Nicole Duke with Ryan Trebon pre-ride. Photo courtesy of Nicole Duke

Nicole Duke with Ryan Trebon pre-ride. Photo courtesy of Nicole Duke

We asked how Nicole Duke was training in the off-season a few weeks ago in our Women’s Wednesday column, and today she’s filling us in on how that training has been going.

by Nicole Duke

I admit, it’s a bit hard to write this as my brain is still foggy from the physical abuse I just put myself through.  I asked for it, wanted the challenge, and certainly got it.

This past weekend was the inaugural Spy Belgian Waffle Race/Ride event. How they talked me into riding (more like racing) 200K during my off-season is beyond me.  I mean, the blog posts and e-mails were so tempting with phases such as this: “The purpose of the Belgian Waffle Ride, however, is not to have fun. It is to crush and destroy people. More specifically, people like you, and people like me.”.

To tell you all the embarrassing truth, I have only ridden 100 miles once in my life and 124, never! I know you all say, “But you’re a professional! Surely you’ve ridden this far somewhat often.” And I say, “Hell no.”  I love my bike. I like the way it has become an extension of my body, maybe even my soul, but I don’t really want to sit on it for seven-plus hours at one time. The reason I was a downhiller and now cyclocrosser?Short races. Don’t get me wrong, I could spend all day at the bike park or on the mountain bike, but that is a different kind of play.

So again, why did I say yes? Because I’ve always said no before and in the past few years, I have been working to conquer all of my fears and weaknesses on the bike. I want to own it all.

The ride was fashioned around the spring classics.  The specifics are 124 miles with 9,200 feet of climbing set in the North County San Diego mountains, with most of the gnarly steep climbs starting after mile 90. Just when you are about to say, “That wasn’t too bad.” Which I did.

We started the morning at SPY headquarters with Belgian waffles, eggs, coffee and an announcement that all freeloading, cheating, or whining would be silenced by the issue of a purple card. If you receive one of these, you might as well take a different route home and skip  swashbuckling with the boys, this is the mark of shame. I hadn’t heard or seen another woman that was doing the ride. I was alone in this, or so I thought.  I had joined the s*^t  talking and made a toast the evening before, telling all the guys I would make them feel like baby girls, but of course it was all talk with not much to back it up. We started off on what was supposed to be a neutral 20 miles, and it was anything but. I could already feel the yo-yo effect from the 160 rider peloton and the stop-and-go from town riding was already testing my legs. I heard many mumble, “So much for that neutral start.”

We made it out of town and hit the first uphill dirt section, and this is where the group started to separate. My legs, already weakened by the pace, told me to slow my roll. I let the first group break off and I settled into a pack of 10-15 über-fit-looking dudes. I knew that I did not want to do this ride solo, my pace would slow, the wind would blow, and my mind would drift, making this horribly long ride even longer. I did everything I could to stay with a pack, but to also pace myself for the long haul.  I was doing this ride faster than I thought I would. It’s funny and amazing what the body can do when you need it to. I have been working on my climbing and was pleased to see and feel that my hard work was being rewarded on the climbs this day. There wasn’t much talking, something I’m not used to, as us women like to chat it up to pass the time. The boys were serious and I could sense an inner dialogue going through everyone’s heads.

Feed stations had all you needed, except for time. Everyone was in such a rush to get back on the bike that there was no time to drink, eat, pee, anything. Bottles and wrappers were flying,  just hurried gulps were taken from Coke cans. I had heard that some of the lead men couldn’t even stop to eat for fear they would be passed or left behind. It was mayhem and I felt for the volunteers who had to clean up behind our tornado. Again, all I knew was I did not want to ride alone!

The roads were gorgeous, I felt like I was riding in Europe. The geography in the hills of San Diego is breathtaking. Each road felt completely different, they had the course dialed. We rode through farmland, connected through dirt roads with water crossings, over gates, under canopies of trees, up one steep hill after another, and down twisting turning slaloming roads.

The day was warm and I could see the salt building up on my skin, a reminder to keep drinking and eating, often. Slowly I watched one after another succumb to cramping. Men were dropping like flies, those big fit muscles were using all they could to stay hydrated and the sun and wind was drawing it out of all of us. The last feed station, all anyone wanted were salt tablets and electrolytes.

Mile 90 came and I thought, well, this is hard but nothing too bad. 35 miles to go, it won’t get any worse. Well, I thought too soon.  Next thing I knew, the road had turned up a notch and it was one steep relentless climb after another. The course was now taunting and teasing us as it would lead up one hill only to do a u-turn at the top, and down and up another hill. The last big one and certainly the hardest of the ride came at around mile 110 on Double Peak Road, aptly named for sure. My knees already felt like they were going to explode and when they felt the torque of this hill, I could actually hear them screaming. I believe the grade was around 18%. I have never cramped from riding my bike and but today would be my first. I seized and had to stop, and this is when I discovered that I was not the only woman out there. She passed me with a whisper, “This is just dumb.”  I got back on my bike and learned something new … the paper boy.  It was so steep that I had to swerve side to side using the width of the road, taking seven minutes to get up a section that should have taken three.  Again, u-turn and then head back down. I then reverted back to my childhood car rides and asked, “Are we almost there?”

14 miles and half a dozen small climbs later, I crossed the line with a big smile on my face. I had a blast, tested the limits of my body, and had a deep satisfaction that I had accomplished another personal first and had done it well.  I am guessing that I finished mid-pack, and was happy with my company.  Thanks guys, you know who you are.

It felt foreign to even get off the bike, my body did not want to straighten and my legs didn’t want to walk. But I did, and I walked straight to get a massage, then beer, then food. We all sat around and told stories of the day and all agreed that the last climb was a bitch.

I feel lucky to have been part of such an epic event filled with such passion for the sport.  SPY raised over 5,000 dollars through this event to benefit EyeMobile for Children. No detail was left unturned, no expense spared, this was truly a top-notch pro event. SPY does it right, and supports a huge cycling community that everyone is proud to be a part of, especially me!