A Note from Fatty: World Bicycle Relief is doing its annual dollar-for-dollar July fundraiser, this year focusing on bikes for Malawi students.
Take a moment to check out this incredible program, and be sure to donate. This is not only a charity where your money does immediate good in a lasting way, but it does double immediate good. And that’s incredible.
2016 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 7: No, You Go On Without Me.
You’ve all been very patient. I’ve promised you for six posts now that things were going to go completely off the rails during this race, and you’ve been very patient as I told what has been — apart from the slowness I exhibited during my leg of the race — an absolutely stellar racing of the Rockwell Relay.
No poorly-executed strategy.
Just a family team, having fun while more or less eating our competitions’ lunch.
Well, all of that’s over, starting now.
Today the whole thing goes pear-shaped. Off the rails. Jeapordized. In a way that could be both very injurious and very expensive.
And, as you might expect, it’s all my fault.
Hi and Goodbye
One of the things I love about The Hammer is the intensity she brings to racing: I understand it and feel like it’s one of the things that ties us together. When we race, we race hard.
So I know that she’s not going to to slow down to chat when we pass by her, yelling encouragement. I know she’ll take the time to smile, but not slow down.
When she’s riding, she’s riding. There’s a reason “This ain’t no time for jibber-jabber” has become known as her catchphrase.
So after loading Ben into the van and driving forward to catch up with her, I wasn’t surprised when she simply shook her head and gave us a “thumbs-up” when we hollered, “Need anything?” at her.
Hey, it had only been ten or fifteen minutes since she had begun her leg of the race.
Hi and Goodbye, Again
We piled back into the van and passed her on the narrow, climbing canyon road.
And, like countless times before, the hunt was on. And by “hunt,” I mean we began hunting for the next possible place for us to pull over on the side of the road.
In some parts of the race — the wide, flat desert parts — you find places to pull over all the time. In this part of the race, however, I knew from experience that pullouts were few and far between.
Still, in a few miles we found a good one. We pulled over off the side of the road, going forward so at least one other race support vehicle could slot in behind us. (It was rare, this early in the race (just the fourth leg), that you’d be the only vehicle stopped and supporting a racer.)
I left the car running so the air conditionning could keep the inside of the van cool; we didn’t expect to be staying in this place long. All three of us piled out of the van and stood at the side of the road, watching for The Hammer.
Within a few minutes, we saw her. Just flying up the road. I’ve become good at reading The Hammer’s body language on the bike, and could tell: she was feeling great. Strong, fast, focused.
“What can we get you?” I hollered?
“Cold water at the next stop!” she yelled back. Not a surprise: in heat like this (I had noted that the outside temperature had just clicked over to 100 degrees, and there was a very mild tailwind, making it feel like a still, dry sauna to the rider), cold water is the best treat you could ever hope for.
One More Goodbye
I began walking back to the van when Lindsey had a suggestion. “Let’s wait for the Beauties and the Beasts rider to go by, so next time we see Lisa we can give her a split.”
A great idea. I knew The Hammer would like to know how she was doing against our competition, the “Beauties and the Beasts” (BatB) team.
Lindsey started the stopwatch on her phone, and the three of us continued staring down the road for a couple minutes.
Then the van began rolling away.
I saw the motion of the van out of the corner of my eye, and I didn’t understand, at first. Then, realizing the van was rolling forward on its own, I ran at top speed to the driver door.
The car seemed to be accelerating, rolling toward a slope and then a six-foot dropoff into concrete ditch leading to a pipe, where rainwater could run under the road.
I managed to open the door, hoping to press the brake with my hand.
But even as I did this, I knew I wasn’t going to make it in time. I knew the van was going to go down the bank, then plummet nose-first for a six-foot drop into a concrete floor.
I won’t say that time slowed down for me, because it didn’t. However, I will say that in the half-moment while desperately tried to save the van, I had plenty of time to think about how this was my fault. How this was the final moment before the van — and probably everything in it or attached to it (including tens of thousands of dollars in road bikes) was totaled. How The Hammer was off on her own. Most of all, how I was just not going to get to the brake in time.
I don’t know how I had time to think all these things, but I promise: I did.
What I didn’t realize, however, was that I was not the only one trying to rescue the runaway van.
