My buddy Mike is up north till Monday so that meant I was on my own… well, not really, but I had no reason to take it easy or stick around till we split off for our shortcut (we knock off just shy of three miles from the 33 mile route the “A” group does) so I was looking at this club ride as playtime.
Now, on club rides I’m almost always conflicted: On one hand I want to stick around till the Cat. 3 race starts (23-25 miles into the ride). On the other, for two full seasons I have struggled to keep up with that group, I worked on strategy and my fitness to do it… I would hide in the back after twelve miles or so and I took succeeding at staying on till the race that breaks out over the last eight miles very seriously… Until this year.
For March through May I chose to cut twelve miles off of my ride so my wife could run with a friend of ours and prep for a triathlon. The last seven or eight miles were ridden alone every Tuesday night and I had some time to think about a few things. My attitude changed a little bit over those couple of months…
I changed my mind about doing whatever I could to hang on, about hiding at the back, even for a few miles, so I could be ready for the tough sections. To put it simply, clinging to the back lost its appeal, mainly because I wasn’t really getting much faster. This year I started attacking the group early, trying to stay with the big dogs and taking more turns up front. This has made the ride a lot more fun but at the same time, meant that I cook myself early, twelve to fifteen miles into the ride, but I didn’t mind it so much.
Well last night was interesting… I started up with a big ten mile warm up (usually I’m between five and seven). After, the club gathered we were a smaller group than normal that had a lot of horses and fewer of the guys like me – fast, but not quite fast enough to keep up when things really get going. I took my pulls up front, and they were good, but when I went to fall back, the guys who hide would open a hole for me only three or four guys from the front… This is trouble for me. I can pull, hard, but when I don’t have six guys from the front to rest and recharge, I spend too much time close to the red and I burn out.
Even so, I figured what the heck, you don’t get faster at the back so I’ll pull till I’m cooked and drop off the back. When holes opened up, I filled them and did more than my share pulling the group. A lot more than my share. Sure enough, I got to a point where I started to get angry when the hole opened just two guys from the front.
For those not in the know, the farther back one rides in a tight group, the better the draft is on non-windy rides (crosswinds make this reality a lot trickier). The better the draft is, the easier it is to maintain speeds over 25 mph for long periods of time. The closer to the front you get, the harder one has to work and at those speeds I start flirting with the red line in third position. In second I’m working and up front I’m at the line for a half mile and in the red for another half before I have to fall back and recharge. If I don’t have five or six positions to recoup I can’t recharge enough to keep it up… I simply spend too much time draining the battery.
So last night I drained it and fell off the back but before the group was 1/4 mile down the road I looked at the backs of several wheel suckers who’d managed to stay on without doing a thing to help… I decided to try to get back so I dropped the hammer, trying to close the gap. I closed it to maybe an eight of a mile but it was just too much and I didn’t have enough in the tank to do it so I resolved to ride the rest at a decent pace and let them go.
Within a half mile a group of four, three guys and Carla, our only regular fast woman, caught me. I latched on and we worked quite well together, holding a decent pace for the next twelve or thirteen miles. We chose the long route while a couple of other stragglers that we’d caught from the main group chose the shorter one… And that’s when the wheel sucking started up again. I was the horse and Carla was a close second, followed by two other guys (the last one, humorously enough, on a Pinarello Rokh 30.12 [it’s a $4,000 race bike]). Sure enough, I watched the guy on the Pinarello, as soon as he got up to second position of the four or five of us, tootle off to the back – and on the rare occasion that he did pull, it was for about 20 seconds.
Now this has never bugged me before (mainly because I’ve done it a time or twenty, though not so egregiously, especially in a small group) but last night I was fit to be tied. To add fuel to my fire, we caught my favorite Tri-bike guy and he managed to hold on for quite a few miles (again, middle of the pack, even the main group when we were all together, on the aero bars). I tried to bury him but the rest of the group couldn’t hold on when I made the move(s). We did lose him finally, on a section of hills. Now, before the shrieking begins, I value my safety before someone else’s feelings. You get crashed then tell me how wrong I am.
The rest of the ride was dead into the wind and we ended up with a 20.5 mph average. Not bad but not all that great either (if all four of us had been working I think we could have pulled off 21, easy).
So, I’m explaining this whole thing to Mrs. Bgddy last night and she ever so gently (chuckle) reminds me that not only do I love other cyclists looking to me to be the horse, I’m happy to be that guy, so she had a tough time understanding why I was mildly ticked off… Ladies and gentlemen, when she’s right, she’s right.
In the end, it’s Tri-bike guy and the fact that I burned out… Combined with a little anger at myself for not falling back to get the respite I needed. Probably the latter most of all. Funny how that works, eh?