Tour de Napa Valley, 2010
TOUR de NAPA VALLEY
August 22, 2010
by Dan Warren, Paco’s Truckee Team Rider
This tour began my long cycling history when my Father pressured me along on this tour in 1976 when I was 16 years old. There were no 30 or 60 mile options, just the whole enchilada of 100 miles; this is one of the reasons that they were called century rides for a long time. Back in the day the tour finished by going up Oakville grade at about mile 85. For those who have not experienced Oakville grade it is one of the toughest and well known climbs in CA. Oakville grade rises something like 800’ in about a mile. 18% average with pitches to over 20%. Hard to believe the pavement will stick sometimes. My bike was a old steel bike with 54X48 steel cottered chain rings and 14X34 five sprocket freewheel. The only aluminum part on the bike may have been the “safety lever” brake levers. I rode this beast in the Davis Double century a year later. Praise the carbon gods for bringing us out of the steel age.
I started this year’s ride started at about 7:15am with a mandated time window to leave between 6 and 8am. The 100 milers would start on a different route than the others and then meet up with them latter. It was a nice high fog morning similar to the fog they have been having all summer in Napa. The high fog keeps it cool without sticking to your glasses and keeps visibility good.
I rolled by several groups of riders on my way to Mt, Veeder and the first climb of the day. I was just warming up so my speed was not much faster than most but as soon as the grade hit about 3% riders were dropping into their small chain ring and starting to crawl along. I was feeling good and picked up my pace as the incline neared 10% but weaving my way through riders became a challenge at times. I respect anyone who challenges a 100 mile ride but when you are stopped at the side of the road looking at your map or walking on the first climb you should evaluate your level of ability. Near the top we broke through the fog with great views of a semi foggy scene with hills, trees, vineyards and old barns framed for perfect photos for those who would stop to do so. A bag pipe player greeted us at the top was playing taps, or some similar tune as his pipes squawked out the cacophony of fingernails on chalk board music. He had a large group of riders, who were exchanging stories of the blood spilled on the first obstacle of the day, resting before heading off again. I was feeling real good and flew over the top and started down the back side. Not a terribly technical decent but there are a couple of surprise sharp corners, very rough pavement and 12% grades. Again there were riders who were white knuckling it down the road at speeds that were slower than my climbing speeds. I was afraid that I might be scaring them as my Specialized Tarmac was performing flawlessly on the rough pavement and made me feel like I had suspension working to my advantage. A few riders would hang with me on the straights but no one was close to keeping the same cornering speeds that I was able to hold. It is great to be on a great bike.
The first rest stop of the day was at Don and Joanne Inglis’s house. The Inglis’s have a long cycling history and include their son Curt Inglis who makes custom frames. As well as being first class Bocce ball players on the famous “Rigatoni Rollers” Bocce team. I have had the pleasure of rolling a ball or two with them in the past. I took on some fluids and headed off. After about 3 miles I met up with 3 other riders and we started working together. Once we turned north onto Silverado Trail with a super wide shoulder and perfect, smooth pavement one other rider (a young 20 something racer from Folsom) and I got into time trail mode and dropped the other two. We rode very hard up to the next rest stop. He needed to stop but I was good so I turned back onto the main route where I instantly grabbed a train of about 6 riders starting up a small hill. They were moving fast and it took a bit of effort to grab the end of the line but it was nice to sit on once I did. We had some slightly rolling terrain for a couple of miles and there were 3 guys from the same team and a couple of others in front of me. We were scooting at a fast pace when I heard a voice that I didn’t expect come from the front as the person setting the tempo pulled off. There was a skinny little blonde girl, no wait, a petite blond lady, that was driving the train. She dropped back a couple of spots, took a couple of minutes rest and then went back to the front and put the hammer down. Not wanting go faster or to get involved in the Reindeer games I held back as we started the next climb of the day up Childs canyon. It starts out very gradual and then gets steeper ¾ of the way up and then graduals out again. Nothing over 7% I would guess. As the road tipped up and the pace stayed high we lost a couple of riders until I was sitting at the front, not wanting to hold up the train I put in my best effort and kept the pace high. Lucky my legs were feeling good and the low elevations gave plenty of air to breath because I never came out of my big chain ring and kept the hammer down hard. As we went through the steeper section the blonde girl and one of the team riders were still with me with the team rider starting to struggle when……The blonde girl attacked. No way was I able to keep up and the other rider was now about 6 lengths behind me. As the pitch lowered she slowed down and she waited for us. He gave the comment that it was nice of her to wait and they discussed to meet the rest of their team at lunch. The three of us continued on at a high pace. Every time there was an incline she would put in a voracious attack that I couldn’t match. I finally asked the other rider, “who is that girl” He responded with, “a friend of mine” I felt like Inigo Montoya when he was sword fighting with Westly. On the flats the other rider would occasionally attack when we would get a couple of riders who would try to tag onto us. His attacks were probably about 32mph and the blonde girl and I were the only ones able to answer. This was race pace riding as we would all push it hard. The only place I was able gap them was on one short downhill with a couple of technical bumpy corners but they came right back when the road went straight. Again, I love a good bike on a sharp turn.
As we came close to the lunch stop my two riding partners stopped to wait for their friends when I realized that they were out for a training ride and I still had about 50 miles to go. I went way too fast for the first half.
A quick bite and some fluids for lunch and then up Ink grade. I usually love this climb but my earlier efforts made me pay a bit. No one to tempo with on this climb as the crowds pace slowed to that small triple chain rings slowness. This climb was ridden with the 100 kilometer group and if I ever thought the first big climb had casualties this one was taking its toll on the riding masses.
I was able to keep a high pace but pushing to the next level was not going to happen. I flew through the rest stop at the top as I never enjoying the lactic acid burn after a stop on tired legs. I met up with a couple of 200lb riders who made a great draft for the long straight decent back into Napa Valley. A quick water stop in the Valley at the next rest stop and I was hoping for a group of fast strong riders to latch onto for the ride in the flats back to the start. All groups are now on the same route and I saw all kinds of riders. Mountain Bikes, fitness bikes, kids on attach a bikes, kid trailers, Plus sized riders, plus plus sized riders and lots of rear view mirrors. As normal an afternoon head wind was blowing up valley and the temps started to rise. One rider latched onto my rear wheel and was quite happy to stay there for the 10 to 15 mile run into the finish. We passed group after group on our way with no one wanting to increase their tempo to hang on. I certainly didn’t feel like my pace was blistering but I guess it was fast enough to keep others from jumping on.
I rolled into the finish area in 5 hours (20mph average) and was feeling good that I was able to finish in such a good time even know I was never in a large group and spent most of the ride solo or pulling at the front.
About riding in Napa. I grew up there and can go on and on about all of the great road riding but during this last trip I took advantage of a neat feature that you have in Napa. There are 22 different climbs out of the Valley and most start within a couple of miles of the base from the other. This allows you to ride a lot of different climbs back to back without riding much in-between. On this last trip I rode one day with 5 different climbs all more difficult than Donner Summit and pitches up to the 20% range. At one time a friend and I had plotted to all the climbs in one day. We figured about 220 miles to finish all 22 climbs. We never made it. I think we got about 12 of them done before we gave it up. Now I am too smart.