I was able to get out today and do my first group ride of the year and I think my longest ride as well; and wouldn't you know it, I had good weather, good body and good bike. Nothing interfered...for once.
I caught up with HOWC (Hills of the West Coast) a ride that I have caught a few times (I'm too lazy to track down the links to my previous posts on this) and enjoyed. It is generally a non-race group of people that like to ride hard and safely and Tom Meloy is excellent at making sure this happens. He moved the ride this year with a start point in Issaquah as opposed to Seattle and because of that I don't envision riding as much with this group as I would like. It is nearly 2 additional hours in travel time for this event.
Yes I could ride (and probably will at some point in a couple of years) to the start and add in the extra eighty miles or so, but I will need to be in a LOT better shape. This group rides hard like I mentioned.
This morning after arriving at the new starting point, I had a few minutes to muck with my bike and generally make sure I had everything ready. I was probably over loaded for equipment, but with the problems that have plaqued me this year and a desire to not have to have Trisha rescue me from 2 hours away, I went on the side of caution. I was also testing out the "no food" part of my diet for this ride; more on that later.
As the rest of the riders showed up, I saw some I had ridden with before and some that I had never seen. As everyone was standing around chatting, I heard some of the conversations revolving around races they had done recently. Oh oh!
I listened closer and heard things like "we had to ride at over 30mph for a few minutes just to catch up, I don't think I'm ready to race as a Cat1 [next level is pro]" and "sponsors changed us to these other bikes [small race teams don't buy bikes generally]". Crap!
Tom got there and laid out the rules. Nice pacing, keep it to a 20-22mph effort, ride safe, tell each other what's happening, etc. Ok then. We are on the pace I expected to be on. There are two brand new people and I'm always curious if they have any idea what they are getting into. After discussing route plans that mostly go over my head we roll out.
Right off the bat we are uphill (2-4%) and into the wind (3-5mph). No big deal right, because we are on a 20-22mph pace effort. Wrong. Not only are we above that pace effort, which in this instance would have been 16-18mph but we are rolling along around 24-26mph. As I was back of one of the racers, it didn't appear he was having much issue so all I could do was grit my teeth, let my legs burn and hope to hold on.
One of the new guys rotated up front and all of a sudden we are trying to hold 25mph up a 4% grade. He actually pulled for a solid two minutes like that. Even in the draft I was well over 400 watts. He seemed to drop off quickly and I later learned that he shelled off the back, tuck tail and went home. The pace backed off a bit, but instead of nice short one minute pulls, everyone seemed to be pulling for three or four instead.
Finally it was my turn. On a two percent grade, into the wind I kept my effort to the groups pace and held at about 22mph or in this case nearly 475 watts. That lasted for about three minutes before I rolled off. The next person took a hard pull and it occurred to me I could roll off the end and go home. Instead I welcomed the burn/pain in my legs and held the wheel ahead of me. I figured that I was the only one hurting at this point.
This is said whenever there is a break in the paceline and lets the front person know to slow up until everyone is "all on". I was never so happy to hear those words. First it wasn't me and second I got a break. Then again a few minutes later and every few minutes for the next half hour..."gap".
At the first stop about an hour in, Tom reiterated the pace of the ride. Really, the three racers were the ones pushing up the pace so Tom asked them to ease back, just to take a longer turn at the front. As we rolled on, this worked great. We were at pace and there were some monster pulls at the front. I pulled twice more for a couple of minutes, but didn't want to push it too hard and end up getting dropped. We had a couple of terrific climbs.
The day ended around 65ish miles, 3400' of climbing with an average speed of 22mph or three hours. I know I rode hard, but my food went great, my supplements are working and I didn't have a mechanical on the ride.
Things I learned: I need to drop weight and work on power. I realized at one point during a great point in the ride (smooth pavement, no traffic, great weather, competent riders) that I would have had an easier time of it with a little more power and a little less weight. I was about 10lbs lighter last year when I rode with this group and it shows. I will go back to work at dropping my weight to about 160.
Also the racers were doing well because they rode short, hard rides and did other training. I can do that. In fact it works great for my upgraded goals for this year. With a shortened time schedule and more chaotic riding I need to develop a training plan. There is a ton of information on how to do it, I just need to get the plan in place. Then even without the mega-miles I will be doing quality miles.
Although they will have the advantage of having ridden most of the summer with very competitive people they slow down in the fall; which is probably when I will ride with them next. I will work to get into the shape that I want to be in and maybe I can ride at the front of the pack the next time instead of being one of the "old" guys in the middle.
Tom's take on the ride.