Brothers in Arms: The Prestige Los Angeles

Los Angeles. The City of Angels. The southern California city is toasted worldwide for its luster and silver-screen charm. When travelling abroad as an American, it’s best to just say you’re from California; at least people know where that is and think they have a general idea of what you might be like.

But that’s west LA. On this day, we found ourselves in east Los Angeles – 20 or so miles from the LA that comes to mind for most who don’t know the area – and a much different place entirely.

Riders started the Prestige Los Angeles amidst burned out cars and sinking mobile homes at the Zorthian Ranch, an artist enclave formerly and current venue for who knows what, exactly, trickling into the San Gabriel Mountains in groups of four. Among the rust and dust, the Rapha Mobile Cycle Club’s pressed aluminium gleamed.

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The parcours was as daunting as Rapha has put upon North American Prestige riders: 125 miles and 14,000 feet of elevation gain. Lots of dirt, lots of heavy road that resists easy rolling. Of all that was expected of us, it was the heat and the sand that did the real damage.

In the hairdryer winds of mile 75, the salt lines formed on the black jersey in front of me drew a contour map. In each hour that passed, the contours deepened and spread with every climb, just as the pitches felt steeper as the day beat on.

One rider hardly noticed almost riding over a baby rattlesnake. It flailed upward in a juvenile strike. “You know the young ones are the most dangerous, don’t you?” someone said. “They can’t control their venom.” The double entendre didn’t seem to register.

There was a consensus reached in the middle of endeavor that this was one of the harder Prestige rides (formerly the Rapha Gentlemen’s Race) Rapha North America has hosted, though its well known that riders all have very short memories.

A team from San Francisco was forced to take turns pushing one of its riders up the lonely, sepia-bathed valley just before the final checkpoint. And the Biergarten team was determined to finish this, their second Prestige ride, within the cut off time.

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“We were nowhere near the cutoff time the first year,” Eric Hill said. “Last year in Colorado we hit the cutoff time but a guy got sick right after that, so we didn’t finish. We just really wanted to get it done this year.”

The team put their arms around Aaron Hulme, a rider with ship-hull thick shoulders, in the valley and pedaled on. “We just took turns rotating through, pushing through, and then the last climb, it was just a four-man train taking turns pushing him up the hill,” Hill said.

To accept help is to admit one needs it in the first place. There is vulnerability, trust, and humility. Ride long enough and we all come to know that moment. Sometimes you push, and sometimes you take the hand. To accept it and keep going is where the real strength of a cyclist lies.

For their troubles they, and the others who made the cutoff, were met with one final aid-station oasis in the scorched mountains and a shark-toothed, sandblasted profile for some 20 miles – one that saw most teams walking large sections through powder-soft dirt. In true Prestige spirit, the teams found strength in numbers.

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“It was really invigorating to look ahead and behind me to see my rad teammates — all sticking together, all yelling little yips of encouragement. Reaching the ‘summit’ and then just letting it go on the decent was … awesome,” said Bud Reeder, a rider in one of two Rapha women’s teams.

“I definitely remember screaming — like literally screaming  … ‘when does this end? where is the top?!’” Reeder’s teammate Lindsay Knight said. “That section of the Prestige was by far the dumbest thing I’ve ever ridden on 25s. By far.”

For some, it was the heat. For others, the hills. For one team, blame was pinned on a train that forced them to wait (maybe three minutes), and a line at In-N-Out burger that forced a second, also negligible, wait.

Back at the start/finish area the tired and hungry pedaled in, dusty, salty and thirsty. A party had mysteriously broken out on the grounds where people wandered through dressed up for a Kentucky Derby, while others meandered shirtless and aimless, seemingly late for a mid-summer music festival.

We were told to stick around for naked theatrical nymphs (and indeed some came later). A llama wandered through the party and stopped near the finish line while teams rode in, offering a gap-toothed grin for their arrival.

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Maybe this was LA, after all.


Finishing information for the 2015 Los Angeles Prestige:

Start Time Team Number of Riders finishing Full Route? Finish Time Elapsed Time
7:18 Rapha Women A 4 Yes 18:47 11:29
7:21 Rapha Women B 4 Yes 18:31 11:10
7:27 Biergarten 4 Yes 18:38 11:11
7:30 Yolo Velo 4 Yes 19:25 11:55
7:33 Focus Bikes 4 Yes 19:02 11:29
7:39 Eaton Designs Racing 4 Yes 16:53 9:14
7:44 Rapha Continental and Friends 4 Yes 18:22 10:38
7:45 Bike Effect 3 Yes 16:40 8:55
7:48 Wooly Mammoth 4 Yes 18:52 11:04
7:57 RCC Elite Team LA 3 Yes 18:18 10:21
8:00 Road Bike Action 4 Yes 15:57 7:57
7:51 Fusion Sport 4 Yes 18:28 10:37
7:00 She Wolf Attack Team 3 No 21:00 14:00
7:03 Raphanatics 1 No 17:27 10:24
7:06 Fireflies 4 No 17:58 10:52
7:09 vive la tarte 4 No 17:58 10:49
7:15 Machines for Freedom 4 No 17:53 10:38
7:36 Team Dynamo Donut 4 No 17:22 9:46
7:41 Union Cyclist 4 No 17:25 9:44
7:43 St. Raphaël 4 No 17:27 9:44