Every five years the Vasconi family heads to the islands of Hawaii. All together there are eleven of us including my family, my brother’s family and our parents – yes, a bunch of crazy Italian Americans! There are a couple of places in the world I consider my second home and Maui is definitely one of them.
Maui has some of the best cycling in the world and is home to the iconic ‘bucket list’ climb of the Haleakala volcano - well known as the longest paved climb in the world at 36 miles with 10,000ft. of elevation gain. This was our 3rd ascent of the volcano. My brother and I had plenty of miles in us this year but you never how your legs will respond during such a long climb. We had ridden the prior five days on Maui with one recon day up to Grandma’s Coffee House with Donnie Arnoult of Maui Cyclery.
The pre-ride meal is always an important part of the Vasconi ritual. We opted for Ferraro’s Bar e Ristorante in Wailea and feasted on salumi and formaggi as our antipasti and then onto black truffle risotto with local mushrooms as the secondi, all of which paired well with our Tignanello vino.
The alarm didn’t need to go off at 4:30am as I was already up at 4:07am and trying not to wake everyone up in the hotel room! We were out the door before 5am and in front of Maui Cyclery in Pa’ia shortly thereafter. Donnie rolled up just before 5:30am and we headed up Baldwin under the beautiful sunrise of East Maui and some light showers.
The first 3rd of the climb is an average of 5% for 14.3 miles to Sunrise Market which is the last place to get food. The three of us rode this section together at a fair tempo (1:36). This portion of the climb is my favorite riding through the sugar cane fields, small churches, cemeteries, ranches, eucalyptus trees and rodeo. After topping off our bottles we headed out of Sunrise Market and turned left onto State Hwy 377 then another left on Hwy 378. This is where the fun starts and what I would consider the 2nd segment of the climb and by far the toughest. Twenty-two switchbacks over 14.4 miles at an average of 7% will test you both physically and mentally. There is typically a second micro climate during this section with some rain or cloud cover which can quickly bring your core temperature down.
After turning the corner at the last switchback you get a little reprieve up to the pay gate at 7,000ft. Now is the time to focus and complete the task at hand. After filling our bottles for the third time (six times in total) and devouring the last of my food you embark on the final 10 miles and 3,000ft. to the summit. The views and terrain above 7,000ft. change dramatically to a lunar landscape and if the skies open up the view of the islands is truly breathtaking. The temperature began to rise into the upper 80’s which was welcome but with this change came the wind which made the final nine switchbacks that much more challenging. When I saw the 9,000ft. sign I got a second wind – only two miles to go. But if you ridden the volcano before you know the last 1,000ft. can be a real grind! With the final push to the top my brother and I had reached the famous Haleakala sign for the 3rd time – 10,023ft!
The decent of Haleakala requires a separate journal entry because it’s another ride in itself!
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For the 2015 season Team CLIF Bar Cycling has launched the United States of Criterium project (#CLIFUSoC) in partnership with Peloton magazine (pelotonmagazine.com). Build buzz and bring more attention to US criterium racing - that’s the goal - because US criterium racing is a special beast deserving of all the love it can muster. While there are criteriums all over the country worthy of a place in the USoC project, the reality of a domestic-elite squad’s relatively small budget forces TCB Cycling to pick and choose a handful of races to focus on for the project - and Saint Francis Tulsa Tough is a no-brainer. To so many folks who love the sport of cycling Tulsa Tough is American bike racing at its very finest – the type of racing that gets people excited and leaves kids pretending that they’re crit racers every time they hop on their bikes. Races like Tulsa Tough make US cycling better. Plain and simple.
The name’s spot on. Three days of racing in Tulsa, Oklahoma – and holy cow are they tough. Truth is, they could have called it Tulsa Fantastic and that would be just as accurate. Hard as the racing may be, the Team CLIF squad finds Tulsa Tough easy to love. From the moment we step off the plane, the race’s energy is upon us. Walking to baggage claim we pass over some sort of large banner that’s been laid out on the airport’s main walkway. To our delight, it’s a big Tulsa Tough invite with ‘WELCOME TO THE PARTY’ for all to see. Most cities don’t do this sorta stuff for bike races - but Tulsa does. And for fans of cycling it means an awful lot to see such support. Each season, the Tulsa Tough party is always one to remember – except, of course, for a portion of the fans on Cry Baby Hill who probably can’t remember it.
Fantastic racing isn’t the only thing about Tulsa Tough that gets TCB Cycling excited. Let’s talk host housing for a sec, because in Tulsa it’s as good as it gets. The Greenes and the Ellsworths put the team up and take such good care of everyone that it makes it hard to leave. When tropical storms kept some of us in town an extra night there was none of that flight-cancellation-despair that most bike racers know so well, because it simply meant we got to spend an extra night with the team hosts, playing Liars Dice and eating another tasty dinner with people who treat us like family.
Tulsa Tough turned 10 this year. The Blue Dome Criterium, the Brady Arts District Criterium and Cry Baby Hill draw massive, boisterous crowds that turn out to celebrate something that started as a bike race and has grown into so much more. On Friday and Saturday the men’s pro/1 races start at night, but Sunday’s race takes on the afternoon’s humid heat. It gets hot in Tulsa - and it’s a delightful wet heat. You know it’s hot outside when you can cool off in the porta-potties.
