I was all set last night. Perfect recovery ride the night before, perfect hydration throughout the day, legs in perfect shape and a perfect warm-up. The Venge was perfect, tuned and rarin’ to go. It was hot, muggy and windy and I was ready for a hammer-fest.
I was ready.
And then I saw a new guy. He had a pre-cyclist physique and there was no chance his Trek Domane was going to cost more than his SUV. And in a fluorescent yellow and dark blue Tinkoff pro kit.
I pegged him a D guy and there wasn’t a C, D, or E rider in the parking lot. I asked him what he averaged and he dutifully replied, “16 to 18-mph”. I was a little surprised, but told him he might be able to hang with us if he hung out in the back. [ED. Note, clarify there is a difference between the speed you are comfortable riding and your average… the average is typically 2-mph slower than you’re comfortable riding]
We rolled out with a tailwind and I had a smirk across my face. The clouds had rolled in, cooling it off just enough. Then new guy popped two miles in. I brought him back once, but he was off the back again a half-mile later. I motioned for the others to go ahead, that I’d get the new rider.
We were pretty decent with a tailwind, but once we hit a dead-crosswind, he popped again. And again. And again. We were down to 16-mph in a crosswind I could spin at 21.
We headed south for several miles and he showed flashes of brilliance, but he’d be off my wheel again when I looked back. I knew it was going to get ugly when we headed east. Call me a prognosticator. I dropped down into the little ring and rode hands on bar tops to block as much wind as I could and the poor guy still had trouble holding my wheel. I really felt bad for him but I also couldn’t help but think about what I was missing.
We had a few A guys who’d obviously taken a shortcut in the wind cut across the street we were on in front of us so I knew my group would be coming up behind them at some point. The new guy and I pushed north with a cross-tailwind at 18-mph (and I still had to be careful not to drop him). Getting ready to jump on the train, I explained how to get home from where we were and I waited, checking our six every now and again.
Sure enough, I saw the group round the corner. We were on the home stretch, with five miles to go. I explained again how to get home, it was simple at that point, and picked my pace up to latch on. I was coming up on a small hill and I wanted on the top of the hill before they caught me so I doubled my effort to crest it. I looked back….
It wasn’t my group. It was four of the stronger A guys. A Cat 1 (almost) pro, Todd, Greg, and a guy whose name I should know but don’t. $#!+.
I hopped up from the saddle and charged forward as Todd came by me on the right. I caught on the back and went with it. I went from 15-mph into a headwind to 23 and we didn’t miss a beat. I hope. Whenever I’m around someone who’s really good, I’m a little self-conscious. Being in that little gang… well, I just didn’t want to mess up. Todd flicked off the front and came back and I opened a hole for him. Todd is about 6’3″ of wind-splitting battleship so, as hard as it was going to be to hold his wheel, I wanted behind him rather than one of the smaller guys. From that point on, I took my turn in the rotation, though, at 23-24-mph into a 13-mph headwind, I didn’t last long up there.
Todd took a turn up front with a little more than a mile to go and surprisingly took the pace down a notch… and then he flicked off early – and that’s precisely when I knew what time it was. We’d crept up from 20-mph to 24 when Todd drifted off the front. I was going to be the lead out… for that group. I was more than a little stoked and did my approximation of put the hammer down. I took the pace from 24 to 27-mph and popped just as the four started their sprint.
As soon as I crossed the City Limits I turned around and headed back to pull the new guy the rest of the way in. There were a few times I wasn’t too happy about the duty I’d chosen, but I did it.
When we got back to the parking lot, Todd said he was surprised I didn’t jump with everyone else for the sprint. I just laughed… and the Cat 1 guy said, “Hey, man, he sacrificed himself for our sprint.”
That really put the cherry on top. That’s exactly what I did.