Lindsey had seen it start rolling away, too.
While I had dashed for the driver’s door, however, Lindsey had run around the passenger side, where the side door was open.
She dove through.
The van accelerated.
She scrambled to the front.
The van began tilting down into the ditch bank.
And as I was opening the driver’s door and having guilt-laden epiphanies, I yelled, “It’s going over!”
Lindsey made one perfect kick at the brake.
The van skidded. Then — to my astonishment — it stopped.
All was well.
In a Predicament
No, just kidding. Everything was totally not well. Everything was absolutely completely the opposite of well.
Things were, in short, unwell.
The van was tipping nose first down a steep ditch bank, literally inches from going over a short-but-effective concrete cliff. It was tipping so steeply, in fact, that the rear-left wheel was high in the air. About two feet in the air, I’d guess.
Let me show you how things looked, van-wise.
I know, it’s grainy. But it’s the best we’ve got. We weren’t thinking about photos at the time.
Ben hung on the back of the bike rack, using his weight as leverage — maybe it’s what kept the van from sliding over, I don’t know.
“Let me take the brake!” I yelled. “You get out!”
“I can’t take my foot off the brake!” Lindsey yelled back.
She was right.
“What do we do?” I asked, my mind completely blank.
And it occurs to me now: it would be practically criminal to not end this installment of the race report here, when — finally! — I have an actual, literal cliffhanger.
A Note from Fatty: We’re now at a crucial point in the telling of my 2016 Rockwell Relay Race Report.
The story necessarily splits off in two directions here. Kind of like when Frodo and Sam break off from the rest of the Fellowship so they can head off to Mordor.
Luckily for me, I happen to be married to the person who can tell this part of the story — the part of the story I cannot tell. Because I was not there.
This is her story.
Abandoned: A Story of Riding Alone in the Desert
by The Hammer
“Hey, are you the girl riding the fourth leg for your team?” the cute, bubbly blonde asked me.
“Yes, I’m the fourth leg rider,” I replied, curtly.
“Maybe we could ride together?” She replied
Couldn’t she see that I had the “eye of the tiger?” That I meant business? That I was here to win a race? I wasn’t here to make friends.
Besides, I had Lindsey’s words echoing in my head: “You need to put thirty minutes on the Beauties and the Beasts” (BatB) Team. Thirty minutes!”
I knew she wasn’t joking, either. We knew how strong Nate from BatB is; I needed to give my husband the biggest buffer I could.
This was certainly no time for jibber jabber, but I replied, “Sure, we can ride together. But right now, I gotta go. I think this is my rider!”
I was overjoyed to see a lone rider coming toward me on the road; Ben had successfully popped the other riders. I would be able to start the 20 +mile climb out of Lake Powell—solo. I work best solo, but don’t really like to be the one being chased; I like to do the chasing.
Oh well, I was amped, regardless. I had been waiting all day to get on my bike.
I’ve never been the fourth leg rider. I usually take my turn cheering and catering to the fourth leg rider. I was always so happy to be the one not on the bike. Climbing out of Lake powell in 100+-degree heat never looked like very much fun, with the “reward” for that climb being a hot headwind as you descend into Hanksville.
Well here I was, about to ride into Hell.
During the beginning of each leg of the Rockwell Relay, I like to play a little game. When I leave the transition area, I like to see how far I can get before the crew van passes me the first time. My objective in this case was to make it up the one-mile climb and be on the descent down the back side or — even better — starting up the next climb.
First and Second Stops
I had just started the long twenty-mile climb, when I heard the familiar cowbells and cheers from my team / fan club! They always make me so happy. As they passed, they yelled encouragement and asked if I needed anything.
“No, I’m good!” I said. I still had most of my waterbottle and a full bottle of Gatorade. I also had a jersey pocket full of GU. The van shot on ahead. I knew that the next time I would see them they would be off on the side of the road—probably out of the van, cheering me on. That is how we roll and why I love the Rockwell Relay so much! The team building and love that I feel for my crew grows and grows as the miles tick by!
Within a mile or two, I saw the giant SBR van, parked on the side of the road, with my crew ringing the cowbells and cheering. As I rode by, they asked again if I needed anything. I looked down at my bottles-I still had plenty. I would probably want a cold water bottle the next go around, but I was currently fine! I gave them the thumbs up as I rode by.
