The Route Not Taken…

On Saturday our club ride schedule had three options, all starting in Ione. The first was only 21 miles to Sutter Creek and back; no one did that. The second was to Volcano and back, 45 miles, skipping the climb up Rams Horn Grade. No one did that either. The longest option was 65 miles (and 5,400 feet of climbing) to Pioneer and down to Jackson via Tabeaud Road; 6 riders (me included) took that option.

It often happens that our scheduled club ride gets modified depending on who shows up and how far they want to ride, or what the weather is like, or simply on a whim or spur-of-the-moment decision to do something different. So it isn’t too surprising that about 10 riders decided to add Rams Horn Grade before returning to Ione. That another 7 members decided to head for Cooks Station is unusual: that is a nice ride but requires doing about one mile on Highway 88 that has no shoulder and lots of traffic on a beautiful Saturday, which this day was. But these 7 had good reason; they were riding support for someone who certainly set two SBC records on Saturday; heaviest bike and longest alternate ride.

Ben is a young man who really likes to ride. And camp out. He started in Pittsburg (PA, not CA) and rode to Portland, then down the Pacific Coast and into Lodi, where he spent a few days with Russ and Sandy; SBC riders and friends of his parents back east. He showed up at the Ione start to begin his journey toward home, and Russ and Sandy were going to do the first 40 of those miles with him.

Ben and his Freightliner: Next Stop Denver!

Ben rides a touring bike which weighs at least 45 lbs. By contrast, our club riders’ bikes are mostly 16-20 lbs., with a few traditionalists mounting steel frames with old school leather saddles that weigh around 23 lbs. But even these behemoths are about half the weight of Ben’s Clydesdale. By the time Ben put all his gear into his panniers the total weight had to be approaching 75 lbs. This is about 2 1/2 times what our tandem weighs, and there are two of us pedaling! I do not think there has ever been a bike this heavy on a club ride. I seriously doubted I could even ride the thing from Ione to Sutter Creek, never mind across the country.

Ben was starting in Ione and heading to Denver (!). He was hoping to get over Carson Pass that same day and stop to camp somewhere on the east side of the pass. This is carrying the ‘alternate ride’ to an extreme level, and no one accompanied him over the Sierras.

I’ve done many ‘cycling tours’ but I am not a touring cyclist. I don’t use panniers or saddlebags to carry stuff; that is what the support van is for. I don’t camp out or cook; that is what hotels and restaurants are for. But Ben seemed pretty happy and relaxed and confident as he set out to continue his great adventure. And if I ever meet him on a ride when he is on a normal bike, it will be a real short meeting before he disappears up the road; anybody who can ride that beast over the Sierras and Rockies is going to drop me without breathing hard.




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“Recreational in nature..

…and intended for the enjoyment of all participants.” That description of Stockton Bicycle Club rides is in the informational paragraph that precedes our monthly ride schedule. It has been there for years, certainly for the 15 years I’ve been an SBC rider. In other words, a Stockton Bicycle Club ride is not a race. Until it is.

No question, some parts of nearly every SBC ride are ridden at a pretty furious pace. And we try to drop each other or out-sprint each other or get to the top of a climb ahead of somebody. When I went to see Doctor Testa (Max the Magician, who my readers have already met) he asked what kind of riding I did. I said I didn’t race, I did solo spins and club rides. “But that is a competition” he said, and he is 100% right.

Strava has taken this ‘not a race until it is’ aspect of our club rides to a new level. For non-cyclists, Strava is an ‘app’ that takes data from a GPS device like a Garmin or a smart phone and records the rider’s times on designated segments. Each segment has a leaderboard of the fastest times, and uphill segments reward the fastest with the title King (or Queen) of the Mountain (KoM). When you achieve a new personal best time on any segment, you are rewarded with a personal record (PR).

My friends think I’m a gadget and cycling data guy, and they are right. Power numbers, training zones, gradient of climbs, miles, calories, whatever, I’ve got numbers for them.  For some reason I haven’t yet joined the Strava bandwagon. But several of our club regulars have, and the quest for new PR’s or KoM’s or simply to move up the leaderboard on some segment provides new motivation to ride hard.

