I woke up Thursday morning and there was snow on the ground! I hadn’t heard anything about that in the weather reports. There was no childlike wonder at the first surprise snow of the season. No! All I thought was, “What about tonight’s ride?”
My plan was to ride the Monroe Bike Path with the Action Wheels road team. It’s very dangerous to ride a road bike in icy conditions, so I knew they would call the ride if the snow did not melt. There was also the danger of the water from the melted snow refreezing on the pavement when nightfall approached.
I had options though. On Thursday nights, I could also do the Ceres mountain bike ride. A little snow would not deter those guys and I know that riding a mountain bike in a little snow is not dangerous. Those grippy tires will handle even a couple inches of snow.
But the snow melted and the roads dried as the day progressed. At 5:00, I got an email update that the ride was on! Yea!
I’m in my rest week, so I’m full of energy with little chance to use it. The training schedule called for my normal 2-hour ride tonight with hard efforts. I have done this ride a couple times now. I know how the pace feels and I know I can do the neighborhood crit practice without getting dropped. I decided I would push harder tonight than I’d done before. My goal is to eventually start taking pulls in the front.
So, I pulled up in the parking lot and immediately saw Kristin. I was excited. Another girl on the ride!
We had a good-sized group of about 12 people. I started off the first lap in the middle of the pack. No more back of the line for me. I knew how to pace myself and I wanted to get a feel for the wind at the front. I was also used to riding in a group again. No more stiff neck and locked arms… No more nervousness about getting too close to the wheel… I was comfortable with the ride and the riders.
My legs felt great as I varied between spinning at 85 rmps and 100 rpms. I was beginning to feel more comfortable at the higher cadences. I could pedal smoothly at 100 rpm with no bouncing. Thank you pedal drills!
I got in the back by accident for the return trip of the first lap. I didn’t mind. I got to chat to Drew a little about racing and age. He had joined the ride late and had just caught us. That man has some power! He has a son who’s just getting into the high levels of road racing but his age is no deterrent of his power! He is known as the slave driver on this ride. He’s normally at the front, pushing everyone.
Right at the end of the last lap, the guys in the front pushed the pace. My chatting and lack of attention at that moment caused me to gap off the back. I stood up and pedaled hard. Drew was surprised too. “Yeah, finish strong,” he said. He sped up too. Feeling the power in my legs as I sprinted for about 15 seconds was awesome. I love that feeling of pushing… especially when it’s accompanied by actually catching the people your chasing. In moments, we were back on. I was breathing hard, but smiling.
The second lap was faster. I stayed in the back because I wanted to conserve a little energy for the crit practice. I was in the last position of the left line of riders. Andrew was in front of me. Little did I know I was about to have a crash.
The leaves on the edge of paved trail encroach in certain spots. The group gets squeezed a little closer together and our tires slice through the debris, crunching and crackling. I always stare at the edge of the trail getting tighter and tighter. It curves in and out with an undulating motion as you pedal along it. It can become mesmerizing. Sometime, a rider can get so caught in a zone, staring at the hypnotic trail’s edge, that they suddenly realize they’re off the trail.
Well, Andrew went off the edge of the trail. I heard him say, “Oh!” and he started slowing down. I slowed down behind him. I figured he’d correct his line and get back on the trail.
Suddenly this thought popped into my head. “What if he goes down?”
Well, he did go down.
He said later, that he should have just coasted to a stop before getting back on the pavement.
But instead, he turned his wheel to the right to get back on. The wheel edge got caught on the side of the pavement and he went down, sprawling sideways across the trail.
I had nowhere to go to avoid him. I should have anticipated this. Luckily, I had already been braking so I was only going about 14 mph when I saw him crash. I pulled on my brake levers as hard as I could and I almost stopped. My front wheel hit his bike and I fell sideways off the bike over top of Andrew and his bike. A slow fall. I had time to plan where I would put my hands as I landed on the ground.
Andrew was asking me if I was ok as I was already trying to get up off him. I was sprawled out in push-up position with two bikes and guy underneath me. It was hard to back off the pileup and figure out where to put my feet. I didn’t want to push up off the bikes and grind them down into him. I had to shimmy backwards with my butt in the air until I could get my feet under me and stand.
I was shaky, but uninjured. Everyone was coming back by then.
“Are you ok?” “Did you both go down?” “What happened?” “Check your bike.” “Roll the wheels.” “Does it shift?”
I was so relieved I wasn’t hurt. Andrew seemed worried about that. He looked fine, but I saw him looking at his gloves and elbow. He was ok to continue the ride though.
I started riding but my chain was grinding against something. I stopped and the guys helped me hold the bike up, shift, pedal, check the gears… Turns out the chain had popped out of the gear and needed to be shifted back into onto a ring properly. I later discovered that my rear blinky light was knocked askew too. Inside, the batteries had been knocked off their holders and the light was out for the rest of the ride, unbeknownst to me. At home, I aligned everything and it worked again.
We got back to speed and regrouped. What a close call. It could have been worse. We were very lucky.
So, on the return trip of our second lap, we turned into the neighborhood for the crit practice. The overall average speed was slower because we over shot a turn and had to go back. Also, we encountered a few cars as we approached some corners that we normally rail. It’s kinda of funny to watch the cars react to us. They don’t know what to make of a group of bright lights coming toward them very fast! They usually just stop in the middle of the road.
Even though the average speed was slower, the high speeds we maintained were faster. I was still able to hang. At the very end, they sprinted to the finish. About 4 or 5 other riders did not sprint. I stayed with them. We were quickly back on the group as the sprinters coasted and recovered. The pace was still very fast, about 26 mph. A bike length opened up in front of me. I stood up to close it, but couldn’t. This moment lasted 10 seconds and I was just admitting to myself that I’d been gapped, but then suddenly they were slowing down for the turn. It was done.
If I was gapped, it was only for a few seconds, not 30 seconds like last time.
The ride continued. For the last out-and-back lap, I got into the 2ndposition. I felt more wind than before. It was tough enough to hold the 20 mph pace behind someone that I knew I wouldn’t be able to pull tonight.
I don’t want to pull until I can do the whole pull. These guys don’t rotate in a pace line. They just volunteer to be in the front for a 6-mile run. They hold 18-21 mph depending on the elevation changes. I suppose that no one would say anything if I pulled for a partial lap, but since they all pull the whole time, I want to be able to do it too. The thing is… these guys are all super fit. They race road bikes in the summer. This ride is just a tempo ride for them. So, it’s easy for them to pull for 17 minutes at 20 mph. I’m not there yet. Hopefully soon!