For the temperature being around 100 degrees, I was feeling quite amazing. The road now turned into a mellow climb, some rollars, but no major climbing. I was moving fast enough the air wasn’t stifling hot; the wind was manageable. It seemed to be coming at me from different sides — like a warm fan blowing at me from different angles. I was still riding solo, but knew that someone was closing in on me. You see, a car was consistently leap frogging me about every mile.
I was afraid to turn around…..so I didn’t. I never knew how close he was. I recognized the driver of the car: I had talked briefly with him during Lindsey’s leg. He was crewing for the Salty Dogs (50+) team, the Mike Nosco Memorial Team.
Should I hold up and wait for their rider? No, I thought. He can catch me if he can! I rode on.
Ten minutes went by….
Twenty minutes went by….
Thirty minutes ticked by, the other crew’s car had leapfrogged me at least 3 times.
Where was my crew? Where was the van?
I picked up my water bottle…to find that I had about one swallow of (hot) water left. I grabbed my second bottle, which was full of Gatorade. I was shocked to find that the Gatorade was about 95 degrees. And hot Gatorade is about the most disgusting thing in the world. It practically burned my throat as I swallowed it.
SOMETHING IS WRONG, VERY, VERY WRONG
My crew would never leave me out on my own in hundred degree weather riding my bike unless something horrible had happened, I thought, repeatedly.
I played through every awful scenery you can think of, most revolving around an overheated van or an accident with a bike, car or pedestrian. You name it and I thought up a horrible graphic scenario. Believe me I have a very graphic imagination and these scenarios were not. One thing I did know was that every story involved that darn borrowed SBR van.
The other horrible scenario that was unfolding before my eyes was me, dying of heat exhaustion and dehydration on the side of the road……well not really, but the thought did cross my angry mind. I was starting to feel the discomfort of not having any water, hot or cold. My throat was dry and sore and my tongue was sticking to the sides of my mouth. My lips were cracked and drying up.
Well…I might be exaggering a bit. I knew if it came right down to it, I could drink the scalding hot Gatorade. Ugh. I wasn’t positive I wouldn’t rather die.
But lo and behold, a better option appeared! I had a crew car following me—not my crew car, but someone else’s crew car: the 50+ team (Mike Nosco Memorial) crew car pulled ahead of me and parked on the side of the road.
Of course, I didn’t realize — and wouldn’t have cared — that this was the same team that had a rider confront Elden and Ben a little earlier, or that this team’s rider (who was supposed to be dropping me like a rock) was perpetually 200 yards behind me [It’s very interesting to watch how evenly-matched these two were. The Hammer / Tod Strava flyby shows they remained almost exactly 100 seconds apart for forty-five miles. I wonder how much faster they would have completed this leg if they were working together! —Fatty]. I was just thirsty, and bet they had water. So I rode alongside the car and frantically waved my arms —I’m sure looking like a dehydrated madwoman. They quickly rolled down the window. I exclaimed that I was dying of thirst and could I please get a bottle of water!
The kind man said, “I got you covered, I’ll do a bottle handup.”
And I was saved….by the kind man in the Mike Nosco Team car and a ice-cold bottle of water.
Return of the Crew
Now that I wasn’t going to die, my thoughts returned to my crew.
Car after car passed, I would wishfully look up to find that it was not my van.
Forty minutes had passed when I finally heard them. I looked up to see Lindsey hanging out of the window, but my eyes went passed her to my husband who was driving. Elden had a big ol’ piece of pizza in his hand, eating while he was driving. Not a care in the world.
Elden was eating pizza, while I was dying of dehydration.
I was livid.
“Where the hell have you guys been?” I yelled.
I was actually a little surprised at how angry I sounded. I was super relieved to see all of them and the van in one piece. I wasn’t going to die — my new friends had saved me. So why was I sounding so angry?
Trust me, this is The Hammer’s “I’m really mad” face.
Lindsey was yelling something about, “We have a very good reason for not being here.”
I didn’t even respond.
I even asked myself this same question. I think maybe because I was so relieved that everyone was okay, the crew, the van and me…but I still had a lot of frustration built up inside. And I needed to take it out on someone!
I angrily told them I was fine. They then left me alone to my feelings.
As I pedaled on I started to feel bad at my reaction. I was anxious to hear about whatever this “reason” was. But…I was still angry.
Some good did come of this, though: my anger and my now-hydrated body turned this extra anxiety into energy. The next time I looked down, I was going over thirty miles per hour, and I had less than 20 miles to the transition. The next time I saw the van I had them load me up with two bottles of ice-cold water (no Gatorade, thanks) and told them to hurry to the transition area. I would be there before they knew it.
And I was. No one ever caught me. I had soloed the entire leg and arrived at the Hanksville transition ….to an empty timing mat! [Faster, significantly, than any woman has ever done this leg before. — Fatty]
Elden was nowhere to be found.
And I’ll let him explain why in the next episode [To be honest, it’s probably going to take a few episodes — Fatty] of this story.
A Spoiler Warning from Fatty: As you know, I’m a big fan of the Paceline Podcast. I’m afraid, however, that in the current episode — the one that just came out today — I’m a complete blabbermouth. I tell not only how the race ended for us, but go into deep detail on the major event I will be describing over the next few episodes in this blog. So if spoilers are a problem for you, allow me to recommend you hold off on listening to this episode ’til I finish this multi-parter.
Ben is my niece’s husband. Which makes him…my nephew-in-law, I think?
Yeah, let’s go with nephew-in-law.
Ben is very mellow and easy to get along with. Here he is, in the back of the van, completely chill and mellow and not even remotely freaked out that it’s his turn to ride next.
See what I mean? Completely chill. In fact, during the entire race, I never saw Ben get out of sorts or flustered. Including during a moment when fluster was 100% called-for.
I would like to point out that in addition to being mellow and easy to get along with, Ben is fast. As in, really he should have been racing leg 1 because I’m pretty darned positive that he’s faster than I am. This hasn’t always been true, but it definitely is now.
So perhaps it’s not too big of a surprise that by the time we had loaded Lindsey and her bike into the van and caught up with Ben to do our first checkup on him — see if he needed any water or anything — he and the 50+ team had already caught another rider.
But this wasn’t just any other rider. This was Farrell S, “The Beast” of the “Beauties and the Beasts” team. (Check out the arms and legs on the guy in front and you’ll get a pretty good sense for why he’s called “The Beast.” Also, remember Farrell’s name…because this is not the last time you’re going to hear it in this story.)
Yep, Ben had finished catching us up. We were now tied for first in the Coed Competitive division.
Yeah, that’s something to smile about, I’d say.
But while it was clearly an awesome thing that Ben had caught up to this guy, it put us in a strategic dilemma. See, we knew — having watched teams come and go at the second checkpoint — that there was no other rider in catchable distance. And attacking this group of two with the intent to solo it would be pure folly, because the route was almost entirely slightly downhill with a headwind:
That’s pure poison for a solo breakaway against two strong riders.
And so Ben’s fate was sealed for this leg of the race: work with these two riders and plan on finishing this third leg more-or-less tied with our fiercest competition.
But we didn’t like that idea much, for one very important reason. We had met the next rider on team BatB, but we had no information on her. We didn’t know whether she was stronger than, as strong as, or not as strong as The Hammer.
But one thing we did know was that we needed to have a gap on her right off the line in order to keep her from drafting off The Hammer. That would be the only way The Hammer could build enough of a gap that Nate wouldn’t be a lock for re-establishing BatB’s lead.
And so we came up with a plan.
If you look up at that elevation profile, you’ll notice it’s almost entirely downhill. Forget any thought of breakaways there, especially into a headwind.
However, you’ll also notice that at about mile 49, the road turns uphill and climbs for a couple miles. And that’s a spot where a very thin, strong climber might be able to attack and gap a man with Lou Ferrigno’s upper body.
So we pulled alongside, signaled for Ben to drop back, and told him: “When the road turns uphill at mile forty-nine, you need to attack with everything you’ve got.”
“Forty-nine?” Ben replied.
And then we took off. We — so sadly — wouldn’t be around to see this glorious attack and whether it worked. We needed to get The Hammer out to the next checkpoint and ready to ride.
I wish we could have been there to watch the attack. I really do, because it worked. Worked beautifully. And I can tell it worked beautifully because Ben rolled in all by himself, the two guys he had been riding with nowhere to be seen.
