Two things are a given on any group ride. First, it will start with everyone offering their excuses as to why they won’t be at their best that day. Then the ride will actually begin, and it will be a flat out race to see who can best put the hurt on his friends, excuses be damned.
This morning’s Alpine Loop ride, being the first of the season, had much anticipation, and so the excuses began via email the day before the ride.
Adam: I'm fatty. If you use "fatty" as an adjective. (Extremely fit men talking about how fat they are is a favorite pastime amongst cyclists.)
Aaron: I asked Adam if he was racing the biathlon tonight with Brandon and me and he said he was pedaling easy today in preparation for tomorrow. So not only did Adam make it a race, but he is TAPERING for this one. (Aaron uses a shrewd tactic here, mentioning his excuse—racing the night before—as well as misdirecting the attention towards Adam as the man to beat.)
Eber: Anybody got a connection for EPO and HGH? I’m going to need some to see the front end of these weekly races.
Trent: Instead of riding, anybody want to go to Ihop for all you can eat pancakes? I think it's time to gain some weight. (Punts on second down.)
Nick: I just did a lunch ride and my legs felt like pancakes. (Lunch rides are not racing but conveniently let the group know you didn’t taper. And that you don’t feel 100%.)
Me: I am doing the crit at DMV tonight, and I'm not going easy/tapering, so if I have no legs in the morning, that's why. Which means, if I happen to beat Adam--especially after the hurt he put on me Monday--it will be that much more satisfying. (I employed Aaron’s excuse/misdirection tactic, which, after his blog post, put all the pressure on Adam. Would he deliver?)
Elden: [Nothing spoken, but conveniently let word get out that he had ridden the gauntlet the day before.]
The ride to the ride began with Jonnie J and I meeting at the four-way stop for the ride down the hill. We had a tailwind as we descended and clocked an unprecedented 92kph on the descent. That’s nearly 30kph over the speed limit on that road, so we were taking the left traffic lane in anticipation of our left turn. Yet somehow some woman in a SUV felt like we were still impeding her and decided to pull in behind us and honk. I’ll try to go faster next time so as not to be in her way. Sheesh.
At 7:00 a.m. we all met at the mouth of American Fork Canyon to see whose excuses were legit and who came to ride. Truth be told, we all came to ride, but wanted the excuse in the back pocket in case someone else was up to riding just a bit harder.
Sometimes we do this ride for placing, sometimes for time, sometimes for both. The good turnout combined with the advent of the Alpine Loop TT meant today was a day for both. And since the clock starts at the fee booth, that’s where I started.
I think it caught everyone off guard, as I quickly had a small gap on the group. I briefly wondered if they’d actually let me open a real gap but knew this group too well. Within minutes we were all back together, each trading pulls, doing our duty on the front. I braced myself to suffer for the next hour.
After the turnoff to Tibble, where the road starts to get steep and you say goodbye to your big ring, Rick launched the first real attack of the day. Adam covered, then Elden, Nick, and I fought our way back on. It wasn’t long until Rick went again, and this time the gap stuck. Adam then gapped me, while Elden, Nick, and I stayed together in the chase.
Below Pine Hollow, I got a little gap on Elden and Nick and came tantalizingly close to catching Adam. I knew Rick was gone for good. Shortly after Pine Hollow, Elden caught me again and mentioned we must have been separated at birth. Seriously, the question of who’s faster typically comes down to who weighs less. Our power output has to be within a few watts of each other. At the moment, we both weigh the same, so it’s no surprise we saw a lot of each other.
Elden and I continued to chase Adam, inching closer and closer, waiting for him to crack, even plotting to flip off his rear-mounted video camera as we went by. His head was bobbing, his shoulders starting to rock. Unfortunately for us, Adam also has a tremendous capacity for suffering and had to have been consciously overriding his sub-conscious desire to pull the plug. I know that’s how I kept going.
At mile marker 17, there’s just over 2k to go to the summit. I knew if I was going to catch Adam, I needed to make it happen then. I accelerated just a bit, just enough to gap Elden, and started inching closer.
Adam knew I was there. The gap seemed to shrink, but the increments were too tiny. At mile marker 18, the flamme rouge on this climb, I put it into the big ring and began a measured pursuit—all out pursuit would mean an all out implosion, but pacing I thought I just might bridge. Adam began a measured escape at the same time, and I knew it was not to be.
What was to be was a personal best time on that climb—not bad for this early in the season. Rick rolled in about 30 seconds ahead of Adam, who was at 55 minutes flat. I was 13 seconds back, and Elden just over 30 seconds behind me. The previous best time for a group ride was around 57 minutes, and that happened late season when we were presumably on better form. We’ll see if we can best Elden’s 53:11 from last year before the summer ends.
Of course the real race is to the fee booth at the bottom of the hill. Nick and I worked together on the descent and had the lead at Tibble, but we could see Jon and Rick close behind. Sprinting it out between two isn’t as fun as four, so we let them catch on and finished the descent together.
Jon took a huge pull below the cave, and I was feathering my breaks to avoid getting sucked into his rear wheel. Then Rick made an early move, and I got on his wheel. A bit earlier than I wanted, but I hoped to hold it. I felt Jon coming on my left and Nick on my right. We were all three on level terms at the guard booth—none of us has any idea who was first across, and without a photo finish we’ll never know. No time bonuses today, but 18 minutes to undo 55 minutes of climbing was a just reward.