Thursday, February 13, 2014

Tour of Palm Springs Century Ride 2014. The Smiles, The Suffering, The Tragedy.

Heading out into the wilderness.

It was quite a ride, honestly.  However, it was one Tour I may never do again, because there is just no reason to put oneself through that much pain and suffering.  Riding is supposed to be for fun and fitness, not foolishness.  I have done Centuries before, and I don’t mind them, but the 2014 edition of the Tour of Palm Springs, to me, was basically 103-miles of “What the heck am I doing out here.”  Between the high winds, bad roads, and a complete lack of scenery, it was really not what I would classify as a “Memorable” ride.  However, before this begins to read like a whine-fest, it was not all bad.  And, I still got to spend the day on my bike, which last I checked, was definitely a good thing. 

Like any large, organized event, overall there were the good points, and there were the bad points.  Some were things within human control, and many were completely outside any human contingency planning.  The difference, therefore, between a great event and a so-so event, are the management of the tangible details.  For the most part, the organizers of the 2014 installment did very well with the tangibles.  The things outside of their control, however, were the things, for me, that made the ride kinda’ suck ass. 

So, without any further delay, here are my thoughts about the Tour of Palm Springs for 2014. 

Things I liked about the ride: The event staff, including local law enforcement and the California Highway Patrol, were top notch.  Friendly, helpful, attentive, and the on-road support crews went above and beyond the call of duty to assist the riders.  They scored an A+++, here.  The local community was also very enthusiastic, and it was very nice to see local residents outside seated in their lawn chairs cheering the riders on. 

Community support is an extremely important asset if a ride seeks to live to be a Legacy instead of a flash in the pan.  Score a big one for the ride, here.

Catrina, Terry, and Blake taking a breather.

I also met some extremely wonderful riders during the event, which was very uplifting, being cycling contains enough snobs, as it is.  There was Lieutenant Commander Terry (retired), Pastor Elena, Blake, astride a mint condition Trek U.S. Postal Service bike, Elizabeth, silent, yet fast, my dear friend Catrina, and most of the all, the beautiful blonde woman whom helped me get up after the wind caught my 40mm front wheel and knocked me over.  I never did get her name, but I will always remember that angelic face.  And, may I never forget the incredible volunteers which staffed the SAG Stops.  They were non-stop cheerful, helpful, and still carried a sense of humor, even after a whole day of dealing with an army of cyclists

The things I really did not care for about the ride consisted of the following: The route, the wind, some of the participants, and a rider killed by a truck.  First, about that crazy route.

                                                                Service road out in the sticks.

The allure of Palm Springs has always been a mystery to me.  It is an unforgiving desert, and nothing more.  Hot in the summer, windy and cold in the winter, it really is not the place to hold a cycling event, let alone a Century.  On this year’s ride, it was the wind which made the ride miserable.  As for the route itself, well, it was nothing remarkable from a scenery standpoint.  In fact, what it lacked in aesthetics were compounded by a lack of reliable course markings so riders could safely find their way.  Small, red arrows mounted on construction barricades, which were easily blown over by the high winds, were really not the way to go.  There were many time when riders had to stop and break out the route slips just to make sure they had not missed a turn.  I know this for a fact, because my group had to do so on numerous occasions.  The Century route took riders on service roads and nasty, dangerous, 50-mile-an-hour-plus, narrow, two lane highways.  Some of the pavement was so bad, I saw numerous broken bottle cages, some complete with bottles still attached.  I know the organizers had no control over the road conditions, but come on, does not anyone evaluate the roads before creating a route for the riders?

                                The wind completely broke apart the peleton.  Check out Catrina's hair!

                                              There's a very good reason these things are out there.

The wind.  There is a reason the Coachella Valley is one of the wind generator capitals of the world.  The riders left the start in a massive pack, but soon the wind broke everyone up, and oddly, people starting pace lining, though there were 45 to 90-degree cross-winds.  I searched in vain for people whom understood what an echelon was, but alas, no one wanted to form one, thus we all suffered.  We then hit headwinds so bad, that even in 34-28 gear mode, we were basically going nowhere.  Toss in the dust, and it was just not a place, nor time, to be riding a bicycle. 

Amazing Observation of the Day; People like to look like racers, ride actual race bikes, and think they are racers, but no one knew how to RIDE like a racer in high winds to conserve energy.  Odd things, human beings be.

                                                          Pedaling out in the middle of nowhere.

While the poorly marked course was an issue, one thing which made following the route easier was the immense (yes, immense) amount of used gel packets, and such, strewn along the way.  So, navigation via route slip and trash became the sure-fire, winning method for staying on course.  This was the ire I alluded to about being displeased with some of the ride participants.  I have participated in plenty of organized events, but the 2014 Tour of Palm Springs took the cake for littering by ride participants.  We can do better than that, folks.

Tragedy strikes.

If case anyone may not be aware, there was a fatality on the Century course.  News filters fast in any recreational peleton, and it soon reached my group, which was two hours behind the time of the accident.  When we reached the intersection of the incident, the scene had been cleaned up, and it was clear to see why the accident happened just where it did.  The riders had a stop sign, while the high-speed cross traffic did not.  Adding to the problem was very poor visibility due to trees and foliage, and poor pavement, which I am sure made riders take alternate lines on that particular stretch of road.  Right now, fault is being batted back-and-forth in the matter, with some witness’s claiming the rider “Blew the stop sign,” while others have claimed the truck “Went around a car which had slowed to let the Cyclists pass.” 

No matter what the outcome, a woman lost her life, and the ride organizers have some “Splaining” to do.

The author at one of the friendly SAG stops.  "How many more miles to go?"

So, all in all, would I do this ride again?  Honestly, no.  And not because of the ride organizers, either.  The combination of travel time to get there (a two-hour drive each way), facing the elements (WIND!), rough roads, scenery akin to the Moon, and dangerous motor vehicle drivers, all combined to make me glad that I did it, but, I will not be doing this particular Century ride, anymore.  

Well, maybe...    

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