Yesterday’s club ride featured two Strava segments on the Paloma Road climb up to the water tank. This is a wonderful quiet road that is uphill for almost 5 miles. The gradient is not severe, and Stoker and I can do it on our CoMotion tandem without any problem.  It is possible to go slow and savor a road like this, but not if one is chasing Strava PR’s. So yesterday a few of us rode this road as a ‘race’.

Eric (Red Shoes) was out for Strava blood, and the Chief was very motivated since he had both the club president C2K and vice president (yours truly) in his sights for pacing purposes. Both Eric and the Chief set new PR’s. I didn’t have a PR to motivate me but I didn’t want to get too far behind Red Shoes, and I did stay ahead of the Chief and C2K .

The Chief sets PR's, 70 is the new 50.


Red Shoes Eric is another of those stories about a rider who lost weight (20 lbs.) and got strong. I used to be able to drop him on any climb, but last week climbing up Stoney Creek Road I simply could not match his pace. And yesterday it was the same. Don’t you just hate it when someone goes from trailing you to dropping you?

Actually I don’t. I think the friendly competition that occurs on our rides is a good thing as long as none of us takes it, or ourselves, too seriously. That is mostly the case. So ride on Red Shoes, I salute your achievement as I watch you disappear up the road!


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Power to the People…

The Editor goes 5 for 5

…or at least to The Editor.

A few years back The Editor (aka Don B.) started riding with the Stockton Bicycle Club. He was a strong rider on flat terrain but he was a big guy (read ‘overweight’) and couldn’t climb at all. After losing 30 lbs. over the course of a year of careful, disciplined eating and increased exercise including cycling, he is no longer a big guy. And last month he completed all five passes of the Death Ride in the Sierras;  129 miles and 15,000 feet of climbing. In one day! So he went from not being able to climb at all to climbing everything in sight.

The Editor plans to use the same disciplined approach that achieved all this to get even stronger.  And for some reason that I cannot remember, I agreed to loan him the most effective device for cyclists who want to improve, a power meter. Why I wish to help someone I already have difficulty keeping up with get even better is a good question, but I have done so.

Remember a few months back I wrote that speed and distance were not good ways to see how hard a ride is? I wrote that what mattered was how hard you rode, and for how long. Your heart rate gives you some idea of this, but a power meter measures you actual effort in watts. Wind, gradient, road surface and presence of other cyclists all affect your speed, but the power meter factors all that out. 250 watts might be 30 mph on flat ground with a big tail wind, or 4 mph laboring through the 20% sections of Pacific Grade; the effort is the same.

The Picture of Painful Progress

This information is invaluable for cycling improvement.  A power meter allows you to target the intensity of your training with precision and observe progress with objective data.  The photo is a sample of what one of my interval workouts looks like when the data is uploaded to a software program. Seeing your effort displayed in the diagram is satisfying and quite motivating; I want to finish the workout even when it hurts (and it does hurt) so I can see the pretty picture.

The technology used to be prohibitively expensive and only the most elite pros used it, but prices have come way down and now many enthusiastic amateurs can afford this valuable tool. I’ve been using one since 2005 and there is no question I have gone from ‘weak rider’ to ‘slightly less weak’ rider.

The Editor seems to be a numbers guy (he majored in Finance, I think he mentioned once). And we know he is disciplined and motivated. With this device  and the information it provides who knows what additional progress he can make? I may come to regret giving him tools and help he really doesn’t need, but I don’t think so. When he drops me at least I’ll know the power it took to do so. Accurately too!

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Hear No Evil..

Great on an airplane, a bad idea on the bike.


… and not much of anything else.

I tried to introduce myself to a new rider on Saturday’s club ride, but he couldn’t hear me. He was wearing ear buds.

Lot of riders do, although relatively few on Stockton Bicycle Club rides. Our club kind of frowns upon the practice. Some very strong and competent riders that I know listen to music while riding. But in my opinion doing so is a terrible idea. It is bad enough on solo rides, but on group rides, where we regularly communicate with each other regarding traffic (“Car Back!”) or road debris, doing so can actually put the entire group in danger. Wearing head phones makes it harder to hear the riders behind you and beside you, and makes you less aware of their position. And the music makes it harder to detect cars overtaking you.

