Tuesday, October 25, 2011

On the Wheel of a Professional Cyclist (October 15th)

So I had a choice. Ride 100 miles again- for the third week in a row- get my ride started at 9 and be done at 1, and do the training that had been assigned, or go on a group ride with a guy that rides in the Tour De France.

For a lot of people this might be a no brainier. You go and meet the pro, you have an experience. For me though, I wanted to have the best workout to get me ready for Florida, especially after the stink bomb I'd laid out the week before, when it took me almost 5:15 to ride 100 miles. I really had my confidence shaken by this craptastic of a ride, nutrition product fail or no nutrition product fail. There was a string urge to go my own way, even though the ride would ultimately take me right by where the charity ride was, even though I could meet my wife in the parking lot before the race to hand off my son, because it's also where she swims.

I decide late Friday that what the hell, I would go. I mean, I am a firm believer that no one workout makes or breaks a race, and this was a chance to share the road with a Tour rider, I had friends that were going to the ride and for some logistical reasons I won't get into, it actually kind of made more sense to start my ride in East Lyme than at home. I wasn't going to meet the pro though, I was just going to support the ride. And get a good workout in. The CT Cycling Centre guys had sent out an email indicating they'd be doing another 50 miles to get the ride up to a century, which was what I needed, so I showed up early, registered, and then ran half an hour on the track, which was right behind the registration. So I was making it a reverse brick instead of brick, but I was still going to get my miles in at least.

The ride started a little bit late after Tom and his family arrived in the limo. He gave a short but heartfelt speech about growing up in East Lyme, and then we started the ride. It was over a hundred people as far as I could tell, probably more, and it's the first time that I've been involved in what you could call a mass start. We managed to get out of the parking lot and out on the ride, and I'll say this. For the first 15-20 minutes, it was pretty stressful. There were a lot of people, and we were staying together in a group, so it was pretty slow, and a little erratic. I hadn't ridden together with anyone in weeks, and here I was in a mass of people going 20, then going 10, then going 30, then going 15. I mean, I ride with people, but my idea of a big ride if 15-20 people, not a hundred.

But I figured it out after a bit, that I needed to be on the yellow line, as far to the outside as I could get, and until I forgot this, things got a lot better. There were still the occasional sketchy moments, but I was riding behind Greg Comen and another CT Cycle Center/Zanes guy. When they moved up, I moved up. Pretty soon the ride had actually separated, and there were maybe 30-40 of us left, still a 'big' group for me but a lot less than earlier.

I was really impressed with Tom Danielson. He was riding back and forth in the group talking to everyone who wanted to grab a chat and it was interesting stuff, traveling and racing and so on. Really making an effort to engage people. Greg and some of the other guys I knew were talking to him so I rode right behind him, trying to keep a little bubble. Which was ironic, because in a short while, I would come as close as anyone in the ride to causing him some stress- at least as far as I know. Oh yeah, every ride has a story...

So I got comfortable on the ride and of course, this was a mistake. The ride wasn't hilly, but there were some hills, and on one of them I got forced to the inside, our let myself get trapped on the inside. I should never be on the inside when climbing because as people start to slow down, I usually go around them. The guy in front of me was going 12 mph. Then he was going 7 mph. Just like that. I moved to his right, overlapping his wheel but well wide of it, and with the plan of riding off into the woods if that was what it took- at least no one else would get hurt. Since this is something I'm not used to I then made a mistake. Instead of jumping on my gears and getting a nice hard gear to slow my turnover, I tapped my breaks. Immediately I had to clip out. I got my left foot down caught my balance and started right up again. No big deal, except of course that Tom Danielson was right behind me when it happened.

Embarrassed. Tom said 'Whoa, it's getting crazy now,' but his voice was upbeat, not aggravated and that really helped. I mean, it was my fault and it wasn't. The guy in front of me died, but hey, I needed to be ready for it....

At one point of our guys ride up to me and jokingly said 'Tom asked if you'd stay in the back'...

So of course you kind of spend a while after that just trying to forget you did something stupid. Nobody got hurt, I wasn't riding like an asshole. Still, it was a little hard to just relax.

But hey, we got close to the end of the ride, and we were riding near Route 1, which is exactly where I'd been doing my training. We were still on a side road and a pace line formed. There were about 12 guys in the line, but right away, guys started popping off the back. And after my earlier shortcomings I did not want to start hopping the the queue and cutting people off. But these guys weren't getting back on so I started moving up, settling in, pulling people behind me as I went. We settled into about eight people, with Tom on the front and a guy from Keltic named Gerard (?) behind him. Tom would pop out every so often, clearly not expending himself too dearly, seeing who was along for the ride..

Then he and Gerard went. I was waiting for someone else to go and the gap was getting bigger, and no one was going. So I pulled out of the line, and hopped the gap. A couple of guys urged me on as I went, which I though was kind of funny, I mean this was a charity ride, but hey, whatever, I needed it. It was hard work getting across the gap, but I did get there. At some point Gerard dropped and there I was, on Tom Danielson's wheel. What the hell ?

Then someone went by us. Now this is breaking the primal rule. I learned this riding with Eric. If you are riding with someone that can drop you at will, and they want to be in front, then you don't pass them. It's simple logic. Anyway, this guy passed, and then pretty soon he too was gone. I was not. There I was, sucking Tom Danielson's wheel, riding pretty damn hard. He was probably going 80%, I was going 95%.

One more guy joined the mix, and Tom dropped back to see who else was coming, but there wasn't anyone else. I was still second wheel, but with Tom behind me. And then I looked down and saw a front wheel on my right, on road I'd never have ridden on, and I felt a very gentle hand on my hip. Tom Danielson wanted to get by. He didn't push, he was just saying 'Hey, I'm here'. I gave him some room and he moved in front and then that's when the race was on. I looked down and I was hammering away at 37mph- and I was out of contact of both Tom and the guy that was second wheel, who had also been dropped. I was still hammering, but it was over. He looked back to make sure we were still there, and turned into the school. I was expecting the rest of the ride to ride me down then, but that didn't happen, we'd made our getaway and the little charity ride had turned out to give me two great stories.

I have to give big props to Tom Danielson again, because he stayed and gave individual pictures with each and every person that wanted one. (see mine below). I was really, really impressed with how much of himself he put into the event.

I went back out, added another twenty miles, then ran a 6:30 mile on the track, packed it up, and went home, workout completed, and yeah, I had a hell of a lot of fun too.

No comments: