Here are the top 10 things I learned and will remember from the 2010 Elite Tour
1. Friends make the difference. Before the ride, I talked to several friends and others who encouraged me and gave me some good tips on preparing for a trip of the Elite Tour magnitude. I also knew a few people, Randy, Len and Lara, from previous rides that were signed up. During the ride, I made several new friends and rode with many different people as the ride progressed. Building friendships keeps you in touch with what is happening, how other people are doing and helps you stay motivated. Most of us have ridden long miles on our own to prepare for this event and a few did ride solo during the Elite Tour, but I think it is a lot easier and more fun with friends. Randy Mouri and I knew each other from Endless Mountains 1240 in 2009 and we worked together very well on many days of the Elite Tour and as roommates. Len Zawodniak and I rode together at a PACTour Desert Camp this spring. New friends John Newton, Tim Feldman, Jon Batek and others helped make the ride more fun and easier to get through.
2. Personal organization, focus and routine. On Elite Tour, you have to be well organized and efficiently manage your time, especially in the mornings. As each day went on, I always worked to maintain a focus on the most immediate goal, getting to the next rest stop. This kept me on track and mentally positive. At rest and lunch stops, everyone keeps moving, filling bottles, grabbing a snack, a banana and some other on-the-bike food, a bathroom break then back on the bike. Rest stops are 5-10 minutes. Lunch seldom takes more than 20. When we get to the hotel at the end of the day, we would spend time to clean and maintain your bike, and fix the little things before they break. Next it’s clean up time, get properly fed and rested for the next day (and keep the blog going).
3. Great support crew, Lon and Susan. It is a wonderful boost to have someone greet you at each rest stop, help you with minor issues as they come up and find a solution to keep you going when something major happens. Tracey, Bill, Wayne, Brad, George and Jon were great. The tone is set by Lon and Susan, who have been doing this for nearly 30 years and are the best at taking care of you and the group for these kinds of events.
4. Pacelines. About 80% of my miles were in a paceline. The miles go faster, you work less overall, especially when the wind is blowing, and you tend to stay better focused. On the other hand, it takes constant attention to maintain your position, be aware of the other riders and contribute to the success of the paceline. You also don’t see much of the scenery as it flies by, but there are only so many interesting wheat fields, desert landscapes and tree lined roads. Pacelines take on a life of their own sometimes, depending on the group mood and differential in skill level between strongest and weakest riders. If you are one of the slower guys, be prepared to make a decision at some point whether to hang on and suffer or let the animals go and enjoy the day more, albeit at a slower pace.
5. Tires, saddles and aero bars. Some riders made their tour much more difficult by using racing, or light weight tires. I had three flats for the whole trip, none after crossing the Mississippi. Some riders had 10-15. One rider spent the last two days fixing a flat, pushing hard to catch up only to get another flat, multiple times a day. Good, reliable, flat resistant tires were worth the investment, especially given the pounding they take on the roads we were on.
A good saddle and correct fit keeps your most valuable asset in good condition. A sore tush really takes a lot of the fun out of riding 160 miles a day. My Brooks saddle worked great the whole way and I had no problems. Many people used various creams, balms, OTC drugs and other concoctions to keep themselves comfortable. A cold ice bath can sometimes help to reduce inflammation.
Aero bars aren’t for everyone, but they sure help to rest your upper body, relax on long run outs and get low against the wind. There are different styles of bars, a wider pad based version is more stable and works better for long rides than pure tri bars.
6. Taking care of yourself, ice baths and massages. Your body is under severe stress with the long days, rough roads, heat, cold and sunlight. Be good to yourself with sun block lotion (don’t forget the lips), moisturizers in the evening and balms for certain parts of your body if necessary. An ice bath in the evening for the legs helps them feel fresher the next day. Massages are great for getting the lactic acid out of your legs and relaxing other sore muscles. Be nice to yourself and the days go much better.
7. Nutrition and maintaining an even keel. Nothing is worse than being out of gas with 15 miles to go to the next rest stop. You should plan what you need to eat at the start of the day and at each rest stop. Liquid whey protein (Perpetuem, Sustained Energy were provided by PACTour) gives you a good base and most riders use these regularly. Besides what you snarf down at a rest stop, take along a couple extra treats to eat along the way. For electrolyte replacement, Heed, Gatorade and Endurolytes keep you going, especially when it is hot. Too many electrolytes or salt can contribute to bloating so try to find the right balance. Gatorade can keep you thirsty on long rides. Some people will use whey protein with some Heed in the morning then switch the balance in the afternoon, after lunch, when it is warmer.
8. Preparation - dieseling vs pushing the pace and bridging gaps. Getting in the training miles before the ride really helps, not only for physical conditioning but to toughen up your tush and other key contact points. You need to be able to maintain a good, steady, dieseling type of pace for the whole day regardless of the weather to be successful. If you want to stay with an aggressive paceline, be prepared to push hard to bridge gaps in the paceline and when you need to hang on when the person at the front decides to turn up the heat.
9. Safety. There were sections on the ride where you were in traffic on busy roads, sometimes during a busy time of day. You need to be very traffic savvy to know what the cars are doing, what the hazards are and keep yourself and your group safe. A mirror is a key tool to help you know what is happening behind you. The tour managers also have a responsibility to keep us safe too. Their decision to shorten the ride on the La Veta Pass day due to high winds was a prudent choice that made sense to everyone.
10. Keep a history. Whether you scratch out a few lines in a notebook, send emails, take a few pictures along the way or publish a blog for the world to read, do something to remember what happened during your extraordinary adventure. It all becomes a blur after a few days and it is fun to go back later to remember all the things that happened. If you do put a blog together, make it interesting for the people who may read it, and try to keep it up to date each day.