennes.
Andennes Classic Route
The route was easy to follow due to the large number of riders and directional symbols painted on the pavement before and after each turn.
On the Andennes route
There were feeding stops about every 50km, and I took full advantage of each one, becoming especially fond of the waffles!
The Andennes classic included parts of the Fleche
After the last feed at the top of the Mur, I joined a group of Dutch Belgian club riders for the run into the finish. They were especially interested in my coupler bike, and very happy that an American decided to spend a 'cycling holiday' in their country!
Belgian Bike Club

Directional symbols on the route
The ride started and finished at a sports center (pool, track, football pitch, and bar). I found our group in the bar and enjoyed a few recovery beverages before heading back to the hotel.

On race day, we took the van back to Huy and parked at the start/finish line at the top of the Mur de Huy. We watched the women's race start and walked down into Huy. We hoped to find a bike shop and find a replacement tire. The only store in town was closed, in observance of race day!

The men would climb the Mur 3 times. We found a great spot and waited near the base of the Mur. Soon the break flashed by, followed a few minutes later by the main field!
The Break comes through first
At the base of the Mur de Huy
Main field, just before the crash
Just as the field passed in front of us, a large group went down. The Cannondale Team Leader, Dan Martin went down hard and did not finish the race. We literally had to press up against the building so the racers could use the sidewalk to go around the carnage!
Dan Martin went down hard
We ended up with a Garmin Camelback water bottle that came flying out of Martin's bike when he hit the deck!
The Mur de Huy
After the race cleared we walked up the Mur de Huy and found a place to watch the women finish and the men complete their second run up the Mur. We found refreshments at the top and walked back down to the 250m to go banner and waited for the final pass of the pros.
Valverde in Control with 250m to go
The break was caught and the peloton arrived in one group with Alejandro Valverde in front and in complete control. He launched his sprint with 100m to go and finished a full bike length ahead of the field!

We regrouped at the vans and returned to Durbuy for a light meal before heading back to the hotel.

The next day the group headed to the La Chouffe brewery for a long day of riding and another brewery tour. Deb and I decided to cover part of the route, and head to the town of Manhay. It turned out to be a great decision.
Ardennes forest

 We had a great day!
 The forest was beautiful and the roads were perfect for us. Gentle grades and low traffic.
Many memorials from grateful Belgians

Memorial in Manhay
We rolled into Manhay looking for lunch and an ATM. We found the ATM, but none of the restaurants were open for lunch, but they were ready to serve coffee and beer. I enjoyed a couple La Chouffe's in honor of the brewery tour we missed. We picked up some snacks at the bakery and headed back to the hotel.
No lunch, but plenty of Beer and Coffee
Streets of Manhay
Villers St. Gertrude
Our innkeeper prepared a Belgian barbeque for our final meal here and it was a great way to complete our stay in Villers.

Liege Bastogne Liege

We packed our bags and left Villers early for the 22 mile ride to Spa. Deb and I left before the main group, and were the first to find the road under construction. We doubled back and met the group as they prepared a detour. We joined Larry as we worked out a different way to Spa. It turned out be be more like 30 miles and 3000 feet of climbing!
On the ride to Spa
Our B&B in Spa was 1 block from the race route
We arrived mid-afternoon, checked into the hotel and walked into town to have a late lunch/early dinner. The Liege Bastogne Liege (LBL) Challenge rides the full route plus a few bonus kilometers totaling 270km, so I was looking for a full meal. We found it at a great little sidewalk cafe.
Pasta dinner before the LBL Challenge
The forecast was for rain and temperatures in the 40's; finally spring classic weather! It is an open start, but we left with a large group of riders early Saturday morning, riding through the rain on the wet streets of Liege, it was great!
Heading out in the rain

Wet cobbles and a photo bomber in Liege
With all the miles so far on the tour, the rain, the grit, and forgetting to lube my chain before the event, I noticed my drive train making noise and skipping gears. I tried several times to stop and adjust the rear derailleur but it would not behave. Luckily, there were mechanics at the Bastogne feed zone and they adjusted and lubed my machine, it behaved much better after that!
The turnaround in Bastogne
Soon after leaving Bastogne, the skies opened up and we found ourselves in a heavy downpour. As we reached the first of the 8 final climbs, the skies started to clear.
Clearing sky's near the finish
I rolled into the finish area after the course had closed. Lucky for me Larry and Jason purchased a beer for me before the bar closed!
Post ride rewards
Deb had arranged a spa day in Spa, so we were both in our favorite elements! We returned to Spa, arriving late, we grabbed some food from a convenience store and returned to our room.

On race day, we piled into the vans and drove to Liege. We walked through the start area as the teams were preparing for the race.

After the start, we toured the town before piling back into the vans and driving back to Spa. We arrived with plenty of time before the race would go through, so we walked into town, did a little shopping and returned to our corner and waited for the race to come through.
The Break rolls through
The break rolled through followed closely by the main field. We walked back to the hotel and watched the rest of the race on TV. After the race we cleaned and packed up the bikes and had a final group dinner in Spa.

It was a trip to remember. We had a great group of riders and the CCSD folks put together a great tour that we really enjoyed.

Where to next?
Back in Tempe planning the next trip!

More photos here