A very good blog friend of mine is down with a bum ankle so for her sake I won’t be coming out straight away with the goods from my group ride last night, read on…
The weather couldn’t have been better, a little brisk as temperature went, but the wind was mercifully more of a light breeze. The sun was glorious, and the group was huge – there had to be more than 25 of us, easily.
As with my first ride, I showed up very early and had an interesting conversation with another new guy – he was of the mind that cyclists were of a lesser cloth because the main group lacked the decency to wait for the slower folk like runners do – a fact that makes it difficult to enjoy cycling as much for him. Oh you know that comment wasn’t going to sit well with me – I could write a book on that attitude alone. I was surprisingly accommodating (at least it surprised me) when I simply said that the group wasn’t for everyone, and that attempting to keep up is what motivates me to become a better, stronger rider and left him to join my new friend Mike on a warm up – I don’t suppose I’ll ever understand that level of self-importance required to believe that the group (or even a part of it) should conform to a pace of my choosing – now that’s a grand and incredibly self-centered ego folks. In hindsight, I simply should have instructed him to pick his spot to drop off – stay to the back and drop with the first group that can’t keep up, but I’d feel a little odd in doing so as this was only my second ride with that group.
The ride started promptly at 6:02 with a huge group – at least 25 or so – and was a lot more spirited after the first mile which was a little slow at 18 mph. After that we kicked it up to 20, then 21.5 – 22 mph where we more or less stayed. I implemented four of my five bullet points from my preparation post yesterday, perfectly. The jacket stayed in the car and that helped out immensely, I warmed up but I never felt like I was too hot – a departure from two weeks ago. I also stayed on the big ring for all but the three steepest hills, and I didn’t look to see if I was cross chained once – truth be told, I really didn’t care, this ride was about finishing with the horses – and that turned out to be a wise decision. The breathing was tough when I was pulling and proved to be a problem until I caught myself – I was paired off with a horse from about mile 12 to 20 and rather than dropping back after 3/4’s of a mile I stayed with him for full mile pulls. Mike didn’t charge last night and I was thankful for that.
Getting to the strategy end of the ride, staying with the strong wheels, I noticed something last night that I’d missed on my last ride. There was a group that pulled and a group that was content with staying back allowing the others to pull – I was in the latter group two weeks ago and that’s why I found myself in a gap that I couldn’t bridge when I got dropped early in the ride. I’ll attribute most of picking this up to reading three blogs: The Blue Hen Cyclist, It’s All About The Legs and The Road To Cat 1. They’re racers, all of them, and when they post about races, they each get into intricate details about their strategies in handling breakaways and bridging gaps – armed with that information I was able to look at the little details… And the newest little nugget that I’d never considered: Watching what the guys at the front do, not just the guy in front of me. On that alone, I bridged several small gaps before they became insurmountable. While others were dropping off of the pack, I stayed right with the main group. As the miles ticked by, 4, 8, 12, 16… I didn’t wait on anyone to catch up if I was back – if somebody was allowing a little gap to form, I checked my nine and shot by. I did this, without realizing what I was doing, at least three crucial times.
By the 16th mile we had a tight little group of about 12-15 guys, we were maintaining a 21.5-22 mph pace, my legs were feeling great and it was the first time, at the half-way point, that I really knew I could make it. I was one happy camper – in fact, I felt a lot better than two weeks ago. All of that hard work was paying off. Mile 17: 23.5 mph, 18: 26 mph, 19: 23.5 mph, 20 @ 20 mph (hilly section) and 21 back up to 24 mph… Twelve to go and I was still feeling great – I had plenty of legs!
And then the wheels fell off. I made a very big mistake. We were down to about eight to ten guys at that point and I was pulling up a pretty steep incline after a nice descent. The group had been stopped up at an intersection not even a quarter-mile back and we were just starting to regroup. There was one rider ahead of me as the group caught up so I pulled for a bit to bridge the gap and then signaled and dropped back – right in the middle of the hill. I was taxed, but not gassed from the pull and climb and as I dropped behind the last guy in line, he started to drift back, one foot, then a meter…still climbing, and this is where I made my only mistake (that I know of) of the night; I hesitated. Instead of shooting by I waited for him to catch up and he didn’t. even. try. By the time another 10 seconds had gone by and I shot past the slower guy, the gap was already 20 meters and I was well out of the draft. I managed a 24 mph 22nd mile trying to catch back on and a 23 mph 23rd mile in the cross breeze and almost made it back twice, but in the end I couldn’t hold on any longer, the gap widened. I was off the back again – and this time I didn’t have anyone to latch on to. I was lost. I kept pushing as hard as I was able and kept the group in sight until the 27th mile when much to my surprise some other slower riders who’d cut the course short crossed my path so I lumped on with them. One of the stronger fellows in that group and I made a little distance together, but he wasn’t up for 20 mph so I slowed it down until I knew where I was and then took off with a couple of miles to go.
It wasn’t the finish that I’d hoped for, but I’m that much smarter for it today and I’ll have another shot in two weeks.
There are a couple of unexpected great results to report from the ride too. First, I didn’t hurt at all last night, not my shoulders, lower back or, ahem, my sit bones and I only experienced a mild tightening of my calf muscles twice (it was every couple of miles two weeks ago) – both times were during big pulls). The best though, is that I feel quite good today – a lot less leg soreness than I expected (none in the hamstrings) and only a mild soreness in my left shoulder… All of the miles lately are really paying off.