Sunday, February 15, 2009

Riding With the Pros Part 3 – OMG!

So Karen and I waited at the staging area and watched the riders arrive. We were told that the bank needed a couple riders from the employee team to ride with the customers and make sure they were ok. We figured we were here for the casual riders who even though they’re only “Weekend riders” didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to ride with the Rabobank professional riders. We had yet to see one of these riders.

Everyone was in top shape (even though it was the beginning of February and there was no light past 5pm). When are these guys riding enough to be so … Their bikes were high end and legs shaved that’s how serious these guys were about biking. I mean I had the hairiest legs out there of anyone! And I’m a girl!

Speaking of which. There were no other females than Karen and I. Except two others and one was a nurse that was hired to ride in case of emergency. What the h*ll!

Coach Bill arrived and after introducing myself, I immediately shared my concern with the un-marked route. Bill’s been coaching biking for the Team In Training for several years he’s a veteran. And as luck would have it the Salinas/Monterey area was an old stomping ground of his.

“Don’t worry. I know how to get to Monterey from here. We’ll be fine.”

So we all assembled, had pictures taken and we were off.

We set off through Salinas neighborhoods on our way out of town. It was great! We had 50 riders in all and most of us were in the bright orange Rabobank cycling jerseys. We must have looked serious because as we rode by, people out in their yards waved and cheered us on. Cars would honk and passengers would hang out the windows and cheer us as they passed. It was fun!

We were going at a good clip and I was able to keep up. But I knew I was fresh and we were on the flats. I do pretty well on the flats. But I knew I couldn’t keep this pace up for long. I knew I should slow down. But I was having fun.

We got out of town and onto a piece of highway that rolled past farm fields. Much like the roads I’m used to in Santa Maria. Then we hit a head wind much like I’m used to.

In Santa Maria it seems like the wind blows from all directions at the same time. When we are out riding into a head wind we can’t say, “Don’t worry, we’ve got a turn coming up soon.” Because when you make the turn, you’re going into another head wind. Not sure how that works. But that’s just the way it is in SM.

So this was not a problem. The problem came when we hit our first hill.

It was a decent hill. Not particularly long or particularly steep. Just pretty long and pretty steep. But it was definitely not the worse hill I’ve had to climb. But I was instantly dropped.

I suddenly was watching every other rider sail up the hill as if they had all turned on their rocket thrusters at the same time. They were quickly becoming a dense group of small specks in the distance.

My bike club in Santa Maria has “No Drop” rides. This means that weaker riders are not “dropped” or left behind. But at least one or two riders stay back with the slower rider and the rest of the group will “stop and gather” at pre-determined points on the route. So everyone re-groups along the way.

Here, “No Drop” means you will not drop off the back of the group. You will stay with the group.

Malcolm X style –

By any means necessary.

Riding with the Pros Part 2 - Where are the Casual Riders??

Karen and I carpooled to Salinas the night before the ride. We were the first of the riders to arrive at the start.

Karen and I were putting our bikes together and going through our other preparations. Karen was keeping her eye open for her biking coach who was going to meet us. I was keeping my eye open for my friend Charles. He’s a great guy and a super rider who works out of one of our Salinas offices. He works each year on the Tour of California with the pro-team and I was sure he had been involved coordinating this ride.

Sure enough, it didn’t take long before I saw his car pull in the parking lot. He came right up along Karen and me and rolled down his window.

“Hey, Jill.”

“Hey Charles.” I could see he had Robert Gesink and Grischa Niermann in his car.

“I hope you don’t mind,” Charles said jerking a thumb toward the two pros, “I picked up a couple guys. They want to ride with us.”

“That’s cool. But can they ride?”

Thankfully they have a sense of humor and chuckled at the jab.

“We’ll see you at the start.” Charles said and went to park the car.

Karen and I took our bikes up to the staging area. I asked one of the coordinators if the route was marked.

“No, the city wouldn’t let us mark the street.”

I know they didn’t have route maps. There were 4 separate stages totaling 46 miles in all. No problem. I could ride 46 miles even though I hadn’t started my biking season yet and had only 2 weeks to prepare for this ride. I knew I could clear 46 miles. The problem was I couldn’t cover them fast.

“I noticed in the invitation that there are start times for each stage.”


“I looked at the times for each stage and they are very fast.”

“Well, Charles did the routes and he worked out the timing. They shouldn’t be too bad.”

He knows I’m slow. He must have routed stages for the advanced riders. But surely they had a plan in place for the slow riders??

“What happens if we can’t cover the stage in the time allotted?”

“Well, you can drop out at the end of any stage. There will be a car to take you back.”

“You don’t understand. I can ride for days. I can ride for 46 miles no problem. I just can’t ride as fast as you have the stages.”

She just looked at me. I looked at Karen. I saw the same fear on her face as I felt. What are we going to do with the slow casual riders? We are going to lose the group and without a marked route or a route map, how are we going to get them from stage to stage?

We wouldn’t need to. There would be no casual riders.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Riding With the Pros Part 1 - Want to Ride?

It started with an e-mail from a lady in our Marketing department. The Tour of California had changed its routes this year and there would be no stage going through the Salinas/Monterey area. There’s a large cycling community in that area and Rabobank has many customers who were very disappointed about the route change. So the bank decided to sponsor a ride for these customers. So what? The pro cyclists are not coming through the area on their ride, no VIP tents, and no CCD live broadcast of the riders to watch as they approach your location. No excess of free drinks and gourmet food to over indulge on. One weekend ride sponsored by the bank is not going to make anyone forget about the huge party that they would be missing this year.

So the bank didn’t sponsor just any ride. They sponsored a ride with Rabobank pro-cyclists Robert Gesink and Grischa Niermann. AND……Hennie Kuiper! “Are you kidding me?” I thought as I read the e-mail. Cyclists will sell their mothers’ bikes to ride with these guys!

The e-mail went on to say since I was on the Rabobank employee bike team she was hoping I could get a few of the employees to ride the ride and keep an eye on the customers to make sure they didn’t get in trouble. She had 3 spots to fill and did I think the employees would be willing to spend a Sunday in Monterey riding?

There were some caveats. The bank wouldn’t pay for the employees’ travel or hotel costs. The route was also a linear route not a loop. So you had to get your own self and bike from the finish line back to the start with no shuttle. Ugh. To me it sounded like too much logistics to work out.

Most of us at the bank have been swamped with extra work for several months as the bank is very conservative and is doing everything to lower expenses and not lay off any employees like so many other businesses have had to lately. Which means instead of hiring more people, we have to get the job done with the current number of employees, even though the workload keeps increasing and employees retire or move away (like one of my employees is doing).

So I thought, I am so busy with my job that I don’t feel like (on top of everything else I have to do) working out all the logistics, spending money on hotels and spending a precious weekend ‘working’. I was sure she’d get more than 3 volunteers anyway.

So I sent out the e-mail to the other members of the bike team and waited for the influx of responses. She got two. She was short one person. The two people she did get were from my area. One was asking to carpool and share a hotel room and the other said his family was coming up with him and would shuttle our gear to from start to finish and back. Logistics covered. So I decided to ride.