Several months ago I heard a report that said we would go straight from summer into winter. We rode in shorts and short sleeves last night, exceptionally rare this late in October.
We had to pay for the warmth by way of wind though.
The warm-up was an out and back six miles, dead into the wind then straight back. Heading west it was 14 mph and it was some work. Heading back was 21. Soft pedaling. The wind was too loud to carry a conversation in going out so we saved the talking for the ride back.
We rolled out at 5:30 on the nose and I was nervous as always when the wind is that strong because it’s usually a little chippy in the group and so many people get spit off the back early when finding a place to hide gets tough….
Getting situated on the rollout was odd and straight into the wind. The A and B groups were together again this week and two guys went off the front right away because the rest of us were a little slow to get rolling but I got down in the drops and tracked them down. I had doubts right out of the gate because I had to work just to catch up and that put me at second bike so I’d have to take a pull shortly after.
We were north of 20 mph though o the turns into the wind were mercifully short. As soon as the lead guy tapped out I got into the drops and hunkered down. He moved to the right and the wind hit me full blast, as if it pushed me back for a pedal stroke though I regained my composure pretty quickly. I stayed up front for about a half-mile and tapped out.
I let off the gas, intent on drifting all the way to the back but found out the hard way that it was going to be one of those nights… A hole opened up meant for me, only six guys back – there were probably fifteen in each pace line. Now, depending on the group you ride with there are two schools of thought to go with in this situation. I’m a strong B rider and a weak A, so riding in the front rotation for too long can really take its toll. On the other hand, it’s chippy the farther back you get in the group, with virtually no room to hide from the wind. It’s almost a damned if you do fall back, damned if you don’t scenario.
I took a gamble and dropped into the slot they’d opened for me. I figured to hell with it, I’d give it everything I had. Recovering wasn’t easy but I quickly found a good rhythm that I could live with so I stayed in the front rotation. Mile after mile I stayed with the front group and ended up looking for the bike of the guy who’d taken a turn up front before me… as soon as I saw his front fork, I’d give a couple of strong pedals and take a spot behind him. It was an absolute shock when I realized that our group had dwindled down to a little more than a dozen about ten miles in. Later, in the parking lot, I would find out that guys had started dropping as early as three miles into the ride…
At this point I was feeling pretty awesome and had just come off a turn at the front. Big Joe was still with us but he was taking a spot in the center of the two lines. I was in the right pace line and the wind was howling at us from that side… His position meant I had to keep to the right of the guy in front of me so I was catching a lot of wind and almost working as hard as the guy pulling the group. They call this the gutter.
Rather than panic and try to stick it out though, as I once would, I did the smart thing. I fell back a little bit and got behind Joe and drafted to his right (there was more than enough room in our lane as small as the group was at that point). Then I waited patiently and the first time he moved too far to his right, I came up on his left. I’d effectively switched sides in the pace line and was drafting just to the left of the guy in front of me… Now I had Big Joe protecting me on the right and I was catching a draft from the guy in front of me. It was perfect.
Then came the tailwind and the hills. Imagine climbing a hill – any speed bump with an incline will do. What would a normal speed be? Maybe 18-19 mph? Now imagine 28 mph. The two strongest guys in the group managed to work themselves up front at the start of the second hill and it’s a half-miler, not just a speed bump, and they put the hammer down. I was only a few bikes from the front and an inch from falling out of the group when Greg looked back and realized he’d just decimated the group. He dropped back to 20 mph to let everyone catch back up – and I caught my breath.
I chose to speed up and waive the guys behind me up because I was so close to falling off on the way up that hill… I didn’t want to create a gap and screw anyone else’s ride up – I know I hate it when that happens to me and I don’t have the gas to catch back up. I didn’t fall off the back though, on any of the hills.
I stayed with the main group all the way to the 20 mile mark where I slipped off the back with Chuck C. and waited for Mike and Diane on their tandem. We’d managed a 21.5 mph average with all of that headwind. With less than 10 miles to go and what should have been a crosswind or tailwind all the way home – but the wind had shifted to the northwest.
The next three miles were mainly tailwind though and we absolutely rocked them out. On a slight mile-long descent into Vernon we were easily holding 28-31 mph. From there it was a left turn and we were bucking a cross headwind but we managed to keep it between 21 and 24. Chuck and I did our fair share to help Mike and Diane and we were working really well together. Another couple of miles and we were set free to enjoy a cross tailwind all the way home. We only dropped below 24 on one or two climbs.
Coming into the finish, Diane and Mike were up front laying down a blistering pace. With less than a mile left, Chuck took the lead and picked the pace up. With 200 meters left he surged, much to my surprise – he was going for the sign like it was a race… So I obliged. He went wide left on the final right turn to block me off so I upshifted and jumped out of the saddle and put the hammer down. I think we were north of 34 mph at this point but I was too busy trying to overtake him to look down. With a hundred meters to go we were neck and neck but I had more left. I put the hammer down and lurched forward crossing the line by a bike length.
From there it was all laughs, smiles and fist bumps as we sat up and rolled the last few tenths to the parking lot.
I’m bummed the season is almost over….