Last November, November 11, actually, a Saturday, in fact, I did my first Lion’s Bridge ride in Vienna, chronicled here.
Today, July 21, a Saturday, I did my second. The results were discouraging, even more so.
If you’re used to Donut Ride gangs of 50-60, or NOW Ride invasions of 100+, the Lion’s Bridge seems like a disappointment when you’re told it’s the hardest ride in Austria, because the peloton is always tiny. We started with twelve riders.
But you know what they say about quality over quantity? Well …
Beer pong, Euro style
Euro riding is different from SoCal riding, kind of the same way that Euro drinking is different from SoCal drinking. You see, in SoCal, the bars all close at one or two, whereas in Euroland they close at four, or, if you’re in Bratislava, at five, or, if you’re at a “private” club (anyone can enter), at seven.
I had firsthand experience of the devastation wreaked by Euro drinking at about 4:30 that morning. I was up, quaffing my first coffee and tip-tapping on my laptop when the door opened and in staggered my youngest son. He may weigh 140 pounds fully clothed and is hardly a heavy drinker. Nevertheless, he wound up at a bar called The Travel Shack with his Russian buddy Mischa.
(Lesson learned, perhaps: Do not drink with Russians.)
About the time that people call it quits in Santa Barbara, that is 1:00 AM, The Travel Shack and Mischa and all of Europe is just getting lubricated. As Woodrow told me later in the day, much later, groaning, at one point Mischa participated in the Travel Shack’s workman ritual where you don a hardhat, slam two shots, and the bartender beats you over the head with a riot baton.
Until, you know, the next day.
Because the next day is when the Euros groggily get out of bed and begin their day, often with a drink, whereas for us the next day is when the untrained Americans get out of bed, then get back in, then get back out, then lay on the floor and moan. For six hours.
Like I said, not too different from the way that Euros ride bikes in terms of intensity, duration, and the effect it has on the uninitiated.
Compare and contrast
Here is a handy-dandy checklist that lets you compare the Donut Ride with the Lion’s Bridge Ride.
- Donut: 48 miles, 4k elevation, 2:45 running time.
- Lion’s Bridge: Unsure of distance b/c no Strava/computer, unsure of elevation, 5 hours running time.
- Donut: 4 stops/regroups
- Lion’s Bridge: One 5-minute stop to refill your bottle.
- Donut: I’ve never been dropped from the ride.
- Lion’s Bridge: Barely survived last time, shelled 3.5 hours in today.
- Donut: 50-80 starters, 20-30-ish finishers.
- Lion’s Bridge: 12 starters, 4-6 finishers.
- Donut: Multiple preening opps.
- Lion’s Bridge: Multiple vomit opps.
- Donut: Hop in wankers welcome.
- Lion’s Bridge: Hop in wankers mercilessly shelled.
- Donut: Huge group to hide in.
- Lion’s Bridge: Nowhere to hide, everyone repeatedly has to take turns on the front.
- Donut: Windless.
- Lion’s Bridge: All wind, all the time.
- Donut: Long climbs.
- Lion’s Bridge: Short punchy climbs, over and over and over until you are a dribbling, babbling blibberblabber of punctured egobag with pus-dripping saddle sores.
How the stage unfolded
We started with twelve riders, one a triathlete who got dropped on the bike path. I stayed at the back while we blitzed along. No one said hello; everyone knew each other. From time to time someone would glance back to see who the new victim on the 35-pound bike was.
We got onto the main road at Klosterneuburg and they started rotating, two on the front, every five minutes or so. As the twosome pulling off would reach the back, I’d open a big space for them to slot in rather than sticking close, getting paired with someone, and having to take a pull.
For the first hour I did nothing and it was quite easy. One of the riders was some dude named Axel and he was wearing the leader’s jersey for the Transalpine Tour, a 7-day #fake #stagerace for #oldfarts that he and one of the other riders, a dude named Gunther, had just won in the 50+ category.
He was lean, tanned, shot full of veins, and obviously going to make it miserable. Another formidable looking dude in a yellow jersey was wearing ancient shorts that had scuff and tear marks on the thighs. Fashion is not a thing in Austria, and when you do the Lion’s Bridge ride, you quickly figure out why: Your Rapha ain’t gonna save yer ass when the hammer comes down.
In fact, there was a dude all clad in Rapha, and after me he was clearly the weakest rider. My sole goal was not to get dropped before he did.
After an hour we’d lost another rider and were at an even ten. I fell in next to some dude and we got to the front with a big side-tailwind. Moving up, pair by pair, we were bar to bar and I had maybe six inches between me and the edge of the road. It was nerve wracking enough thinking about pulling, but having to be alert every second every inch was completely draining.
I took a hard pull which was pretty chickenshit because I’d been sitting in, but so what?
After the second hour we turned up into some hills. They weren’t steep or long but the pace was hard and we’d been going a quick tempo from the very beginning. No one looked tired; everyone was chatting and laughing. No one had said a word to me.
I found myself on the front with Yellowshirt and we stayed there for much longer than was healthy or smart. This is the best reason of all not to ride with a power meter: If I’d had one I’d have quit a lot sooner. After a while it got real quiet and I was riding at threshold for at least 20 minutes, with big spikes.
Rapha dude finally came off and the climb started in earnest. Axel toyed with us, I struggled over fourth. Yellowshirt came up. “Where are you from?” he said in German.
“California,” I said.
We regrouped, and at three hours we stopped for a couple of minutes to fill our bottles. Everyone had two, some had three bottles. I had one and had been taking baby sips, fearful of running out.
We resumed and immediately hit another long climb; not steep but the pace was punishing. I struggled over in seventh and soft pedaled as the leaders regrouped. Finally we hit a long gradual downhill and they opened up a rotating single-file paceline. I quickly ran out of gears on my rental bike, and took one very long, fast pull.
At the next town we started up another super gradual incline and my legs just fucking fried. Day done. The group rode away and I was immediately covered in the dark cloak of “dropped.” The climb went on for another mile or so, I got over it and down into a village. As I tried to figure out where to go, Rapha dude came up. He was English.
“You know where we are?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “I thought you were one of the Austrians. I’ve lived here for almost two years and still don’t know these roads.”
“Fuck,” I said.
First class seat
We kind of figured out where to go and Nigel put it in the big ring and towed me all the way back to Vienna. To make matters better, it was all downhill. From the city limits to my apartment it took another hour due to traffic and confusion.
When I got home. I. Was. Tired and hungry for a pizza.
Ride stats: Five hours, one stop, and a giant, leaking, red-raw saddle sore.
It felt like I’d been out drinking all night with the Russians, which, come to think of it, would have been a far wiser choice.
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