Archive for May, 2017

Porto Soukhna-Sky Mall back road

 

As the expat community in Maadi and the CCC consequently shrinks, to gather a number of 5 riders at the CAC for this special was not too bad. We departed today at 5:30 am with nice weather and winds of up to 24 kmh predicted. Weather.com defined the wind as WNW, while Geoff looked into the Norwegian weather site which predicted N wind. The weather channel proved reliable because we had indeed a hell of a tail wind in most of the ride. The temperature hit only 31C, rather benign also, i.e. nearly ideal conditions for most of the ride.

A new rider Euan brought along started the ride with us, a triathlete. He was riding with sneakers and a bike he bought for a short period while he leaves the country. Surprisingly, Fritz joined from CAC after spending the night in Maadi. So off we went to the Ain Soukhna road and met David Gamal and Mostafa in the toll booth. Also in the toll booth a guy called Chris, acquainted with Geoff, showed up and rode with us until the next stop at the km 72 Restaurant. After struggling in the way there with the moderate pace we put, Euan’s buddy realized it was better to change the plan and go for a shorter ride. So the tally was of 7 in this early part of the ride, 6 of them going for the whole distance of 150 km.

on the Ain Soukhna Road. Photo by David G.

On the recently broadened and repaved Ain Soukhna Highway, the pace picked up on the ascent to former Jiffy Lube, and benefiting from the tail wind it became really fast after that. On the descent to the third exit at km 60 the Egyptians initiated a hammerfest. The leg from there to the restaurant at km 72 was the fastest I remember doing there, with up to 65 kmh over several portions. Surprisingly, nobody weakened. However, shortly before the stop David got a puncture, the only way to slow him down.

After the break, there were 3 teams of couples side by side at the front: the America’s team (Geoff and Luis) with the orange jersey, the Brexits (Fritz and Euan) with the red jersey, and the Egyptian team (David and Mostafa). We were again doing 50-55 kmh when Geoff hit a rock and somebody yelled flat tyre seconds later. We rapidly changed the tube of the back wheel, but it couldn’t retain any air. The second tube did, but when he was about to climb on the bike I heard a “what the ….?”  His front wheel was also flat! Bummer. That rock really caused damage. I gave him my contingent tube, but Oh: it has about 5 patches on (times are tough for the industry). Well, it fortunately held all the air. Time loss: 20’.

Where were we? Ah, yes, we were hammering it, let’s retake that. Soon the long descent to the Ain Soukhna toll booth started at a speed of 65 kmh. Then I saw Mostafa passing by like a rocket in Froome style, i.e. pedaling hard sitting on his frame. I had not seen that being done live before, only in TV during last year’s Tour de France by Chris Froome on his epic attack descending on the Pyrenees when he beat everybody. Well, these guys learn very fast. There was no way I was going to attempt to do something like this at this speed.

The usual break at the Ain Soukhna toll booth came. Time to decide which way to attack the Sky Mall ascent, as last November the main road was ripped up and closed. We agreed to go for the back road, only done before by Chris and Euan last year by accident as they both got lost the first time they rode the stage.

The big surprise came on the coastal road, when Euan stirred up the dust passing the police check point and started to give us a hard time. From there on he pulled hard and constantly. I was second wheel for long time and begged him to rotate, but the answer was: “give me 3 more minutes”. Well, he hardly gave us a chance to pull. Here is where we all were stunned and started to suspect something strange.

on the coastal road. Photo by David G.

The coastal road takes you now up into the mountains for 3 km or so and back again to the sea, a newly constructed bypass of a resort area with beaches, which is now closed. This new intermediate climb is going to hamper further Sky Mall records. As expected, the peloton disintegrated here and Mostafa cracked. I was losing some seconds to David and Geoff at the front, but had passed Euan, and thought that was the end of his show. How wrong I was: he came from behind, brought me to the front and continued leading, while we wished we could have had a calmer final approach to Porto Soukhna with the big climb. With this constellation we hit the wall.

The Sky Mall back road: an unwritten, not officially ridden climb, it bestows the cruel pain described so many times before by others for the traditional climb, but worse. It starts steep and gets steeper, unforgiving, with no easy segment to catch some air. Euan and David went to the front (I still couldn’t believe), Geoff stepped on his pedals and tried to follow, and I switched to survival mode and observed the development of the race from behind. The climb’s average is 10.5%, with long stretches of 15% that felt like 20% after the distance and the heat. In the middle of the climb when David and Euan were gone and only Geoff was on sight, something unexpected happened. Geoff hit a HR of 188 bpm and wisely gave himself a break to prevent a collapse. I passed by at 8 kmh, he then followed and we both climbed in zig-zag to make the inclination ride able.

