The first bicycle event ever I attended in Germany was the Rad Marathon 2010 organized by RSC Rot-Gold Bremen last year. I got lost, rode 262km instead of the planned 215 km and finished in nine hours. Yesterday I had another try of this event, that David called so amply „a sprint brevet“.
Well, the good thing about riding events in Germany is, that it is so easy to attend them. No hassle to fill out online application forms and transfer money in sealed envelopes with stamps in three locations. Just be there on time, pay 20 Euro, collect the stamp card and ride to the start line. That’s it. The organizing team, the RSC Rot-Gold Bremen is composed of rather middle-age to senior members, similar to the demographic structure of a village in the mountains of (Northern) Niigata. Apart from the aspect of competition, that has the nice side-features that the wives of the mostly male members were still educated in the fine art of baking cakes, making sandwiches and providing all other kind of extra food that makes life so enjoyable. Many of their members therefore opted not even to attend the races any longer, but stay in the start area, eat and drink and offer encouraging comments to those who dare to race.
I got my stamp card and my „sekken“ (what’s the English word for this, by the way?) and just as last year there was this box with safety pins dating back from the days of the Clash, the Sex Pistols, the Damned and Eddie and the Hot Rods. It took some time to find four matching small safety pins that would not nullify the weight advantages I have achieved by pouring hundreds of 100 Euro bills over my bike. As usual in Bremen I started without a front derailleur which is completely useless here. It is more like a left-over from evolution, like the human coccyx is what remains of a tail: It’s perfectly OK to have one, but it hurts when one falls on it and it doesn’t serve a real meaning any longer. I also mounted my standard saddle and got rid off the carbon one which turned out to be a very wise decision, how shall I say…..“ass-wise“? In addition I mounted the new DT Swiss wheels and got rid of the lighter Toppolinos. That turned out to be an even better decision. The braking on Swiss DT alu-rims is just so much better and can be much better controlled than on carbon rims. I wonder why this problem of carbon rims brake control cannot be solved,in general. Obviously – why do people keep up with this abysmal braking control?
For some reason I saw much more nicer and more expensive bikes this year. One reason for that might be, that the weather last year was really miserable and a lot of these nice bikes stayed at home in their stables. But here they were: Two Cervelo S2, one of them equipped with Lighweight wheels in white – Germany is a part of Europe after all and European cycling chic all the vogue. Some Storcks, which is the lightweight brand of choice here. However, it doesn’t make sense to buy an expensive carbon frame and then carry a massive torsion wrench in the back pocket to adjust screws in case of roadside repairs. No. A nice blue steel Pinarello, frame size 65 cm or bigger. Some Red Bulls. Surprisingly not a single Canyon bike.
I was standing at the startline and waited to be approached by some riders from the „Weser-Express Club“. I have specifically posted on the web that I will attend the race and that I can be identified by my red/black Tokyo Cycling Club jersey. I didn’t expected any other TCC rider to attend. But nobody approached me. Did they all bailed in the last minute? Or was this another sign of Northern German shyness and understatement?
Three riders with St. Pauli urban camouflage jerseys were standing right in front of me. Human beings have failed so far to invent the right words to describe the inhibited beauty of their team outfits. I shall not try to make up for failure of mankind so and include the below picture for your own judgement.
No, I am not taking about the threatening looking guys in the back. If you look very closely you will see a pair of orange sunglasses seemingly flying in the air above a small band aid. The rider who wears them can be hardly seen because he is so well camouflaged and his silhouette melts into the road surface. Later during the course of the race I was happy that they rode bikes in shiny colors so that I could identify their position relative to me.
I could indulge any longer in my thoughts as the team organizer mumbled something about „not to crash“, a speech luckily so much shorter than the epic lectures before races in Japan before a line crossing the street was lowered the the race started. While we continued to warm up for about 200m, the speed picked up gradually after that and already at the first (of two) hills, we were crossing the federal highway with more than 40 km/hr average speed. I tried to stay in the first third of the group, knowing that these large groups tend to split in the middle and I didn’t wanted to find myself in one of the slower ones. I even rode in front three times during the first two hours.
The racing was very organized during the first three hours, when everybody was comparatively fresh. Two riders in the front, and then the whole group was lined up in pairs behind. The first two riders rode to the left(the left one) or stayed where they were (the right one) and the group overtook them so that they could line-up in the back. A nice, steady rotation. Once we were out in the countryside the pace was constantly between 33 and 40 km/hr and my heart rate in the 160 to 170 HRM bracket. It was pretty clear that I couldn’t continue for 215 km.
But I didn’t care. Thinking it over one more time, I cared a lot. Because the decision to give up and leave the group means that one is alone and the suffering and the pain that come as a consequence of this irreversible decision is so much bigger than to try to keep up with the group. The bikes without riders (St. Pauli) were quite fast by the way and they rode in front for the first 5 to 10 km. Also there was a constant pointing out of potholes, obstacles, turns and stops, something that became less and less as the race continued (not the obstacles, but the pointing).
The first checkpoint was reached in much less than an hour and 29 km at the fire station in Bülstedt. (The whole route is here). Last year I lost the group when I put some time aside to clean my glasses. When I finally put them back on my nose, I saw the peloton about 100 meters away and I couldn’t catch up. This year I tried to be the first to get my stamp, took some food and rode alone on the road so that the peloton could overtake me and I could line up again. This worked well and we made good speed to the second control point in Heidenau. I even remembered some of the names of the villages that we passed from last year: „Wohnste“, „Groß-Wohnste“, „Sauensiek“, „Bokel“, words that describe with their sounds already the beauty of the landscape. Or perhaps the beauty of self-designed jerseys. In any case, after 88 km and on the second control point I was still with the fast group, just like last year. This was where I lost contact last year. We continued now to ride into the „nature reserve“ Lüneburger Heide.
