In March, a 62 degree, cloudy, and windy night brings out the shorts and short sleeves. Arm and leg warmers? Who needs ’em?!
In August, that’s cold and nasty. Arm warmers, knee warmers, heck some guys were wearing jackets for God’s sake… not that I blame them either, I was chilly. I didn’t break a sweat on the warm-up and barely broke one when we rolled out. It was cold. After a month in the mid 80’s and low 90’s, 60 is cold. After three months below freezing, 60 is glorious. The theory of relativity, well not exactly but it made for a cool title.
I messed up last night too. The first ten guys and two women rolled out and caught a lot of the group flatfooted. There was a fair quarter-mile gap that had to be made up in a hurry and I led that pain train out, dead into a 10-15 mph headwind. It sucked, right out of the gate.
We caught the lead group within a half-mile but I had to burn quite a bit to do it, that wind was brutal at speed. I didn’t have much to worry about though. We made a plan in the parking lot, all of my friends, to drop and ride with our buddy Brad when we got to the river, just 13 miles up the road. Brad and I rode back from there but last night we talked him into the full 30 mile route and he relented once we promised to take it easy on him. He’s going through precautionary chemo and it’s a well-known fact that those who are fit, and more importantly, do what they can to remain fit through their treatment, fair better through the planned poisoning. Well, here we are, the last weeks of summer and we’ve all had a successful summer. Chuck, Phill, Mike, me… We’re all rockin’ great miles, we’re strong and fast, lean and mean… Now it’s time to do what we can to help our brother into winter so he can get through the tougher parts of his treatment.
It took a lot out of me to catch the lead group and I was too close to the front once we did catch them. I was only maybe five bikes back so not only would I have to fight the wind without much protection, the closer to the front I got the harder it was going to get. As soon as we turned north at the 1-1/2 mile mark, I headed to the back so I could recover properly before I started taking turns up front. As I always do, I chose the tough side of the pace line heading north so when we turned south I’d be protected from the crosswind. It’s a tough choice, really. Eat the wind when I’m fresh and enjoy protection the protection of the other side of the line later. The problem is, some of the other guys switch sides once we turn left and I can find myself in difficulty, without protection from the side. That wasn’t the case last night though, both lines held and it was maybe eight miles before I finally made it to the front for my first turn – another rarity, normally I’ve taken three turns by then.
The crosswind was absolutely brutal up there, cold and gnarly. I spent as long as I could and as I dropped back, surveying the group, all of my friends were already off the back… Bonus! I quietly slipped off the back of the lead group and soft-pedaled to let everyone catch up. Mike caught me first, then a new guy, Lenny who was followed by Phill, Matt and Brad. It took us a minute to get the pace right into the wind. Mike and I were sitting up on the hoods but Brad was stressing with our easy of 18.5 so he kept slipping off the back and Phill and Matt stayed with him. This meant that Mike and I would often end up fifteen bike lengths ahead and have to slow up. After the second or third time I slipped back and gauged Brad’s comfortable pace, then went up to let Mike know that 17.5 was the target.
See, the problem with taking it easy is that, well how to put this… Under stress, the body reacts a certain way. Certain functions kind of pause or stop while the body works on the task at hand… By the time we reached the river, I had to go… So I let the group go ahead and tended to business. We were into the wind and we had hills coming up – both good for me. See, most people hate hills and hate wind, so you can make up a lot of ground if you have the heart. Unfortunately, having the heart isn’t easy. I climbed my way back to the group within a couple of miles but it hurt getting back. I probably overcooked myself a little bit. That was the last difficulty I had, maybe sixteen miles in, until we were rolling into the finish.
With eight miles to go, my buddy Mike was trying to get Phill to box me in so he could shoot off the front (think Tour de France, same thing they were doing to Sagan when he tried to head-butt his way clear – I think he was fourth on that stage). Mike must have had a guilty streak because he thought I heard them plotting but I didn’t – he coughed up his plan with a chuckle and we had a laugh over the fact that he would have had me dead to rights if he hadn’t spilled the beans… No way I’d have seen that coming. We turned east for eight straight miles of tailwind. We decided on 22-23 mph and I commenced to taking a turn up front that amounted to half of the ride back. When I arm-flicked Mike up front, I didn’t drop to the back, I took third bike behind Phill. I knew Mike was going to take at least three miles up front and I had something brewing…
Sure enough, with a bit more than a mile to go, Mike gave up the lead to Phill. I had just turned say to Brad, “Be ready because I’m going”. He asked, “You’re going?” and I nodded. Mike went back, past Brad and that’s what I wanted to see. Phill started kicking up the pace, beyond 24 mph, up to 25. There’s a farmhouse, on the left, that marks the Sprint point. Launch before that house and it’s too far for a decent sprint. After that house and it’s too late. Phill arm-flicked me up just 20 feet before the house and I was already, upshifted a gear and in the drops, ready. I didn’t hesitate. Out of the saddle, in the drops, I launched forward, accelerating instantly. I didn’t look at my computer until I was out of gas – 33 mph and I was at the finish line. I raised my arm and looked back, nobody (including Mike) was able to match me. They’d made it up to 29 but there acceleration was a lot slower than mine. Mike later said that he couldn’t match my sprint because he couldn’t get around everybody, and that’s what I was hoping for. Mike’s competitive streak is greater than mine, and he’d have absolutely matched me had he not dropped back so far.
Back at the parking lot, as we packed our bikes up (and heated up the cars, good God, that was a great October ride in August), we made our plans for the weekend. It’s going to be another long ride on Saturday followed by a medium-long Sunday. I might be able to hit 1,000 miles for the month of August… It’ll be close.