It looked like we were going to get slapped by a few of the wet tongues of a hurricane-like cloudmass sneaking in from the east of the city. The doppler radar showed a swirling colored octopus and my weather widget’s forecast for the next three days flipped from sunny to thunderstorms in a heartbeat.
As often happens, the clouds started to bear down our fair city, then miraculously evaporated.
Today was refreshing both because I’m fairly well fed for once, and also because the humidity and temp were way down as compared to the last few days.
The first few laps were nice and easy, and I kept a look out for a (cycling) storm forming. I can’t verify this for sure but I’m starting to get the feeling that in order for a group to form (aside from starting out with a group of people you know) you almost have to have a certain number of guys hovering around — one will pull ahead and set a very steady tempo (no wavering or swerving) as if to say “I’ll take the lead here” and the others kind of fall into place. If it’s just two or three guys forget about it — posture and pride are too important. If you’re the one guy latching onto the other guy’s slipstream that’s a sign of weakness. If there is a small group of you and you all seem strong you may silently decide to all get together and kick some ass around the park.
One thing I can say for sure, is it’s one thing to be flying down the road in a wind vacuum at 25 mph, but if you should find yourself there and you are able to hang for a lap or two, you’ll be asked (without words) to do your share at the front to “earn it” (like any pack of guys) or the leaders will do everything they can to drop you.
I’m no mooch, but as everyone started getting pulled into the gravity of the two-wide pack I was getting the feeling that this was going to get pretty quick. This pack was being led by two guys in matching jerseys so I took that to be members of some racing team, though what “cat” (category) I couldn’t tell you.
First lap was a gradual picking up of the pace — everyone remained two wide for 4 turns, then as the speeds started tickling 22mph the group, like taffy, started stretching out into a single file line for maximum aerodynamics.
I hovered around the #3 spot of nearly 10 and at the bottom of the first downhill two dudes decided to bust it out — it looked kind of like a practice for a lead in to a sprint finish with the first guy creating a vacuum to catapult the second guy out of. We were doing about 35 at the bottom of the hill and guy #2 flings out from behind the leader and keeps the pace over 30. I said forget that and gradually eased down to about 24 and apparently everyone else agreed. One by one the group pulled back together and we closed in the huge gap the leader made by halfway up the hill.
Our pack leader (helping us chase the breakaway guy) set a blistering pace on the incline, nearly as fast as I’ve been able to manage alone — the slipstream helped me to stay with the group. By this point I was in-and-out of being alert and zoning out while gazing at the rear wheel of the guy ahead of me, maintaining about 6″ of space between them at all times.
I ended up taking two pulls in the 4 or so laps I was with the group; a 24mph pace from the top of the hill to about 32mph through the bottom (4-7 on the map) and a second serving of downhill which proved to be my undoing. If your legs and lungs are strong you can do a nice easy pace of 18mph all day long and hardly feel it — it’s fast enough to be brisk, but not so fast that you’re stressing the parts of your bike and creating your own “wall of wind” to fight through. With a pack of competitive guys breathing down your neck you work when you get to the front of the pack and I just didn’t leave enough gas to jump back on the train as it passed me on the lower flats.
In glancing down at my bike computer I had already ridden my hour for the day and the average speed was reading comfortably over 22mph. That means that at almost no point in the last hour were we traveling less than 20mph. That is a mighty fine ride.
I took an easy half lap and coasted all the way down the ‘slope to 5th Avenue to pick up some espresso beans from Gorilla Coffee and with blinking lights on, spun home to shower and bring today in for an easy landing.