Todd sent out a message through Strava that, being so early in the season, we should keep the first Tuesday Night in Lennon civil, and together…
Now, without exception, we B Group folks are civil – very fast, but civil. The A guys are very, very fast and there are two civil guys in the whole group of them. This isn’t a bad thing and this paragraph shouldn’t be taken in a disparaging way – once they get wound up, if one guy attacks, just a little bit, it’s on. They are why we formed the B Group in the first place, so we could have a club ride on Tuesday night, instead of a race in which we get dropped in a scattered mess on the 30 mile route. Every time the A Group says, “Hey, let’s keep it civil tonight”, every time, they’re great for fifteen miles, then someone attacks on a hill and the ride blows up. I had that in mind as I prepped for the first TNIL of ’21.
With chilly temps and a decent northerly wind, I was tempted to take the Trek, but opted for the Venge instead. I had a funny feeling I’d need all the help I could get.
I showed up at 5 for the warm-up and was the only car in the parking lot. It was chilly, but nice when the sun came out from behind the clouds. McMike and Craig showed up while I was resting my eyes for a minute, so I got ready. We rolled out at 5:30 for a spirited warmup with a crosswind out and back north of 20-mph for the average. The Venge is absolutely perfect. I’ve had the bike for eight years and I’ve never had it dialed in so perfectly. Wheels are light, deep and fast, drivetrain is crisp and perfectly dialed in, and the cockpit changes I made over the winter are surprisingly excellent (I though I’d had it about as low as I could comfortably get it before – I am happy to have been mistaken).
As we were rolling back to the lot to start, I could see the vehicles pulling into the parking lot. A. A. A… A… A…. Then, my buddy, Chuck. And John, a new B guy… three of us and a lot of them. And Dave and Sherry on their tandem. Sherry never rides this early, so they brought some hope that the group might actually be civil – especially on the climbs.
We rolled out at 6 in a double pace-line and the pace was fantastic right out of the gate. I was matched with Craig – he’s got one gear (I mean that metaphorically, he’s got a brand new S-Works Tarmac with a Di2 drivetrain) and he can push the pace with the best of them. I looked over and said, “I’m glad I brought the good bike!” He responded, “It’s Tuesday, baby! You gotta bring all your bullets on Tuesday!” He’s not wrong.
We turned north and kept the same pace into the 9-12-mph (15-19 km/h) headwind, about 22-mph (35 km/h). The rotation up front was faster than usual, maybe a half-mile a turn, and we were up front before I knew it. Craig and I took a little more than average, about 3/4s of a mile and it was back for a rest. We caught another pull a few miles later, then settled in for some tailwind. The pace pushed from 22 to 24-25-mph (40 km/h), but I was in the zone and feeling fantastic. Surprisingly so. We were well into the tailwind with a 21-1/2-mph average in the middle of March with the cold weather gear on and my tongue wasn’t dangling in my spokes! Without question, even though I’m a little chubby, I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in this early in the season – it’s not even close.
We handled the hills with ease, special thanks to the tandem for keeping it reasonable. The pace was astonishingly reasonable all the way through to the turn-off for the short route (which we all took). Every one of the A guys we had in the group was treating it as a club ride. I’ve never been so happy to be so wrong about their ability to do this. Some of the guys who normally hammer the group in the hills were talking about how nice it was in early March to focus on the club aspect of the ride, to save the racing for later in the spring. Indeed, with the exception on one guy who dropped early to ride a shorter route, we were a whole group.
With just a few miles left, the tandem was struggling into a brutal crossing headwind. I’d been hiding to make sure I could make it through the hills, so I came around and got on Todd’s wheel to give them a bit of a better draft. It was here the group split in two. Todd is a battleship of a guy. Tall and big and he’d earned the nickname “Watt King” years earlier (dude regularly pushes 450 watts on training rides for hours). I think he was growing a little itchy as the lead group was pulling away. He has that same “chase” bug I’ve got, but he can chase people down a lot better than I.
He ended up saying he was going to chase the lead group down, so that left Chuck and I to pull for the tandem. Chuck took a good turn, then I took the rest. We pulled across the line with a 20.8-mph average (by my Garmin).
It was all hi-fives and fist-bumps in the parking lot. Everyone had broad smiles stretched across their face. It was that kind of ride. I couldn’t have possibly been happier – if I’m pushing a 19-mph average this early in March with the cold weather gear on, I’m happy. To have ridden like that, I am excited for the season. Better, to ride with guys I normally can’t keep up with and catch up after the winter was something special. A thoroughly excellent first edition of TNIL.