Saturday, 26 June 2010

Let’s make it a double – My first Double Century on The LA Wheelmen’s Grand Tour

Seeking a new challenge, instead of flying straight home after visiting my beautiful Yvette, I spent a short time in California and entered the LA Wheelmen’s Grand Tour: Highland Double Century. This provided an opportunity to enjoy the Californian sun during the New Zealand winter and to ride almost twice as far as I have previously ridden in a single day.

Ride Data:
Distance: 315.92km 15,002 Calories
Time: 13:01:11 (moving)
14:33:31 (elapsed Garmin)
14:40:10 (Official)
24.3 km/h (moving)
21.7 km/h (elapsed)
67.8 km/h MAX
Elevation: Ascent: 2,589m Descent: 2,588m
Cadence: Avg: 78 rpm Max: 166 rpm
Ride Data: Garmin Connect / MapMyRide / RideWithGPS
Location: Malibu, California, USA 26 June 2010

While  many questioned my sanity for my desire to ride 200 miles in a single day, I was determined to take up the challenge. After all, I may as well see the place while I am there.

The Grand Tour is the original double century ride in the United States and began in 1959 when Marge Gall suggested it might be possible to ride 200 miles in one day. You can find more about the origins of the Grand Tour here:

Today, the Grand Tour consists of options for a 200K (Double Metric Century) ; the Highland Double Century; the Lowland Double Century (a little less hilly) and extensions to make a Triple Century and a Quadruple Century. All courses to be completed within 24 hours.

I entered in the Highland Double Century route that would take from Malibu, up the Pacific Coast Highway to Port Huneme and inland through Westlake; Thousand Oaks and Ojai before climbing up past Lake Casistas and back down to Carpentira, and the Pacific Coast Highway to return to Malibu.

Map: Highland Double Century (via

Staying only a few miles away in Santa Monica, I had resolved that regardless of the 200 miles in front of me, the most convenient means of transport to the start would be RIDE. The Grand Tour does not have a mass start, but my intention was to start at 4:30am - opening of the starting time window. This was to ensure I had travelled over the inland portions of the course before the heat of the day set in. The coastal sections being about 10 degrees C cooler.

Riding to the start was all fine until the dreaded pssssssst sound screamed out of my front tyre. Riding in the dark I had ridden over something that left a huge gash in the side of the tyre wall. Ironically, I had just been thinking about whether to cable tie the spare tyre in my backpack onto my bike before I started the ride. No need to worry about that now. Time to put it to use already! After a small delay I was moving again and eventually left the start at Webster Elementary School at 4:57am amongst a stream of well lit bicycles.

After the prior frustrations en-route to the start I was well warmed up and feeling strong at the start and regardless of darkness and nerves about not pushing too hard I was easily averaging about 19mph/30km/h when I rode over a rock in the middle of the lane and for the second time of the day I heard that awful sound of pssssssst. I was just about ready to sulk. A mere 22 miles, or ~10% of the way and I’m stopping for a puncture already. Fortunately, I could not find any damage to the tyre wall this time. Some volunteers on their way to Ojay (lunch/rest-stop) pulled up behind to lend me hand with a floor pump – THANKYOU! Surely this was the closest to a team car that I will ever experience. Just 5m14s to check the tyre for damage or embedded debris and change the tube was pretty snappy.

As the sun rose through thick fog my 900 lumen headlamp was no longer necessary, the coastal scenery came into sight at the first check-in/rest-stop at Port Hueneme (~mile 34). After registering my ride number at the check-in I was on my way again amongst a group of about 20 riders. I was looking forward to some pacelines and competitive encouragement up the pending hill of Potrero Rd. Unfortunately, this didn’t quite work out when I turned right with one other ride for the hill whilst the rest carried straight on for the Lowland Double Century route.

