And So It Begins
Wherein the author describes the beginning of the journey...
We launched out of Columbus in a jostling flurry. The motorcycles blazed a path through the dewy morning streets, and the front of the pack settled into a three-wide arrow, following the lead rider.
|Iron Man leads us out of town.|
I jumped into the fray and found a comfortable spot in the front dozen. I had a few Clydesdales in front of me (polite racer-speak for "large men"), who seemed perfectly happy to ride together and protect me from the wind.
The lead rider's long, steady pull settled the group while forcing an initial selection. Sure, there were a lot of guys in the lead bunch who wouldn't be there after Starner Hill (whoa). But the folks in the first 30 or so could do their part, rotating in and out of the wind like an Emperor penguin daddy colony, protecting their precious cargo from the biting chill.
|My turn, no, YOUR turn...get out there in that wind!|
The city rolled past us. We entered and exited suburbia and glided into rural country. Steady, calm, no surprises.
I stayed in the middle, maintaining a position in the initial dozen or so riders. It was the safest place to be: no "sketchy" riders ride that close to the front; I could see and react to any road hazards, as opposed to the blind-riding that occurs in the big bunch; and I could keep my eye on people, learning who was strong, who was laboring, and who had what habit.
Wherein the author describes shares secrets...
We all have them: habits. Like poker "tells", they identify us. One guy loves to ride with one hand in the drops and one hand on the hoods. Another guy likes to ride on the bar tops—he's the one to avoid. No way he gets to his brakes in time.
|What's your tell, M. Le Chiffre?|
Some riders have an exaggerated "throw" of the bike when they get out of the saddle, and woe betide the rider on his wheel. When the "thrower" launches, his bike jets back a few inches, and an unwary follower eats rubber (and possibly gravel). Bad. Bad. Bad.
And then there's snot-rocket guy...You've got the idea...
Cyclists—especially racers—look for these tells. A bobbing shoulder, or a particular look on one's face can say volumes about how you are feeling, and let you know when to attack.
I have habits. For example, I adopt Chris Horner's smile/grimace when I'm suffering, and I come out of the saddle more than is fashionable, or predictable. But not all of my habits are harmless. I always grab my bottles with my right hand, and nudge to the left when doing so. Unless I am completely focused on not swerving, it happens. A multitude of shoulder injuries have had their impact! I'm not as young as I used to be! I'm left...no! Right-brained!
I know this, and I try to make amends. When I drink, I try to do so only when I have space around me. And when I eat, I move outside the bunch—into the wind. It's safer for everyone. Especially me! I don't want to be that guy..
Wherein the author writes of input and output...
The steady pace let me eat and drink comfortably. I didn't plan to stop on the ride—if I did, I knew I would have a hard time bridging back.
Dave C whizzed past, taking his station near the front. His white-and-black kit standing out amid the explosion of color around me. He looked good—fit and happy and bursting with speed.
Blair Beavers (Old School Blair), on his lovely steel steed, paced with precision; making forays into the front, and representing the Limited Brands Peloton with aplomb.
MS Trent was everywhere—sometimes in front, sometimes behind. His white spokes whirred dazzlingly as he chatted up and down the line. He had a video camera on board, and has quality footage of my rear end, and a flopping, flapping name-tag thingy. Why, oh why, did I bother to put that thing on?
Pelotonia 2011 - The Adventures of the Bath & Body Works Brothers from MS Trent on Vimeo.
One of my habits is to not look behind me. This sounds strange, but it answers the question: "Where was Sloan?" I had no idea. When I ride I am completely conscious of my immediate front and periphery. I sense what is behind me, but (unless it's a race, and tactics dictate it) I don't look back.
Sloan could have been behind the guy sucking my wheel, but his whereabouts were unknown to me. I didn't even know how big (or small) our group was. It really didn't matter.
We glided past the 23-mile stop, with barely a blink. It was only notable for the one rider who pulled off to use the bathroom. Given our pace, we wouldn't see him again.