Ben had done it: he had broken the link to BatB and now The Hammer was free to fly: our best opportunity to preemptively reverse the damage Nate was certain to put into me in the next leg of the race.
A minute or two later, the guy from the 50+ team finished, and a minute or two after that the BatB rider rolled in, far enough apart that working together wouldn’t be a “gimme” for them, either.
“Nice work, Ben; you did it,” I said.
We stood together, looking up the road, relishing the moment.
Which is when the guy Ben had been riding with — the one from the 50+ team — walked up to me, and let me have it.
“Is your fourth racer fast?” the racer on the 50+ competitive team asked me.
What a strange question, I thought to myself. Fast compared to whom? That said, I think it would be over-humble to not call The Hammer fast, so I answered honestly, “Yes, she’s fast.”
“Is she really fast?” he asked. Aggressively. Angrily. Like he’d rather be punching me than asking me a question.
I had no idea why, though.
“Yeah, I’d say my wife’s very likely one of the fastest women racers here today. Why do you ask?” I asked.
“Because my team is going to drop your team like a rock,” he said, spitting out the words. And then he turned to Ben. “Got it, compadre?” (And yes, he really said “compadre.”)
Then he turned on his heel and walked away.
“I don’t understand what just happened,” I said to Ben. “I am pretty sure he’s really angry at us, and I have no idea why.”
“Whatever his reason is, I think his revenge is that his team is going to ride faster than our team,” Ben replied.
“Why would we care what speed his team goes? We’re not competing against them,” I said. “And why would he care what speed Lisa goes?”
“I think maybe he’s mad at me because I dropped him on the climb,” Ben mused. “Maybe he thought we had some kind of alliance.”
“Did you give him a ring?” I asked.
“I didn’t even ask him on a second date,” Ben replied.
“Oh well,” I shrugged. “This race sure just got weird.”
But it was about to get much, much weirder. And scarier.
Which is where we’ll pick up on Monday.
A Podcasting Note from Fatty: I just posted the most recent episode of the CyclingTips podcast, and it’s my favorite so far: extreme racing, like the Trans Am Bike Race (remember that awesome documentary by Mike Dion) and Everesting.
It’s a panel discussion with the guy who won Trans Am last year (Jesse Carlsson), the guy who invented Everesting (Andy Van Bergen), I couldn’t help myself and wound up doing a lot of talking.
You can find this episode at iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, by RSS feed, by downloading direct, Google Play, and by just listening in the handy player below:
I assert — no, I demand — that you will enjoy this episode and then subscribe to this podcast without further ado.
2016 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 4: Not With a Whisper
I was being hangdog. Self-pitying. Despondent, even. In one single first leg of the race I care about more than any other race, I had put us an incredible seventeen minutes (at the time, I had thought it was eighteen but the results have since made me feel one minute better about myself) behind Beauties and the Beasts.
“Guys, I am sorry,” I said, sincerely and dramatically. “I’ve ruined our chances at winning this race. I am fat, and he is fast.”
As it turns out, only two out of those things were necessarily true. Because while I am fat (the same nine pounds too heavy I’ve been since February) and Nate is fast, we didn’t know anything at all about whether the rest of The Beauties and the Beasts (let’s call them “BatB” in the rest of this post, to save me typing effort) were as devastatingly strong as Nate was against me.
And since the BatB rider had a seventeen-minute headstart against Lindsey, we wouldn’t know for a while whether we were gaining on them, or whether she was increasing BatB’s lead.
Which is, when it comes right down to it, a big part of the Rockwell Relay’s appeal: you can plan and strategize all you want, but for big parts of the race, you just have to accept that there’s a lot you don’t know, and then do the best you can on the bike.
To Go or Not to Go
With Lindsey off and riding, I took a few minutes to clean up, change, and keep an eye out for the FiverZ teams. I knew Mary had had a couple of flats, so figured Marci, Mary and Bill would be at least a few minutes behind me — but considering my own dismal performance on the course, I wasn’t sure.
But twenty minutes later, they were still not in and we were starting to worry about leaving Lindsey out on her own for too long. What if she had a serious mechanical issue? What if she were out of water or food? What if she needed more cowbell?
