Thursday, July 14, 2011

House of Pain

First an update on our fund-raising efforts for the Courage Classic:  Thanks to you all, Celeste and I have now raised $930 for Denver's Children's Hospital!  Our goal is $2,000, so if you're still considering donating, please feel free to click one of our links below and give a little something to Children's Hospital on our behalf: 

Eat a big lunch, I told myself yesterday, you’re going to have to put your big-boy pants on today.  So I horfed down my usual peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and supplemented that with Monday’s leftover coconut curry stir fry (one of four or five “go to” dinners I can make with some competence, incidentally), hoping the extra calories would help see me through the Pro Velo Fort Collins Cycling Team weekly group ride.

I had asked my friend Dan if there were any “spirited group rides” I could do to get in a tough cycling workout in advance of the Courage Classic, which is how I found myself leaning against my trusty Novara Strada (oh, yes, with a name like “Novara”, it has to be Italian, right?  Right??) with 29 other spandex-clad bean-poles Wednesday after work.  Quite a few of the riders were wearing the local Echelon Energy team  riding kit (expertly modeled by Dan on the web page there), and several others sporting other local bike team apparel.  These were like, real riders, on real bikes.  These guys (and ladies, of which there were 3 I think) actually train and compete on these things.  Oh yes, I was solidly out of my league.

I felt like I was 13 years old again, trying out for my junior high school baseball team (I made the team, backup outfielder, emphasis on the backup part).  Quite frankly I had no business being there, but it was too late to turn back now, and besides, what’s the worst that could happen?  Well seeing as though there were no other 13-year old kids standing around and waiting to point fingers at me and laugh and make fun of my sub-standard hand-eye coordination (what’s the use of being able to run to the ball if you can’t catch the darn thing?), the worst that could happen is that I could get “dropped”.  You see, group biking isn’t like group running.  There’s a huge incentive to stay bunched together in a group, or dare I say, peleton, in order to minimize the affects of wind-resistance.  At running speeds this affect is far less pronounced, so runners don’t typically feel the need to run in a tight-knit group.  Group cycling, on the other hand, is all about the group.  And if you’re not fit enough to hang on to the group, well, you may want to consider going on a solo ride.  I had no idea if I could hang on to this group, advertised as an “opportunity to ride with some of Fort Collins fastest”, but I was going to give it a try all the same.

I think the Decemberists say it best...

I looked around and went through various scenarios of shame and glory in my head.  Worst case; some peroxide-blonde 80s villain jerk takes one look at me and my $750 bike (“but it’s Italian, I swear!” (it's not) ), and declares that I am unfit for the ride, and I slink back to my running friends with tears in my eyes and malice in my heart.  Clearly I’m still stuck on the 1983 team sports memories here.  Only slightly less humiliating; I am allowed to ride with the group, but am quickly dropped by all 29 other riders as they fly away from me in a monolithic fascist peleton, leaving me as the only person who can not keep up.  Somewhat acceptable; I am able to hang on to the back of the pack and actually ride with someone.  Maybe not the lead group, but I am actually involved in the ride.  Better still; I am in the lead group, I am mixing it up, I even take a turn pulling the front of the peleton.  And best of all; I find out that I am the strongest rider of the group, a cycling savant as it were, and they ask me to be their king, and buy me beers and peroxide.

So the ride starts out; so far so good.  We are riding through town, heading towards Loveland via Shields, and there are plenty of stoplights so the group stays together.  I am in the middle of the pack and feeling guardedly optimistic that I won’t get completely dropped.  Mostly I am enjoying doing the cool “watch out for this stuff on the road” hand signals and getting used to riding in close proximity to other cyclists.  South of Harmony there is a 2-mile stretch of road uninterrupted by stoplights and featuring a small hill.  I find that I have to put in a tough effort to keep up, and I’m getting passed by a couple of cyclists, but I make it back to the pack at the light at Trilby.

