Last Thursday, I headed out to St. Charles for the group ride.
All week I was waiting for this ride. To me there is nothing more exciting than the level of hurt you can put upon yourself in a group ride. Perhaps it is because I married a cyclist. Perhaps it is too much Ragbrai in my veins. But there is nothing like gritting your teeth, burning in your quads and pushing so hard your neck explodes in that sweaty nervous sweat on a group ride.
We arrived at Leroy Oakes and rode easy over to Fairway. Cyclists congregate at this corner to meet up with the group that rolls by around 6:15. This evening, we pedal up to find the coach and about a dozen of the MSM Kids Team.
I know what you’re thinking – some group ride with a bunch of kids. Hear me out. These are not just kids…these are national champions. World champions. Probably one day future Olympians. And these kids can ride. I’ve been spit out and shot off the back of the rear wheel of these kids more than one time. Draft legal is their game and they play it.
And play it well.
Imagine my surprise, though, to see girls from the team waiting to ride! After a few minutes of waiting, their coach started talking to them about getting a head start. I realized I had a unique opportunity here. First of all, an opportunity to actually warm up more than 12 minutes (very important for the group ride) and also an opportunity to do something you don’t often get to do. Sure, my workout , my ride was important but how often do you get to lead teenagers on a group ride? How many teenagers out there are outside, let alone riding a bike at very fast speeds? Not just that – how many of them are girls?
Soon as I knew it, I was leading the girls out for a head start. I figured the boys would catch up to us within 20 minutes so I kept the pace moderate and just pulled them along. We’re cruising around 19 mph and they’re right on my wheel chatting like any teenager would do.
Around the 30 minute mark, we make a right turn on to Crawford. Descending the hill, I hear one of the girls say “we’ve never made it this far before” and they both giggle. A left turn on to Lenz, another on Dittman and now the pace has increased. They are still keeping up. We take a right turn on Kendall along the flat stretch into the wind. To my surprise, one of the girls says “we can pull if you want to” and with that one of them takes the lead.
At that moment it became clear to me that (1) these girls can ride, (2) there is no reason why we can’t start pushing the pace, and (3) there was no need to wait for the boys so we could have our group ride. We're no longer waiting, we're working. And it became a game of not how long until the boys catch us but how long can we hold them off.
This is one of my favorite games. Even better than Bridge The Gap. You play Bridge The Gap when you are bored in the back of a paceline. You play How Long Can I Hold Them Off when you are in the lead of a race. As an age grouper, I played this game a lot. The measure of how good my race was going was often determined by how long I could hold off Leslie Curley, a great cyclist. If I held her off 30 minutes, that was decent but I would still need to have a heck of a run. I still remember the race where I held her off for 2 hours and realized I was on to something big.
I went on to win that race.
How Long Can You Hold Them Off is not something I get to play as a pro very often and so I miss the game. I’m not using being chased. I’m usually chasing down some phantom group of pros that exited the swim a day before me. That’s an exaggeration but you can see how different the game is and how fun it was today to just get back to one of my favorite games.
I was so ready to play.
If we can hold the boys off for 30, surely we can do 45. I love this game. This pace. The power that pulses through my legs. I push most of the headwind sections and hills. The girls are right behind me. I push myself up to my max in power and HR, back off to catch my breath then do it all over again. I love this feeling. I realize I need to do this more often in a race. To race like I train. If I am willing to smash myself over and over again like this on a ride, why not in racing?
What holds us back?
Back to the road and Melanie is now pulling us at 23 mph. She’s in her clip on aero bars and I’m sitting third wheel. I feel like I’m part of some breakaway pack that is riding like mad to hold the chase group off. A few miles later, Kelsey takes the lead. And just like that we start rotating through. We now have a paceline. Each of us keeps pushing the pace. And I’m working. This is no namby pamby sissy pants girlie girl ride. There were times in their draft that I was putting out over xxx watts. In their draft. Kindly do the math.
That is 4 watts per kilogram for me.
IN THEIR DRAFT!
45 minutes, 50 minutes and now an hour has gone by without the boys catching us. I realize at this point that we are on to a good thing. A really good thing. If they haven’t gotten us now, they probably won’t but that doesn’t mean we can stop pushing. The girls, too, have realized that we are doing something big. We aren’t just taking a head start. We are holding the head start. Gaining with the head start.
We are the lead pack!
Behind me the girls are guessing as to what happened to the boys. Why haven’t they caught up to us yet? Maybe something happened? Maybe Adam didn’t show up tonight? Maybe they caught traffic at the major stop signs?
Maybe, I told them, we are just riding really strong.
Maybe we’re holding a steady pace.
Maybe we’re just having a really good ride.
(why is it that we, as girls, look for reasons why others are failing out there to explain our success rather than just accepting that we are good enough, fast enough, strong enough….)
We make the turn on to Beith and then cross Anderson. Melanie announces there are 10 miles to go. 10 miles at this pace is less than 30 minutes. Kelsey says to us; “If we could hold them off until Town Hall that would be amazing.” Amazing it will be. I say to them, let’s go, let’s make it happen. And we’re off.
Melanie is pulling us now at over 24 mph. I realize that this entire ride is amazing. With teenage girls 13, 14…15 years old? It’s hard to judge age when you’re sitting on someone’s wheel. Most teenagers are thinking about when they’ll get to drive a car at these speeds. These girls are just doing it on their bike. We start approaching Town Hall and Kelsey tells us we’ll have to wait for her. Not today! I tell her to explode her legs and chase after me.
It took over 9 watts per kilogram for me to get up and over that hill.
And Kelsey was right behind me.
I tell them because we were the first to climb the hill today, we are the queens of the hill. The boys fight for king of the hill. They drop each other and tear their legs to shreds to be first up this short, steep climb. But there would be no king tonight. The girls were already there.
Girls win. Not only that, girls rule.
We cruise down Campton Hills and Melanie says there is one more hill before we have held the boys off for the entire ride. When we finally come over the hill past LaFox we realize we have done a good thing.
We held them off.
For the entire ride.
Time to breathe. The girl talk begins. They ask me if I do triathlons. I do. They ask me what is my favorite. I say running. They tell me I am lucky. I say I’ve been running since I was their age. I tell them I am old enough to be their mom. They laugh. I tell them I’ve done the sport for 10 years. They do not believe me. They tell me about their most recent race, about worlds, about running, about triathlon.
How many teenagers do you know that talk...triathlon?
We pull into Leroy Oakes and it’s time for a run. Before I can even dismount my bike they already have their shoes on and they start running.
I have just been beat out of transition.
About 5 minutes later while I am still tying my shoes in transition, the boys pull in. I set out for my run and see Kelsey killing the run with Melanie not far behind. I tell them the boys just arrived. They run by huffing and puffing a surprised ”NO WAY!”
By the time I return from my run, they are gone. I missed my opportunity to say thanks. Thanks for pushing me. Thanks for joining me on one of the hardest - yet most enjoyable rides - I've had in awhile. Thanks for making me realize that the future of our sport is strong.
And, it goes without saying, thanks for pulling me.