Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Championship Games,

Or, I Can’t Drop Them All.

Today is Thursday, and that means the hill day local lunchtime hammerfest ride. “Ah-ha!” though I, “I’ll give ‘em what for!” I cruised out the 25 km to meet up with the club, and the nicer weather saw about 20 riders show up. I’m not on their team, but these guys are all really nice folks who don’t seem to mind.

This is a serious “unofficial race.” The first few ks are a warm-up (for those who haven’t already), but after the turnaround from the MUT, it’s on. No regrouping, a set route, first person in wins nothing at all.

The first hill of the day is Highway 16, a moderate grade that gets a bit steeper towards the end, followed by a right turn and a shorter, very steep section. Then it’s a few rollers, one more short leg-burner, and another right turn for a twisty descent back to the path. As the grade of 16 begins, I launch off the front in my typical high-cadence, in-the-saddle style. Just rev the motor and go – it’s not vicious enough to blow people off my wheel right there, but it gets me into a good rhythm for the climb, and typically I see people go red trying to keep up, and then fall off the pace.

This happens to most of the riders; only two have joined me: one of the fast guys on the team and another hanger-on that I haven’t seen before. I motion the team guy behind me to take a pull; he does, but it’s not at the pace I’d like. I come back around, put my head down, and accelerate. I glance under my arm to see that he’s been dropped, but one more rider is stubbornly there, in a blue-and-red jersey. Hrm. I accelerate again, but it’s to no avail. He’s stuck there.

I flick my elbow and indicate he’d better take a turn. At that point, it begins to sink in that his jersey is not just blue and red. It’s blue, with red and white stripes and some stars on it. So are his shorts. And his socks.

Oh.

This means one of two things, folks: VERY presumptuous, or national champion. Guess which one this guy is?

He leads the right turn over the steeper section, skillfully navigating a sidewalk and large potholes that leave me gapped for a moment. I hang back on the wheel, go into the red for a moment, and accelerate out of the saddle. Mouth open, The Champ comes right behind me, and we trade pulls to the top.

He shows me the skills 20 years of road racing gives you on the steep descent, and I lose a few seconds as we’re spat out at 75 km/hr into a roundabout, and from there, I’m chasing to close the gap. He’s full steam, too, and that few seconds’ space stubbornly remains. I almost close it over the next gradual rise, then the transition onto the sidewalk and a hairpin back onto the MUT forces it out again. I don’t close it down before the “finish line,” but the rest of the guys are out of sight.

That was hard. The employer-based team’s long lunch is over, and the Champ and I roll on down the road, chatting about the source of his jersey (Masters’ Road Race, 2005) and how long I’ve been cycling (About 18 months). We hit a few more serious hills that are “on the way” home, pushing the pace hard, then split off at the top of the canyon. He’s impressed, he says, and would love to train together again sometime soon.

Very cool.

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