Zap’s Column: The Rules & Ritual of The Ride

Celebrating the night before and the day of

One of the things I like most about the weekly Saturday morning Montrose ride is what takes place the night before. Just as it was when I was racing motorcycles every week, the night before a Montrose ride has become a night of ritualistic preparation. 

If I’ve learned one thing from reading the monthly tips by Chris Carmichael, it’s the importance of being properly hydrated, so I make sure to start sucking down water bottles mid-afternoon on Friday. 

Next on the list is eating an early dinner (no later than 7 p.m.). This one I learned from Neil Shirley when we first started riding Levi’s King Ridge GranFondo. Get the food you need in early to ensure that it goes out before the next day’s ride (this last one is also aided and abetted by ensuring a good cup of joe two hours before the ride rolls). 

Beyond hydration, Chris has also taught me the importance of being properly fueled up for the ride. While eating dinner in Tuscany one night in the company of Tour de France stage winner Eros Poli, I learned that the whole pre-ride carbo-load fad is silly. While I do recall being amazed at the massive breakfast plate I once saw Peter Sagan devouring before a stage in the Amgen Tour of California, neither I, nor most of you, are pushing the pedals with the same intensity and distance as Sagan. 

Like any good Italian, Eros appreciated a good meal, but the night before a big ride, he thought it best to keep it in moderation—a small pile of pasta bianca, a small pile of pasta with meat sauce, some protein (chicken or fish), salad, water and, of course, a good glass of vino rosso.

Sharing a moment with the departed Jon Hornbeck.

Back in my motocross days I would scoff at any competitor who showed up on the start line for the second moto with a dirty helmet and bike. Given that we’d have hours of downtime between races, there was no excuse to not clean your equipment. Rolling up for the group ride with a clean bicycle requires even less effort than a muddied-up motorcycle. In addition to giving you the opportunity to check for any cracks or damaged parts, a quick once-over with some Windex is all that’s needed to show your bike some respect and give it a nice polish.  

Next, in addition to the skewers/axles, I make sure that every bolt is tight. The bolts that people most often forget to check are those for the bottle cages and cleats on your shoes. Check ’em! Of course, if I’m running an electronic drivetrain, I make sure the battery is topped off. The same goes for my Wahoo Elment computer. 

After dinner and all the bike-related chores are handled, I lay out my clothes and gels and, finally, throw two bottles in the freezer. When it’s all done, it’s time to relax with some screen time and a glass of red to calm the nerves. 

With all that prep work, am I any more assured of running at the sharp end of the group or being first over on the painful Winston Street climb? Nope. But for me, the night-before ritual is almost as fulfilling as the ride itself. 

Of course, with every example of high-speed, close-knit riding comes the inevitability of a big crash. Crashes on the Montrose ride are frequent, and I’ve often come upon riders splayed across the pavement wondering just how the heck it happened. 

Well, as of my most recent Montrose ride (two days ago), I unfortunately found out. As the group was motoring along fighting for position prior to the steep Winston climb, a rider to my left swerved into my front wheel just enough that I lost my balance trying to avoid his rear wheel. The front wheel tucked, and the next thing I knew, I was sliding on the pavement, balled up in a tight fetal position for fear of being run over from behind, which was how I once suffered a broken hip on a dusty motocross track. 

When the carnage stopped, I was laying in the middle of an intersection with two bikes lying over me, but luckily it was nothing more than bloodied elbows, hands, knees and shoulders, and, well, yeah, a
broken bike. 

The next day I awoke slowly and sore all over, wondering if I could ride. With Levi’s GranFondo just a week away, I was desperate for miles, and the 30 pre-crash miles I’d ridden the day before were nowhere close to what I needed.

As I brewed my morning cup of joe, my mind raced back to July when day after day I sat in front of the telly transfixed and inspired by the courage and tenacity shown by a myriad of beaten-up and broken riders in the Tour de France who raced on despite much more serious injuries.

It was simple; if they could do it, I should at least try. After all, it’s not like we were playing soccer where so much faux agony over so much faux injury predominates. Although it took me a bit longer to get going (who knew pulling on bib shorts could hurt so much!), I pulled a bike from the garage and knocked out a 65-miler. 

As is always the case, I was happy I decided to ride. In terms of what could’ve been, I was happy to be riding period. It’s a funny thing how the bike can be the source of both such a painful injury but even a greater delight. For me, it’s just another reason to by captivated by the bike!

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