All day long I was trading blows with my melon committee (that’s self-doubt for those late to the party) about how the club ride was going to go. I knew, of course, that I was going to get dropped – I ride with some ridiculously fast people and pretty much everybody gets dropped at one point or another – the only question was when and/or how spectacular the collapse would be.
It was chilly getting the bike set for the ride. That, of course, means I would be dressed perfectly once we got rolling. It was cold enough that I could have opted for knee warmers on top of my leg warmers but there’s a trade-off for the additional comfort: My legs don’t operate as well because they’re a little too bound up. Cloistered legs are simply not something one can get away with on Tuesday night. That’s the night the horses ride and while I’m no slouch, I’m no horse either.
We started with a bit of a tailwind, a touch over 20 mph and I’d made a decision on the seven mile warmup that tonight I was going to go against everything I am. I was going to hide. Not only that, I was going to hide on the proper side of the wind. Normally I take my turns up front. Normally when a hole opens up before the back of the line, I fill it and pull again too soon. I run out of gas too early.
I picked the right night to make the right choice.
I started out in the lead with my buddy Mike as I always do. We pulled for better than a mile at 21 mph before we pulled off and headed to the back. We turned north a half-mile later and it was on. 24 mph. 25. 26 and we stayed there for fifteen miles. I only took one more pull in those fourteen and, though people were dropping off like flies, I managed to keep contact, bridging a couple of gaps as guys fell off. The pace was furious but as we approached the hills I was surprised to feel pretty good. Climbing the hills I had plenty of leg. On flat ground I had to work hard to keep the pace but I told that voice in my head that said, “This is too much, too hard, too fast.” To shut up. I thought, “I’ll feel better in a minute, just stay with it…” And the committee got into line.
At the twenty-mile mark, with all of the tough hills out of the way, still with the lead group, four of us split off and took our usual three-mile shortcut. We were still at a crazy 22 mph average (at least crazy for a 38 degree (F) night in March, but rather than try to maintain it we let it drop a bit – we kept our speed between 20 and 22 on the flats, kept the climbs to 18-19 and rode the downhill sections hard.
We crossed the finish line, just under 30 miles at an average pace of 20.6 mph. On one hand, two years ago that was the best I could hope for mid-season in shorts and a jersey, without all of that cold weather crap slowing me down. On the other, this being an honest program, hiding for the first twenty, with the exception of one and a half stints up front, felt a little too much like cheating. I don’t like hiding. I don’t like knowing that while I may have had a great ride and held some really difficult speeds, I didn’t do more to help the whole group. I suppose the proper way to look at this is to try to combine my two strategies into something that works, where I take a couple of more turns at the front so I can be happy about doing my part but hide enough that I can still be of some use on that last ten miles.
Either way, after giving in to the committee earlier in the day, I managed to snatch a small victory from that part of my melon that says, “You can’t”… And that’s all good.