Unfortunately, his leaving reminded me that I needed to pee.
I was not yet at floating-eyeballs level, but I could have used the stop. It's that whole pre-ride hydration thing. and once that "I gotta pee" thought pops into your head, you're doomed.
Wherein the author discusses detritus...
Before I could blink, we approached Amanda (mile 43) and—almost as though on signal—bottles flew.
Like popcorn from an air-popper, bottles popped out of the bunch. We rolled through town, and pop a white one flew to the left, then pop-pop-pop a yellow and a white to the right, a blue to the left.
It was something to see.
|Souvenirs! But I'm not certain how the locals felt|
about having our discards in their lawns...
Yet, there I was, riding with a crew of tossers!
Unfortunately, these guys were heaving their bottles into front yards. That seemed a bit rude to me.
Now, in fairness, I had tossed one (of the three I'd started with) as we passed the first rest stop. And that's the point, I threw it into the rest stop, where I knew that volunteers would dispose of it.
And that was my plan in Amanda: drop a bottle in the rest area, and be gone!
Flying through the parking lot I tossed a bottle (into which I had put my food wrappers), aiming for a garbage can. I hit it, with a satisfying "thud". Grinning with childish self-satisfaction, I rolled on...
Wherein the author finds himself in the middle of a Spring Classic...
Left. Right, then left. Cornfields. Farmhouses. Small hills. Then...larger, rolling hills .
Fast descents, slower ascents. The bunch held together, constantly reconfiguring. Big guys go fast downhill. Little guys go fast uphill. I'm in the middle at 173 pounds, so I was flitting about, like a bird in flight—finding my place in the flock.
I knew from previous years—and recent visitors emphatically confirmed—that the valley road leading to the Starner Hill (whoa) turn was a mess. Translation: eat and drink at the covered bridge; it's your last chance!
I saw the bridge, shot some gel, swallowed some water. I drank a little more than I wanted—to prepare. We made the left, and...
...it was on!
|The cobbles of Arenberg...in Ohio?|
In Paris-Roubaix—a legendary race that must be seen to be believed (and even then, it's difficult to appreciate)—when the pros approach the Forest of Arenberg's brutal cobblestones, the peloton accelerates. It's blinding. It's as fast as the lead-out for a sprint finish, but there's no finish line in sight, and it's over roads that test mettle and metal with merciless scrutiny. Riders fight for position, using every tactic and trick to lever themselves in with the leaders. Why? Because the Arenberg Forest is treacherous. It destroys bikes and mocks carefully-planned stratagems. It is a force of nature.
Who decided to throw-down the gauntlet and power through the valley?
So, who the hell declared that this road was our Arenberg? When did this become Paris-Roubaix?
Someone lit the fuse; we were flying.
The group scattered. We took the entire width of the road—praying that no cars would appear from the other direction—and spread ourselves. Orange paint marked the largest of the hazards, but it would take a pool-full of paint to warn us of what was to come.
|This is what you're trying to prevent |
by powering across the rough stuff.
I glanced at my computer and saw 500 watts. Holy carp! Really? 500?
Perspective: I ride long tempo at 275 watts; I press on climbs at 450 watts. On a flat? 500 watts puts me just under 30 mph.
We were moving!
MS Trent was a few positions in front of me when life became slow-motion.
Bottle! Bottle! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling...
|It's a missile!|
...as bicycles raced past at 30 miles per hour.
And somehow, some way, by some small miracle, it bounced to the side of the road—and no one got hurt.
Gobsmacked. I was gobsmacked.
At that speed, in those conditions, for that to have happened, a slew of guardian angels worked overtime. How they managed it, I'll never know. Maybe they play hockey in their down-time, or maybe they all had a bet on "how many bounces can we get and still keep our boys safe." I don't know.
I do know, however, that I wasn't thinking about how badly I needed to pee. I was praying to the Holy Spoke that I would survive!
