Out on my Saturday morning neighborhood ride, I headed over to the Veloway to add some extra miles before heading home. The Hill Country Inline Skating Club was out in force, with a big event for them. There were more inline skaters than cyclists on the Veloway this day.
I started my first lap, and saw a lone skater ahead of me. He appeared to be going at about my speed, so I decided to try to catch him. A small rise slowed him down, and I went past, but soon heard the telltale “swish, swish, swish” of his skate’s wheels right behind me. I looked over my shoulder, and his face was about three feet from mine! Talk about drafting!
I smiled at him, he smiled back, and I set down to business. I had pulled skaters before, and it’s lots of fun. Amazing how fast they can go. We finished the first lap, and he stuck with me for another.
“Hope you don’t mind if I draft,” he said.
“No, but are you in an organized event? Is it allowed?” I answered.
“Just friendly competition,” he said. “Drafting is allowed.”
“Let’s go then,” I said.
Three inline skaters were in a paceline ahead of us, their legs in sync with each other. I got us behind them, then pulled out to go past. They all laughed, and pointed at their buddy behind me. But the next thing you know, the “swish, swish, swish” was louder, more intense. I glanced back, and they had all fallen in behind. Now I had four skaters in tow, and I felt some pressure, because these guys were fast.
They looked like elite racing cyclists — all muscle and sinew, wearing the same kind of lycra kit and helmets we do. The middle guy of the three was rather stocky, compared to the others, but every bit as fast.
I pushed hard into a brisk north wind, around a couple of hairpin turns, and signaled that I was moving left, around a couple pedaling leisurely on their hybrid bikes. Then came the short, steep hill that is the landmark for the back half of the Veloway. I downshifted, and turned into the hill, as I saw the leader of the skaters pull even with me on my left.
Damn! I missed a shift, and three of them went by me. The original drafter had apparently fallen off the back. At the top of the hill, I pedaled hard, determined to get back in front and resume the draft. They had a different idea. As I drew even in the left lane, instead of glomming onto my wheel for a free ride, they started racing me!
Now we were on the back straightaway, with a nice tailwind. I couldn’t relax. The wind helped them as much — maybe more — as it helped me. I got ahead at a sweeping right turn, and they lined up behind me again. Up a rise, around a bend to the right, then left, then right — and then into a testy uphill segment. I downshifted, and the three went by me again — this time, to stay. I watched as they drew further ahead, not able to make up any lost ground on them.
They made the last turn toward the start-finish line. I peeled off across the parking lot, since my two laps were done. I could hear the announcer on his bullhorn call their finishing times — 1:39-something. Yipes! That meant they probably did a 10-lap race — 33 miles — and still had enough oomph at the end to clock 22 mph speeds on the flats.
It reminded me of the time a skater passed me on the Veloway about a year ago, and I pushed hard just to stay with him — I couldn’t pass him, no matter how hard I tried. At the end of the lap, he congratulated me for keeping up. Huh? It turned out he was some kind of inline champion.
It’s a lot of fun to be drafted by these guys — but less fun to be passed by them.