Tales from the peloton

Who's that 'Unidentified Rider'?

A few days ago we published this shot of an unidentified rider in the Saturn Classic on a neutral support bike that was - to put it mildly - not really the right size. That rider was Peter Vordenberg, and this is his tale.

Click for larger image
Peter 'Unidentified' Vordenberg
Photo: © Rob Karman
By Peter Vordenberg*
Let's get right to the heart-breaking fact of it. At the top of the Central City climb, my dropout snapped off, sending my rear derailleur flying and letting loose my rear wheel on one side. My wheel locked up and I screeched to a halt with no idea what had happened. I jumped off my bike thinking maybe the chain had just fallen off, and found the rear wheel loose from the frame and ensnarled in the derailleur, which was hanging limply from its cable. My bike was done.

The Mavic neutral support car pulled up and the guy yells, "Rear wheel?" and I say, "Whole bike!" thinking he's just going to shrug and give me a sorry look, but with no hesitation the guy asks what size. He must not have heard me right. I throw my leg over this monster and he pushes me off.

I'm back in the race. My dropout had snapped near the top of the Central City Climb an insanely steep cat 2 climb. I got the new bike just before the descent of Oh-My-God Road about which the race pamphlet says, "…road drops 2000 feet in 8 miles on rough gravel road with multiple, variable radius, off-camber turns. Steep to vertical drop-offs with no guard rails." In my bike change panic I was so fired up, and freaked out that I just let it run.

My new bike was great on the descent. It was obviously too big, but it was smooth, easy to control and a nice ride (it was an Independent Fabrications bike painted bright Mavic yellow). The road descends for a few steep miles on asphalt and then turns to gravel in the middle of a 90 degree turn. By this time the whole of the remaining field as well as the whole rear race caravan, excluding the last cop and the broom wagon, was in front of me. I screamed down through the caravan cars all of which were honking, their drivers yelling out the windows.

I let it run full out on the straighter sections just banging down over the rocks and ruts at top speed, then grab the brakes before the hairpins, wheel around them and then let it go again until the next hairpin. I never looked anywhere but where I was going, never over the edge, even though I was close to it on each corner. I passed a few riders on the way down and screeched past all the cars by the bottom. Still pumped with adrenaline, once at the bottom, I just kept on pounding. There were a lot of fans in town and I was head down and peddling hard. There were only stragglers in sight, but they were not as motivated and so I was alone in pursuit pounding up the road from Idaho Springs toward Georgetown and the start of Guanella Pass.

'Zapped' by the gear-shifter

The problems with my new bike became evident at the bottom of Oh-My-God. The bike was built up with Mavic's shifting system -- a fancy electronic system on the handlebars. It's actually really sweet, you just push a button and -- zip! -- it shifts, but I had no idea such a thing even existed. I was pushing on the brake levers, pulling on 'em, craning my neck around trying to see what the hell made the thing shift. It was stuck in the hardest gear (the tech had gotten it into gear for me at the top, knowing I would need the big gear all the way down). I mashed the pedals up and over the "little" rises trying to shift, passing people, absolutely hauling because I had no real choice. I was decked out in the bright-orange leopard print Tokyo Joe's Jersey and my seat was way too tall. I looked like the short guy in the movie 'Breaking Away', stretching with each pedal, rocking my hips back and forth like a kid on his dad's bike. My legs were totally straight at the bottom of the pedal stroke and I was perched on the nose of the saddle. Since the bike was off the support car and had to fit anyone who might need it, it had toe clips instead of clip-less pedals. I had my cleats jammed in and the straps pulled tight. I must have been quite a sight flying through Idaho Springs hell bent for Breckenridge still almost 80 miles away.

I figured out the shifting fairly quickly, but my seat was too tall and when I pulled through on the pedal stroke my feet would pop out of the clips.

Even worse, I was fast losing feeling to my crotch. Fortunately a Trek team car was stopped to pick up an abandoning rider, and I got them to lower the seat and hold me upright while I fixed my shoes in the pedals as best I could.

I was now on the road again for real, sort of, but by now I feared it was really too late. The race had a 20 minute rolling closure with the full road to race on (which is really cool). But once the last car passes, you're done. You can get in the broom wagon or ride the rest of the way, but if you keep going, you're are on your own.

Guanella pass is rated Hors Categorie above categorizing. It is a single 3,500 foot climb up to 11,671 feet, steep switchbacks the whole way. I chugged an Extran at the bottom and started up. I was totally alone now, but I was comforted by the fact that there were a lot of riders behind me, at least the ones I'd passed in my mad descent and race from Idaho Springs to Georgetown, and probably more who were already behind before Oh-My-God, but I had no idea who was ahead and still within reach. I knew the real race was gone now, but I hoped I could find a group and we could still make it to Breckenridge, or at least up and over Guanella. I really wanted to make it to the summit and then try the rough and rocky descent down to Grant. It became my goal, so I settled in and paced myself up. Up. Up, and more up. There was no end. The road twisted and turned, and humped over super steep sections linked by very steep sections. I caught a number of riders, but they were going absolutely backward. These were some supremely blown bikers. They were covered in white streaks of dried salt, and looked at me with misery in their faces. They said stuff like, "Seen… broom… wagon?"

