Since my new 39T Zipp chainring won’t be arriving until next week and the current one is completely out-of-order, and because I have absolutely no front brakes… Really, I should just be holding tight, waiting for the new products to infuse my bike back to working order. But then I thought this Sunday was the perfect opportunity to try first hilly century ride in Southern France. The notion lacks some basic logic and reasoning (which normally I am all about… I lost track of the number of classes I’ve taken with the word ‘Logic’ in them…).
But alas, like a lover with crazy eyes, the Provence countryside has eroded my ability to think with any sort of reasoning – and after devoting an entire Saturday to touring Provence (by car) with my GF, I found it difficult to sleep at night. Dreams of sharp guardrail-less corners overlooking the Med’ and rows of grapevines passing by with such beautiful rhythmic succession that I imagined myself hypnotized by it all.
My thoughts drift as I attempt to sleep… “The wheelset won’t be arrive until Monday… if the delivery guy can find the flat (so far with other deliveries they haven’t and the packages are now in the long customer service queue of those parcels ‘lost in transit’)… so no front braking… ok. But the chainring might not come until late next week… errr… but what if… what if… I just throw caution to the wind and ride a hilly century (~165km and almost an exact mile of climbing, 5300ft/1615m)… could I do that?” I paused. A lonely cricket in the courtyard who I swear is mocking my need for sleep continues it’s illogical mind numbing chirps.
“Maybe. Or… pffft, yeah, no problem. 53T is tiny, right?”… and I dose off with my alarm clock reset for 7am. The cricket pauses and cracks a devious grin.
I awake and eat a boatload of stuff as I peruse CyclingNews, Twitter, WordPress, stuff from work… eventually I get full enough and bored enough to ‘donne le chamois’. I look at my bike. The small ring looks like some sort of early 80’s MTV video… I say to myself, “Easy fix… ZipTie!”
I successfully ziptie the warped chainring to the large chainring so it wouldn’t rub on the chainstay. Of course, a ziptie on the teeth of your chainring is a pretty definitive sign that you won’t be using that gear today. For non-cyclists out there (I know there aren’t but I’ll amuse myself with the idea, any non-cyclist would probably give up on this post long ago…) [prove me wrong, write a comment!] the 53T chainring is used primarily when going downhill or in a fast sprint. The 39T is for hills and moderate riding.. and there were many hills to come!!
My GF was still sleeping and I tried to adjust a few things without the super-loud DT Swiss freehub waking her. I pack as I usually do, a tube, CO2 cartridges, tire lever, chain tool, tire boot patch, and a few euros. I also back my cell phone as my GF and I are suppose to do some touristy stuff after I get back.
The first 20 miles are flat so the 53T is great. Bikers are out in full-force for Sunday morning but they always seem to be going the opposite direction. A few teams I spot look pretty good… I try to memorize the names on the jerseys to see if they have any group rides… CCVC was pretty fast with plenty of fast looking bikes and riders… I tried to decrypt the acronym.. Cyclo Club V… C…
I think to myself, “Maybe I’m too slow to catch people… maybe I suck… oh *#&$ here comes the first 8% grade…” I roll the dice for the first time… “Come on 53!!!!”
Tuned out to be fine, but it was only a small climb of 1km or less. Finally I hit Collobrieres… a charming village who’s world revolves around 2 orbs, the grape and the chestnut. The central square is very charming and my GF and I even took some pictures, and strolled about the tourist shops with ice cream in hand – just to make sure people knew we were tourists. Less than 16 hours later and I was hammering in the 53T through their quiet village…
The first big climb was only about 1000 ft and not too bad with a 6-7% grade. I finally passed a few cyclists but the grey hair flowing from under the rider’s Giro helmet did not boost my ego. I finally reached Grimaud… perhaps one of my most favorite villages in Europe (Fornalutx in Mallorca is another)… but they are pretty different as Grimaud is best explored on foot and Fornalutx is best explored on bike.
At this point I could either turn around and make a nice 80 mile out it, or try to make a long loop where I’ve never explored or knew the exact distance or difficulty but should be around 100 miles (162km). Like a drunken sailor… I order another and push on…
“Would I be late? Would my GF be mad? Can I really do 100miles in the 53 with another huge mountain ahead? Will my power fade? Will it be so twisty that I’ll really need a front brake to survive? Will my GF kill me if I’m late?”
But then, the questions are suddenly overshadowed by music in my head. Whenever Offspring songs from the album ‘Smash’ come in my head… there is no turning back!