After an endless ordeal the road connected to the traditional one and I suddenly recognized the familiar Sky Mall sign with the last very steep slope. I could finish the ride after David and Euan, later Geoff and Fritz appeared, but Mostafa gave up in the middle when we were descending, after the usual pictures at the top.

finishers from left: Fritz, Euan, Luis, David & Geoff

 

at the finish line in the shade

 

This was my ninth ride out of nine official rides to this place, and I don’t remember to have struggled so much in any of them on the Sky Mall climb. A new segment is defined for the back road and David Gamal is the K.O.M, Mabrouk my friend. Euan’s performance explosion has not been seen before. This reminded me of Tobin and Timo on the coastal road, but also climbing like Jun in the famous September 2012 maiden ride.

The way back was a pleasure to share with Fritz, Euan and Geoff our recollections of this memorable ride. Euan was put on trial but we couldn’t make him reveal his secret. We are still wondering what that sandwich he ate at the toll booth really contained…

Luis, 05/19/2017

Observatory Ride Spring 2017: Pat’s Farewell

Ridden April 7, 2017

We assembled at CAC with Observatory novices in our midst. Joined by two CCC pillars, Pat and JP, we paused for the ubiquitous ‘Classic Ride’ photo – flexing quads and sucking in bellies.

 

At once the Maadi riders rolled out to tackle the dogs on the industrial road before climbing the stairway to Horus, picking up Fritz on the Soukhna Road. The pace was good and we were rewarded by the comedy stylings of Pascal’s driver at the toll booth who managed to discourage some soldiers from shooting a short Scottish rider who had jumped on the back wheel of a truck in order to bypass the fence en route to the ‘café’.

Whilst we refueled we were joined by our Egyptian friends led by old favourite David Gamal. The peloton had bulged to 11 or so by the time we left the Toll Booth. For the first couple of Ks, and before our first flat, Pat sashayed through the group exchanging memories and farewells – we are all honored to have ridden with the Gentle Giant of Cairo cycling and to share this ride with him. Not far from our thoughts were absent friends, in particular our Presidente: Viva Vergara.

CCC Legend Pat Brennan leading the new generation for the last time

After the pleasantries, the pace took a firm turn up a notch as between the toll booth and the beginning of the climb the average did not dip below 30km/h. Everyone took their turn, nose to the wind, as the group was reduced to 9 riders in pursuit of the mythical observatory climb. As we left the Soukhna Road, veteran of the Observatory ride Pascal took charge leading the rookies on a winding road into the valley beyond the traces of civilization behind. We all stuck closely together under instruction to look out for the black at which point we ducked right and the KOM race was on. David set the early pace with an immediate attack and his silhouette would be a familiar sight for the remainder of the climb. Fritz did his best to put pressure on David and Marcel on Fritz in turn. However, that’s how the KOM podium finished: David, Fritz, Marcel followed by the rest of us. David gave a good go but Nick Cameron rests easy atop of the leaderboard – at time of going to press.

 

After taking in some excellent views and the glorious decent, it was time to pull back to the Soukhna road where we were met by the broom vehicle and more jokes from Pascal’s driver – at this point there was no sign of an argument between him and Le Mecanicien. At this point, the Aussie legs were strong and the Scottish legs gone so it was a long hard struggle back to Cairo. Fritz, Rick, David et al raced into the distance as Chris generously dropped back to drag the Scotsman’s bonking backside back to familiar surroundings. We ‘soon’ picked up Rick who was halted by the second flat of the day and made our way steadily back to the total for chipsy and pop.

 

 

It was then we felt the depth of Pascal’s generosity as he drove his broom wagon back up the Soukhna Road in search of the Lanterne Rouge. Although we were too proud to accept the offer we were all inspired by the gesture to finish the ride on the bike. We even managed to regroup with Fritz beyond the toll booth after he had stopped for what must’ve been a mammoth break, one he really didn’t need as his legs were too strong on this day.

As we rolled beyond Horus we could reflect on a great ride perfectly planned by Pascal even though we were all too traumatized for coffee at Greco. We could also look back at the great sense of comradery and achievement as well as great rides with Pat who will be missed. Thanks for miles and memories as many have extolled the virtue of sitting on your back wheel.

Euan Macaulay, 04/30/17