The grounds are very sandy here, so that nothing grows but scrubs and weeds. The beauty of the landscape is such, that parts of the nature reserve were used by the British army as a tank range. But even after riding 100t army tanks multiple times over the assortment of scrubs and weeds, the nature has not lost its original charm. This part of the landscape which is conveniently located between the ports of Bremen and Hamburg, should also remind us that we should not complain about the countryside close to Bremen and that we should never attempt to travel to Hamburg. Where, by the way, the quarter of „St. Pauli“ and the soccer club of the same name (18th and last this season) is located. I am proud to report, that the soccer club that I support (no, not Werder Bremen but Borussia Mönchengladbach) achieved an impressive 16th place this season.
We only „touched“´touched“ the Lunebürger Heide as you can see on the map. We ventured inside, made a loop and turned back where we came from, just like an unsuccessful expedition in the 19th century venturing to find the origins of the river Nile. Oh! The horror! The horror!
So far I could keep up with the fast group. After 130 km we came back to Heidenau fire station. Cool, less than four hours but I slowly ran out of steam. Last year I was alone with an older rider at this time of the race. A soup was offered inside and he asked me if I wanted to eat some soup. Sure, I said and I went in. Later, I noticed that he wasn’t interested at all to eat soup and left immediately after I entered the house. A strange kind of humour, I thought.
So I took double care that I left before the peloton, got overtaken and lined up again. By now most conversations have stopped as did the pointing out of obstacles. About 30 to 40 riders were left. Surely there were stronger ones than me, but also for them it was important to save energy. The group had become very unstable and hectic. There was much more braking and accelerating compared to the first half of the race. Once we turned into the headwind and I was very much in the front I had to let go and before I could accelerate again I found myself behind the peloton. But I had done about 138 km with them and that was 50 km better than last year.
I still had more than 80 km to do and being alone I tried to keep my heart rate below 155 HRM and rode 25 to 27 km/hr against the headwind. While prodding on for some km I thought that I am not really a long distance guy. How many rides did I do in all these year with more than 200 km distance? Tokyo-Itoigawa, Sado 210, Yokohama-Hamamatsu and perhaps one or two rides with David, Jerome and Ludwig. Bremen 2010 (and now 2011), so perhaps less than 10 after all. I don’t find it very pleasing even to ride more than 150 km. Still I think the 100 to 150km bracket is the one where I have the most fun and I can still walk and play with the kids after returning home. Hey, when I started to do serious cycling in Hamamatsu in 1998, I was content to do one 60 km loop around lake Hamanakako.
While I was thinking along these lines (and wondering how the Transalp will be), I was overtaken by a group of three riders that have fallen out of the peloton before and they asked me to join. We rotated in the front and kept our average over 30km/hr. So we continued to the next check point at 155 km and to the next one at 180 km/hr. Now there were only 35 km left, or so I thought. Plus we were in familiar terrain again and I would not make the same stupid mistakes as last year when I simply couldn’t find the way home.
So what I did was I let the group move away and at the next crossing, shortly after Quelkorn I took a non-authorized quick turn and continued towards Fischerhude. Here I took the forest rode to Borgfeld. It is a much better motivation to ride roads you know and I felt better and stronger. In the peloton I felt so vunerable .. if an attack would have happened I am sure that I couldn’t have followed. But alone on familar grounds I felt much better.
Once I was in Borgfeld I took another shortcut and reached the finish shortly after the other three men group have arrived. That was good, because I would have had difficulties to explain why I was there earlier without having overtaken them. I think I gained about 5 km by shortcuts. Well that is still much less compared to what I rode more last year so I felt perfectly entitled to do some creative route planning.
I was back after 6:27:29 Hhrs with an average speed of much more than 30 km/hr and 206 km distance covered. Elevation meters almost none. I felt pretty tired, but first I went to the jury and submitted my stamp card. One of the guys took it, take a look and said „OK, that looks good, thank you.“ He than filed my card and left me standing there wondering what would happen next. There was no next. I didn’t even got a certificate or something, nothing. Sorry, why did I got all the stamps in the first place? Another attempt of Northern German humour that is still so difficult to understand.
Never mid, I ordered some of the good looking cakes from the wives of the members. Could I have something to drink? Sure, how about a coffee? No thanks? Or a beer? No, something non alcoholic please. A coke? A sprite? Some orange juice, a green lemon? I thought that lemon sounds nice. It reminded me of a hot summer day when I was riding the east side of Izu with Juliane in the humid, hot weather and suddenly Juliane started talking about CC Lemon. I developed such a thirst for CC lemon in this moment, I would have killed to lay my hands on a bottle of this stuff. So yes, a lemon, perhaps.
Bremen is home to the BECKS brewery, one of the biggest in Germany. They produce beer in green bottles like this one.
A lemon light is a mix between a Becks beer and a lemon soft drink. Still it has alcohol inside:
Basically it is a beer. There isn’t so much alcohol inside, but still I insist it is a beer. Why I got offered this is still a mystery to me. Another attempt of Northern German humour?
Anyway, now seriously drunk and green in the face like a lemon I rode home. Two days later I started cycling again. I am fit now for the race in Berlin next weekend and for the Transalp…we will see.