"No." I'd answer.

"Shit."

"Come on, let's get to the top."

I… got… nothing… to… prove."

I had one taker. We pedaled along together at a reasonable, steady pace. Just moving was reasonable. Almost everyone was geared up with 39-25 or 39-27, and this gearing was simply necessary. The climb turned to dirt and I immediately flatted my front tire. It somehow came as no surprise. I was resigned now to the fact that this was going to get a whole new kind of tough.

All the support cars had re-passed me on the way to George Town. Had I simply flatted and not lost so much time breaking my bike, I could probably have gotten a new wheel, but the support was gone. Somewhere back there was the broom, the last cop and then nothing. My climbing partner labored ahead. I didn't stop, thinking I might find a team car picking up another abandon and could score a wheel from them. I rode for 3-odd miles up a hors catagorie, rocky dirt climb on the front rim, a Mavic rim. It held up nicely while I pumped and banged along miserably. The flat tire flapped around limp and sad and the rim had no real agility on the rocks. It was a sad sight.

My climbing partner crept ahead slowly, and I actually caught up to one guy, totally worked over and foaming at the mouth.

He looked over kind of gap mouthed and said, "Front flat." and then, still monotone, "Toe-clips."

I was too burned to say anything, but tried to laugh in a friendly manner. The laugh came out screechy and sounded maniacal. He looked away fast and stared ahead.

I was now engaged in some seriously arduous and totally pointless work; I was probably turning my pedals at about 50 rpm, just trying to keep the thing upright and moving. I was pulling with my arms and cranking with my whole body. My feet were totally numb since I had them cranked in the straps so tight, but at least my feet weren't popping out.

I knew I was having a real Zinger experience. Last year, I was told, many of the riders complained bitterly about the support. They too had flatted, and been left to ride their flats until a service car found them or between the final support cars and the broom where they were simply picked up. It was frustrating because I could have gone on. Then again, the race had already gone on, was way ahead. This isn't a supported tour, it's a bike race, and I, we, for reasons within or not exactly within our control, were out of it.

I knew it was getting tough when I passed the village idiot screaming at me from the side of the road. Here we are miles up in the mountains, no noise other then my rim on the rocks and muttered curses on my lips, and here's this guy running alongside me, flapping his arms and screaming a split time at me from about two feet from my ear: "TWENTY SEVEN MINUTES BEHIND THE LEADER! TWENTY SEVEN MINUTES BEHIND THE LEADER! …" "HEY! … YOU HAVE A FLAT!"

Oh my God. I tried to pick up my pace to get out of earshot.

A mile from the top a Saturn team car pulled past, I asked for a wheel and this guy looks at me twice and says, "No way dude." I understood. I mean, here I was banging my current front wheel over every rock on Guanella pass.

I sensed the end, heard sad strains on distant violins. The final cop car pulled up. A race director leaned out and said, "You have been placed in the results. You HAVE been placed in the results, but your race is over."

"Do you have a wheel?" I asked (It was a cop car, I knew, but hell I was tired and I was almost to the top). He shakes his head, no. The broom came up, riders looked out at me, expressionless. The driver rolled down the window said, "Well?" "Do you have a wheel?" I asked. A few riders immediately started heckling me from the wagon. "No," said the driver with what seemed an evil grin, "hop on in."

I'd made it about 5 hours and 80 miles, though I'm not sure exactly how far or how long and I haven't looked to see my "place." My Tokyo Joe's teammates Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski took 9th, Carl Swenson 10th and Walker Ferguson 11th. It was actually an extremely good showing for Tokyo Joe's considering the level of competition.

Click for larger image
Peter in his XC ski incarnation
Photo courtesy Endurance Enterprises and Dream Of It
Frankly, I'm really bummed out. I rode near the front until my bike broke and was never in any real trouble. I think I ended up 52nd, but in reality I didn't make it, was a no-finish. This race had been the goal for my cycling season and it ended badly and far too soon. However, if Tokyo Joe's will have me, I'll absolutely be back next year. Absolutely.

Thanks to Tokyo Joe's, Gatorade Bar and Breckenridge.com, Pete Swenson and the whole crew. Also to Allied Share the Roads Racing and all our great sponsors (see: www.sharetheroads.org).

*Peter was too modest to include some details of his distinguished record as a cross-country skier, which we found on his team's Web site. Peter's career includes representing the USA as an Olympian at Lillehammer, Norway, 1994 & Albertville, France, in 1992. He has been a member of the US Ski Team in 1993, 1995, 1996 and 1998. Most recently, he won the silver with a second place in the 30km Classic at the US Nationals in 2000.

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