What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ Does Camp: CCSD-Style

I just wrapped the biggest week of riding in my life – 480km in 23 hours over 5 days – am I tired? You bet. But the week was a lot more than logging some big quality base miles… it was also about sharing a lot of laughs and making some new friends. And isn’t that what a great camp is really about?

As CCSD founder Rob Panzera said, maybe the best part of the week was in the evenings, the sharing some laughs, a few cold ones, and getting to know the other riders. You gotta like that attitude, because let’s face it, the things in life worth doing, are usually the most fun too. And what fun would that training be by yourself?

The descent into the Cleveland National Forest is best taken with a high degree of caution, but the hour+ long climb out is yours for the hammering… (although a cooler head will serve the legs better on the miles to follow.)

There wasn’t a person on the camp – including the three women – who doesn’t feel significantly defined by their bike. I’ve tried to explain to Mrs. Pez how the simple act of pedaling around (even better if it’s in a foreign land) is as essential to my own happiness as well, being married to Mrs. Pez. – but the words are a lot harder to find than the things I feel.

The odd part is that we were all here to do a massive amount of work, the load increasing each day, until we were all pretty much cooked by the end. (Some recovery days away from the bike will be met with few complaints, I suspect.) But those huge miles, long rides, not a ton of sleep, increasing fatigue and aches, … all of it somehow results in a deep feeling of pride, accomplishment, and success.

Seth Haskell and Rob grind out a hour’s worth of uphill in the Cleveland National Forest.

I wondered how my body would respond to the load – I haven’t ridden this much volume since my days as a bike messenger back in 1985. And while the “queen stage” was day #4 – a 140km 6+ hour ride that took us through the stunning Cleveland National Forest – my hardest day was the last one – when my legs simply had nothing left, my butt hurt so much that standing was actually easier than sitting, and those three hours just couldn’t end soon enough. But I’m still glad I manned up and rode ‘er in – it was worth it.

We first met CCSD founder Rob Panzera back in 2009 when he wanted to tell PEZ-readers about his training camps in San Diego. While most of North America is still suffering the back end of a too long winter, the southwest corner of the USA can usually boast sunny skies and temps in the mid-high 60’s. Couple that with a seemingly endless supply of roads, climbs and routes, and it’s pretty much all you need to book a flight, bust out of the deep freeze, and get the Spring fitness underway.

Back at Interbike, Rob suggested I come down for the camp, and since I’d never actually been to a camp specifically to train, I was soon counting the days through Nov, Dec, and Jan to get there.

The views from Mt. Palomar are pretty impressive – as they should be at 6000 feet.

While CCSD has been in operation for a few years now, and are expanding their offerings to include trips to Europe (Springs Classics, Tuscany, etc), they may be best known for their training camps. They’re about the only option for pretty serious training camps in the area at this time of year, and with almost half the guests returning for their 2, 3rd, even 4th camps, it’s clear CCSD provides an experience worth repeating. Rob has a rule that no returning client will be shut out of a trip if it’s too full – that’s a cool loyalty program.

The trips are geared to pretty serious riders who are here to train – build base and ride their bikes. But only about half the campers were actual racers, the rest were guys (and women) like me who like to keep a pretty high level of fitness (it’s more fun that way, right?) and do a few big events each year. The location in Fallbrook (about an hour north of San Diego), and the accommodations at the …let’s just say ‘very retro’ Rodeway Inn ensured few distractions from our collective purpose of long days in the bike, and rest in between.

At the opening night orientation meeting, it was pretty clear I was in the company of a bunch of type A bike riders – the majority aged between 40-60 years. A shout here to Ben – the youngest of the group at 17 years old. He’s a big kid with a bigger engine who rode in the front group each day, and drank sodas at dinner (not sure if the two are connected…). But most of us were appreciated the camaraderie as much as the training.

The uber-steep climb up Los Gatos Road is a novelty item at best. I was going so slow that the photog was able to simply walk/ trot alongside me to get these pics.

The camp was staffed up with 2 rolling support vehicles which supplied food, water and mechanical assistance along the way, a mechanic, soigneur (who gave a damn fine massage), plus two other on-bike guides. Suffice to say, the details were taken care of, so all we had to do was show up ready to ride at 8:00 AM each morning.

The riding was great – and not simply because it was 5 days completely devoted to … riding. Each morning started with a short briefing at 8:00 AM (precisely) in the motel parking lot, with Rob running over the day’s itinerary, roll call, and some insider tips on the day’s ride. Riders stocked up on bars, gels, bananas and drink mix, and although each ride is fully supported, we were encouraged to carry as much as we needed to be self-sufficient.

Lunches were generally taken on the road (bars, gels, bananas and light sandwiches), and then fortified post-ride at either the taco stand down the street, or the Italian deli across the road. Dinners were group affairs taken in the local restaurants (Mexican, Italian, American) and although not included in the price of the camp, costs were pretty reasonable, and more impacted by your choice and quantity of beverage than actual entrйe.

The general lack of rainfall allowed planners to forget about drains and bridges, and just build a bunch of low roads that can get wet when the rain does come down.