Some riders tell me that it is ok, since they only listen with one ear. But I would like to meet the person who can hear an approaching logging truck while riding into a 20 mph head wind with one ear dialed into classic rock. Suppose I missed Stoker’s request to stand up, or get a drink, or stop for a wardrobe adjustment because I was listening to the Queen of the Night hit those impossible high notes? That would not be good for tandem team harmony.

Really, is cycling not exciting enough? Avoiding cars and potholes and glass a little too boring? Trying to keep up with the bunch and not get dropped so mundane that you need some audio input into your brain?

The quiet, beautiful hum of a well-tuned and lubricated drive train, the smooth swish of tires rolling over the tarmac, and the gasping of my breathing as I watch riders disappear up the road; that is plenty of music for me.

I almost always refrain from suggesting riders remove their ear buds. I don’t want to upset anyone. But if you are reading this and you regularly listen to tunes or books or whatever while riding, at least consider not doing so when other riders are around. You might even get to hear someone introduce himself and perhaps make a new friend.

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The Wheel Whisperer

Worth a 75 mile drive, one way.

When you take a wheel to a bike shop to be trued, most of the time the procedure is pretty basic. They put the wheel on a truing stand, spin it and look for side to side and up and down movement, pluck a few spokes and listen for differences in spoke tension, then tweak a few spokes until the wheel looks true, perhaps (or perhaps not) using a gauge to make sure the deviation is at a minimal level. The last time I had a wheel done this way it took the mechanic 5 minutes and cost $15.

That is one way. Then there is the Optimized Cycling Solutions way.

I have had some good and some very bad experiences with bicycle mechanics over the last 14 years. I can do lots of basic stuff myself, and even some not so basic stuff. When I take my bike to a mechanic, I expect them to know more than I do, which is not always the case. I expect them to do repairs correctly and if they do not know for sure what parts are compatible or how to do a procedure, they should research it on the internet or call the technical department of the company. I have done this myself, which is how I learned that a mechanic had replaced the bottom brackets on our tandem with incompatible parts. The FSA carbon cranks required FSA bottom brackets and not the Shimano ones the mechanic installed. The difference is only 1 mm, but that 1 mm is critical to allow room for the wave spring (which the mechanic omitted) to keep the crank from loosening up. It also makes it difficult to line up the drive train, which affects shifting. I learned this with a phone call to FSA after about 1,000 miles of sub par performance. So I had to search for another mechanic.

And I have found one. Someone who is knowledgeable and talented. Someone who is passionate about getting repairs done right, and who cares about my bike’s mechanical health and performance as much as I do. Mark Stemmy at Optimized Cycling Solutions is that mechanic. He is also the owner of what is now a one person operation, with plans to grow. I sure hope it happens.

Mark has done major service to three of my bikes this year, and I can say that all of them are working superbly. But what he does to wheels is really something. On Tuesday I took a set of Zipp 303′s to him for truing, and stayed to watch most of the process. I admit I did go have lunch; it took him over 2 hours to do the two wheels.

Symmetry is Beautiful


He starts by measuring the tension on every spoke. He puts the data into a spreadsheet which creates a diagram and computes averages and standard deviations. He adjusts the hubs, using a ‘swing test’ to measure resistance before and after adjustment. He measures the lateral and vertical deviations. And then the magic starts. Using the diagram and his talent, he starts the adjustment process. When he finishes he measures the tension for each spoke again, with the goal to have the spokes as close to the same tension as possible.

It is entirely possible for a wheel to be visually true, with wildly different spoke tension. This is not a good thing; the differences make broken spokes more likely, and make the wheels less stable. One spoke is working hard and its neighbor is getting a free ride. Mark measures everything and can document the improvements in ‘trueness’ and spoke tension variability.

And I can feel it on the road. Some of my friends are skeptical, but I am convinced that this process makes wheels faster; I estimate 1/4 to 1/3 mph faster. And they are much more stable, especially down hill. I’m never going to be really fast going down, but some people have noticed that this year I’m not getting as far behind as I used to, and I think it is because the wheels are more stable.

This process costs more than the basic bike shop procedure, $100 for two wheels, front and rear. For me the investment in an expensive set of wheels is well worth it; spokes and rims and hubs will last longer and perform better.

When my bikes need major service that I don’t know how to do, I’ll be making the drive to Cameron Park (150 miles round trip) to see the Wheel Whisperer, a talented, passionate and honest craftsman who is worth the trip.

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Adieu to France…

Another day, another col. Or 6.

Or perhaps ‘au revoir’ would be more accurate.

I have taken my bike to Europe on three occasions, and each time about a week before I left I had misgivings. Why was I taking my bike apart and putting it in a box, and then consigning it to luggage handlers and security agents, who could undo my careful packing job in less than 30 seconds? Why was I spending so much money to travel thousands of miles in the ‘comfort’ (purgatory is more like it) of coach seating on an eleven hour flight? California and the western United States have many scenic cycling roads that are much easier and less expensive to travel to, and there are plenty of domestic bicycle touring companies to help you discover them.


But once I arrive in Europe, all my misgivings fade away. To put it quite simply, European roads are better for cycling than American roads. And the roads on the Cevennes Tour, and the rides in Provence we did afterwards, were the best cycling roads I have ever enjoyed riding.

Arrows and Options: fun in every direction.


The number of wonderful cycling roads we rode was quite amazing. Little twisting roads that follow old animal paths and trails and footpaths. Roads that trace the contours of the land because they were built before modern equipment made it possible to change those contours. Those little roads pass through the scenic beauty of the French countryside, with rivers and gorges and mountains, and very old stone houses and bridges and  churches in every little village. At intersections signs with arrows point in different directions,  a guide to cycling adventure.

Going Down! The 'traffic' is our van; no other cars in sight.


Many of these roads are remarkably devoid of traffic. The climb up Mont Lozere took me 90 minutes, and I  encountered one car and one motorcycle. On the descent into Meyrueis I had the road to myself for 15 km, which was fortunate since there was a drenching rain falling for the first 10 of those km’s.

Which Way, Gerry?

Even when there was traffic (rarely on most of the roads of our tour) French drivers are very courteous to cyclists. Cars will follow you at a safe distance, not tailgating impatiently as seems to be common here. When it is safe they will pass quickly and smoothly and give you plenty of space. Cars coming from the opposite direction will even move over to give the passing car additional room. That almost never happens here. French drivers (Italians too) don’t just tolerate cyclists, they accept us as being a normal part of traffic. Some drivers here are like that, but it is certainly not a majority.

My friend Jack is a fine travelling companion, but he tends to be a ‘glass half empty’ person. While I gush about how great everything is, he will point out something that is less than perfect which I may have noticed but chose to ignore. But he agreed with my conclusion about these being the best roads he had ever ridden, and he has been more places cycling than I have. If he says that, you can be sure these roads are pretty special.

Quiet, hilly, twisting and occasionally very steep roads through scenic country. Courteous drivers. Great food. Maybe purgatory was worth it.

Stone bridge on the high plateau



Yellow flowers on the road to Mont Aigoual







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Bon Appetit!

Can't get started without an entree

As evidence that one can burn lots of calories riding a bicycle I submit the following: I did not gain any weight on my recent trip to France. But that wasn’t for lack of trying.

Cycling Languedoc kept us very well fed on the tour of the Cevennes Mountains. Every restaurant they chose for lunch or dinner was a delight. And when my friend Jack and I ventured out on our own during our second week of riding, I can say I was never disappointed by any meal.

Dinner in France seems to be an event not to be rushed. Except for the airport hotel in Marseilles I don’t think we ever completed an evening meal in less than 90 minutes, and 2 hours for dinner was not unusual.

Most evening meals began with an entrée (first course, in the U.S. we have corrupted this term to mean main course). There were usually two choices. Here are a couple of examples: salami, ham and pate salad, fish tartlet with greens, and gazpacho with crayfish.

What's on your 'plat'?


After the entrée comes the ‘plat’ (main course). Again, there were usually two choices and occasionally three. Fish, lamb, veal, and sometimes beef or pork or chicken were typical options. Every place we ate offered beautiful presentations of each dish, which as a hungry cyclist I proceeded to tear apart as politely but completely as possible. The French don’t seem to mind if you use bread to soak up the last of any delicious sauce that might be on you plate, and I certainly did so at every opportunity. Featured in the photos are scallops, veal with creamy mushroom sauce, salad with shaved parmesan and prosciutto, rack of lamb, couscous at a Moroccan restaurant, and more veal with a brown sauce.

