Solvang Double Century 2009

| March 28, 2009 8:00 pm
Solvang Double Century 2009

by Franz Kelsch

Some say that the easiest double century in our area is the spring Solvang Double. Yes, the climbing is less than most but with over 7,000 feet it is not quite like some real flat doubles in others parts of the country. Yes the total miles is a bit less than 200 miles. So for many people it is the best way to do your first double. But for me it is not so easy because, unlike with other doubles, people always want to know how fast you did it. So it is more like a race than an endurance event. I make matters worse for myself by starting with the 7:30 am group, which gets timed with the times posted on the Plant Ultra website.

Actually I was feeling rather prepared for this double, even though it occurs so early in the season. For the first time ever, it was not my first double century of the year because I rode the Death Valley Double one month early. Maybe I was feeling a bit too confident because in the same week Anne and I did a little too much speed work, setting 3 new PRs on tandem hill climbs on Henry Coe, Thomas Grade and Metcalf. I don’t mean PR for this year, I mean our best time ever. In retrospect, maybe that was not such a keen idea to do only days before doing a double.

Last year I completed Solvang under 10 hours. By under 10 hours I mean by about 20 seconds. I remember last year I felt I had a shot of breaking 10 hours about 40 miles from the end, which added a lot of pressure and drove me to push much harder than I might otherwise. I had no intention to do that again. I told everyone I was going to stop and smell the roses.

I showed up at 7:15 and they started a roll call of those who wanted to be timed. Joining me was Paul D, Gary F, and Barley and Susan.

Gary, Paul, Franz at start of Double

Gary, Paul, Franz at start of Double

I knew I was in trouble when I saw four tandems there. One was Barley and Susan, who I had ridden with a week ago and knew they were fast.

Barley and Susan at start of Double

Barley and Susan at start of Double

Right at 7:30 a group of 62 riders were off. The tandem in the photo is what I call the 4th tandem later in my story.

The reason why I knew I was in trouble with all those tandems is because two years ago I was not able to stay connected on the descent down Foxon Canyon, and lost the fast group at that point. Last year, with no tandems making the descent, I was able to keep with the lead group all the way to the second rest stop at 84 miles (we skipped the first rest stop).

This year keeping with the pack was a bit of a strain but not overly taxing. We when up a couple of short hills and I would move right up behind the tandems and stay on their wheel as they went down. The first descent down Foxon Canyon went alright but on the second one, the same spot I lost the wheel two years ago, proved too hard. No matter how hard I tried, I just could not stay on the wheel and the group started to drive away from me, even though later I could see I had hit 50 mph. Being a poor sprinter meant I was working way too hard trying to catch them. I was actually making some progress and starting to close the gap. It was a race between either burning myself out or latching back on. I should have known better and backed off sooner and saved the legs for the many miles ahead. You can see from this graph, my heart rate was running in the red zone going DOWN the hill trying to get connected to the lead riders (click to enlarge).


Soon after I realized I would not be able to close the gap, I was passed by a younger faster rider wearing a Furnace Creek 508 jersey. We worked together, although he was taking longer pulls. For awhile we were starting to gain on the lead group, but you can only drive that hard for so long. Soon the group ahead was vanishing from sight. I had lost my route sheet on the fast descent so I was not sure where the next turn was. The fellow 508 rider pulled his from his back pocket and started to read it. I road in the center of the road to give him space but even with that he cross wheels with me as he was looking at the sheet. Suddenly he was down, and extremely upset about it. But this was one tough dude. Even with some road rash and torn cycling shorts, he got back on his bike and we started off again. Just then we were pasted by the fourth tandem, along with a couple of other riders drafting behind them.. We jumped in the group and stayed with them for a few miles, but they stopped and the first rest stop so we went on without them. Only one other rider skipped the stop and rode with us, another one wearing a Furnace Creek 508 jersey. Kind of like 3 FC 508 guys, but the others were much younger and stronger than I was. Several miles down the road, as we were making a right turn, a group was coming back toward us, having missed the turn themselves.

