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Rapha Gentleman's Race NE 2011
Team 52 Vincents

The background

Last year John was lucky enough to get a spot on the Pedro's 6 person team for the 2010 Rapha East Coast Gentlemen's Race. This race included some amazing dirt climbs and descents around Kent CT. John came back after the race raving about the route and the format.

You see, we love to ride on dirt roads and we love to climb. And we really love a team format where a group of cyclists ride and work together. While John was off doing the Gentlemen's race that weekend, I was taking part in a fleche, another long distance team event, that also took in lots of climbs and a few dirt roads. Now don't confuse team with relay team. In a relay team, riders can rest and move forward inside a support car while other riders ride. This is a proper team event, where all team members ride the full distance and the riders work and finish together. The ride is also self-supported, meaning you carry what you need and live off the land.

The race was advertised as having lots of dirt, but many riders still chose skinny tires for the day and paid the price with punctures. Fatter tires may add some weight, but they do make for faster descents on rugged terrain, and likely prevent lots of lost time fixing punctures. The race also featured lots of climbing. Some folks were a bit over-geared for the day, and more than once the two foot gear was pressed into use. Finally there is distance. The route was over 200km, a distance that intimidated some.

But it sounded like it was custom-made for us: a self-supported all day ride with long, hard dirt climbs and descents.

As he described the events of the day, John also mentioned that Bilenky had sent a team of tandems. They, like many other single bike riders, had struggled with punctures, and ended up finishing very late. Later in the year, another Gentlemen's Race was held on the west coast. Again, Bilenky sent a team of tandems to this event. I read about their experience here.

Inspired and intrigued, I began to wonder how we could do if we put together a team of experienced tandem riders, who liked to do long, hard self-supported rides on dirt roads, using tandems with voluminous tires and low gears.

This year John has been racing for the Ride Studio Cafe (RSC) endurance team. As a Rapha shop, RSC got an invitation to the 2011 East Coast Gentlemen's Race. There were more than 6 folks from the team who really wanted to do the race, but the team is limited to six riders. John's previous experience, as well as his long-distance CV, made him an obvious choice, but I suggested that John could give his spot on the RSC team to another rider if we could get an invite for a team of tandems. But no pressure, and only if he really wanted to...

So John talked to Rob Vandermark (of Seven and RSC) about a the possibility of tandem team, and Rob got very excited. He arranged for the invitation and helped us to brainstorm a team name and logo, and even provided some beautiful Rapha jerseys with a custom embroidered logo.

The team

We met David and Emily Lafferty a few years ago while riding brevets. They are young and strong but in spite of their youth, have a fair amount of experience riding long distances and dirt roads. True to their experience, their tandem sports fenders and fat tires. I had ridden with them some on D2R2, another dirt road epic, so I knew they liked dirt. John pitched the idea to them and they responded enthusiastically.


We had met Todd Holland a few years ago through a friend doing D2R2. Since then, we've participated a few dirt road rides that Todd has organized out in the Amherst area, and he joined us the first year for DROVES, our long weekend dirt road ride. Todd had heard about the Gentlemen's race and had expressed his interest in joining a team.



Then there is Kristen Gohr. We met Kristen a few years ago on the hill climb circuit. Kristen is a Cat-1 racer who loves to climb. She and John destroyed the long-standing tandem record on Mt Washington when they teamed up together last year. In prep for the Mt Washington record, John and Kristen had done quite a few rides on the tandem. She took to it instantly, and had expressed disappointment when I put my saddle and pedals back on the tandem after the record ride. She had also expressed an interest in the Gentlemen's race.

I wasn't willing to give my seat up again, but we asked Todd and Kristen if they might like to ride together for the race and they jumped at the chance. Various scheduling conflicts meant we couldn't all ride together before the race, but we did manage to get Todd and Kristen on his tandem for a 100+ mile test ride. They killed us on that ride, so we had no doubts that they would do fine together on race day.

Next up - Team Name

John and Rob and I tossed out a few ideas about team names. John loves to throw song lyrics into his race reports. As we talked about different possibilities, we kept coming back to our favorite musician, Richard Thompson, and his likely best known song, '52 Vincent Black Lightning. As RSC has a cafe racer theme, it seemed a good fit, and our team became the 52 Vincents.

When Gerben from Rapha asked for bios to handicap the teams for starting times, John reported that we were a team of three tandems, composed of Todd, Kristen, David, Emily, John and me, with me celebrating my 50th birthday a few days after the race, and John a 40+ masters racer. He also reported that I suffer from coffee-shop constipation, which is the inability to pass a coffee shop. So if there are too many coffee shops on route, we might never finish. He said that two of the riders (Todd and Kristen) had never ridden together before we put the team together and they each have 3 children. The third team (David and Emily) had done a few brevets together.

Actually he reported quite accurately that we had 5 riders with extensive ultra-marathoning and randonneuring experience and a Cat 1 racer. This still got us placed as the second team to start, after the Bilenky team. The handicapping had teams starting at 6 minute intervals. With 20 teams, the last team would start almost two hours after the first. The last team, from Bicycling Magazine, had helped design the route, had local knowledge and was mostly cat 1 racers. In fact most of the teams had mostly cat 1 and 2 racers. So maybe our handicapping wasn't too off-base. But two hours is a lot of time to make up.

Still, our goal was just to make a respectable showing for tandems, and well ... since it was a race, beat the other tandems.

The bikes

We had brand new matching team jerseys. The bikes, on the other hand, were not so new, not so matching. Two had 26 inch wheels. The third was 700C. Our Co-Motion is 9 years old with some newer components. Todd's Cannondale is similar vintage or older. The Lafferty's Trek may be older than the Laffertys. Well not really, but they are very young and their tandem has been around a while. We chose to take our touring tandem, since we could use fatter tires than on our racing tandem. We also had refit it with a new fork with a disk brake last year which would make the descents even sweeter. The frame has couplers for travel, and a seriously heavy duty rack and fenders. We decided to be really radical and pulled off the rack, fenders and the drum brake to save 5 lbs, bringing it down below 50 pounds with tools. We did carry spare tire and 4 tubes and chain links and other assorted tools. In fact all three bikes were equipped with spare tires. It was one thing made clear from the ride reports that I'd read. Be prepared for lots of punctures.

We drove down the night before and enjoyed an evening in a nice hotel where we had dinner together and discussed strategy.

Have fun
Beat the Bilenkys
Don't get lost or separated
Beat the Bilenkys
and Have fun

Just before turning in, we looked at the Bilenky blog entry about the race the next day. They had put together a very strong team. Uh oh...

After a fitful night of interrupted sleep, we rose early and headed off to the velodrome in Trexlertown for the start. We didn't have our jerseys yet. The embroiderer was still stitching them up when we left town, so they were sent down with the RSC team in the Seven van. We had thought we were all staying at the same hotel, but there was a bit of miscommunication there. However, Matt Roy pedaled to the rescue with our lovely new jerseys, so no one had to ride topless. They looked awesome. The team looked awesome.

As we were getting ready, we rolled over and introduced ourselves to the Bilenkys, checking out the competition!