I’m always a little nervous on the first club ride of the season. Thankfully we’ve been riding quite a bit this winter so the only worry I had centered on “how fast” – normally I’m trying to get the timing down, worrying about holding my line while others wander a bit more than normal, getting used to modulating the brakes well… Simple stuff like that.
We had an interesting wind last night on the warmup. Mike and I took the front with Phill and Chuck behind, pedaling easy at 20-21 mph, hands on the bar tops. We had a nice tailwind. Turning north, you knew where the wind was. A mile and a half-ish later, turning into the wind… Ugh. This bodes well for the first half of the ride – not so much for that second half. Warmup: 7.25 miles.
The sun was breaking through the clouds finally. Sadly, it had stopped warming up when they finally blew off, and the wind picked up. The temp was a little tough to figure out too, I was a little chilly catching up with everyone in the parking lot before the ride… Not uncomfortable, but brisk.
We lined up for a group photo right at 6 and clipped in to head out. Mike and I were out front and we had a pickup truck pull out right in front of us and rather than taking it to the speed limit, he kept it between 20 & 25 mph… So both Mike and I did a little sprint to catch him while the group formed up behind us. I drafted behind that truck at around 25-26 mph for, geez, it had to be half of a mile and it was amazing how easy it was once I got into his draft. Mike backed off, so I did as well and when I looked back, we’d gained a quarter-mile gap on the group. We sat up and waited for everyone to catch up, laughing about how much fun it was to draft the truck (if it was a little dangerous – I did have my hands on both brakes just in case, and it sure seemed as though the driver was into it as well).
With the group caught up, we rolled on and turned north, with a whipping cross wind – I hate open corn fields. Fortunately I was on the right side of the pace line, though a gap opened up and I didn’t make it all the way to the back. Ah well, I was feeling good anyway and the speed was relatively tame, between 23 & 25 mph. I thought we might get lucky and have a nice ride for once – fast, but nothing outrageous. Oh how wrong I was…
Shipman road is generally known as the toughest road of the club ride. We have some hills later in the ride but typically they’re not a whole lot to worry about (unless you consider that we typically climb them at speeds in excess of 20 mph). Last night was a different story – with a east northeast wind we actually had a little bit of help, where normally we’re echeloned all the way across the road. I was still feeling pretty good at this point and guys were already starting to struggle and I heard after the ride that guys were already starting to drop off the back. After a mile things started to get hectic though Shipman runs northeast to southwest and every time it turned to the east (two or three times) the pace went from a reasonable 26 to 28 mph. I was turning a fairly big gear just to keep up and after a few miles my enthusiasm started waning. I started wandering toward the back in search of shelter, found it, and started to come back.
Then came the hills, and with a helping wind (I forgot to mention, that helping wind was only 8-9 mph), we were climbing them at better than 25 mph. On a good day, the norm is 21-22. If that wasn’t bad enough, and it was pretty bad, once we crested the last hill we immediate hit north of 30 mph and that was the beginning of the end for me. My buddy Phill dropped shortly thereafter and I knew we had a few more hills coming up and I was already breathing way to heavy to keep the pace up. I quietly disengaged from the back of the group and watched my buddy Mike fall off shortly thereafter.
I caught Mike within a mile and we slogged into the wind to the point where we wait for any stragglers so we can head back as a group. I was fairly hit but recovered while we waited for everyone to get back. From there, it was relatively easy getting back. We had a really large group, considering that we had to eat wind all the way home. We even picked up quite a few of the A group along the way who’d found themselves off the back – and that was a good thing because the wind was really picking up steam. We needed the help.
I took the Vernon City Limits sign unchallenged because I was at the front and I didn’t even bother with the Finish Line sprint… I’d taken a turn up front at 21 mph into the wind and I was in no shape to recover and mount a decent challenge so I just let the guys go.
We pulled in with a 20.5 mph average and that’s really decent considering this was the first ride of the year.
What I really missed, beyond a fantastic dinner, was being tired afterward. After dinner, I curled up on the couch with my wife and was out like a light… Oh, and I woke up this morning feeling more loose and pain-free than I have in months Riding hard isn’t easy but it sure feels good afterward. 29 miles and change in an hour and 24 minutes (including wait time)… Plus the 7-1/2 mile warmup. Not bad for a Tuesday.