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Riding with the Tour
by: Charles Joscelyne
I am certain I set my alarm clock for 5 am, but when I awake the clock reads 6 am. "Damn, I must have hit the off tab," I say to myself. The day is not lost though, for I can be on the road, riding in a half-hour. TD said on the phone last night that Outdoor Life Network's (OLN) broadcast of the Tour de France's 9th stage begins at 8:30 am followed by live coverage at 9 am. So the hour sleeping will cost me only a re-cap and some early live racing. Little concern given the rain I hear falling outside my bedroom window.

Thumping stiff-legged downstairs, I walk into the bathroom and look out at a blue-black grackle gorging the sunflower seed I poured into the birdfeeder last evening. I feel the sky's gray clouds and rain-washing through the trees pushing me away, upstairs, and back to sleep. I wonder if I should wait for another day to make this ride. It is not likely that today's 160.5 km relatively flat stage from Saint-Leonard-de-Noblat to Hueret will cause any change in the standings. Lance Armstrong and his team will wait for a mountain stage to attack. With the red needle inside the outdoor thermometer's wet glass face hovering at 58 F I set the hot water faucet trickling and wander out into the living room.

I open the front door and watch the raindrops hitting a driveway puddle. The scant few I see trigger my thoughts. "The weather report said, ‘clearing by noon’...today is July 13th, the middle of summer here in Farmington, Connecticut...The temperature will surely rise...I will warm-up on the first climb...Just get on your bike and ride...The rain last week didn't stop the Tour's riders...Today's stage is already underway." Back in the bathroom I absentmindedly shave, mulling over the 45 wet cold miles ahead.

Out in the kitchen I pour some orange juice and dilute it with water. Between sips I stick two sport bars in the back pockets of my sleeveless jersey, along with a swimsuit, and swim goggles. Who knows, TD and I might swim in Lake Wononskopomuc today. I slide a bottle of lemon-lime drink in the bottle cage, clip my helmet, and fasten the straps on my shoes. I walk out through the front door and onto the porch. Stepping down off the porch cold spitting rain chills me. Goose bumps rise on my legs and arms. Clipping in, I wonder if this ride is a wise thing to do. I push off. My sport watch reads 6:37 am.

The ride to TD's place in Connecticut’s northwest corner should take a little more than two and half-hours. There will be a couple of major climbs and plenty of rolling terrain. I will keep my heart rate in check today, aiming for strength and endurance on the 90-mile round trip ride. It is maddening that my cable company can not deliver OLN to my home, but I can watch hours of lumberjack, skateboard, poker, and dog agility competitions on ESPN and its like.

Descending a small hill I shiver and grit my teeth. "The climbing can’t come soon enough," I think. Turning right on Meadow Road I pedal in a high gear to speed the blood flow to my legs. Feeling too stiff to use my aero-bars I stretch out on my bullhorn handlebars. Lines of car headlights, headed the opposite way east to Hartford, shine through the gray rain. Meadow Road changes it name to Red Oak Hill and I warm-up on a moderate half-mile climb. Turning right on West District Road, I ride a mile, cross Route 177, and ride out onto Burlington Avenue. A quick descent brings me to the base of Johnnycake Mountain. I switch to the 39-21 gear, ease out of my saddle, and stand on the pedals.

Johnnycake Mountain is the name of this section of the North-South ridge, which forms the western wall of Connecticut's Central Valley. Thirty miles or more to the east is a similar ridge, the Valley's eastern wall. The Connecticut River having sprouted cities like Springfield and Hartford flows through the center of the Valley. This morning Johnnycake Mountain is a watershed for the falling rain and the cars on its slope, as both are seeking the River's level.

Out of my saddle I push the pedals in circles trying to eliminate any dead spots. I feel like I am skating up the slope. I am familiar with this section of road, it being part of a circuit I ride when hill training. Reaching Route 4 I wait for a break in the opposing traffic and then pedal across into the westbound lane. Johnnycake Mountain's 1116-foot summit is a mile or so off to the left. Entering Harwinton at the apex of Johnnycake Airport I wonder when the flow of cars headed towards Hartford will abate.

I enjoy a steep, fast descent through Harwinton and follow Route 4 towards Torrington. The next few miles are flat and the traffic thins. Having shaken off my morning grogginess, my legs feel charged. I think of pushing the pace, but hold back. I speed up on the long descent into Torrington, but the wet road, cars, and traffic lights force me to brake. Crossing Route 8 I pedal into downtown Torrington. Torrington is one of several old Connecticut manufacturing towns, which lie in the Naugatuck River Valley. Beginning with Winsted in the North and ending at Bridgeport on the Long Island Sound in the South, the towns in this Valley have wrestled with the, “dying mill town” label since the seventies. The next 2 miles are fraught with heavy traffic. I ride cautiously, threading my way between slippery metal storm drains or sand on my right and SUVs on my left. A temperature sign reads 59 F and the drizzle continues. I am glad to leave the congestion of Torrington behind as Route 4 winds it way up to Goshen.