After the ‘plat’ is was usually time for the cheese course. Sometimes a waiter would bring a huge selection cart with 10 to 20 options and you could select whatever you wanted. Other times a small plate with 3 or 4 selections was served to each diner. The cheese course  seems designed to prepare you for the finale: dessert!

I gave in to temptation. More than once.


I almost never eat dessert at home, but in France I ate it every day; sometimes twice, at lunch and dinner. A few examples: crème brulee, a dessert assortment, real ice cream with real whipped cream, and a creamy custard topped with chocolate sauce and a chestnut glaze.

So if you are off to France and not planning to be cycling 3 to 7 hours each day, be prepared add at least a couple of pounds you will want to lose when you get back to the U.S. But the French dining experience will be worth it!




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Losing it on Lozere

The Climb that Made Me Skip Lunch


To give you an idea of how bad I felt at the end of the ride, I skipped lunch. In France, where lunch was coq au vin, with some delicious first course and of course dessert. I couldn’t eat a thing.

I have succumbed to heat exhaustion twice before. Both times the symptoms were  the same; severe dizziness, feeling faint, loss of vision, gastro intestinal distress and nausea. So I  knew what was happening to me, which did not  make matters more pleasant but did give me some confidence that I was not going to die, despite how badly I felt.

Our fourth day of cycling in the Cevennes Mountains was only 50 miles, but featured 6,300 feet of climbing, with much of that coming over the last 20 miles. The climb up Mont Lozere via the Col du Pre de la Dame is a significant ascent. It is 9.5 miles long and climbs 3100 feet. Then after the descent there was another 1,000 foot climb over 4 miles to reach our hotel in Garde Guerin, one of the 10 most beautiful villages in France.

Garde Guerin, a Top 10 Beauty of a Village


On the previous day’s long ride I had a few leg cramps near the finish. So I drank lots of water, and took electrolytes to deal with what was turning out to be a very hot day with a little more humidity than I am used to. Too much water and way too many electrolytes, as it turned out.

I started the climb of Mont Lozere feeling fine. It really is a beautiful climb.  There are 12  switchbacks with signs displaying the number of the turn and its name. I felt pretty good for about 8 of those hairpin turns. But then I started to get tired, and hot. I kept drinking, and I found I was going much slower. My friend Jack caught up to me and went past and I didn’t even think of trying to stay with him.

I finally reached the summit, and even though I wasn’t feeling really strong I thought that the 10 mile descent before the last climb would cool me off and give me a chance to recover. But as soon as I started up the last climb I knew I had a problem. I was using my lowest gear on a climb that really wasn’t hard enough to need it. I was barely turning the pedals and making very slow progress toward the village at the top.

I finally got there, but when I stopped pedaling the heat exhaustion hit me hard. I didn’t faint, but I looked enough like I might do so that the tour guides were very worried. Then GI distress required  time in the WC. After that and splashing some cold water on my face and arms I was strong enough to skip lunch and head for my room, where I lay down for the next several hours doing nothing except sipping on a bottle of water. The tour guides checked on me a couple of times to make sure I was ok, or at least not in need of medical attention.

I recovered enough to eat dinner. When I sent an e mail to my spouse/Stoker that evening, I just said that I had a few cramps but nothing serious. Why worry her with the truth? And the story has a happy ending; I was fine on the bike the next day and for the rest of the trip. I felt great climbing Mont Ventoux a week later, after being completely wrecked on Mont Lozere. Before the trip I would have expected it to be the other way around.

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Eat to Ride….

Rose Wine means this is Lunch


Or ride to eat?

Cyclists who ‘eat to ride’ consume energy bars, goo’s, gels, protein powders and the like. They want to get easily digestible energy, fluid and electrolytes into their system as efficiently as possible.

I am more of a ‘ride to eat’ type. I pay attention to hydration and electrolyte balance (not always successfully, but that is another blog post). But when it comes to eating, I prefer ‘real’ food. And Cycling Languedoc’s tour of the Cevennes mountains provided plenty of that. Since we were in France there was plenty of opportunity to eat well, and we certainly did.

On days when we could finish riding by 1:30 or so, we enjoyed sit down lunches in restaurants. Entrée (1st course), Plat (main course), and maybe cheese and/or dessert. Repeat that evening at dinner. When the rides were longer we enjoyed picnic lunches; sandwiches, couscous, fruit, and pastries.

