Tour de Big Bear HC
August 4, 2018 – Big Bear, CA
Overall – 29th – 6:35:49 Elapsed, 6:27:02 Moving
125 miles – 19.2 MPH
It’s been a few years, since last did the Tour de Big Bear. I had only ridden the 70 mile distance before, so I opted for the 107 mile “The Climb” route. No sooner had I registered, that I noticed several of my friends had opted for the 125 mile HC event which was part of the national gran fondo series. Hmmmm…that would be my longest ride ever and there would be a lot of high caliber riders (including pros). Ah, what, the heck…go for it!
So, my training for the HC consisted of no real mountains in about a month, but at least I got a couple of hundred milers in. Basically, my goal was to finish in under 7 hours. I had the benefit of riding much of this course before, including earlier in the summer during the Big Bear Tri. However, the long grind up Onyx and the Green Valley Lake climb at 105 miles were new to me. As usual, I went up the day before to do a pre-ride and adjust a little to the altitude. I was happy to get a hotel within riding distance of the start.
The HC riders were the first ones to start at 7 AM. We had a relatively neutral roll out for a little over a mile, but then it basically was afterburners on. The twisty descent before the dam strung the field out. There were several of us caught off guard and gapped from the main group. This wasn’t exactly a gradual start to a 125 mile ride, it was a road race effort. 5-6 of us worked together to finally catch the peloton after about 3 miles, but we spent a lot of fuel.
Things started to separate once we got to the Onyx climb. Some guys really took off, but I decided just to ride it at tempo. I knew that the climb back up on the other side was going to be nearly 20 miles. While this isn’t a hard climb, it’s at altitude and peaks at around 8400 ft. Once over the top I really noticed one of the first mobile aid stations. One of the benefits of the HC was the ability to swap bottles on the fly. They had given us cheap water bottles to use and discard with volunteers when empty. I really wanted to be able to get water, etc. on the fly, but the bottles were a little too small for my cages. They rattled around in them, so I didn’t want to risk having a bottle being ejected on the ride and being without water. Thus, I opted to stop at aid stations and just refill my bottles. In the end, this turned out to be a lifesaver since it forced me to take a quick rest and ensure I stayed hydrated and fed.
The descent down Hwy. 38 from Onyx was a blast. It really wasn’t about seeing how fast you could go, it was more about feeling the turns and enjoying the view. It also gave me a chance to preview the climb back up. While not a hard climb, it was long and did have some steeper pitches. I just took it easy, passed some folks (and got passed), then stopped at the summit for a quick break. At this point, I was starting to feel the ride. I knew the rest of the route wasn’t too bad, but I had no idea how the Green Valley Lake climb was going to be.
After cruising downhill, we faced a bit of a headwind going back around the north side of the lake. A couple of us decided to work together, and we ended up passing a bunch of people. At this point, we had merged with riders doing the shorter routes. Once we got out on Hwy. 18 though, it was pretty much just us HC riders. The Green Valley Lake climb came up sooner than I expected. I just shifted into cruise mode on the climb, since I knew it couldn’t be that hard based on the Strava profile. The best part was that it was shaded. There was another awesome sag stop at the top, and I made use of it to rest and recharge a little. Now, I knew I was nearly to the end…thank god!
I forgot we would have a decent amount of climbing as we headed back Hwy. 18 towards Big Bear. Traffic was backed up on one of the climbs, and I figured it must be an accident. Turns out a couple of cyclists went down. Thankfully, both were walking around, but I saw one bike cracked. I later learned that one of my friends was involved. His teammate overshot a corner and crashed, then he hit his teammate sending over the handlebars. He trashed his bike, but luckily only had road rash.
The last miles back into town weren’t bad thanks to the tailwind. The only downside was knowing there was final 15-20% climb just a mile or so from the finish. Talk about torture! My legs were cramping pretty bad at this point. I took a few moments to get out of the saddle to stretch, but it didn’t help on the steep climbs. The cramping got so bad that I ended up dismounting my bike and walking the last few hundred meters up the hill. I don’t think I could have gone much faster riding it. Thankfully, it was all downhill from the top to the finish. I came in a hair over 6.5 hours in elapsed time. My goal was to break 7 hours. This was the longest ride I had ever done, and probably one of the hardest. Since my hotel was so close, I went back and showered. I then hung out with friends in the finish area, and got a much needed massage.
My third Tour de Big Bear was in the books, and it reinforced why I love this event so much. It’s not only scenic with relatively good roads, but the support from the organizers and the community was amazing. The volunteers seemed to be as much a part of the event as the riders. If you’ve never done this event, I highly recommend it!