There is an old saying, “Out of sight, out of mind.” Perhaps, no where is this more true than in road racing. I find it exhilarating to get out in front of the peloton (a group of riders) and to stay out front, out of sight and out of mind.
For those uninitiated to the group dynamics of road racing, the peloton or group ALWAYS has the ability to move faster, on the flats or rolling terrain, than an individual rider or a handful of riders working together. The sheer number of riders invariably dominate an individual cyclist via the simple process of drafting.
Have you ever been passed by a large truck on the highway and felt the calm air, and then a literal pull forward, as you sat driving behind the truck? That is basically the same process going on within a large group of cyclists riding in formation. Those cyclists who are not fighting the wind, including the air density, drag and friction in front, are gaining a bit of a rest before it is their turn to move forward and battle the effects of Newton’s Third Law.
With every force there its an equal and opposite force, i.e. for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction (Newton’s Third Law).
Simply put, the faster one speeds forward on a bike, the greater the effects of air density, friction, and drag upon the rider. The peloton tends to level the playing field against nature when it comes to Newton’s Third Law.
Last Tuesday, at our regular TNR (Tuesday Night Racing) session, I set out solo approximately six to ten minutes ahead of the peloton along our planned course. The first part of our intended course was heading Northwest into a rather strong headwind (average wind speed of 26 km/hr). I initially just wanted to warm-up properly and allow time for my breathing (I suffer from asthma presently) to settle in a bit before the peloton caught me. Hopefully, I would catch on to the larger group and share in the workload of the pace-line until we reached the hill(s) of the Lumsden valley.
I was certain I would get caught by Exit B or C at the very latest. As I mentioned in a previous post, these young road racers and a few FOG’s (fast old guys) are hungry to rock ‘n roll after a long and cold winter. Road racing is NOT for the weak and the timid. There is no polite way to say this – you will get your derriere kicked. The only question that remains is,
Will you be the kicker or the one being kicked?
After a rather dismal start to the racing season last week, it was FEAR that drove the rabbit or fox in front of the hounds. I shifted into my big ring, grabbed the drops, lowered my head, and began to grind my way into the wind towards the small town of Lumsden.
As one who has cycled for several decades, I have learned to visualize a course, long before I ride it. This particular loop was quite familiar to me, and I naturally set many mini-goals along the way. It is so much easier to select a particular geographic marker, a road, a sign, or a highway exit, ahead in the near distance, and pace your ride towards it. It is far more difficult to “see” an entire course in our minds, and attempt to ride or race it as a whole. That is often self-defeating.
Inch by inch, life’s a cinch; yard by yard, it is very hard.
Pick a particular point and race towards it, keeping in mind your energy and the pace required to stay ahead as long as possible, AND finish the course.
If I can only get to Exit B…if I can only get to Exit C…if I can only get down the Lumsden hill…before I get swept up by the peloton.
I never gave up hope, but accepted the reality that I would eventually get caught by the peloton…or would I? Another rider came along and warned me that the peloton was less than ten minutes behind. I raced up that final hill (a.k.a. Garbage Dump Hill) out of the valley with everything I had. “Oh crap…I thought to myself…“, as I struggled up the 8 percent incline. I nearly cracked on that final climb, but was encouraged that I was still out front (except for that dude who had come out of nowhere).
By the time I crested the long steep hill, the other guy had simply vanished. When a person is approaching exhaustion, our minds often begin to play tricks on us. Did I really talk to another rider at the start of the hill? Where the foosball is he anyway? An angel? Nah…that is silly!
At last, the wind was pushing me along. I shifted down and really began to crank up the pace. My new goal now was to stay ahead of the couple who had been riding in the opposite direction to me. I think they turned around at the hilltop and began the chase.
If I can only stay ahead as long as possible…
I turned around and could see the pair of riders slowly reeling me in. Perhaps, I should sit up and wait for them. The three of us could work together to stay ahead of the peloton. Once, twice, three times I sat up and hesitated. I was running out of room, I could see the finish some three kilometres way, and I was at the edge of total exhaustion. My legs were beginning to feel like lead and my average speed was declining rapidly. “Well that sucks…” I agonized to myself.
The pair of riders caught up to me and passed by. I recognized the couple immediately, it was Mr. and Mrs. Time Trial, former provincial Time Trial champions and long-term road racers. One of the riders looked back and reached out his arm towards me. Try as I might, I just could not stay on his wheel, and eventually motioned them to go ahead.
One more time, I lowered my head and stomped on the pedals as fast and hard as I could. The sun was already getting low on the horizon. I could see the long tall shadows of the group behind me. I was about to get caught with less than two kilometres to go…
As the peloton passed, I was surprised at how the herd had been thinned out to a select group of hard-core riders. One of the guys shouted out as he passed by, “Good job Bruce!”. It was the most encouraging thing I had heard that day! That last little bit of encouragement inspired me to push as hard as my rubber legs were able, towards the turn-off point and finish line.
I road into the parking lot with an ear-to-ear grin on my face. I finished close to the hard men and certainly did not finish last. Granted, the peloton did two hills to my one, but they weren’t out there battling the elements all alone either 🙂
The choices we make today become who we are tomorrow.
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