Headwinds, heat help Death Ride live up to its name
Sun News Service
Crazy. Insane. Demented. Nuts.
That’s the response of most people when they are told about the Tour of the California Alps, affectionately known as the Death Ride.
But for those who take on the most difficult challenge ” a five-pass, 129-mile course, which consists of a cumulative 16,000 feet of vertical gains ” there is only one way to describe it.
“It was kind of fun. It surpassed my expectations and the scenery is just amazing,” said Ted Huang of Sunnyvale, Calif.
Huang, 37, was the first to complete all five passes in the 27th annual Death Ride. He did it in 7.5 hours. Not bad, considering Huang wasn’t planning on doing the ride until a week ago, when a friend of his offered him a ticket.
“I ride a lot and I have done longer races, but it doesn’t rival this,” Huang said.
Although some may treat it as such, the Death Ride is not a competition. Rather, the honor is in finishing the course, signing a skull-laden board and maybe besting personal records.
Jesse Bushey of Squaw Valley, who was the first to cross the finish line last year, didn’t best his personal time, but still finished with a time of 7:18.
Bushey, originally from Cabot, Vt., is a blacksmith who said he rides nothing but hills to prepare for the Death Ride. He also has his own pre-race ritual.
“I drink some beer the night before and try to eat pasta, then before I ride it’s a bowl of Cocoa Puffs,” Bushey said.
Bushey attributed his slower time to eagerness and a headwind on the last pass.
“The headwind really affected me and I started off too strong and didn’t save enough for the end,” he said.
About 3,000 riders took part in the Death Ride and were given the opportunity to run between one and five passes.
The ride is co-sponsored by the Alpine County Chamber of Commerce and the Alta Alpina Cycling Club.
“This ride is extremely challenging because all you do is climb and descend,” said Darla Mazzoni, vice president of Alta Alpina. “Also the riders are having to battle the heat and headwinds on the last pass, when they are the most tired.”
It was the 21st time attempting the ride for Ray Plumhoff, a 52-year-old lawyer from Oakland. He crossed the line fifth with a time of 7:59 despite getting a flat tire at the bottom of Ebbetts Pass.
“You just fix it as fast as you can and keep going,” Plumhoff said. “To do this you have to love the sport of cycling. There’s a lot that goes into it. It’s the camaraderie and the endurance to do it.”
For Michael Sharp of South Tahoe, this year’s ride was especially important. Sharp’s home was evacuated during the Angora fire, but he was allowed to return after crews got control of the blaze.
Sharp, the first member of the Alta Alpina club to finish, finished with a time of 7:58.
“Some people just have an affinity for long-distance hard riding and I’m one of them,” Sharp said.
Yet the 49-year-old said he didn’t do as well as he could have because he is out of shape.
“I’m fat, I’m 49 and I’m a Clydesdale because I’m over 200 pounds,” Sharp said.
Cyclists heading toward the last pass were greeted by the hoots and noisemakers of Hilary Hewlett and Chantal Dibble, who were camped out waiting for their husbands to pass.
“We think they are insane, but we are very proud of them,” said Hewlett, whose husband Bob was riding. “We have fun being here; we don’t know if they do but we have fun.”
Dibble, who’s husband Joe and father-in-law John were riding, said that she wasn’t surprised when her husband decided to do the race, but probably won’t be joining him.
“I don’t think either of us has an interest in it. I don’t have the discipline to train for something like this,” Dibble said.