Then it happens.  The light turns green, and the real ride begins.  Oh.  My. Goodness.  The main group charges out ahead and I am quickly gapped, although I am not last.  We are riding into a headwind and I know that it is critical to find some people to ride with in order to take advantage of drafting.  I start to put in a huge effort, and I manage to catch up to a couple of other cyclists who have also been spit out of the main group.  We take turns pulling each other along and try to make up ground on the lead group, but it’s hopeless.  But I keep trying all the same.  I’m not going to give up without a fight, so I keep pushing.  It’s hot out, I’m sweating like an African zebra being chased by a Tasmanian Devil, my thighs are screaming at me (and this on a relatively flat stretch of road), and I am having trouble keeping up even with my little pack of five.  One of the riders, Ryan, notices my distress and offers that maybe I should “hang on the back” for a bit, meaning I should stop taking turns leading the group.  He’s being nice, and he’s right, but I want to feel like I’m contributing and not just hanging on, so mainly I ignore him.  I’m going down in a blaze of glory, baby.

Our chase group splinters into two groups of 2 and a single rider off the back.  I’m in the middle group of two.  We’re taking turns pulling each other along Highway 34 west of Loveland and glade road.  I can see the lead group of two and I decide I want to try to catch up to them, so I max out my effort once more and reach them where Glade road meets the main Masonville road.  Ryan goes right, towards Masonville, and the other cyclist left, back towards Highway 34.  I follow Ryan to the right, although I later find out the group route was supposed to go left here.  I catch up to Ryan and we catch another rider.  “I’m trashed,” I say as I latch on to this new group of three.  “No problem,” he says, “we’ll catch our breath a bit and then do some short pulls.”  You know, these cyclists are really nice.  Very few of them are even blonde.  It’s encouraging.  It’s all I can do to keep up with my little group of three, but I take my turns leading the pack all the same.  If I’m going to participate in the ride I am going to work my share.

Our little group makes it to Masonville and as we begin the climb to Horsetooth Mountain Park I realize that I am completely shot.  I have no energy for this relatively minor climb, having spent all of my strength trying to keep up with these spandex-clad crazies on the flats.  My two partners quickly leave me behind, and finally, 24 miles into what turned out to me a 38 mile ride, I let them go and start to ride at my own pace.

Now at this point I actually had managed to keep several of the other riders behind me, but now several of them start to reel me in on the hill.  And some of the “big dogs” catch me as well, even though I took a 4 mile shortcut to Masonville.  Heck, I’m sure some of the really fast riders beat me to Masonville even though they took the longer route.

Up and over Horesetooth mountain park I went, where I could see the top of towers, and I wistfully thought of my bi-weekly group trail run up to that shining landmark.  For you see on towers I feel like a hero.  Out here on the bike getting passed, I feel more like a zero.  But it’s ok.  I realize that it’s good to be humbled, to stick out your neck, to try and fail.  Fail big, in full color.  I got a lyric from Prince stuck in my head, “Whenever you say that you can’t, that’s when you need to be trying”, and that brightened my mood as I separated completely from the group ride at the South dam of Horsetooth reservoir and took a crack at maniac hill, before dropping down to Hughes stadium and thence directly back home.

Prince knows what I'm talking about

So I’d say that the experience fell somewhere between “hanging on to the back of the pack”, and “getting dropped completely”.  I’m no king, but I didn’t get laughed at either.  I’m happy that I tried to ride with the big boys and girls, happy, even, to have been dropped and humbled by the experience.  And I’ll try it again in a few weeks, absolutely. 

And once again, the links for our courage classic fund-raising: 


  1. You are so brave, Slush! Group rides are intimidating... and, now you know how I feel at group runs! Let's ride when I get back!

  2. Hmm, what part of “spirited group rides” was Dan thinking of when you mentioned this? Survival rate in shark infested waters would have been higher than this Wed. group!! ;)

  3. You'll always be a hero to us Scott . . . just watch out for the paper boy and make sure you've got his two dollars.