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Naomi  The Biking Life

 by: Naomi Bloom  5/1/2003

4 Guys, 6 Decades, 3 (or more) Doubles

The very idea of doing a double century boggles my mind. Why would anyone want to spend 200 miles in the saddle?

So I was amazed to learn that four fellows I often ride with in Almaden Cycle Touring Club are out to do not just one double this season, but at least three. Yep, all four are going for the 2003 California Triple Crown.

They're not the only riders I know who've signed up for the crown. But these four have something else in common with me besides cycling. They're all (except one) over 60.

Chuck Bramwell, Executive Director of the Triple Crown organization, never kept track of riders' ages until last year, when only 77 out of 363 "winners" were over 60. More proof that these four guys deserve our admiration:

John Mazzella, IBM lifer no more

John Mazzella

At 58, John is the "baby" of the group. One reason he took early retirement from IBM a few years ago was for more cycling time. As of today he's the only one of the four who's already finished his three doubles.

In February John did the Butterfield Double Century on the Southern California coast with fellow Triple Crowner Paul Greene. "We finished in the dark," John remembers.

Then at the end of March he joined Paul and Ken Koach on the Solvang Double Century. Not only was this ride a mere 193 miles, but the guys caught some terrific tailwinds on the way down the coast from Morro Bay.

John's third double was Hemet with Paul and Ray Low. In spite of the beastly South Central Valley headwinds, he beat the other two in official time at 13:56, four minutes faster than Paul, five faster than Ray.

"I sure don't want to do any more," he says. "It's not that pleasurable. I had to work hard to keep up with the other guys." But he was grateful for the experience his age has given him. "You're better prepared for these rides when you're older," he said. "You're more prepared to sit in the saddle and go for it." Younger folks, he feels, tend to try to beat each other to the finish and burn out too soon.

Ray Low, Senior Rider

Ray Low

The oldest of the four, Ray is 66, "the oldest crazy fool around," he admits. He also confesses he's doing the Triple Crown just to get the jersey. "I'm a jersey collector. That's my motivation."

Ray got started later than the other three this year. So far he's only done Hemet. "I got a jersey for that too!" And he feels it wasn't that bad. "I didn't get all beat up. Paul, John and I worked as a team. We stuck together and looked out for each other."

"I look for the easy doubles, the ones with less climbing," he says. "Hemet seemed the easiest. The Davis Double Century is my next. It's the most popular, and besides I know most of the roads already. I'm looking forward to doing it with Paul and Ken. You can't do a double by yourself. It's tough. And gets tougher by the hour. You've got to get in a paceline and rotate."

That said, Ray will be on his own in June, when he'll do the Los Angeles Wheelmen Grand Tour in Malibu.

Ken Koach, Working Man

"Just" 61, Ken is the only one of the four who isn't retired. "I wish I was retired," he laments. "I don't get to do the training I'd like to do during the week." Instead, he spends his weekdays as administrator for the Bill Wilson Center for homeless kids in San Jose.

Ken's 60th birthday present to himself last year was to do the Triple Crown. He rode Solvang, Davis and the Eastern Sierra Double Century. He struggled on that one, particularly climbing Sagehen, where he came close to sagging out at the water stop halfway up. But he got back on the bike and once over the summit, got his second wind.

This year his goal, along with Paul's, is the Thousand Mile Club. (That's five -- count them, 5 -- double centuries.) "That's if my wife will let me out that much," says Ken. She's proud of me even if she doesn't like me going away on weekends. She knows how much I love cycling."

So far this year Ken's only finished Solvang with John and Paul. "Together we did it in under 13 hours. It was a perfect day. The winds were great. It made it a neat experience to do 200 miles."

Next he'll tackle Davis with Ray and Paul. Like them, he's not too concerned about it. "It's not much of a problem," he says. "There are supposedly two climbs but last year I didn't even know I was doing Cardiac. Davis is a fun ride, kind of social -- as long as it doesn't get too hot."

Then it's the Eastern Sierra ride again. "I want to kick that Sagehen in the butt," he vows.

Finally, he'll do the Knoxville Fall Classic in September with Paul and the Death Valley Double with some of the "youngsters" from ACTC in October.

Like his compatriots, Ken feels age is an important factor in doing doubles. "These youngsters beat themselves up," he observes. "They don't have the endurance and discipline to pace themselves. It's surprising how many younger people we pass because they blow up long before the finish."

Paul Greene, Lockheed to Transamerica

Paul Greene

"I don't mind saying I am 63 years old," admits six-foot-five Paul Green, "but I don't feel like it!"

A former aerospace engineer who retired from Lockheed seven years ago, Paul started riding in 1997 when he signed up for the ACTC Academy.

Until last year Paul had never ridden more than a century. Then he did the Mt. Hamilton Challenge, followed by a 4,000-mile ride across the US, with his wife Carol driving sag. He claims he had it easier than the group tours, since "I could stop wherever, whenever I wanted. I didn't have to ride in the rain if I didn't feel like it."

When Ken and John said they would not only do some doubles this year, but would try for the Triple Crown, Paul decided to join them. He did Butterfield with John "just to see if I could do it." Then he did Hemet with John and Ray, and Solvang with John and Ken.

On all three he felt he could have gone a few more miles. "I don't really feel dead tired at the end," he says. "Hemet was the most tiring. There was lots of wind. And since there wasn't a mass start, there were no long pacelines."

Somewhere along the way he started thinking about going for the Thousand Mile Club. But he's not sure he'll complete the fifth double. "The only thing you get for 1000 miles is a 'Thousand Mile Club' logo on the customized jersey, which costs extra." But he figures he'll probably do it.

Carol Greene is confident her husband will go for it. "I encouraged him to do the five doubles," she says. "He wasn't sure he could do the first one, but I said, 'Oh, come on.' So he said maybe three this year and five next year. I said, if you do five this year, you'll save 600 miles over all."

Paul is taking a break from doubles to do Ride the Rockies in June and the Climb to Kaiser in July. He won't get back to doubles until September, when he and Ken plan to do Knoxville.

Getting older means getting better for Paul, too. "I wasn't in shape when I was younger," he muses. "I used to be amazed at people who could get to the top of Zayante Road." But he learned from fellow riders that "it's mostly mental. I get to 100 miles and I say, hey, I'm already halfway through.'"

"Paul is an incredible athlete," says John Mazzella. "He's big, with a lot of weight to haul up the hills. But he has tremendous strength. He just keeps going."

"Paul is my inspiration in cycling," adds Ken Koach. "When I first started riding about five years ago he was my role model. He's older than I am and I figure as long as he can do it, I know I can do it."

All four of these avid riders know how to pick their challenges. As Ken put it, "There are some doubles I wouldn't even think about doing. I like to enjoy doing these rides. I want to have fun."

Yeah, guys, lotsa fun. All the sun, rain, scenery, tailwinds, headwinds, climbs and sore butts in the world. You go ahead and have fun. I'll just stay here with my jaw scraping the floor.

Naomi can be reached at naomibloom@earthlink.net

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