The wind was building all day long. Forecasts said it was coming, and it did. 15-mph winds with gusts above 20 (24-kmh and 32-kmh respectively) out of the west. I knew shortly after I woke up at four in the morning that TNIL was going to be tough.
After an easier than normal warm-up, we lined up to roll. We had a fairly small B Group and the A’s were flush, so one of our guys, as is usual, suggested we roll out with the A’s and let them pull us to the tailwind. This sounds brilliant, but it’s a recipe for disaster. What you envision happening is the group sharing the load, defeating the headwind as a triumphal group. Hi-five’s all around! It’s damn-near a beer commercial.
That’s not what happens, though. No, what happens is you get a knot of A guys rolling up the road, progressively in echelon to the right of the road to escape the crosswind a mile-and-a-half up the road, followed closely by eight B Group’ers all lined up in the ditch on the edge of the road with no draft. They get spit off one-by-one and take fifteen miles to come back together as a few groups. “Who wants that chaos?” I asked. I suggested we wait and roll out as a B Group. After a complaint, I relented and my buddy Chuck said, “Well that’s great, now we have to chase them down!” The chase never materialized and we rolled out as the B Group.
What came next was a wonder in teamwork and effective, enjoyable cycling. We bucked the headwind, chewed on the crosswind, bucked some more headwind and at the turn for tailwind at 16-ish miles, we had a 20-mph average. We’d lost a couple of the weaker riders but we were, relatively speaking, whole.
And just as all hell was about to break loose with a tailwind when we made the left hand hairpin turn… there was a train lazily rolling down the tracks across the road.
We ended up waiting for several minutes for the train to pass. Once it was clear, we took a minute to form up climbing a hill and BAM, just like that the hammer dropped. The pace picked up and we had us a ride on our hands. We cruised the hills with a little help from the wind and turned in for the regroup after the last big hill. After the last rider turned the corner, we rolled toward my favorite part of the ride.
Immediately after the regroup, we’ve got a nice little descent that takes us to 28-ish-mph followed by a sharp, short climb before we level out at a 2% incline that we normally take at around 21-mph. Last night we were over 23. We crested the top with two horses up front. I was second bike back and figured I’d be lead-out. The two up front took a really long turn, screaming down the -1 to -3% grade at 33-mph. My guy started to bleed speed and when he dropped to 29, I came around rather than wait for him to flick. I took it back up to 30 on the flat with six tenths of a mile to the City Limits sign. I kept the hammer down and, almost unbelievably, didn’t run out of gas. The tenths clicked by until the sign was only 100 yards away. I was watching shadows behind me and couldn’t see anyone making a move so I kept the power up… I crossed the City Limits sign first, on the front for six tenths of a mile at 30-mph. First time off the front like that. I’ve taken the sign dozens of times but never from the lead-out position… and certainly not while leading out a group of horses like the one we had last night. I’m going to have a smile on my face for a while remembering that one.
Next up was a turn north for a couple miles. I made a mistake, trying to wave a truck by after a four-way stop and fell off the back a considerable distance. The speed after that stop was the problem. The group goes from 15 to 27-mph almost instantly because of a perfect little 1% descent. I was at 15, waving my arm to get him to go around, and stayed there while the group accelerated. I absolutely had to bust my butt to latch back on. I almost quit, but with one last rush, I latched. Thankfully, being at the back, I had enough time to fully recover. I knew the homestretch was coming up with a 15 to 20-mph tailwind.
The last four-ish miles were insane and awesome. We managed to keep it above 27-mph the whole way, with the exception of a stop for a stop sign. That break was needed, too. If we’d have hit the hill after that intersection at speed, it would have been ugly for the tandems. Instead, the pace increased steadily and they were with us for the final push.
The final 3/4’s of a mile is slightly downhill, between 1/2 and 1%. With that tailwind, it was absolutely awesome. We were hard on the pedals at 30-mph and cooking hard for the sprint. The lead fell off and my buddy Chucker and Josh took the lead. Josh is a big dude and with him up front, I knew I could hold his wheel but I didn’t know if I’d get around him. I was in perfect position as the speed hit 33… then 34… we just nudged 35 and I didn’t bother going around him. In hindsight I should have – but 35-mph.
I finished second behind Josh. He earned it. The parade mile home was all hi-five’s and laughs. It wasn’t the fastest Tuesday night, but it was fast enough with that wind, and it was more fun that a person should have with their clothes on.