Back at the races, the energy starts pretty dang high on Friday night, and evening #1 ends with a fireworks display that shakes the Blue Dome District somewhere around 5-laps-to-go in the men’s pro/1 race as the teams set up for the finish. Saturday the thrill of it all continues – this year with a pre-race deluge that postponed the men’s pro/1 start, brought a rainbow, but didn’t seem to wash away any of the enthusiastic fans. And the craziness builds to a nutty crescendo on Sunday afternoon when the race climbs Cry Baby Hill and hooks a right at Climax Corner. There was a ‘Down By The Sea’ theme on Cry Baby this season, which meant men in grass skirts & coconut bras, intoxicated mermaids who didn’t look up to seducing much of anything, a good number of people who definitely had dressed up but whose outfits didn’t fit the theme, and other “colorful” riff-raff that will haunt my dreams for months to come. Much of the time Cry Baby Hill really is just a big-ass party with music & dancing & beverages (mostly going in, occasionally out, and quite often all around) – but like clockwork, every two minutes or so, 100 whistles sound, folks in ref shirts yell “MIND THE GAP,” then low and behold a bike race blasts by – or, rather, through - the madness. It’s crazy. But it’s also marvelous. And it’s a bike race in Oklahoma.
My trip home from Tulsa ended up being a complete cluster. Cancelled flight, so-so hotel, crazy-early departure followed by a 6-hour layover, squashed banana all over the laptop in my carry-on, and a bag that decided to keep on travelling. But the travel snafus didn’t faze me one bit. Perhaps Tulsa had made me tougher. One thing’s for certain – Saint Francis Tulsa Tough had made me, and a whole bunch of other people, very happy – because Tulsa Tough, in all its random infectious glory, had once again reminded us just how fantastic US criterium racing can be.
Story and Images by TCB Cycling's D. Seguin
When you set a late May race goal in early December, it almost doesn’t seem real. It’s easy to commit to something when it’s but a speck on the horizon. Let’s just say that things got VERY real at this year’s Dirty Kanza 200-considered by many to be the toughest one day gravel race in the United States-REAL quick.
We hit the first patch of prairie peanut butter mud at around mile 10 of the Dirty Kanza 200, and it just decimated the field. Riders bowling pinned through the rutted guck, bikes becoming immoveable, heavy objects. Some riders were lucky and somehow punched their way through, but most weren’t as lucky. And the even unluckier ones lost rear derailleurs and hangers, their day over before the hostilities even really began.
I knew that this pit of despair was going to smack us in the face with a hard dose of prairie pain, and it still caught me out and brought my bike to a gritty stand still, rear stays completely plugged. My stomach sank, and tightened at the thought of having to struggle this hard, this early in the race. My resolve became not so steely for a moment, but then I remembered why I was racing and that there was no such thing as quitting.
It wasn’t until I stumbled out of the sloppy slog through a really long, and vicious, mud pit around mile 85/90 that I realized I might have a good shot at the podium. I remember looking down on the mud snowshoe-esque boots I was wearing, as I stumbled between the ruts, and thinking that this was f#$!ing ridiculous. I’d been in “robot mode” until this point, plodding my way along in the top ten and getting really lucky that I hadn’t suffered a flat or even worse fate.
When I exited the last aid station in Cottonwood Falls at mile 150, I’m glad no one told me that I was 22 minutes down on Michael Sencenbaugh, the rider who’d been leading the race for MOST of the day, because it probably would’ve crushed my soul a bit, and undermined my resolve. For the record, I was plenty happy riding to 2nd place. Having my two previous years derailed by flat tires, I was riding high that I’d been mechanical free all day. And for full disclosure, I was not the fastest or strongest rider out there by any stretch of the imagination. When I caught Sencenbaugh with just two miles to go, and confirmed that he was indeed the leader, my first thought was “F#$@!!, it’s going to come down to a sprint. This is going to really, REALLY hurt!”
To have a 200 mile race settled in a drag race down the main boulevard lined with thousands of family, friends, locals, and my wife (who had flown out and surprised me), was an electrifying experience, and one that I will cherish forever. Chapeau to Michael for an amazing ride and for fighting till the bitter end. To take the win at the #decadeofdirty Dirty Kanza, which saw the race’s worst course conditions in its ten year history, is a true honor, and I’ve been humbled by the outpouring of love from the cycling community. This race is hard. It’s definitely the pinnacle of my race career so far, but life can be harder. In a way, you’re trying to honor that out there on the bike.
Coffee, food, bikes, beer, cocktails, ride, repeat and not necessarily in that order. Pedalers Fork is really a place that anyone can use, enjoy and make of what they will. It was created to have all of these things on a daily basis. Some people call it a club house and for others it’s just their favorite restaurant.
Pedalers Fork strives to put out the highest quality in all of their products. They work with local farms, small scale purveyors, craft breweries and artisan distilleries. In the coffee realm they are dedicated to responsible sourcing and finding unique coffee from Central / South America and Africa. Knowing the farms they are working with is a great pleasure that evolves throughout the year. The bike shop is no different and they are thrilled with the newest edition of their Pedalers Fork Super Corsa SL custom kit. The colors, materials and fit are all dialed and everyone knows who they are when they roll through their local roads and trails.
If you’re in Calabasas and you don't stop by then you are seriously missing out. And if you spend any time on two wheels it’s an absolute bucket list item.