Rarely has there been such a perfect night for a Tuesday night club ride. This is not an exaggeration.
Light, wispy clouds, not near enough to block the sun’s warmth. 63 perfect degrees and maybe a 5 mph wind out of the north, not that such a pittance mattered though – we’re used to winds in the 15-20 mph range. My new Affable Hammers kit was a no-brainer (as it was for two-thirds of the guys riding last night). In addition, I decided on arm warmers, and God Bless America, no knee warmers. No vests, no full finger gloves, no hats under the dome protector, no long sleeve jerseys… And I broke a sweat.
The seven mile warmup was fast, right out of the gate. 20-22 mph the whole way, even into the breeze. We tacked on a few laps around the block to keep the legs warm, bringing the warmup to 8.8 miles
It turned out that everyone who showed up and bought a club kit, wore it. The Hammers were out in force – and we were lookin’ good. We got rolling promptly at 6 pm and once we formed up, it was on. Once we tipped 23 mph, we never looked back except to stop for traffic at the necessary intersections.
Once we hit the infamous Shipman Road, with a crossing tailwind, that was ramped up to the neighborhood of 26 and climbed. Within two miles we were bumping uglies with 30 mph. 30. It would be ten miles before we saw anything in the low twenties again (and that was due to hills.
I’ve made it quite clear that I don’t like hiding in the group, I do my part or I flame out trying. However, I’ve decided to modify that thinking. We have an intersection three miles before the first real hills on the route. No matter where I am, when we hit that intersection I take what I call a ‘strategic fall back’. I take the turn wide and simply let everyone go buy, until I can find a hole about 2/3’s of the way to the back… If I do this, I’m well rested and prepared once the hills start. We climb ridiculously fast, so if you’re not ready, you’re in trouble.
So we made it through the first four big sets of hills and something surprising occurred to me… Leading up to the hill where we always get dropped (it’s a gut wrencher – steep and about a quarter-mile long), I had enough gas in the tank to keep going. It was the first time ever. I saw the attack come, I saw the leaders go, and I sat up and let them. I second-guessed that decision a half-dozen times since last night. In the end, I told several of my friends that I was dropping at that hill so we could form up and head back so I did as I said I would. In the future, I’ll refrain from making that promise I think.
My BCB, Mike, couldn’t make it because he was sick, Brad was farming, so that left Chuck, Phill and a couple of others. Unfortunately, the pace in the first 20 miles was so fast, guys were scattered to the wind and I was in the lead. I soft-pedaled and waited for two guys (who should have been Phill and Chuck)… When they caught up, after about a mile, I set the pace, and it was fast – we’d climbed two more decent hills and had a two-mile mild downhill (just shy of level, but enough to maintain a decent speed without killing oneself) leading into town and we always make the best of it, speeds generally ranged between 24 and 26 mph. After just three miles or so, we’d dropped the third guy and it was just Phill and I. Now, the shortcut that we take cuts off about three miles from the racer’s route. We always blow a couple of minutes trying to form up while the others are hammering down the road at 24-28 mph. By the time we’re lined up, we’ve lost a mile to them… That gives us about a five minute advantage when it’s all said and done. Our goal is to not get caught – If anyone’s done it with only two guys, I can’t remember hearing about it. Still, that’s the goal so we kept our feet on the gas, so to speak.
With two guys, especially Phill and I, getting the timing right with who will lead, when and how fast, gets tricky. Phill has more of an upright setup on his bike while I’m slammed as low as I can go. He doesn’t get the same draft off of me as I do him, so he doesn’t get to recover like I do. This means I have to spend more time up front if we are going to make it. I have no idea how fast we were going, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to it. That said, when I did take a glance, it was usually between 22 & 24. I gave it absolutely everything I had and so did Phill. We had our timing down perfect within a mile and every time the leader started to fade, the guy in back would come around and keep hammering. Neither one of us rode out of the drops in the last eight miles, we kept the hammer down the whole way… No rest for the weary.
We rode as if we were being whipped, knowing the racers would catch us if we rested even for a minute. Sweat poured down my face and dripped off the tip of my nose. I wouldn’t even take the time to wipe it off, couldn’t. We’d fallen off the lead group with a 22 mph average (a lot of traffic last night meant a lot of stops and a terrible average)… When we crossed the city limit sign, we’d only lost a half mile an hour off of that – with only two guys. We beat the lead group back by more than two minutes. We were packing our stuff up when they pulled into the parking lot. We ended up with a 21.5 mph average, one of our better averages from last year with four or five guys sharing the work. It was one heck of an effort and a fine Tuesday night ride.
Thank God, Spring finally decided to show up!