Does anyone even do ride reports anymore??? Well, here's one.
This ride has been on my "cycling bucket list" since I started road biking almost 8 years ago. This year I finally committed to doing it and had a friend of mine hook me up with a solid team out of Houston, Team Fugro (an energy industry company...I still don't know what they do).
What a nice way to spend a weekend! The support staff for the team was fantastic and eliminated all the concerns I had from a logistics standpoint.
I began packing Thursday afternoon after working out a packing list over the last month. There were a few last minute changes due to the weather forecast (all “cold weather gear” was eliminated, as was the rain jacket) but the list performed well. This is what I ended up with:
The big purple bag was my “Overnight in La Grange bag” and went straight on to the team truck when I arrived in Houston. The other two bags went with me to my hotel, about 1/2 mile from the Omni (main event hotel).
My daughter took me to downtown Austin Friday morning around 11:30 to catch an MS150 bus to the Omni. My bike was put on a separate truck and taken directly to Tull Stadium where one of the official starts takes place.
After arriving at the Omni, I ran into Mark, the guy that got me on Team Fugro. He was there with his wife (who drove him to Houston) and we had lunch and then I walked over to my hotel with my bags. I unpacked, watched a little TV, then walked (1/4 mile) to the stadium to see if my bike had arrived yet...which it had not. So I walked back to my hotel, changed shirts, then walked over to the Omni for the team dinner, where I picked up my jersey. What's interesting (maybe just to me), is that my last name is Strong. There's a Strong Family Association and the phrase "Together we are Strong" has been used as a motto for the association over the years.
There were about 85 riders on Team Fugro and they sponsored a pasta buffet in a private area. The team captain said a few words but it was mostly a time to meet and greet other team members.
After dinner, another Austin rider and I walked down to the stadium again and retrieved our bikes. I headed back to my hotel, made one more check of the gear I had layed out, set the alarm for 0430 and went to bed about 9:00p.
I slept well until about 0300 and then off and on until my alarm went off. I got up, walked to the lobby for a coffee and a muffin, then went back to the room, got on my kit and packed everything I didn’t need into my bags. I left the room about 0515 with my backpack and duffle over my shoulders and rode my bike in the dark (I had a light) over to the Omni, where I put my bags on the team truck and then went into the lobby with my bike to find other team members. As you can imagine, the hotel was jammed with riders, bikes and bags...a great atmosphere. We hung out for the next hour, waiting for the first light of day then went out and started pedaling about 0645.
Because there are three different start locations, crowds weren’t really a problem on the road. Slower riders stayed right (for the most part) and faster riders would pass on the left. Most people would call “on your left” or just “left” when passing. There were the occasional fast pace lines that would fly by screaming “ON YOUR LEFT” the whole time and mostly just stay on the left most portion of the course.
My plan had been to stop at every other rest stop on the route. With the flat route and a tailwind however, I made great time and bypassed the first two stops and stopped at Stop #3
at about mile 41. Every rest stop appeared crowded but there never seemed to be any lines for water/snacks/bathrooms...I guess they have everything figured out after 30 years!
Immediately after this stop the terrain became more rolling. I’d been told that once the terrain started rolling you could tell the Houston-based riders from the Austin-based riders. Because Houston is flat as a pancake, the Houston riders were often huffing and puffing up even the most gentle hills, grinding out a slow cadence using too high of a gear. The Austin riders would merrily spin up the incline with the greatest of ease (or so it seemed). At a few points I wondered “how can they ride so slowly without just tipping over?”
I stopped again at the mid-point, which was supposed to be the lunch stop. It was so crowded that after a few minutes I decided to press on, stopping again at Mile 60 to refill my bottles. The route turned to the south a bit and what had been a cross tailwind became a cross headwind. It was a little tougher going, with a steady wind of about 15 mph. Thankfully it wasn’t too gusty.
My last stop was at mile 79.
