Cino rider Mandy Mohler pedals through a massive thunderstorm at the 2013 Cino Heroica

There are many takeaways from this year’s Cino Heroica—there are many stories yet to be told, and great memories that will not any time soon. One thing was clear on Sunday however, the real heroes of this year’s Cino were not on the podium.

For many years the organizers of the Cino Heroica have discussed what the ride might look like if we finally added some real Montana weather. Anyone who has spend a fall here knows that temperature swings, blazing sun, or random precipitation from torrential downpours to driving snow—are all possible in September in Montana. But in 7 years of organizing the event we’ve never see anything other than blue skies. To many, this year’s ride was exactly like that, 65 degrees at the start, and partial cloudy 70-85 degree weather throughout the weekend.  But the first half of the peleton that rolling into Smith Lake on Sunday may not even be aware of the inspired work going on hours behind them.

The lunch crew was packing up shop around 2:30pm, when the final 20 riders staggered in.  All manner of excuses lead people to the back of the pack, from broken deraileurs, advanced age, poor training, heavy smoking or overindulgence in cheese or vino—the trailing group were a sordid lot. By the time the final three were ready mount their bikes, the blue skies had given way to a heinous thunderstorm. The temperature had dropped significantly, the wind was cranking, and the rain was a complete downpour. They would be starting the climb at the start of the storm.

Anderw Elsen and team, about to set out into the climb, during the worst storm in Cino historyAndrew Elsen of Missoula, Montana was among the last group. Of advanced age himself and riding a 1933 Merlin bike, and not packing a rain coat, he had ever excuse to call it a day and hope in the truck. His response? “I’ve got this wool jersey with me if I get cold, and my train doesn’t leave until 7:00am tomorrow. I don’t care what time I arrive, I’ll finish.” We’re not completely sure how he fit the Superman suit under his tight Merlin jersey, but we know it was there.

At this point the last riders set out, the lunch crew finished packing the Land Rover and everyone began the climb up Brown’s Meadow’s Pass. One by one the last vehicles roll past stubborn Cino riders, cold, drenched, offering only a thumbs up and a refusal to pack it in.

About 3:30pm the storm turned ugly. Static lightning was seen and heard over-head jumping from from cloud to cloud, going on for what seemed like minutes. The rain got even harder, and the storm started mixing in rain within it. But again, there was no quit in the Cino riders. A few were seen huddling under trees, others feared the trees as lightning rods. But in the moments between danger they were all back on their seats cranking away.

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An hour or two later everyone was at Smith Lake, enjoying pizza from Two Dog Pizzeria and telling the tales of the day, and luckily there was enough wine left to aid those suffering.

Thanks so much to everyone who rode or volunteered, it was an amazing weekend. Cino riders are on the clock 363 days left to prepare for Cino Heroica 2014.