In hindsight I had probably over anticipated Potrero Rd, sure the last half-mile is one steep gradient, and no I don’t want to climb it every day. Yes, I did need my 34t chain-ring and 25t cassette granny-gear but, I have climbed far mightier beasts before. While I felt the hill in my legs, conscious of the remaining 150 miles I was probably far more conservative than required. The Highland Double may be hillier than the Lowland Double, but relative to distance is probably still flatter than most rides of this distance.

A little past the summit of Potrero Rd, I stopped in at a rest stop to top up my drink bottles. Spending less time at the rest stop than others I departed among a small group if experienced double century riders (most of them were wearing California Triple Crown jerseys) as we rode around Westlake and through to Thousand Oaks. Unfortunately I lost contact with this group amongst the many traffic lights through Thousand Oaks and spent much time in solitude. Not being used to so many traffic lights on an organised ride I consider it possible that I may have slowed down in frustration. Like the Californian location, travelling through more than two sets of traffic lights was completely new territory for me. I eventually ambled into the Moorpark rest-stop at mile 77 some 5h17m after departing Malibu.

After a little climbing on the way out of Moorpark a long descent offer some rest whilst winding down the Grimes Canyon. Once travelling through Santa Paula there was an eight mile gradual ascent somewhere near mile 100. This may not have been steep but it certainly was persistent. This is certainly an section I would like to travel to faster if I do this ride again. Having ridden this section, it is surprising how much it shows up on the elevation profile. Thankfully after there was a downhill before making it to the lunch stop at Ojay.

The lunch stop at Ojay was serving a mighty feast. Something I have never seen before. Recreational rides are structured quite differently in New Zealand. Not too keen on having a lot of solid food in my stomach I stuck to some watermelon and some fruit juice to make some variation from my diet of Hammer Nutrition gels (Although the new Montana Huckleberry is the best flavoured gel ever!) and sipping on a drink of Perpeteum as my primary food source.

The riding was initially flat and level when leaving the Ojay lunch stop. The climb up Casita’s Pass offered great views of Lake Casita and I have to say, while it barely registers on the elevation profile, I sure felt it having already ridden some 127 miles. The rapid descent back down to sea-level sure was appreciated. Once at the coast we reached the Carpintera rest area, where I well, rested for a bit and ate a few noodles.

The last 60 miles / 100K was mostly flat (thankfully) with a few rollers thrown in at the end. Now back on the Pacific Coast Highway with flat travel and less intersections I was able to pick up the pace for the last two sections. With some pacelines - mostly from a group riding together from Arizona, not riding in solitude sure helped me lift my tempo. It was a bit odd when after a 140 miles three groups merged together form the largest peloton of the day. Unfortunately one slightly dodgy moment as we moved into a left-hand lane to turn left and had a car accelerate rapidly into the gap we were moving into. Thankfully no contact and we were all well as we headed for our final check-in/rest-stop, and our second visit of the day to the Port Huneme rest-stop.

Leaving Port Huneme I tried to hold on the back of a tandem for a while but lost contact going past the naval base and rode the rest of the way in solitude, although I did pass some fellow cyclists on my way to the finish, and others did likewise to me on the way up the rollers approaching the finish. The left turn of the Pacific Coast Highway was difficult manoeuvre to get over two lanes of fast moving traffic into the left turning lane for the lights that didn’t seem to have a great deal of knowledge about the colour green.  It seemed like a long wait, and after analysing my Garmin data it was – five minutes! Once finally over the intersection it was back to Webster Elementary, my first double century complete, and lining up to sign in and get my official time.

Thanks to the LA Wheelmen for organising the event and all those who volunteered that were helping out with the timing, rest-stops and SAG support.

Double Century accomplished. Now, when can I ride another? Or do I make it a TRIPLE? :D
Genuinely epic rides like the PBP do not seem so impossible any more. Who knows what’s next my little worn out legs?

Rough Time Analysis
Time "on the pedals": 13:01:11
Time spent at rest stops & puncture repair: 1:05:31
Time at traffic controls: 0:26:52
Time between Sign-in/start ride & Stop/sign-out: 0:07:07
Total Elasped Time: 14:40:41