But the best part of each day was on the road:
Monday was a 60mile (100km) two-part day (40 miles + 20 miles) through the endlessly rolling hills around Fallbrook. The area is farming country, with fruit-laden citrus trees lining many of the roads (avocados are big too), and a mix of residential, industrial, and rural roads, lined with a gamut of picket, farm, and chainlink fences. There was a bit of traffic through the day, and the usual mix of friendly & unfriendly drivers. This was the day we all felt ‘fresh’, and were even tricked into thinking the fitness level was better then expected (at least I was).

The climb up Mt. Palomar is just the right grade for early season legs, and has enough switchbacks to never get boring.

Tuesday was a tougher day of 60 miles (again in two parts) that was also the only van transfer to the ride of the week that took in part of the climb up & and down Mt. Palomar. It’s a nice climb – used in the 2009 ToC, the top section we rode runs in the 5-6% range for about 4-5 miles, with lots of gentle switchbacks. Although our ride started in a cloudy 3C degrees, the sun shone brightly as we wound our way through the ponderosa pines to the snow-line at close to 6,142 ft (1,872 m). The descent off of East Grade road was a good one – like many of the descents we rode – wide sweeping turns, no brakes required (except for a couple of ice patches) perfect to work on the descending skills. After a brief regrouping at the drop sight, we set out to the Julian Pie Company across rolling farmland to the promise of tasty pie, in what seemed like the middle of nowhere.

The legs were tired after the longest two days I’d done in recent memory.

The Pacific Ocean from the pier at Oceanside – it looks even in February.

Wednesday was ‘rest day’, which meant a 40 mile easy ride to the Pacific Ocean at Oceanside, and lunch at the Longboard Cafй where every plate is more than you can eat. The pace was very easy, which amounted to about an hour longer in the saddle than I was good for, but watching people surf in sunny SoCal was worth it.

With slopes to 24% and 28%, it gets ugly on Los Gatos. But hey – Mike Minerva (MinervaDesignCyclingTeam.com) & I both made it.

Thursday was the big day – the Queen Stage: 80 miles (140km), a crazy 1km climb up the Los Gatos road ramped with sustained pitches of 24-28% – no lie (that’s some goofy shit!) And while I managed to clear the summit without tapping out, I shamelessly resorted to the ‘drunken paperboy’ to achieve my goal. Braggin’ rights never hurt so much.

Here’s the looking back down the climb we just did to the summit in Cleveland Forest.

That was followed some miles later by an hour+ climb through the peaceful serenity of the Cleveland National Forest and its 4-7% grades. The group really spread out here, and just past the summit, Rob & I got stopped as crews burned off scrub and brush along a stretch of road.

The wind whipped up thick white smoke that completely obscured the road ahead. We were finally allowed to proceed, following closely behind a state park’s vehicle. And while we were only pedaling at some 20kmh, here I was the most nervous all week, as the thick smoke completely surrounded us, 3-4 foot high flames just feet away threw marshmallow-roasting heat and the wind whipped burning embers across our pathway. I’d guess this passage was not more than a minute long, but not being able to see through the hot murk made it plenty uncomfortable.

We were rewarded with a 6 mile let-er-rip descent to Lake Elsinore, which then signaled my personal ‘death march’ portion of the week as we picked up the pace and hung on to Rob’s rear wheel as he burned off dead straight 6-7km past the lake, to a right turn and long climb back up to the plateau of Los Gatos (closing a long loop), then the clicking in for the final 25-30km return to home. My computer recorded 140kms and 6hr 16 minutes of pedal time. Ouch. The beers tasted especially good that night.

Lake Elsinore looks closer than it is, and thar’s some fine dee-scendin’ just ahead!

Friday was the only day that threatened rain, (and a few drops actually did fall), but amounted to squat as we rolled out for a really nice loop of 60km, a couple of mid-grade climbs that hurt that much more due to their placement at the end of the week. Not 100 yards into the ride I sprung a flat – my only for the week, and thankfully ex-pro Cody Stevenson (and CCSD ride leader) did one of the fastest tire changes I’ve seen. At this point I was happy to play the hapless guest and watch him work – then watch him work again as I sat on his wheel for the next few miles as we chased back to the group. You gotta love that kind of service.

Midway through the ride the group split, with those interested in perfecting their sprints joining Cody for his on-road, on-bike clinic in how the pros do it. After several years racing globally at the pro-continental level, Cody has a lot of insider experience, and his easy-going personality provided stories that just got better as the week went on.

The Best Part?
On a ride that lasts 5 + hours, it’s inevitable that you find yourself with someone you didn’t know before, and a week here offers plenty of chances to talk to a everyone. Once the initial “bike talk” gets done, I found the guests keen to start into topics that were much more interesting and revealed the real individuals here – all of it adding up to getting to know some pretty cool people, and the best part – making some new friends – the kind you might even meet for a non-bike weekend with the wives…

A big shout to Per Rosenkvist for this pic.

The camps are for pretty serious cyclists, and although not everyone was a racer, there were no beginners on the group. Like everyone of the 35 riders here, the week got progressively tougher, but the satisfaction of what I accomplished far outweighs the full-body ache & fatigue I felt at the end. And while the pain of that saddle has faded in the last few days, the benefits should get me off to a solid start for Spring and my ultimate first season goal of some big rides at the Giro. But more importantly, the memories will last a lifetime.

See the website and learn about Rob’s upcoming trips to the Ardennes, Tour of California, Italy and Le Tour, at: CCSD.com

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