Century bicycle rides come in various shapes, sizes, locations, and difficulties. There are names like Enchanted Circle Century, El Tour de Tucson, Santa Fe Century, and Tour Of The Rio Grande Valley. No matter how varied though, all have one thing in common: a “century” offering. (Ride your bicycle on a challenging predetermined course for one hundred miles)

 

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My first century, many years ago and kind of a last minute afterthought, was with my friend Don. We selected the Tour Of The Rio Grande Valley or TORGV. With little long distance cycling experience, hearts filled with desire, strong heads, young legs and two semi-working bikes, we set off. In the end, we actually finished that day. It was our first full century and we did it in just under thirteen hours! I drove myself home, slept for hours, nursed my aching parts, and didn’t touch my bike again for months!
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Fast forward to TORGV 2012.
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It’s a cold morning. A tissue thin wind vest covers my Rio Cycling Club kit against a 50 degree dark, quiet parking lot. We are operating independent of each other, preparing ourselves and prepping our bikes as the eastern sky beyond the Sandia Mountains begins to light. I walk across the parking lot and speak with another rider, but my eyes focus on his supplies: two full water bottles clinging to his bike frame and three bulging rear pockets containing extra food as he chomps down a power bar and gulps some rich hot coffee. My supplies pale in comparison with only one bottle of water, a single rear pocket holding four fig newtons, a crunchy granola bar, and two gel packs, totaling out to just over 600 calories… not enough to fuel a 4000+ calorie ride. Hoping for the best, I began to imagine shaking loose an additional 2000 or so calories from various temporary carb loaded holding locations throughout my body. Even so, a “bonk” looked to be in my future.
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Individuals soon became groups and groups formed into teams, nervously clicking their cleats onto the pavement, and suddenly rocking up off their top-tubes in a massive movement toward the exit like some invisible signal light had changed from red to green. The subsequent, testosterone fueled frenzy lasted much longer than I’ve ever experienced before, and after several miles, I realized that I was still part of the lead group. Surging… holding… and jockeying for position while dodging the inevitable snot rocketry as well as an occasional skittish paceline newbie, I held tight and gradually found a comfortable place in the group near the back.
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Tandemonosaurus comprised four powerful legs connected to one very loud mouth poking fun in all directions at random. Nothing (or no one) was off limits. “We’re going to take these newbies out to the middle of nowhere and relieve them of their water bottles and abandon them”. And then again later, “I’d rather DIE than be dropped”, when several riders sprinted out across traffic on a precarious turn onto the southbound highway. Their comedy routine finally climaxed in a slow move to the front of the pack to mount one big false attack which left most of us exhausted and recovering. They coasted back laughing, "We just had to do that. Haha! Thought it would be funny!" It was!…. And wasn’t. Toward the end of the ride, purged of all remaining comedy, they did indeed mount a real attack, torturing the remaining peloton all the way into the finish. Fortunately, I had fallen off the back by that time.
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Paceline riding is an exciting, structured close-quarter dance, with each rider relying on the unspoken trust encompassing the group. This wasn’t a paceline, though. This was more of a pace-mob. We moved south at a fairly good clip only interrupted by furious surges by differing groups blasting to the front while the rest of us hoped to react in time and not be dropped. Hand signals of approaching road hazards were rare and I quickly learned to read for trouble by watching far ahead and detecting subtle changes and shifts in the contour of the tops of helmets and jostling of shoulders in the woven blanket of cyclists. A gentle lifting wave indicated an unseen rise in the pavement. A thinning of the midsection meant pedal or be dropped… followed by a thickening again to quickly slow. And out of nowhere, in the midst of all this moving, rolling and undulating river of helmets and colorful jerseys a single cyclist came into view coasting gracefully along the far right edge of the group standing in his pedals with his outside foot held high in some sort of pirouette with one hand on the handlebars and the other near his waist… his head periodically swinging forward to spot the line of travel every few seconds before glancing back down ensuring the unobstructed flow of urine to the ground. A few seconds later, he came back into view moving forward and on my left back into position near the front. And thus I learned of the ballet of the fully saturated cyclist.
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Clearly, this woven entity was not going to stop and I spent a few minutes analyzing the impact of my mistaken selection of fluid and fuel. I knew that I would need the 100 calorie gel packs for any final run toward the end and rationed the remaining 400 calories across the next couple of hours. There was no choice on the water, 1 bottle for several hours meant that I would only allow myself a gulp every fifteen minutes or so. Ultimately, I concluded that I would be dehydrated and well passed the bonking point somewhere around mile 80 unless I stopped at one of the rest stops. And so, I continued.
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We passed more rest (non)stops and survived a huge bone rattling train-track crossing which aggressively launched several water bottles back through the pack tossing them around in a pinballing fashion before depositing them at the side of the road. I ate the rest of my food in between gasping breaths of air while hoping not to choke on a broken fragment before I could swallow and sprayed the last gulp of water into my system.
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Finally, and inevitably, just south of Los Lunas, the pace-mob surged and I couldn’t respond. I was dropped. I picked up another droppie and we worked our way north, stopping at the rest stop to refuel and rehydrate. Several additional riders including others from Rio joined in and we rolled back toward Albuquerque… at a much reduced and more manageable pace.
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Just north of Isleta, I finally looked down at the cycle computer on the handlebars. I couldn’t believe it showed only 3 hours and 31 minutes. Even in my dehydrated, semi-delirious state I knew that a sub-six hour century was going to happen and quite possibly something even under 5 hours. Our pace was fast and by sharing the lead more evenly we finally rolled onto Rio Grande Blvd holding 21 mph. As we crossed the finish line in a final sprint, I quickly reached down and pushed STOP.
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Gasping for breath while dismounting at my truck, I stared down at the tiny computer display.
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4’30” it said.  And I was done.

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