It’s rare that an old man in Lycra can feel like he’s riding in a breakaway in a Classic, but every once in a while…
We roll out to a fairly easy first half-mile into a mild headwind and bank onto one of the nastier surfaces we ride on. It would resemble the cobbles in Paris-Roubaix were it not for all the potholes. The best line up the hill is over to the right as far as you can go without getting into the tire-killing detritus on the side of the road. Then down a nice little descent, again, where you have to pick exactly the right line at 32-mph or risk pinch-flatting on a chuckhole. A left turn and another long slog of a climb that we’re pounding out at 17-1/2-mph into the headwind before a long flat respite on a road that’s way too busy with traffic, but has a decent shoulder. Our average pace starts rising with all of that climbing behind us. Even into that breeze we’re pushing a decent pace – but it’s enough you have to ride low to fit into the slipstream or the heart rate will start to spike. We’re being passed by vehicles every ten to twenty seconds.
And then a left turn off the busy road and we’re instantly in the middle of nowhere pushing up a punchy little climb at better than 17-mph. The 7-1/2 miles begins.
I’m at the front, worrying everyone behind me is wishing I’d climb a little faster but I’m just shy of max-power as we crest the hill and my quads are burning and feel almost a little alien.
Once at the peak, the real fun starts. We’ve got a wide, 2′ shoulder to play on and we start a screaming descent – the person up front, me in this instance, has to pedal for all he’s worth while the guys behind coast in the draft beyond 36-mph. I’m down in the drops and leaning into the bends in the winding road. The road pitches up and we prepare for a sharp righthand turn with a little down to it – braking into the corner is a must as you’ll cook the corner if you’re going too fast. If there’s oncoming traffic, you’re toast. Then, a beast of a hill looms before us. When I’m up front on this hill, I always get passed up. This isn’t so bad as we’ve got a regroup about 100 yards from the peak, but today I’m not having it. I’d deftly upshifted thrice in the back and downshifted to the baby ring up front, just as we’d hit the “up” so I was in an excellent climbing gear for a 9%er about mid-way up the cassette. As Chucker started around me, I caught him out of the corner of my eye and stood up, powering my way up the hill as I accelerated. I was certain I’d PR’ed the hill at the crest. We pulled under a shade tree and waited for Joel and Charlie to catch up before we rolled out for one of the best sections of road I’ll ride in a season.
Having taken more than a mile up front, I drifted to the back… only to watch Charlie, with Joel and I behind him, let a gap form. I didn’t have long to react so I did immediately. I got out of the saddle and sprinted for Chuck’s wheel, passing Joel, then Charlie and covering the distance quickly – just before the road pitched downward. We were at 32+ before I knew it and we held 26 once the road flattened out. The speed limit is 25 through the subdivision and cars have trouble keeping up with us around the bends in the road. We also have to watch for oncoming traffic as we’re navigating the tight corners – there is zero room for cutting apexes into the oncoming lane – we’ve had a few guys almost bite it trying to cut corners. The twisty nature of the road is what makes the section so great. With every corner you’re leaning the bike with your knee out to help you through the turn.
Charlie and Joel were far off the back by this point and Mike, Chucker and I treated the rest of the section like we were late for something, crankin’ and bankin’, we rotated our pace-line like the pros do. Smooth and precise movements, an elbow flick here, a tap-ass and point there, we banked and climbed, and climbed and banked our way through the neighborhood.
I’d kept one eye on our average pace which had ticked up to 19.5 from 18-mph at the start of the section. At the speeds we were maintaining, there wasn’t much time for gawking, though I did manage to sneak a perfect peak of the sun over the lake to our left as we hurtled by, between breaks in tree lines. It was a breathtakingly beautiful snapshot that reminded me of our road trips up north on the big lake (Lake Michigan). It was over in a blink, as I was back on the gas to round a corner, then out of the saddle to climb a little punchy mole-hill. It was just the three of us, now. Joel and Charlie were well off the back and we were, all three of us, dancing on the pedals as we rounded a corner into the second-to-last big climb of the day. I always get spit off the back on this hill… but not today. Mike was up front and I was second. We drove into the 6%er and I simply concentrated on holding Mike’s wheel. As my lungs started to burn with my quads, I took as deep a breath as I could and powered through the burn – and I held Mike’s wheel. And I did PR that one. Once we crested the hill, it was a couple of rollers north of 23-mph and we hit the intersection marking the end of our most enjoyable 7-1/2 miles.
We dropped Charlie and Joel again (Joel took a considerable amount of time off to nurse a running injury back to health and he’d lost a lot of fitness) and didn’t stop and the other regroup point. We hammered for home with the tailwind and our rising average showed the effort. We had one last hill and I’d taken the pull to get to it. This time, when Chuck and Mike passed me, I let them go. I’d hit the end of my want to for hills and I figured I’d catch up to them on the downhill.
And that was that. I gave the descent max power and kept it on till I rounded the last corner at the Fenton City Limits sign. I hit the lap button with a 20.4-mph average (Mike had 20.7).
Mike split to go meet his wife for dinner while Chuck and I did a cooldown couple of miles. 20-1/2 on this route is a decent accomplishment for a group of three riders. We’ve got about a 1,000′ of up in 23 miles – considerably more than our Tuesday night. I’m feeling it this morning… it’ll be a parade lap Jimmer Loop tonight as we prep the legs for the big miles Saturday morning (and possibly some golf Saturday afternoon [!]).