4:55 AM and Team Ultra (Dave, David, Mike, Jim, Steve, Gil, and I) are amongst more than 100 other riders for the 5 AM mass start of the 15th Annual Devil Mountain Double Century. At 206 miles with more than 20,000 ft of climbing in a single day, this is going to be one tough ride.
As we leave the start at the San Ramon Marriott the Ultra squad is up toward the front of the pack and after a couple of stop lights at roughly 8.7 miles in we turn right to head for the first big climb which will be Mt Diablo . With the summit rising to just under 4,000 ft, we have the first of the series of the days climbs in front of us. Passing the gate we have roughly 30 mins on the clock and the pack has now split up. Continuing the climb, Steve and Dave pull ahead and I have lost sight of Mike, Jim, Gil, and David. Today, we also have our paparazzi crew following us as Eldrid and Jerr are shooting photos for Jim's company. After a 1:19 min climb I am at the summit and reach the first checkpoint. Holding true to my plan, I top off my water bottles and am descending. The descent is extremely cold and and almost to the point that I want to stop and warm my hands but this is a timed event and the Stage Race and my personal goal today is to shave 2-3 hours off of last years time.
With roughly 2:20 riding time in I make a right onto Ygnacio Valley Rd. and it's a short climb on the shoulder (always full of debris) on a fairly busy road as the head of the pack heads out to Clayton and then to the second climb of the day which will be Morgan Territory. The winds have now kicked up a bit and after rolling a few miles Dave catches me (and passes me) and that will be the last of him that I will see on this day. As we roll through Clayton and up Marsh Creek Rd. the lead pack is starting to break up and another rider pulls up and suggests that we work our way through the wind and pace line to catch the group that is just ahead of us. With roughly 40 miles behind us, I am now looking forward to a short break as we have a descent into Morgan Territory Rd. At about 47 miles in the next big climb is now upon us for 5 miles to the top. As I start the climb Steve catches me and then less than a mile from the top I am greeted by another friend Mark who is an extremely strong rider and I am wondering why it took him 51 miles to catch up but find out later that he rolled from the start 2 mins late.
I have been rolling now for roughly 4 hours and am at the summit of Morgan Territory and have about 53 miles behind me. I check in, refuel, and take a quick break and am back on the road heading for a nice long descent down "The Plunge" with roughly a 1,500 ft descent into Livermore and then out to where it is going to really get windy on Patterson Pass. As I roll through Livermore and out onto Northfront Rd. I have about 63 miles behind me with a fairly nice pace of 20+ mph out to the descent down the Altamont Pass Rd. Realizing I passed a number of riders that were following a tandem (with a couple that is super human as I also saw them in SoCal on the Mulholland Double) I am just waiting for them to blow by me on the descent as it is impossible for a standard road bike to keep up with a tandem on the flats or even worse on the downhill. Somewhere around mile 69 here they come and they are moving in excess of 42 mph as that is where they dropped me! We make a left at the stop sign and then roll about a half a mile before making a right onto Midway.
Turning right onto Patterson Pass Rd. at about mile 76 we are in for one slow climb as this is probably the windiest day I have every climbed this beast. A mile or so into the climb I quickly realize that setting the cadence alarm on the Garmin at 60 rpm was a real bad idea considering I would test that limit continuously with the climbing we'd be doing. Fighting the winds and listening to that alarm go off like a clock where you just can't hit the snooze button fast enough, I realize that I am either going to pull over and change the setting or rip it off the bike stem and throw it across the road. Knowing that I did not want to buy another, I chose the later. Rolling into the next checkpoint I have about 80 miles behind me and I have been riding for about 5:45 and the onetoughride fan club (Paula, Rachel, Nicholas, and Bruno our lab) is there to greet me. This is a great motivator but I know I still have the toughest portion of Patterson to finish and then what will be a 10 mile semi-flat cruise out to the next rest stop before climbing Mines Rd. so it's a very short visit.
It's mile 90 and I have been riding for about 6:15 and I top off the water bottles with fuel and start out on what will be the "Mines Grind" today. People tend to underestimate this road but it rises almost 3,000 ft. out to the foot of Mt Hamilton which is a 35 to 40 mile stretch. The other issue is that there is little shade over this portion of the course and I am hitting it in the middle of the day. Having taken a beating on the climb up Patterson with the straight on head winds, I am now feeling it and looking forward to hitting the checkpoint/mini stop that my friends Cheryl and Rick will be working. As I roll in, it is truly like an Oasis in the Desert and Cheryl (also our esteemed FC 508 Crew Manager) has a Coke for me. While there, I am disappointed to find out that my friend Gil (Cheryl's husband and an extremely strong and fast rider) has dropped out of the event as he had problems with the bike that he borrowed. I power down that Coke and take a couple of vitamin "I" (a.k.a. Ibuprofen) and I am off for the Junction Cafe which is at roughly 116 miles.