After a 3 mile climb and short descent my GPS tells me turn onto a country road… leaving civilization behind. A sign blocks my lane completely saying something about the road being blocked in 5km. “Ahhh, if it’s construction I’ll find a way around it…” I thought.
The next 5km were awesome! Beautiful scenery in a forested preserve only int interrupted with a few vineyards. If I peered really hard to the north I could spot some huge mountain peaks… Les Alps, I presumed. My intuition was right and the sign did nothing more than keep tourists off the road and make for a very calm ride though this unspoiled stretch of Provence countryside. But then it got ugly.
The road pitched upwards violently and the ice-smooth pavement changed to MTB worthy bumps. My GPS showed the grade to be 6%… “Still ok”, I thought. But then 7%, then 8% then 9%…. I soldiered on as my cadence dropped below optimal levels. Suddenly, my cross-chaining in the 53T backfired and the chain ghost-shifted to the ‘out-of-order’ 39T ring. I tried to shift back up… but the chain had warped the ring enough that it found a cozy home between the 39T and the 53T ring. So I stopped.
Apparently the chain, and the 1 revolution of pedaling in the 39T, had broken my precision ziptie application and broken it off. Without a ziptie, the ring would rub on the chainstay. At best it would add another 20 watts required to pedal the bike; At worst, it could become so warped that instead of hitting the metal protection plate, it would hit the carbon frame… most likely breaking it… an expensive error. I tried to steal a ziptie from my helmet cam mount but I didn’t have a sharp knife (best for unzipping without damaging the tie I think) but all I had was a set of house keys. I fumbled for a while but quickly discovered that they have huge man-eating horseflies in this neck of the woods that are so smart that were going for my vein near my ankle repeatedly. The solution needed to be good, and FAST… for the horseflies and so I could get home a reasonable time.
Finally I managed to ‘re-warp’ the 39T so it didn’t hit the chainstay and resumed climbing the rough 8% grade. At around 1650 feet (1000+ from starting the climb) it was over and the descent began. Not too bad, but the lack of front brakes, rough roads, and the fact that the distance from the edge of the road to a 500+ foot drop was only inches, left me a bit cautious. The vistas of the surrounding mountain range on these turns (with no guardrails) were so beautiful, however, that I enjoyed the lack of ugly metal protection.
I battled a stiff headwind on the final 25 miles that drained my reserves and my spirit as the clock ticked away far beyond my planned arrival (I also left 1 hour late, which didn’t help). But finally I made it, 101.2 miles with 5327 feet of climbing and a head wind on both flat sections (damn sea breeze).
I arrived home and quickly showered and changed for our trip to the beach and a landmark we had been meaning to see. Then my GF said perhaps we should go to a different village instead… (requiring much different requirements, like driving there and knowing where to go). But then she said, “no, probably just [the landmark] and the beach. Or, no..” I changed while she fretted about our destination but what I changed into did not conform to GF standards so I was instructed to change at once to something more ‘beachy’. After seeing my new ‘more beach-worthy’ and less formal attire, I was then instructed to switch back, as “the first was better”. We walked at a brisk pace (aka mach speed) to hit the landmark and then climbed around the seashore rocks for 2 miles to get to the beach, dangerously close to sunset. Finally, we laid down the towels next to the lapping sea and we fell next to each other.
“If you weren’t so late we would have been here earlier [and gotten more sun]..” my GF quipped.
“Yeah, sorry about that, the last 2 hours all I wanted was to be home.”
[Scoffing sounds. Then silence for a few minutes]
“So tell me about your ride.”
“Oh it was beautiful, you would have loved the scenery, vineyards, mountains, secret spots, no tourists…”
“That sounds nice.”
“And, I did the whole ride in the biggest gear!”
“I’ve never officially done that before so…”
“So it sounds stupid,” she fired back.
“… yeah…I know. Sorry about being late.”
We gazed at the clouds and listened to the sea breeze against our ears. I busted open a french grammar book and did 30 minutes of exercises including a few oral exercises that I tried with GF. Soon after, my mind also threw in the towel. Then the sun eventually said it was time for a rest and we packed it up after a hour or so of beach lounging… bringing my yearly total up to 1 hour. I’m clearly a fare-skinned beginner. We got home and I prepared a spinach salad with tapenade simmered zucchini, olives, artichokes, dried olive spices, and anchovies while my GF tended to the local trout with Herbs de Provence and lemon zest. To top it all off, I uncorked a bottle of wine that I was very curious about, a 2009 Pinot Noir from the Southern Rhone Valley that instead of red, was a very light pink rose.
Pas mal. Pas mal.