You read that right. 100 miles of cycling with someone else on a tandem bike. Think you could handle it? My first response is “depends on who it is!”
Allow me to introduce Andy and Rachel Chambers, a father and daughter cycling team, who ride a local race here in Connecticut called the V2V. So, the ‘Connecticut’ is misleading because the ride of which I speak is a 100 mile cycle from Vernon, Vermont to Vernon, Connecticut. Cute, right? The V2V is famous around these parts and for good reason.
This Fall classic started 15 years ago. I remember seeing signs for it all over town and thinking that anyone who rode 100 miles must be insane. I was, of course a few years away from my own insanity in the form of a marathon, so I really had no clue what endurance training and riding were all about.
It was around that same time however, that I started my first group fitness teaching job, and one of my fellow instructors just happened to be the woman who put on this amazing race – Deb Poudrier-Fafard. She is a strong, smart and talented force who has worked tirelessly in her role as Director at the March of Dimes in CT, which is what this ride is ultimately all about.
This is one of the best late season rides in New England. With breakfast served on the coach bus ride up to Vernon, VT, lunch on the course, post ride cook out, music, and best of all…post-ride carbs provided by our friends from the Boston Beer Company!
Ok, so it’s not all about The March of Dimes but hey, riders need fuel too, right?
Last week I was given the opportunity to talk with Andy and Rachel about their unique partnership and approach to this epic ride:
Andy is 55, married to Kate and they have two kids, Rachel, 18 and Trevor 17. When Andy and Rachel aren’t riding tandem, he’s at work for a high performance plastics manufacturer (sounds very serious) and Rachel is a sophomore at The University of Rhode Island where she studies Civil Engineering. Her summer job is
eating serving pancakes at a local IHOP. She knows how to carb up!
When did you first start riding V2V and did you do the 100/80/50?
I rode the 100 mile route back in 2001, then not again until 2012, (which was Rachel’s first year riding it).
How long had you been cycling at that point?
I started mountain biking back in the mid 90’s and did not get a road bike until 1997, when I did my first Mount Washington Hillclimb. That was probably the 1st year I started riding seriously with a goal in mind.
Rachel started mountain biking in 2008 and got her first road bike the summer before she went into high school. The next summer we got a tandem and completed 3 centuries together. Since then we’ve been participating in centuries all over New England.
How do you prepare in the months/weeks leading up to the race?
My main event for many seasons was the Mount Washington Hillclimb and I had done several century rides that year to develop my training base. I had also signed up for the Vermont 50 mountain bike race which was 50 miles of trails around Mount Ascutney, 5-6 hours of riding. The V2V fit well as a training ride, back in 2001, and was 2 weeks before Mount Washington.
We had been training all summer for Mt. Washington and a century was always a distance we could do, we didn’t have to add extra training in but we usually take the day before the ride off or go on an easy ride.
What is the course like in terms of hills (up & down!), traffic, etc.?
Riding from Vermont to Connecticut sounds like it should be pretty hilly, but it is one of the flatter centuries in the area. There is one moderate climb about 40 miles in. Before and after it is pretty flat farm country and rollers. Traffic is light in most places as the route stays on rural roads. This year’s 100 mile route will change after about 65 miles and head toward Stafford and Ellington adding a few more hills and really nice countryside.
What was the best experience you have had on the ride and why?
Most of the centuries that I have done in recent years have been on a tandem with Rachel. Riding together for 5 hours is so much nicer than riding alone and we tend to ride pretty fast which makes it more exciting. The route scenery and watching people’s reactions seeing a fast tandem blow by with 2 people wearing matching kits is a good motivator. An added bonus is the V2V isn’t a loop ride. Being a point-to-point, you have a destination to reach. You are not just riding in a huge circle. This makes the route less predictable and you get to enjoy the changing scenery along the route.
What was your worst experience on the course?
That first ride I did back in 2001 was with a few friends. We signed up for the 100 and had a wet start with rainy weather. About ½ way through the route went over a metal bridge. I was at the front with the other 3 behind me. Metal bridges are treacherous on bikes and way worse in wet weather. We rounded a corner and were on the bridge before we could slow or stop. I was fortunate to keep my bike upright as I coasted over it, feeling my back wheel sliding on the wet metal grating. My friend who was next with the other 2 on his wheel, thinks he tapped his brakes just a little, and went down. The other two had no chance of not falling and all 3 of them hit the deck, kind of like falling on a giant cheese grater. All I heard were moans and groans behind me as I coasted to the end. All traffic stopped as there were bikes and bodies all over. I remember a police car driving across and his car skidded as he braked on the metal. All 3 of my friends broke wrists, fingers and one may have reinjured his collarbone. I ended up riding out the course to let spouses know what happened and the other 3 went to the hospital. None of us had phones at that time.
