Sunday, July 5, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me!

Or -- A Group of One. Again.


When I rode the Blue Ridger in April it was 95 degrees. Today it was in the high 60s. Global warming indeed.

The only difference was direction. In April we rode in a clockwise direction, riding up Naked Mountain then Mount Weather before descending to Bluemont and our planned rest stop. Today it was counter clockwise.

It was advertised as a B ride and was the best ride on the list that I could find. I counted 28 riders at the start and I started in the first third. Within the first five miles there were just five of us at the front setting a pretty good pace. "A" riders I figured. Probably the best ride they could find too.

I took my turns at the front and had the misfortune of doing a "pull" on an incline. When I dropped off I could not match the pace of the group and I was toast. I rode solo but not for long. I was caught by two other riders and the three of us stayed together for a while until we came to another long incline.

Didn't anyone know it was my birthday and they were supposed to be nice to me? I wanted to do a birthday ride of at least one mile per year and this one worked.

After 3-4 miles I got dropped again and thought I'm OK watching them 100 yards up the road. After a mile or two of this nonsense I was surprised by a group of six riders passing me. Funny, riding solo I didn't think I could ride any faster but it was easy latching on to the rear of their group and riding faster. Some of it is physics -- it is easier to draft behind other riders but some of it's just mental too -- having a pacer in front.

Our group caught my other two up front and we rode together to Bluemont to our rest stop. Without measuring it I would have told you that we were pulling a 1% grade the entire way but the stats say otherwise. For the 23.5 miles to the General Store it is rolling but there is no real elevation gain or loss. We averaged 18.2 mph, That's the advantage of staying in a group.

After a 15-20 minute rest while other riders straggled in, a group of 14-15 of us all departed for the climb out of Bluemont up to Mount Weather. I passed those who I was going to pass on the climb out of Bluemont, which was maybe half the group. Then I settled into my own pace. I hate that.

My own pace had me between groups of riders. I couldn't catch the riders up front and I was too stubborn to allow myself to be caught by those behind me. Mostly it's the fear of being caught and then not being able to stay with the new group. The summit of Mount Weather is rolling with some additional climbs and some descents before reaching the two mile descent to Clark's Gap and U.S. Rte 50. I could see the riders behind me about 300-400 meters but was staying out in front. And I did.

By the time I got to Naked Mountain I saw but one rider behind me. And I wasn't going to let him catch me. After I came off the mountain I did sit up and wait for him. Part of it was being nice but part of it was I was first to a stop sign and there was traffic on the road. I had to wait for him.

It was raining and we were soaked. We stayed together for all but the final two miles. I have to rethink drafting in the rain. All it did was get me a face full of water when I sat behind his wheel.

At times I thought he should go on without me as I was sure he was stronger after 50 miles in the saddle. But when we turned back on Rte 55 with four miles to go I set a pace that dropped him. Oops. My bad. But I had to. I could see about 100 yards behind him was a group coming on and I didn't want to get caught by them. So I opened a gap which kept growing. But the chasers were organized and overtook my friend and eventually me too. Had they caught me on a flat I could have integrated with them but they were flying up a grade when they passed. I had nothing left to join them.

I was 20 seconds behind them to the lot and appeared to be the seventh rider returning. It is not a race but when you do well you pretend that it is. It was a pretty good finish.

On the day I averaged two mph faster than in April. I can think of three reasons none of which I will claim that I am in better shape. I'm not. (1) It was 95 degrees in April. (2) For the first part of the ride today I was in with a group which ramped up the speed whereas in April I basically was a group of one. (3) In April I dropped back and rode the final 23 miles with another rider who was struggling due to the heat.

A final note: According to the ride table the "A" rides are 16-18 mph on Hilly Terrain. My final average was 15.9 -- 0.1 away from an A pace. I can dream. Happy Birthday to Me!

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