Tour De Corn
I distinctly remember thinking, “I know we’re going to regret this tail wind later”. We were having fun, having ridden 40ish miles at the time, but the heat and wind were both rising….
We had planned for several weeks to go down to East Prairie, Mo for the Tour de Corn. It’s a ride I had heard a lot about, and given the right conditions is a great ride for tandems.
With over 1,000 riders registered, I expected the start to be pretty congested but they had riders line up according to the route people were riding so it didn’t seem as bad as I expected. Since we were riding the 100 mile route, we ended up pretty close to the front, and even though we kind of loafed at the beginning talking with a couple of tandem teams, we didn’t feel like we were riding in a huge pack for very long.
There is no doubt, we were riding in the corner of the state where big farming is the way of life. That translates to pool table flat! Wheat, corn, soybeans, potatoes and even rice fields were on both sides of us most of the day.
It was so flat out there that we only climbed a total of 541 feet in 102 miles. Most of that was because we kissed the edge of the Mississippi river at one point and had to ride out of the little bit of the valley coming back.
We had heard that the Tour de Corn had some awesome rest stops, and that was mostly true.
Most of the rest stops were sponsored and manned by local church groups, and they put a lot of effort into it. I think we had huge, homemade cookies of nearly every variety at nearly every stop! One even had homemade protein bars that were wonderful!
And, it wouldn’t be the Tour de Corn without corn on the cob!
Talk about good stuff – sweet corn! Although I’ve gotta admit I’ve never had corn on the cob before 8:30 in the morning!
With a nice tailwind for the first 61 miles, we were rolling pretty fast. As we approached the first rest stop, Pam looked back and saw a pretty fast paceline ripping along behind us. When we’re on the tandem and rolling like that on some of these big rides, we have a tendency to pick up a lot of wheel suckers. That wouldn’t be so bad if we could rotate in and out and share pulls, but what usually happens is that we pull a big long while, then rotate to the back where we can’t match their accelerations or hit a hill and get dropped. Because of that, we’ve seen it as a challenge to not let them catch us for the past couple of years, so we dropped the hammer and really started flying by cyclists for a few minutes. I’m telling you, we dropped them good and it felt great!
As we were pulling into the 61 mile rest stop in the little town of Commerce, I felt just a twinge of a cramp in my right quad. By that time, it was starting to get hot…my Garmin was showing 95 degrees, and I sweat so much that it’s hard to stay ahead of it. I had been drinking Powerade at every stop, but when I saw cups of pickle juice at this one, I bit the bullet and drank one in addition to the Powerade. I hate that stuff, but I’ve got to admit it does help!
From that point, however, I think both of us would have been happy to have been done, and from the looks on the faces around us, so would most of the other riders. It was hot. The wind was in our face the rest of the day, and it just felt like it was sucking the life out of us. I’ve mentioned it before, but that tandem will just whip you in a strong wind. Here’s what it did to us on Saturday:
Splits 1, 2, 3, and half of split 4 were with the tail wind. The second half of 4, 5, 6, & 7 were into the wind.
By the time we turned into the wind, it was also interesting that nobody passed us the rest of the day. I guess we were delayed just enough at that 61 mile rest stop while Pam washed some of the road grime off and reapplied sunscreen that everyone faster than us got out ahead of us. It sure was strange. We passed several riders, but a lot of the time we felt like we were riding alone.
From that point on, we also noticed a definite lack of enthusiasm at the rest stops on the part of both the volunteers and riders. The heat was continuing to rise, and I heard at least three groups that were throwing in the towel at various points.
We enjoyed riding through the town of Charleston. The rest stop there was at the old Victorian house pictured above. Strangely, there were no volunteers. Cookies and Powerade were on the front porch along with bags for trash, but it was a help yourself kind of deal. As we left, though, the route took us through a pretty neat section of town filled with lots of cool looking old houses.
As we left town, I noticed our riding time and began thinking we had a shot at a 6 hour century. We had never ridden one that fast on the tandem, but as agonizingly slow as it seemed we were plodding into the wind it looked like it might be pretty tight. I switched my Garmin to different screen so I wouldn’t be focused on that goal, but that carrot did offer a reason to keep grinding out the miles. You can see from the splits above that we finished the ride in 6 hours and 21 seconds, but our actual Century Time was 5:53. Pretty cool!
We were looking for the final rest stop of the day at around 93 miles when Pam hollered, “Something’s poking my butt!” Sure enough, one of the struts on our rack had snapped and was sticking up. I forced it around toward the rear and we rattled on to the finish with it that way.
After the rack excitement, I failed to drink my last Powerade at that rest stop, and it came back to bite me. By that time, I had already downed 6 and I just couldn’t stomach the idea of one more. Well, wouldn’t you know it, we hadn’t ridden a mile when the cramps came back! Dang it anyway! I checked the thermometer…it read 105 at that point, but I think that was from heat radiating off the pavement. We went into survival mode, which consists of a standing pedal every few minutes. I’ve found that I’m prone to cramping on those long tandem rides anyway because the bulk of our riding is seated and it just keeps pulling those muscles the same way all day. My theory is that by standing, the muscle groups in my quads and hamstrings get used and pulled in different directions, which is what you want to do when you’re cramping. In any case, it worked for us.
We pulled into town at 2:45 to find the parking lots looking a lot more empty than when we left. We presumed that the bulk of the riders had ridden the shorter distances, and at that point we were kind of wishing we had as well!
Overall, it was a good ride. Pam did an awesome job stoking and hung in there like a trooper when things got kind of tough. I’m proud of our time and can’t say enough good things about the first several rest stops.
You can click the map above for the full GPS track.
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