It’s hot. Not Nova Scotia in August hot, it’s hot. It’s “I have to rehydrate after the five mile warm-up” hot. It’s “let’s get in the shade till we start because the sun hurts” hot – and the humidity is pegged. It’s “I have an advantage” hot. Oh, and because it’s Tuesday, it’s windy.
I formed a game plan as I “warmed up”, which line I wanted to be in, where I’d switch lines to get the most protection, etc.. And threw it right out the window five seconds after we started – I was lead out and on the wrong side. “So be it”, I thought. “I’m working tonight”…
After our mile-and-a-half pull we turned north with the wind at our back. My legs were protesting quite a bit during the warm-up so I was nervous about the start. All worries faded away as the pace passed 27 miles an hour on the six mile stretch. I was pulling again before we got to the end. Then as I faded back after, a hole opened up way to early, only two riders back. I took it – you never get stronger at the back.
A mile north and then the suck started. A sharp left had us almost dead into a 20 mph wind and we were north of 21 mph. All of a sudden the pulls went from a mile plus to a third of a mile and I didn’t miss a turn. Surprisingly, ecstatically, I realized I was having to let up quite often so I didn’t half-wheel the guy next to me… “When did this happen”, I wondered to my melon committee. To my surprise one of the junior members piped up, “you never get stronger at the back, jerk”. It is rare when the committee gets it.
Over the course if the next seven miles I took way too many turns up front and when we got to the hills people started burning up and the group got chippy. A few of my normal buds had fallen off, leaving only Mike and I in the group. I hollered up to Mike that I was dropping off with the others… We started this practice last year – you’ve got the categorized racers (3&4), a world ranked duathlete/triathlete and a few other racers whose rank I don’t know – when they get to culling the herd, we used to hang on until we were individually cooked then finish the ride alone. Several of us talked about watching out for one another, dropping off together so we could finish the ride faster and with a tight group of friends. We’re darn near down to a science at this point and it’s been much more enjoyable… Roll out trains, perfect echelons and a sprint to the finish every week.
We formed up going up a pretty fair little hill and once everybody had a few seconds to recover, we got after it. Mike and I are the strongest (and when did that happen) so we do the lion’s share of the pulling and I made sure, with the exception of the steepest hills which are “every man for himself”, to relax a little bit on the climbs so we could stay together and when we did split we regrouped before or during each descent. Once we got into town we picked up a tandem, a father and his daughter, so Mike and I got a better chance to recover… We used that to pick up the pace. I can’t ever remember working so hard and having so much fun doing it.
We cycled through our rotation until we turned right to head down the home stretch, one of the first times I can remember being a little bummed that we only had seven miles to go. We held our pace until we were down to four. Mike had been pulling for about two miles but I wanted him to be rested for the sprint so I accelerated and when I drew even I said, “Rest up brother, ’cause we’re goin'”. Once I’d given him time to latch on I slowly started picking up the pace. 22 mph, 23, 24, 25… I was feeling awesome but I had to hold back so I had some left. 26, 27, 29 mph… 30. We had two to go so I signaled to the tandem that I was heading back to recharge. I spent a minute catching my breath – we were up to 31 mph. “Only one to go, just hold on”, I thought… “Not yet”… The final corner was in sight and we were closing fast… “Half mile to go… Three…” I blew out a sharp breath and let my lungs fill… “Two”… One more exhale – lungs fill… “GO“… I upshifted to my last gear – 52/11 on flat road and put the hammer down and shot by the tandem. “Quarter mile to go… not too much”… And that was it. I was later told that I went by at north of 34 mph – with a crosswind and on a flat stretch.
This is why I push myself so hard. It doesn’t have much to do with beating anyone else, it has everything to do with beating the old me. Of course, lest I need to point out the obvious, when I beat up on who I once was, I still win.
[ED. One minor note on “you never get stronger at the back”… Technically you do, but it takes a lot longer to see progress and I’ve been clinging on back there long enough so when I want to quit or hide, that’s what I use for motivation to muscle up a little bit.]