Fuel for the next 50 km

When pizza was available for lunch after a shorter ride, it was our first choice. We weren’t in Italy, but southern France has lots of places making delicious pizza and we took advantage of them whenever possible.

Hungry After the Ride? Not For Long!

On Saturday, we were taking the day off of the bike to transfer to Nimes. We went to a very special place for a memorable lunch. We dined outside in a shaded courtyard with a view of the surrounding countryside, and I had a dish I will not soon forget: cuttlefish cooked on a wooden plank, served on top of decadent risotto. Stoker and I have been fortunate to see cuttlefish while snorkeling in Mexico and Belize, and now I got a chance to find out what they taste like. Delicious!

That pretty much covers the lunches on the Cycling Languedoc Tour of the Cevennes Mountains. Dinner will be another post!

Cuttlefish on Risotto: Unforgettably Delicious Lunch









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Counting Cols

Count the Cols, Win a Prize!


‘Col’ is a French word and means a pass between two mountain peaks or a gap in a ridge. This makes it distinct from a ‘Mont’ (as in Mont Ventoux) or an ‘Alpe’ (as in l’ Alpe du Huez). I am not sure what the difference among the three is, since they all involve riding uphill to a summit.

At breakfast the morning of the fifth day of the Cevennes Tour, our guide Gerry reminded us that after the 4-mile descent from our hotel to the lake below, we would be riding another 71 miles and climbing 7,100 feet over 5 cols. But after reflecting a bit, he allowed that maybe it was actually 6 cols, or perhaps even 7, depending on how they were counted. By the end of the day my legs were pretty sure there were at least 7.

If I consider my top ten days on the bike for best scenery and most entertaining roads, I think at least 4 of them occurred on the Cevennes Tour. And this day would prove to be top 5 material.

A Welcome Sight After 40 km of Mostly Uphill Road

After the descent the next 40 km were almost all uphill. The first 10 km were quite gentle, but then the gradient got steeper and we crossed the Col des Tribes and the Col de Finiels  over Mount Lozere. A steep descent led to the climb to the Col des Faisses, and then another drop led to the Mystery Col and the summit where we would enjoy a picnic lunch. Although I didn’t get this col’s name or remember any sign, it was actually the steepest and hardest climb of the day, or perhaps I was just getting hungry.


We lunched under a tree at the summit with a beautiful view. Unfortunately throughout the repast I had this road sign in view, and it doesn’t need any translation. This certainly did not help my digestion.

Elevator Going Down!


But the descent, although narrow with some very steep switchbacks, did not cause me any problems; there was no traffic that I remember and no wind at all. There were, however, some clouds making an appearance, foreshadowing conditions to come.

On to the final climb, the Col de Perjuret. In the 1960 Tour de France, a talented young French rider Roger Riviere missed a turn while descending the steep side of the Col, which we were (fortunately) climbing. He went flying off the road, breaking his back and ending his career before it had even started. I paused on the climb to get a picture of the monument. A sobering testament to how close even expert riders are to disaster.

As we continued up the climb, the clouds started to thicken, and there were a few rumbles of thunder and flashes of lightning, so I did not stop for a picture at the Col de Perjuret sign at the summit, wanting to get down to Meyrueis before the rain. A futile effort;

Tribute to a Fallen Racer

as soon as I started down it began to rain hard, and there were hail stones on the road, although none hit me. I went very slowly in order to avoid Riviere’s fate, and I arrived at the bottom soaking wet and riding a filthy bike, but safe.

Despite the wet finish, this day’s ride is certainly in my top 5 most wonderful days on the bike. Quiet, small twisting roads, lots of climbing, a bit of tragic Tour history, and the fantastic scenery that seems to be standard every day of the Cevennes Tour. And 5,6, or 7 cols, depending on how you count. I’m taking credit for 7!






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    Rich Freggiaro

    Richard Freggiaro is a Stockton area native who grew up on his family’s farm. After an nine year detour to Davis for College, Washington DC for work, and Iowa for graduate school, he returned to San Joaquin County and spent the next quarter century farming with his father. He has been married to Diane for 31 years. He is (mostly) retired which leaves him plenty of time to ride each of his 4 bikes, and he is an enthusiastic and passionate cyclist. Read Full
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