The route turned a bit north again, the tailwind was back and the terrain flattened out for a bit. My legs were feeling great so I grabbed the wheel of a pace line going by and we had a great 5 mile run at a good clip. It fell apart when the terrain got hilly again but it was a nice segment. The final 5 miles turned a bit south again so the headwind became a nuisance once more.
The main center of activity for the MS150 in La Grange is the County Fairgrounds. After crossing the finish just after 1:00 with my odometer showing 99 miles, there were members of the Team Fugro support staff waiting to greet team riders with an icy cold towel and a bottle of water. They then escorted each rider to the tent, where upon arrival, they’d yell “RIDER!” and everyone would clap and cheer! A nice touch.
I immediately grabbed my bags from the truck, gathered my things and headed for the showers. The line was very short and I was able to get showered and dressed, returning to the tent in time for a beer and a 30-minute massage! There was food available and some buckets with which to rinse out and hang your jersey for the next day.
I spent some time wandering around the grounds later that afternoon and took this picture of the United Airline’s team “PlaneGrill”. Dang...that’s a big grill!
After dinner, tables and chairs were folded up and cots were brought in. We all set up our sleep stations and most people immediately started getting ready for bed. I was in bed by about 8:30 and fell asleep before they turned off the lights. Despite what it looks like in the picture, the tent was NOT made of plywood...there was a small room that had been assembled in the back corner where massages were given...so I chose to set my bed up against that wall. I decided to not bring a sleeping bag and just brought a sheet and a thin pad to go on the cot. It worked out well as it remained warm in the tent all night.
I awoke about 0300 for a trip to the bathroom then dozed until 0430 when the tent once again came to life. There was food and coffee available but the bags had to be on the truck by 0530, so quickly ate, put on my kit and delivered my bags to the truck.
About 6:15, several of us headed for the staging area and got in line for the start.
We didn’t start moving towards the start until about 0730 and I didn’t mount my bike and start riding until 0745.
There were two routes riders could choose heading to Austin: The hillier “Bechtel Challenge” or the less hilly and slight shorter “Express Route”. I, of course, chose the Bechtel Challenge.
I rode to the second rest stop at about mile 26 and refilled my bottles for the hilliest part of the course through Bastrop State Park. Unfortunately, a cyclist had crashed in the park before we got there and since the roads are fairly narrow, they had to divert the riders out to the Express Route so that the EMS vehicles could attend to the rider.
I continued on to Bastrop, where lunch was available. This was my longest stop during the weekend...about 30 minutes. I ate a sandwich and chatted with some fellow cyclists.
After this stop, I made one more quick stop and then rode the final leg into Austin, arriving at the finish at about 12:30, with 70 miles showing on the odometer.
The crowds were enormous and it was really nice to have everyone cheering and shouting as the riders rode by. I found our tent and once again, there was a cold towel waiting and all the water/beer/food I could want.
I hung out with some of team near the finish and cheered other riders as they finished their day. Finally, I called my wife, arranged a meeting point and she battled the traffic downtown to collect me, my bike and my bags.
Watching other cyclists, I was amazed at the variety of shapes, sizes and equipment. I passed one guy wearing a half-boot on his left leg, like he had broken his leg. It appeared he actually had a cleat installed into the bottom of the boot so he could clip in. Wow.
I saw one guy on an old, rusty 3-speed bike, circa early 1960’s. I saw another guy finish with a busted derailleur, with his chain hanging down, obviously with just one gear available.
There were some very fit people and some very un-fit people...but they were getting more fit with every pedal stroke.
The energy industry was well represented in this event...it seemed like most teams were sponsored by companies in the industry. I saw one jersey that said “<company name> loves frakking”.
Finally, it was fun to see people who live along the route come out, put out a blanket and chairs, just to watch all the riders go by. A few of the small towns really turned out and greeted the riders with gusto.
I can cross this off my cycling bucket list. Now I have to figure out whether I’m going to do it again next year!