Starner Hill (Whoa)
Wherein the author recounts his ascent of Pelotonia's most-famous hill...
Really, it's not that bad. Three kicks and you're there. That's all: three hard kicks.
Now, a "kick" in this case is "an effort." It's not one leg-thrust, but many revolutions, following an initial power surge.
In other words, the hill goes up and levels off three separate times. You kick each time it rises.
Three small hills; that's all!
Not buying it?
We made the right off the Road to Roubaix and onto the Starner Hill (whoa) approach, rattling past a rest stop. People cheered! Nice! It helped relieve my mind of a nasty realization: if anything, this road was worse than our previous dragstrip. This made the Road to Roubaix look like the Yellow Brick Road. Gravel! Potholes! Cracks! Lions! Tigers! Bears! Oh, my!
And the band played on.
I took a 30-second recovery, considered the tactical situation, grabbed my bottle, and nearly drained it.
Yes, tactics mattered. I knew that Rick the PPPPP-PP SAG master was somewhere after the next rest stop—the now-legendary stop atop Starner Hill (whoa)—and I had a bottle-and-fuel cache with him. So, I could afford to drink.
But what of the guys around me? We had just power-blazed across the past two miles and we were about to hit the first climb. Who had what left? Who were the gazelles? Who were the Clydesdales? Where was MS Trent? Whither Dave C.? What about OS Blair?
MS Trent was gone. Dave C. was on the front. OS Blair was just ahead. I was boxed-in among three Clydesdales. I couldn't tell who was still strong.
|There's where it starts! I couldn't see it |
from behind the behinds I was behind.
And I planned to attack.
The selection would be here—that much was clear. The lead-in had softened legs, and riders were about to get dropped.
The powerful Clydesdales who had gotten us to the base (many thanks!), were going to go. Those with spirit, but not the legs, were about to founder. It was about to happen.
And if I was to have any chance of realizing my ambitions, I had to attack this hill.
The road straightened, chains rattled, gears clattered...we were there!
I spied a gap to my left and shot through, shifting to my climbing gear as I rose from the saddle. I flashed past riders who waited too long to shift, and I was in open space. 360 watts.
I looked down and drove it. Eyes focused on the road just in front of my wheel, conscious of others, but aware that it was every man for himself.
|Just before the top of Starner Hill (whoa) Marty S. unleashes,|
beating me over the top. I hope he was just angry with his bike.
Did he know I wasn't racing him?
I had rhythm as the road leveled. I saw Dave C. as we hit the second rise and moved past him. 600 watts.
I felt good. I had great rhythm and my breathing was in-sync. Lactic acid welled in my legs...and we came to the second reprieve. It was enough, just enough. I flashed a look around, surveying the scene: a handful of riders in front, few near me.Gears exploded next to me as I passed Marty S. Problems with shifting under load. He was not a happy camper.
Steady on. Don't race. The selection is made. You're in the top ten. Steady.
460 watts across the top.
Wherein the author...ah, to hell with it!
A flatter grade means a lower heart rate and less-labored breathing. I finished my water, recovering nicely, and charged. In front of me was a strung-out line of a few riders, negotiating the downs-and-ups that remained on the gravel-strewn roads.
Starner Hill (whoa) has a nasty little secret: it ain't over 'till its over.
You see, after you've climbed her; after your legs and lungs have stopped burning, and your heart has returned to your chest from its stratospheric vacation, you're greeted by some short steeps.
You dig deep, asking your legs to power-up once again. They respond (or not).
I climbed the last of the steeps (590 watts), feeling good as I closed the gap between me and the riders in front.
We passed the World Famous Top Of Starner Hill (Whoa) Rest Stop (the one with the brownies). In my sights along the straightaway in front of me I spied Marty S. and a few others. Tactically, everything was perfect. I was over the top, closing the gap, and my cache was just ahead.
|If a tubular tire explodes in the forest, does anyone hear?|
(Er, yes, they most definitely hear! DAMMIT!)