Coffee, more specifically espresso, is part of cycling's culture. Stemming from the glory days, long before caffeinated energy gels, when European riders would stop in cafes for a quick coffee before, during, and after their ride, savvy cyclists have come to enjoy a single or a double shot of java before they head out with their buddies on a ride. Post-ride, another shot—or maybe a cappuccino—hits the spot.
Mid-ride coffee stops are especially prevalent in the winter months. What better way to warm up and bolster yourself for the miles to come. Plus, it is the offseason for road racing, so it's a good time to enjoy a more relaxed pace. D.C. cyclists have no shortage of tasty and quick options for getting caffeinated.
The National Capital Velo Club (NCVC) even hosts an Espresso Ride. While there are no mid-ride coffee stops during this 48-mile ride that starts and finishes in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., there's plenty of time before and after to fuel up or wind down with some quality espresso.
The ride is held every Sunday morning during the offseason, but just because it's during the offseason, that doesn't mean it's easy. The looped route has about 2,500 feet of climbing. It heads through Bethesda and Potomac, and, on the way back to Georgetown, it takes a quick detour through Great Falls Park before shadowing the Potomac River the rest of the way. The ride time with the group is generally between 2:15 and 2:30.
NCVC/UnitedHealthcare president Marc Koblentz, who oversees the club's membership of roughly 250 members, says the ride is very popular.
"The Espresso Ride is our best-attended and most well-known, regularly-scheduled winter training ride," Koblentz says of the route that begins and concludes at Dean & DeLuca, an upscale market on M Street in the heart of Georgetown. "It goes every Sunday from October to March, and often draws 50 or more riders."
RootsRated recently joined NCVC/UnitedHealthcare on the Espresso Ride. With temperatures nearly hitting 70 degrees in mid-December, about 50 riders were there. Most were kitted up in their red and white NCVC/UnitedHealthcare gear. As the ride wore on, however, many were furiously ripping off their arm and leg warmers during the brief stops built into the route.
The Espresso Ride is open to non-members, but generally those folks have been invited by another member. The club is not just a club; NCVC/UnitedHealthcare is a racing team. There is only one amateur racing team in the United States that's larger in terms of members, according to Koblentz.
Longtime club member and former president Myron Lehtman served as the ride leader when RootsRated joined the club for a ride. During a post-ride chat over coffee, he joked the club is a feeder team for the professional-level UnitedHealthcare squad. In reality, the teams are not connected other than by a shared sponsor.
At least one former NCVC/UnitedHealthcare member has risen to the UCI WorldTour, the highest level of road racing in the world. Joe Dombrowski, 24, currently rides for the Cannondale team. Dombrowski won the Tour of Utah this year and then rode in the Vuelta a Espana, a three-week race through Spain that sits alongside the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France as one of pro cycling's grand tours.
Current NCVC/UnitedHealthcare members often find themselves on podiums at all types of races, from road and cyclocross to time trials and mountain bike events. The club is a racing team, plain and simple.
"The focus of NCVC/UnitedHealthcare is on racing," Koblentz said. "We are a racing team, not a riding club. Having said that, not everyone races. Some prefer to focus on events like centuries, and some used to race but no longer do so. We don’t require members to race. But certainly, our focus is on racing."
The Espresso Ride fits nicely into that racing mentality for a few reasons. It gives riders a chance to get on their bikes at least once a week during the winter. It's also good for camaraderie, as riders tend to chat with one another — a sound that rivaled the harmonious click of derailleurs shifting and rear wheels spinning.
But there's also a competitive edge to the ride. The route has a few sprint points, during which the group turns it up to see who can reach the imaginary finish line first — typically a mailbox or a town line sign.
"It's gonna get a little spicy coming up," warned club member Mary Breed, alluding to one of the sprints. Breed won the 2014 USA Cycling Masters Road Nationals criterium in the 35-39 age group. Sure enough, the pace picked up considerably. A few riders missed the jump or could not keep pace and dropped back.
A regroup spot after the sprint allowed everyone to catch up and grab a quick bite of food or a few squirts from a water bottle before the ride pressed on.
And later, after the ride was over, cyclists lined up their bikes along a cobblestone walkway next to Dean & Deluca, went inside to order their coffees and maybe a croissant, and then sat around a table to talk about bikes.
Not a bad way to spend a Sunday during cycling's quiet season!