2016 Rapha Prestige Midwest-in retrospect
For those of you that haven’t read about the 2015 Rapha Prestige Midwest go ahead and give it a read here. If you want to skip it let me give you a quick synopsis… It was about 100 degrees and almost the same humidity. It was a damp burning hell. So I guess, Rapha decided to move it up a little sooner in the year so the weather wouldn’t be so oppressive. April 30th, 2016 was close to the opposite in temperature but just as treacherous.
This year is it was up on the beautiful roads west of Madison, WI around the Blue Mound area. This is the same Driftless Area as the first RPM just a bit further north. So it still has plenty of up and downs to keep everyone on their toes and having fun.
The weather that day called for…. RAIN. All day, rain. And a high of about 45 degrees. So yeah, it was gonna be just a lovely day in the saddle.
On the bright side the roads this year were almost all paved so we did have that going for us. Rapha likes to keep everyone in suspense on these rides and wait until the very last minute to give out the course. I kind of enjoy that part of it. It makes me over pack(and over think) and run around doing everything I can to CYA before the last day.
Sitting at the start at Cress Spring Bakery in the middle of nowhere the weather looked like it was going to clear up a bit. After a few miles we removed layers, stached the rain jackets and were enjoying the day with our fingers crossed it would stay that way. That didn’t last. Soon enough the skies darkened up and began to weep. And weep. And weep. From that point on the rest of the day was to be enjoyed in the rain. Good rain gear made or broke the ride this year. I had recently received a Gore waterproof cap as a gift and it earned its keep that day. Without that and a solid rain jacket there is no way that I could have made it as long as I did.
Leaving in waves, we rode through some quaint little towns and through plenty of farm fields and end up missing a turn onto the Badger State Trail. We quickly figured out our mistake and flipped around and got back on track. Soon after hitting the limestone we came up to the Stewart Tunnel, a quarter mile long 21’ high and 14’ wide tunnel with a slight bend in the middle so when you enter it becomes completely black. None of us brought a light bright enough to light our route so we just slowed down and took out sweet time getting through. There was a group of folks hanging out in the middle just drinking beer and enjoying the lovely day we were having. I had my eyes locked on their little lights to help lead the way. It was amazing.
Almost to the first stop in Blanchardville the Comrade Cycles team caught us. Three of which on single speeds. Yep, single speeds. As they buzzed by I hollered, “What took so long?” Then they were gone not to be seen again until the end.
Once in Blanchardville we found our way to a small gas station with some warm food and drink and a table for us to disrobe from our wet gear. After loading up on snack, refilling bottles and the such we started to get ready to hit the road again. We probably stayed in the heat too long, it was hard to leave.
From there the temps slowly dipped a bit as the wind picked up and the spirits dipped as well. That’s when we saw Tim, from the Union team, in a van coming by after he had dropped out. That gave me mixed emotions. Part of me was sad to see such a strong rider pulling the plug on a tough day, but part of me got a little bump from him holler out the window, "STAY RAD", at us to keep it up!
That didn’t last too long. Sean was really starting to feel the wet and the cold. His jacket was not being a team player with him and was long since soaked through. Now, if you know Sean you know he rarely show any pain, or any emotion for that matter. He can be on the front of a race, stoic faced and crushing. However, this day was different. With legs long since soaked and shoes heavy from the water built up in them we were all fading.
Everything got harder. The wind was starting to pick up making the flat sections almost as difficult as the hills that define the area. One of those hills broke me, that was it, I was going to do it, I was going to walk a hill. It was the first, and to this point last, time I had walked a hill. There was a lot in me that said to just stay on the bike and force your way up it, but too much had built up already and I didn’t care anymore, I was walking.
Not soon after we were caught by the rest of the Union Cycling team out there and their faces mirror ours. We ride with them to the last stop on the route in Ridgeway. Not a lot of talking went on, just heads down and working together to get though.
Once in Ridgeway, we stopped at a gas station with food and hot chocolate. At that point all of us were in a different state of mind. I wanted nothing more than to go inside drink the biggest cup of boiling hot chocolate I could and warm up my insides. Schratz and Kristina had a different plan, stay for a short as possible and just get back on the road and finish. And Sean had the bleakest of plans… hitch a ride back to the start. And I couldn’t blame him. We were saddened to see him leave but understood his reasons completely. Had my jacket and cap not been doing their job I’m not sure I would have lasted as long as he. We also discovered that the Union squad had made the same decision as Sean and take a ride back to the bakery.
There we also ran into the Half Acre Cycling team as they were warming up inside. Tim Coghlan, of Rapha, came into the gas station with disparaged look on his face and a truncated route. The new route took the sand and limestone path that was right out the door to Blue Mound to drop off some miles(and elevation) but still giving us the ability to finish the route by the power of our own two legs. We took that option.
The three of us teamed up with the remaining three of Half Acre to reunite Rad Acre and finish the ride. The bike path was brutal. Hours of rain and sandy limestone do not make up for very solid ground. This is the first time that my decision of riding on 28’s took its toll, at least that’s what I’m going to blame it on. Jen, Johnny and Kristina were put the hurt on and I was doing my damnedest to stay with the group. Kristina was especially smashing it in the sand, like a demon chasing a lost soul.
Finally back on pavement we gave the final decision on the route, standing at a "T" intersection with the choice to go UP Mounds Rd for the out and back or turn right and go four and a half miles to the bakery. With the wind picking up and all of our digits getting colder by the second we decided that cutting the out and back out was going to be our choice.
The final stretch, no more turns until the bakery. Knowing the end was near we took full advantage of the amazing paved rollers ahead of us. Half Acre had the same idea, dropping us on the final miles. We bombed down the last few miles. The speed of the descents topped with the freeze wet temps made every effort to control our bikes & brakes a fight for survival. Windy and rain spitting in our tired happy faces, we finally rolled into the parking lot. Wet, cold, tired, done, happy.
From then on it was all smiles. The fine gentlemen running the food truck were handing out Dixie cups of chicken broth and it was the greatest chicken broth any of us had ever had. With a quick change into dry clothes we were all starting to get a little color back in out cheeks along with food and drinks in our bellies.
With ten months of reflection, I decided it was an amazing adventure on some incredible roads in some less than ideal conditions. Not often do I decided to ride my bike 95 miles in the rain in 45 degree temperatures, but then, I wouldn't have had this tale to tell. Without the stellar team of Jon, Kristina and Sean it wouldn’t have been nearly as fun.
Words by Joel, Photos by Joel & Kristina