Sometimes, I feel that the last three years on the bike haven’t been leading up to much. Oh, I can tell my fitness is getting better, and I can climb hills that I couldn’t climb a year ago, but overall, I don’t feel I’m any great shakes on two wheels.
Then a weekend like this one comes along.
Saturday morning, Pat and I took a newbie friend out on the Mopac loop. Usually, I sprint ahead of Pat and wait for her at several points along the route. This day was no exception. But when I stopped at the top of a long downhill, I saw Pat’s friend, Cynthia, coming up on me faster than I had expected. She went by me before I could get clipped in. Another rider was coming up fast too, but I pulled out ahead of him and started to gather speed on the downhill.
I glanced over my shoulder, and the other guy had grabbed my wheel. “Okay,” I said to myself, “let’s see what you’ve got.” We caught and passed Cynthia doing 31 mph and getting faster. I got into an aero tuck, and pushed in my highest gear. When I reached the big left bend at the bottom of the hill, I looked back again. The guy wasn’t there.
I waited for Pat and Cynthia at the top of another hill. A rider in a blue U.S. Postal jersey led Cyn up the hill to me. When he pulled even, I asked, “How ya doin’?” He seemed surprised. “Fine,” he said, and he spun by easily in a high cadence.
Once Pat caught us, we set out again. We caught U.S. Postal, and both Cyn and I passed him. A little farther on, Cyn said, “That was funny when he decided to draft you.”
“That was the guy?” I asked. “He was there, and suddenly he wasn’t. I thought he might have crashed.”
“Nah,” she said. “He ran out of gas, and just stopped pedaling.”
This morning, we were together again at another Mamma Jamma training ride. Pat was doing the 22-mile route, Cynthia, her friend Liz, and I were doing the 37-miler. I knew from past experience that Pat would be waiting about an hour for us, and I didn’t want to keep her too long.
We got out into the country, and I fell into a comfortable pace. But that pace put me well ahead of the rest of the 37-mile group. I made it to a convenience store about nine miles into the ride, where I stopped to wait. The 46-milers, who had started a little before us, were just pulling out.
I decided I wouldn’t push too hard for the rest of the ride, and when we got started again, I fell in behind several others. But my comfortable pace took over again, and pretty soon I was out in front. I stopped at an intersection another five miles along, and waited for everyone to regroup.
Again we set out. Again, I went into the lead. I raced a dog that wanted to get in some speed work. I waited for the group one more time before we pulled back into the convenience store for another break.
The ride leader seemed content to lolligag at the convenience store, and it must have been another 15 minutes before we finally pulled out. He and I separated from the group quickly. When we reached a turn three miles down the road, he said he would regroup again. I told him I was going on.
I got back into my comfortable pace, and soon caught some of the laggards from the 46-mile group — then some more. When I got to the starting point, Pat told me she had waited more than an hour. I loaded up the bikes and we pulled out — with no sign of the other 37-milers.
Sometimes when I ride with my club, I get discouraged about my lack of progress. I’m always bringing up the rear. This weekend, I was out in front so much I felt out of place. My average speed was 15.1 yesterday, and 15.5 today, so I’m not burning up the road. But I wasn’t tired, never was short of breath, and felt good throughout both rides. It might not always seem like it, but I’m a better rider than I used to be.