Saturday was my second century of the year, and my third Tour d’Essex County, which is put on over Memorial Day weekend by Essex County Velo (ECV) up on the north shore.
In 2012, I had to ride the entire route alone because the train up to the start in Manchester didn’t get in until an hour after the riders had departed. It was a gorgeous ride, but it was one of those days when the pollen is so thick that everything turns yellow-green and the stuff sticks all over you and falls off in big clumps.
Last year I rode with my friend Noah, but we took a wrong turn early and wound up having to ride by ourselves again. The rest of the group decided to cut the ride short due to mind-melting heat in the high 90s, but Noah and I continued on by ourselves to do the full century. I suffered immensely from the brutal heat and the distance.
This year I planned to ride with my other buddy, Paul, who is behind the 8-ball on his training for the B2B ride.
While the ride is beautiful and the post-ride cookout is awesome, I’ve been underwhelmed by the ride’s organization. This year, they announced they’d be doing a different route. Furthermore, at the request of public “safety” officials, they chose not to mark/arrow the route. Those things are fine, but that meant they should have taken extra care to ensure that everyone knew where they were going.
They announced that they’d send out a link to downloadable cue sheets, but they never did.
They announced that they’d make GPS files available. 24 hours before the ride, I sent them a reminder to send them out. 12 hours before the ride, I sent them another reminder. Finally they sent them out.
But: surprise! It was exactly the same GPS file they’d sent me last year. So despite their warning that the route had changed, the route was in fact exactly the same.
What differed from last year was the weather. Instead of brutal heat, the day dawned pretty cold (50 degrees) and overcast, with a threat of showers. I began the ride with a base layer, arm warmers, and a jacket.
The peloton rolled out and rode together for the first third of the ride. A few miles in, the group came to a very sudden stop that nearly took down several riders when one person had a mechanical. At that point the ride leader angrily instructed us *not* to point out any road hazards to our fellow riders.
After that interlude, we rode on at a near-perfect pace that really ate up the miles and helped me conserve energy. It made a great contrast to the previous two editions, when I’d wound up riding alone. Several of the towns had wet roads, but we mostly avoided the precipitation.
One thing that concerned me was that no one seemed to know the route, even the large number of riders in official ECV club jerseys. The only person who knew where we were going was the one ride leader, and when he stopped to help a rider with another mechanical, that left the ride headless.
It didn’t take long before we came to a stop at an intersection where no one knew where we were supposed to go. The eight or ten people in club uniforms started asking if anyone in the group had a working GPS, because (for some unknown reason) none of them did. Despite organizing the ride, the entire club had no idea what the route was, no road markings, no cue sheets, no GPS, and no memory of what the route had been in previous years. Not what I’d call an “organized” ride!
Sadly, when one non-club rider volunteered that his GPS indicated that we were two miles off course, the ECV guys simply ignored him. Fortunately, one of them had enough local knowledge to take us cross-country to the first rest stop in Newburyport.
While at the rest stop, the ride leader caught back up with us. After a few snacks, he announced that people could ride back to the start or continue on the century route; however, he was going to meet some friends and wouldn’t be riding with the group.
Naturally, chaos ensued, with the group breaking up into small chunks that all went out at different times in several directions. Paul and I joined another rider in continuing along the century route, which went up one side of the Merrimack River and down the other before returning to the Newburyport rest stop. Along the way, we overtook other riders who had started earlier or taken a different route.
I was anxious about this section, because it was a little hilly and I’d found it absolutely brutal in last year’s heat. But it wasn’t as intimidating as I remembered, and my strength held out until mile 80, just as we pulled back into Newburyport for our second rest stop.
Several of us left Newburyport in a group, but again most riders ignored the route and rode directly back to Manchester. Meanwhile, Paul and I soon found ourselves alone on the less-trafficky official route. We chose to set our own pace, and the day turned sunny and comfortably warm.
It was really awesome to ride with Paul, whom I hadn’t seen since last year. Usually whenever I ride a casual pace, my buddies (who are twenty years younger than me, after all) will hammer ahead and wait for me to catch up at the next rest stop; but Paul stayed with me this time, which was a welcome change from last year, when Noah went ahead of me, got lost, and eventually found his own way back to Manchester.
Although I was clearly losing power, I only called one brief ad hoc rest stop. I was glad to finish appreciably stronger than I had in last year’s ungodly heat. And over the course of the whole ride, I set new personal best times on 25 different road segments as you can see on my GPS log on Strava. It was clearly my best TdEC ride so far, and that’s a good sign for my training and the really big rides to come.
And the best part is that for the first time, I arrived at the finish *before* they had shut down the grill for the post-ride cookout! Paul and I inhaled burgers and dogs and cold drinks, which were exactly what was needed after a long and hard—but very pleasant—day in the saddle.