How do you fuel properly for all that mileage? Do you stop along the way to refuel and repack?
We eat mainly gels and Power Bars on the bike. Both are relatively easy to eat/chew and convert to energy fairly quickly without any stomach issues. Usually we will stop twice during a 100 mile ride, half way through and around 75 miles. It is nice to get off the bike to stretch for a few minutes and refuel. We are both very careful about what to and not to eat on rides. Typically, high carb foods with minimal fat and low protein work best for us.
What kinds of gear do you wear/carry?
Standard stuff: mini pump, 2 tubes, mini tool and tire levers.
Does the weather tend to change throughout the duration of the ride?
I have done a couple of centuries in the rain and it is not fun, so like many people, I will wait as long as I can before registering to see what the forecast is. Aside from that, the main weather change is going from cool or cold temperatures at the start (which usually is early morning), to moderate or warm temperatures around noon. So, to avoid overdressing and having too many clothes/layers to take off and stuff in rear pockets, we will start underdressed and cold for the 1st part of the ride. Then we look forward to the first climb to warm up on.
When did you first start cycling and when did it become “serious,” if it is?
Both Rachel and I started mountain bike racing in the Root 66 series. From that point forward, we trained and rode seriously to be competitive. I started racing that series in 2004, and Rachel in 2008. We are both very competitive so we were serious about the races and rides from the start.
What else do you enjoy doing – fitness or otherwise?
I used to do a lot of running and 5k/5 mile races, but had to stop a year and a half ago with lower disc issues. Rachel still runs often. Both of us ski and do strength training and some yoga. We are a very active family and try to spend a lot of time out on family adventures. One tradition we have is hiking up Mt. Washington a couple days after we bike up it.
What is the best advice you have for someone doing the ride for the first time?
If it is your 1st century, prepare well by eating the right foods before the event. Fuel up, but do not stuff yourselves. Don’t start the ride aggressively, 100 miles takes a long time and your energy needs to be metered. Eat foods easily digested and converted to energy during the rides. Foods with simple carbs and sugars are usually ideal.Do not overeat at food stops and do not stay off the bike more than a few minutes during the ride or restarting will really hurt.
As for training for the distance, it is ok if you can’t do a 100 mile before the V2V. Just make sure you have done a couple longer distance rides (60-75 miles) and know how to pace yourself for longer rides.
Any funny stories or tales of woe to add?
One of the pitfalls of our “ride this as fast as we can” attitude for long rides is focusing on average speed too much and not paying attention to the route markers. Many times we have missed turns and added miles (or skipped miles too). A couple of years ago we signed up for a metric century vs. the 100 mile route because we were not up for the longer distance that time. We missed a turn on a long, fast downhill (which we see how fast we can go) and went miles out of the way. So, instead of doubling back, we decided to make our own route back to the course. This did not work as planned and we diverted further off course and had many hills to cover to get back (and our legs were toast). We ended up doing 88 miles instead of the 62 that we were prepared for.
How is the after party?
The V2V after party is the best I have experienced. Al and Deb really put on a special finally with music, good food, and cold beverages (including beer!). After 5-6 or more hours on the bike, it is great to finally kick back, relax and treat yourself to some goodies.
Do you ride because of March of Dimes (any special connection?) or is it just an added bonus that it’s for such an amazing cause?
For us, it is an added bonus. I would do the ride anyway, but knowing the cause and the contributions people’s entry fees and donations cover makes it even more special.
[Tweet “What it takes to #ride 100 miles on a tandem #bike! @MarchofDimesCT #V2V”]
For the locals: This year the ride is on Sunday, September 28th and you can register NOW! All information is on the V2V web site or you can leave me a comment with any questions. Also, check out V2V on Facebook!
Have you ever done something special/traditional with your dad or mom?
Ever rode a tandem bike? If not, who would you ride one with?
Thoughts on riding a century?