In honor of  Belgium’s legendary spring classic the Tour of Flanders , the tour of west Portland was born.  In a few short years, this exciting event has risen in popularity giving cyclists a taste of a real challenge.  With a varied terrain and hills steeper than most people train on, it is a test of toughness and bike handling skill.  This was on my list of rides to do for 2 years.

Sunday’s April 17th event was awesome.  I had seen the ride profile, laughed at the  amazing YouTube videos (Incredibly Steep and De Ronde van Oeste Portlandia 2009 are my favorites), and heard stories about the ride.  My training had even shifted to more hill work preparing for this event.  Being in the ride was unbelievable.  At times, I doubted myself and thought I was in over my head.

There were perhaps 400 in the roll out.  After a few miles the peloton had stretched out a half mile on the straight road paralleling Portland’s west hills.  That was the last flat road of the day.

Looking up that first steep hill was quite a sight.  Seeing cyclists weave back and forth using the entire road to lessen the grade, ducking in and out of driveways and pushing their bikes upward had me thinking “Oh boy, here we go.”  The street was rough.  What didn’t have cracks in it, had loose material and moss. I climbed the hill in my lowest gear  a 34×28 trying to keep a smooth pedal stroke while sitting on the nose of my saddle to keep the front end down.  I made it as far as the first driveway on the left and had to pull out as many others had done.  As I caught my breath, I looked for an opening to continue up without slowing the progress of others.  I took off trying to choose a good line up the middle with clean pavement and away from those pushing bikes.  I hadn’t climbed much further until I was slowed by bike traffic losing some of my momentum.  As a lane opened for me to continue at my pace, I stood on the pedals to get more power.  My rear tire spun in some wet pine needles and down I went.  I fell so fast I didn’t have time to unclip, and all my weight rolled the left ankle badly.  My fall made others on my wheel lose their momentum, so they either fell or were able to unclip and walk the rest of the way.  I cleared the road to a driveway on the right to assess my situation.

My ankle had immediately swollen to softball size and could barely put weight on it.  It didn’t feel broken, but it was a horrible sprain.  Knowing the event had no broom wagon to pick me up, and I was lost other than following others to the finish, I decided to continue on.  Besides, I had dreamed of doing this event for a long time.

Pushing the bike up the over 20% grade had me gritting my teeth, but I made it to a flat area, had a bite to eat and a drink.  I was happy too thinking the worst was over.  Looking back down the road, it was amazing seeing an army of cyclists attacking the hill as I did.

It wasn’t only paved roads from then on but gravel walking paths, mud, single track through the woods with major rocks.  At times it seemed more like an obstacle course.  I was glad I still had my winter tires on.  The 25’s at 70 psi were a bit more forgiving.  Even so, I felt every bump with the sprained ankle.  Many cyclists flatted.  A cyclocross bike may have been a better choice.

The route traversed through beautiful residential neighborhoods.  Children had lemonade stands.  Some homeowners cheered us on.  Others wondered what was going on.  Still others wanted to know who was responsible for all this.  And on we rode until a road called College had me pushing the bike again.  After that, no road seemed steeper than 20%.  So, I was able to grind it out  in my smallest gear even without full power.  At times, we got pretty close to the tower on top of the hill only to turn downhill once more.

The final climb was fun knowing that I finished what I started.  I knew the discomfort was only temporary, but quitting would have sucked for a long time.  The 50 mile route had about 7500′ elevation gain.  The panoramic view of the Cascades made an epic day even more glorious.  I look forward to doing this ride again.

Written on April 22nd, 2011 , Share the Ride

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