My mind and body now into the ride, I power up the five-mile climb to Goshen. The road is not too steep and the 39-21 gear again works well. I am riding into the Litchfield Hills, which are the Southern prong of the Berkshire Mountains extending down from Massachusetts. Bucolic, tony, and New England quaint, this corner of Connecticut is far removed from the grungy industrial Naugatuck Valley. Passing through the traffic circle in Goshen I cringe thinking of the slow times I’ve run the last two Thanksgivings in a 10 K road race here.

Passing an entrance to the Mohawk State Forest on my left I crest Red Mountain at 1650- feet. A yellow-hill sign warns of a descent. Rounding a bend to the right I see the monster. It is a three-quarter mile straight shot down an 8 or 9 percent grade hill. Route 4 is named Bunker Hill Road here. Gathering speed the rushing air builds heavy and thick against my face and chest. The rain stings my cheeks. Racing on to the bottom I vow to even the score with this hill. Two months ago, while on 60-mile group sport ride, I was forced to dismount and walk my bike here on my way back to Torrington. After 45 miles of riding and not in shape after the winter, this monster was too much for my legs. Given its length and steepness, I rate Bunker Hill the toughest climb in Connecticut.

I cross Route 43 and branch off onto Route 128. Two more descents follow and I cross the Housatonic River via the covered bridge at Cornwall. Shifting down I climb steeply to the right and ride north, paralleling the Housatonic. I pass a cyclist pedaling south. Wearing a high-visibility yellow-green rain jacket he looks surprised to see me in my sleeveless jersey, stretched out on my aero-bars, racing north, oblivious to the weather. Sand and black grit speckle my wet shins. I study two similar sized grease blotches that have been darkening on my inner thighs, close to my knees. "Road wash from my tires," I think. Leaving Route 7, I bear left on Rt.112; I have 5-miles left to ride.

Passing through Lime Rock, I think about the coming Sunday when I will ride in the Lance Armstrong Foundation Ride - a 3-hour circuit ride for distance around the 1.5-mile Lime Rock Speedway. Over 3000 miles away I wonder how today's stage is unfolding. The last couple miles entail steady but not too steep climbing. Crossing Route 41 I spy the reposing black bull statues on the grounds of the Hotchkiss School. I pedal easily over to TD's apartment. TD is a 6'6'' former kick-ass All-American swimmer and water polo player that I talked into doing triathlons some years ago. He hasn't looked back since. My watch reads 9:15 am.

With over 40-miles left in today's stage, Spain's Inigo Landaluze and Italy's Filippo Simeoni have a 9-minute lead on the Peloton. The gap steadily shrinks over the next hour and a half. A horrific crash occurs near the stage's end when a rider topples a barrier at the beginning of a traffic island. Sliding across the pavement to his right he splays flat 3 or 4 other riders. The image of a bowling ball scattering pins is brought to my mind. Fixated by the mayhem, TD and I watch replays of the crash. "That's why I only race triathlons," I remark.

With 2-kilometes left to ride it seems likely these 2 riders will battle each other for the stage win, but they stop working together. They lose time looking back, trying to gauge the charging peloton. With 500-meters to go the outcome is not clear, but then with less than 200-meters left there is no doubt - Landaluze and Simeoni's Herculean efforts over the couple hours are for naught. The peloton envelopes one rider and then in the last 50-meters the other rider is lost in the furious wave of riders. Mindless of Landaluze and Simeoni, the peloton is a beast driven by the sprinters' rush to the finish. Working his way up on the left Australia’s Robbie McEwen, a ball of pumping muscle in his sprinters green jersey, emerges from the advancing line to win by no more than a quarter wheel. "A hundred mile race and it is won by inches," TD says. Against the backdrop of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin's commentary we revel in the finish replays.

Postscript

TD and I did no swimming that day. Using my lowest 39-25 gears I slew the monster, Bunker Hill Road, on the ride back. The day never cleared, and the rain and cold stayed with me the entire ride home. I covered 63-miles in 3-hours at the Lance Armstrong Foundation Ride on the Lime Rock Speedway. Today Lance Armstrong won his sixth consecutive Tour de France. Maybe cycling will one day find its way into the American sporting mainstream.

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