The thing I love about cycling is that unlike any other sport or workout where I would work for a set amount of time, or until I scored a certain number of points, with cycling I go until I get my fill. I suppose it’s an addiction in a way (luckily a healthy one).
I think this makes all the difference in the world if you are trying to lead a healthy life. At the bare minimum you must find something that you can tolerate and stick to, but if you can find something you love then motivation is never an issue. I was actually reminded of my love for cycling when I went to see a friend of my girlfriend perform at a local bar. They were a jam band and our friend played the lead guitar. A member of the audience requested that they play Sunshine of your Love which they had never played as a band. After a few words of how they’d attack it not only did they nail it, but they also fit in a brilliant on-the-fly guitar solo. When our friend played you could see this widly giddy, childlike grin. This man was wired to play the guitar and you knew he felt it with every fiber of his body and that he loved it. About halfway through the song, though I love the song and the rendition was very interesting, I found my mind wandering to cycling — seeing that joy on stage reminded me of how biking makes me feel alive and love life.
So today’s ride came after a few days off and some travel. The weather was beautiful, sunny and high 60s, no real wind to speak of. I got started around 7:15, right after they close the park off to cars — perfect for draft lines. My legs had a chance to rest but I wasn’t sure if they’d be back to 100% for a good speed workout. Upon entering the park there was a group merging with me and going fast. I really wanted to jump on it but I had no time to warm up so I eased the throttle up just enough to keep them in my sights.
Sometimes you have a day where everyone is working together, and other days everyone keeps a bit of a distance. Tonight it seemed like the people at my pace wanted to keep it real — no taking advantage of each others draft — every man for himself.
The first guy that I started riding near was who I will call “strongman” — the classic muscleman that you can’t quite tell if he’s slightly overweight or insanely ripped. Whichever the case was he had control of the flats — I followed the best I could early on but he was keeping a pace of comfortably over 20mph with no signs of letting up. I wanted to give him a little test so I opened it up on the first hill and after getting over the crest and around the corner he wasn’t even in sight, so I eased off to a comfortably low 20mph pace for a while. At the bottom of the big hill I heard a singing chain and I knew it was him — he rode right past and I was back to the chase again.
Our next rider we picked up was who I will (probably terribly inaccurately) call the crazy German. As we neared the hill he came out of nowhere and raced towards the incline like a maniac. Normally I don’t take every opportunity to lay claim to the hill but I don’t know, something in me this season has made me very protective of this little mound in Prospect Park — I feel it’s my biggest strength and I shouldn’t squander it. So I really put the hammer down and this may be the fastest I’ve ridden this hill this year — I didn’t look closely at the spedometer but we were at just over 22mph before standing and sprinting the 2nd half. Though my body was moving quickly I could barely feel it, my face was relaxed, breathing, and my eyes just lazily followed the white stripes disappearing under my bike as we followed the back-and-forth curves of the pavement.
Over the top I was alone again until the bottom of the hill where the three of us were now riding. Again, nobody was drafting, we all had our own parts of the road and would kind of eye one another every once in a while to see what we were thinking.
A few more laps in we were gaining on a pack of riders, a few of which had track bikes (single fixed gear) who looked like velodrome racers (you can tell by the build and the ease of their spinning). They had a big lead but the crazy German was on the chase from before the hill even started. About half way up the two track bikes took off out of nowhere in full sprint. This is generally not something you have much of a chance against as these track guys a) train to sprint and b) have bikes that are another 5-6lbs lighter than your lightweight road racing bikes (less gears and drivetrain, mostly). Since they already were a third of a hill ahead of me I just leaned down a bit, flexed my arms (to make a rigid base for my legs to push against) and took the hill sitting down, concentrating on maintaining speed, but not worrying about sprinting.
About 400 meters over the hill we passed the track bikes and were on our way.
Since it had rained all weekend the storm drain at the bottom of the park flooded again and there was a miniature lake with an inch of standing water. This was causing some problems not because it was difficult to get through, but because everyone (joggers, inline skaters, cyclists) would slow down and bunch up in odd ways trying to figure out how to get through or around it. A few early warning whistles usually clears enough of a path to get through without slowing down too much. The splashing sounds were right behind me but our strongman was finally beginning to tire and you could see his pedal strokes getting a little more irregular. We were both passed by who I will call “my norwegian twin” — a young guy with my *exact* build and similar jersey. At first I was taken aback because he seemed to pass us with such ease — he didn’t seem to be laboring at all, and when you see that you immediately start to calculate if you have any chance, and if you do, you chase.
So we leaned down one hand at a time into the drop bars (to gain some aerodynamics and use less energy per speed traveled) and chased.
Wondering about the hill again, if he’s built like me and riding strong this could be a real battle, and I could lose this one easily. Of course your mind gets worked up about things before it’s had a chance to just observe and make a rational call. We’ll play this one like this: ride at 95% in the first half and see how it’s going, if well, take it out of the saddle for the 2nd half and see if we can’t win this one. Plan works, but these two guys did not tire at all and we’re all bolting down the west side of the park with no rest at all, seeing if we can make the other one’s lungs burst.
The west side of the park is the high elevation and has these little ups and downs that require you to change your output constantly to maintain an even speed. When you’re riding strong you can actually feel and hear your chain stretch when you hit these little inclines. If a person near you is using all hamstring to power *down* on their pedals you hear it and the sound it tough to describe, kind of like stretching out a porch-door-spring with the motion of a cross-country skiier. When I hit some of these sections I try to think of my feet as being lightweight and I concentrate on pulling them (since they are attached firmly to my pedals with spring-loaded clamps) up and over the pedal stroke to work my quadriceps and give my hamstrings and calves a break.
The next few laps were kind of tough, but a lot of fun, each of us trying to gain some time on the others and losing it back. While at the front of the group it’s a real challenge to stay within yourself so that you’re not so tired that you make the wrong choices when trying to navigate around slow packs of cyclists, joggers, and people crossing the road at inconvenient places.
So we carried on, I took the hills, my twin led for most of the flats, and the crazy german kept bolting off at random and getting caught.
Sunset was just about over, our lights were on, and I was about out of water (I’m back up to 2 water bottles per workout since I’ve been staying out longer and riding harder) so I decided to make it interesting and coast the last hill and make a big sprint after the puddle. Splash, gearchange, drops (the bottom of the aero bars) and standing we got up to about 27mph and maintained through a few stoplights before pulling left and coasting to my exit. I think that officially ended the competition as the crazy German didn’t pass me for almost 10 seconds and since my twin didn’t have a headlight I didn’t see him when I exited the park.
I think we got close to the level of exertion of the early season today because after my shower and some hummus I nearly burst into tears watching the TLC where a nutritionist intervenes in a fat family’s life and tries to get them on track. It’s called “honey we’re killing the kids” and I’m blaming the outburst on the serotonin.