Yes, I thought. I was now back with a larger group. I moved up toward the front of the group not wanting to get dropped on some of the rollers ahead. I thought I would be able to stay with them until the 2nd rest stop, but my legs were burning from trying to catch the lead riders earlier. It just didn’t seem worth the effort, so after about 5 miles I let them go and started riding solo, something I would do for much of the rest of the event.

I was a bit worried without a route sheet but eventually did catch a couple of other riders. Having no route sheet, I wanted to stay with them so I did not get lost. Although I wanted to go a bit faster, I was afraid I would miss a turn, so I ended up mostly pulling.. The problem is that this small group did miss the turn and we went about 3 miles before we realized it. So by the time we got back on course we had biked an extra 6 miles.

Just as we got back on the course I saw Paul D. He rode with us for a mile or so but then started to cramp and dropped off. Soon after that we passed Louise. Once I knew I had made the final turn before the second rest stop, I moved ahead and rode solo. At the second rest stop I saw that I had averaged only about 19 mph, compared with close to 22 mph last year when I had stayed with the lead group, but this year I had now biked 92 miles before stopping for food and water. I guess that was some sort of record for me.

It might have been my imagination but there seemed to be more headwind. I was riding that stretch along Highway 1 toward Moro Bay by myself into the wind. About 6 miles from Moro Bay a group of about 8 riders came up from behind, so I joined them. I saw a couple of riders ahead, both wearing the same jersey. As we passed them, I could see it was Art and Patrice. I stayed with the small group until the lunch stop. I was thinking to keep with them, but they were taking longer eating their sandwich than I wanted to wait so I headed out alone. I never saw them again until I was waiting at the finish after taking a shower, so it is a good thing I didn’t stick with them.

Several miles before the 4th rest stop, while waiting at a traffic light, the 4th tandem came up, the one that had stopped at the first rest stop. They had only one other rider with them, so I joined the small group. The two of us on single bikes would take turns doing some pulling. As we kept passing riders, they were jumping on the train, but they were all wheel suckers. I took another pull and tried to move back into the group but these wheel suckers would not let me in, wanting to keep their spot. Forget them I thought, and I just went ahead and dropped the entire group, again riding solo. At the 4th rest stop I saw Gary S. and Gary B, who were about ready to leave.

After mostly solo riding, I finally made it to the the last rest stop where I saw Chuck, who had started at 6 am. By now I had passed all the other club riders, except of course Gary F. and Barley and Susan on the tandem. I knew Gary was probably about two hours ahead of me, which meant he was already enjoying the finish line. Ann was there and took his picture.

Gary at Finish

Gary at Finish

I didn’t spend much time at the last rest stop, knowing the end was not far. It was up Drum Canyon Hill, a part I really like. I enjoy climbing this hill and passing all the other riders who hate to climb, especially after 180 miles. But unlike last year when I was climbing at full speed to make some time, I kept it much easier. I made the turn on the final highway, with the slight uphill and then the down hill. While going down, I was passed by the 4th tandem and a bunch of riders. I had to accelerate quickly but was able to finally close the gap. I rode with them to the end. I knew the tandem started at 7:30 but I think most of the rest of the group had started earlier.

Franz at finish

Franz at finish

I finally made it to the finish, taking a total of 11:16, which was more than a hour slower than last year. Part of that was due to riding an extra 6 miles and part was from doing a lot more solo riding. I still felt I was working hard and when I looked at my data later, my average heart rate was even higher than last year. Of course that might be because I am just getting older. These two tables show a comparison with my prior Solvang Doubles. My stopping time at the rest stops was a bit more than last year but the crash did cost me some time while I helped the rider back up on his bike. Overall I am happy with how I did. A little older, a little slower, but still riding alongside the young bucks. My only regret was even though I was slower, I never did see any roses to smell.

My thanks to Anne for taking all the photos in this blog. See all her photos of Slovang here.

Solvang Double Century

Bike Time
Total Time
Avg. Speed
Avg HR
First Double
Extra 6 miles

Solvang Double Century Stopping Time

CP#1 CP#2
CP#5 All Other Total
2007 2:00 14:15 10:15 7:30 6:30 11:30 52:00
1:00 3:15 23:00
3:30 7:45 40:00

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