Back in the Fire – Riding like I mean it; Or Conversely, How to Get Faster on Bicycle (unfortunately, there’s really only a hard way).
After DALMAC, most normal people take a day or two off. If for nothing other than giving their hamburger heinie a break. I’m not most people. Nor are my friends.
My wife, Matt and I rode with my brother from another cycling mother, Mike. Matt split off a few miles early and headed over to the shop while the rest of us knocked out the last of an easy, butt painful, 34 miles. Call that active recovery.
Then came Tuesday. It was supposed to rain so I was looking forward to an easy day off on the couch to let my tookis (tookus in Yiddish) heal a little bit. Lo and behold, it was only little popcorn showers mixed with a bunch of sun. And wind. We rode, and it was hard. And windy.
Now, in case you didn’t know, there’s an easy side and a hard side to a double pace line when the wind creeps up beyond, say, 10 mph. The hard side is the one that gets beaten by the crosswind. The easy side is protected by the hard side. I always pick the hard side for the first seven or eight miles so I can have the easy side for the next five before the tailwind.
Now, if you’re a strong rider, you’re not worried (or surprised) when you round a corner and find two cyclists in the hard line and twelve stacked, vying for six square inches of draft, straddling the yellow line, in the easy…. which is no longer easy because you get no protection and you have to struggle for space.
Three things you can do here:
- Panic, join the fracas and drop to the back.
- Relax, don’t panic. Once the riders at the back grow weary of fighting to be last bike (usually less than a minute), they’ll wise up and fill the spaces (this is the option I prefer).
- Relax, don’t panic and slide over and take one of the slots on the harder side.
That last option is where you get stronger, the second is where you get wiser and start mixing in some strategy…. That first option is where you get dropped. Just so we’re clear.
I used option two and three last night.
We did get wet about six miles in but that cloud passed and led to bright sunshine… and a brutal headwind. We soldiered on and made the best of it.
Then came the merciful tailwind and we hammered up our first hills easily above 20 mph, about 3-5 mph faster than normal. We flew down the back side heading into town, I was three bikes back with a bit more than two miles to the intermediate City Limit sprint. The first pair peeled off, then the second, leaving me up front with too much distance between us and the City Limits sign. With the tailwind, it looked like I’d be the lead out. Instead, I jumped. I gave it everything I had to create some separation and then did my best to keep it.
The gamble worked and I took the sprint by maybe 50 yards.
Next was the final sprint, and that was eight miles away but we had tailwind almost all the way home. We also picked up two of the A guys who’d dropped off the back of the lead group. We flew down the road between 24 and 28 mph, sometimes touching 30 and before I knew it, we were setting up for the main sprint. I was three bikes back again, one of the A guys up front and a B guy, and the other A guy behind the first. As soon as the two ahead of them peeled off, the two A guys jumped, a mile and a half earlier than we normally go for the sprint (!). I was the only B guy to make it and we hammered out a lively pace, north of 28 (we were going to fast for anything more than an initial glance at the speedo), the three of us in a line and me holding on by my teeth.
The first guy pulled off and the second attacked, just two miles an hour faster but it was all I could do to hang on. The guy who’d just come off the front slid off the back. Coming up to the farm house, and my cue to start my sprint, the lead guy attacked and left me in the dust. I just smiled as he pulled away. That’s the difference between an A guy and a B guy, right there. I had nothing left to answer the attack.
My legs felt smoked that whole ride but it was one of those days, I just wouldn’t let that get in the way of horsing around.
I expected to be hobbling around like an old man this morning but feel exceptionally spry and there’s no doubt I had a blast right up until I packed my bike away for the night. One thing I know for sure: I don’t have that much fun trying to battle to be last bike.