I roll into lunch and see a number of friends there as I inhale a chicken sandwich. After a quick chat and a refill of the bottles I am just about ready to roll and Mike (this guy is a machine and the one that did the Death Ride on a fixie ...crazy) rolls in. Mike tells me that he's skipping lunch and wants to roll together to climb Hamilton which is the second to the last "major climb" of the day. I mention to Mike that Jon said that some of the TNT team was at the bottom of the driveway into the Junction and I'd like to swing out that way to say hi.
Next we are off to Hamilton and it's time to climb. Now if you've climbed this before you need no explanation, but if you haven't it is a beast. While officially the climb may be recognized as a 12 to 14 mile ascent it's really that last 6 miles that I consider to be the climb. After a shot of Hammer Gel and a swig of Perpetuem at the bottom we start the climbing and it is warm out with the heat right on our backs.
As we continue the climb and are about 3 miles from the top a SAG van has pulled off to the right and two Sheriff's squad cars are blocking the right lane of this very narrow two lane mountain road and something has happened to one of the riders in the race that will soon change the tenor of this beautiful day. As we continue to get closer to the scene, it is obvious that something has gone terribly wrong. We are shepherded past the scene by emergency personnel and we see a rider down with emergency personnel administering CPR tirelessly to the rider lying there but there is no movement at all. I push ahead with the other riders feeling like this is a bad dream but knowing that it is not and there is nothing that any of us can do to help.
Pushing toward the top it is almost as if everything is moving in slow motion and we cannot believe what we have just seen. As I turn the next corner another rider whom has been keeping a similar pace with me throughout the day turns and says "that could have been any one of us and he probably has a wife and children at home"...and he is right. It is a somber and silent next mile till we reach the last water stop that is 1 mile before the summit. I pull in and Mike is there talking to our friend Becky. I also meet up with Steve whom I met the evening before. Everyone is in disbelief with what we just witnessed and I overhear one of the staff mentioning that "Tom was a friend of his" and it was obvious that he did not make it.
Arriving a the top, Fire Trucks and other rescue vehicles were ready to descend down the mountain but we knew it was too late. I later learned that an life flight helicopter out of Stanford was dispatched with a crew of nurses and a defibrillator but it was too late.
Having lost Mike at the last stop as I needed something to drink, I made a fairly fast descent alone and as I pulled into checkpoint 5, I met up with Mike and we were ready to head for that last big climb of the day called Sierra. Being concerned about Paula hearing the news of the rider and thinking it could have been me, I called and left a message that we had descended Hamilton and were heading for Sierra. We topped off our bottles and headed out when I realized that I had not checked in. So, I turned around and headed back adding maybe another quarter mile (with a short climb) which we really did not need with 151 miles now behind us. After giving then my name they asked who my friend was and found out that Mike had not been recorded so it was to both our benefit that I went back as suffering a DQ at mile 151 would not have been a good thing.
Arriving at Sierra with 156 miles behind us this was the last big ugly climb that we would have today and while we still had about 3 to 4,000 ft to climb after this it was nothing compared to this. Climbing almost 3,000 feet in just under 4 miles this was not going to be fun and I can tell you it wasn't. Arriving at the top of Sierra we regrouped with some of our friends that we saw on Hamilton. Rolling out just minutes before 7 PM we were in great shape to make it to Sunol (about 22 miles) before dark. As we turned the next corner there was the onetoughride fan club again and it was great to see them. However, are we were now racing daylight it was literally a 2 minute stop and photo-op (shot above) and then we were off. As we descended down to Calaveras and made a right to climb the wall we were making great time.
Mike pulled us down Paloma and we arrived in Sunol a bit after 8 PM. Rolling in to Sunol I saw Paula, Rachel, Nicholas, and Bruno there again to cheer me on which was great. With only 25 miles left, this one was almost in the bag but we had two climbs left (relatively easy based on what we had already been through) but we also had to go down HWY 84 at dusk to make that next climb up Palomares and then through Castro Valley and last up Norris and then down to the finish.
The climb up Palomares was much better this year with a light that worked (surprise, surprise) but it did get dark and the descent down the other side was going to be slower than in daylight. We had a great pace as it flattened out as we headed through Castro Valley and then made that last climb up Norris Canyon.
After a nice descent into San Ramon and then crossing 680 we turned right to the finish at the Marriott. I have not seen the "official posted time" on the web site (yet) but Mike mentioned the recorded time was 17 hours and 19 minutes. This would mean that I would shave 2 hours and 23 minutes off of my prior years time which was right within my personal goal of 2 to 3 hours.
While I met my personal goals in this event it is still hard to erase the vision of the cyclist that lost his life on the back side of Mt Hamilton on Saturday and I wish his family and friends peace during this very difficult time.
I want to recognize the sacrifice and support that my family has and will continue to give while I am out on the road and training and riding in these events in 2010 to raise money for the diseases of Primary Immunodeficiency. I'd also like to thank those of you that have contributed and ask those that have not yet done so to consider making a donation. As you may have already read, the Jeffrey Modell Foundation has agreed to match all donations made through this project. These funds will go directly to the Jeffrey Modell Diagnostic and Research Center at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford which is under the leadership of Dr. David Lewis, a world renown pediatric immunologist.
Be safe and enjoy the ride...
PS: My full stats on this ride can be viewed using the following link Devil Mountain Double