So we figured an at-least twenty minute gap in front of who we had expected would be our main competition would be enough knowledge for now. They’d either be closer or further away at the next checkpoint, and find that out soon enough.
As it turns out, they’d come in a few minutes after we left: twenty-three minutes behind us. The Strava Flyby of that leg shows that thirteen (or so) of that minutes was due to them being at two complete stops — fixing flats, I assume.
So while I had lost eighteen minutes to Nate, I had gained ten moving minutes (plus thirteen not-moving minutes) on the three Z5R teams working together, even though I had been twisting alone in the wind for a big chunk of the leg.
Which makes me feel better about myself. A little.
My Niece is Awesome
I am happy to say that Lindsey (my sister’s daughter) was definitely taking care of the “do the best you can on the bike” part of our race strategy.
She had gone out with the three Racer 2 counterparts of the group I had rolled in, and was working well with them.
Which means I had, inadvertantly, done one thing right: setting Lindsey up with a paceline to battle the headwind (or crosswind, depending which way the road was currently winding) with.
And as the smallest person in the group, she was guaranteed a good draft. Check her out, in third position (Friend of Fatty Chris, of Team What Were We Thinking, Part Quattre [WWWT4 from here on out] is leading):
We had put Lindsey in the Racer 2 slot because of two things:
- She’s a great climber
- She’s a great descender
And for all three of the legs she’d be riding, both those attributes would come into play.
But in this leg — more than the other two — climbing and descending would be vital. It’s a punchy rolling segment, with lots of quick climbs alternating with steep and twisty descents…and then ending with a big descent at the end.
We got out often, cheering. Lindsey looked great. Fast. Happy. Strong like bull.
The wind improved as this group of four — which winnowed down to three — just hammered away. They were making fast time — as witnessed by Lindsey’s Strava results, which include no small number of QOMs.
And then, the group got to the final climb, which ends at the exchange: 1200 feet in five miles. Not an especially big or difficult climb, unless it’s a really hot day and you’ve been racing for thirty-nine miles already.
Which of course was the case.
At this moment, physics came into play. Specifically, the physics of power-to-weight ratios.
In this case, this meant that my strong-but-very-light niece just floated away from the strong-but-not-as-light men (to be clear, there wasn’t a heavy, slow person in the group).
Lindsey rolled in with a gap of a couple minutes on the group:
I swapped the timing chip over to Ben, and he was off.
Into the wind, but not by himself. The racer from the 50+ team — the Mike Nosco Memorial Team — went out at the same time. You can see the rider in the background in the picture above.
Ben wouldn’t be alone, but he would be on the hunt.
You see, I was being a little bit coy about how fast Lindsey and her group had gone. Because just three minutes before Lindsey came in, the BatB rider had come in.
That’s right. Lindsey had just pulled back fifteen of the seventeen minute deficit I had earned in the first leg.
A couple minutes later, the other riders pulled in and we got a photo with our team and Chris, of team WWWT4:
We still had no idea where the VZR55 team was (as it turns out, Lindsey had added to the gap I had built and they were now twenty-six minutes behind us), but we were no longer in a distant second place.
We were now just two minutes off the winning Coed team, and we had ourselves a race.
Which is where we’ll pick up in the next installment of this series.
I had been keeping my eye on the ball. No question about it. Indeed, since I had been hyper-aware that the ball the had been keeping its eye on me (in this metaphor, “the ball” is the RX7 teams, and thus the ball has eyes, for some reason), I had been keeping my eye on that ball (you know, the one with eyes) even more vigilantly.
My problem was that I had mistaken a cycling race for a ball game.
I’d like you to take a look at this blurry photo. Not because it’s an impressionistic masterwork (I call it “Water Lillies on a Bicycle on a Warm Summer’s Morn”), but because it’s the only photo taken of me that illustrates my point.
If you’ll look past the blur, you’ll note that there is a white-on-red race number pinned to my back. This race color identifies me as being part of a competitive coed team.
There weren’t a ton of these white-on-red numbers in front of me during the first leg of the race. Indeed, after Billy notified me that Marci and Mary were far off the back, I had assumed that there were exactly zero white-on-red bibs in front of me.
But you know what they say about the word “assume.” Specifically, that whenever people use that stupid “make an ass of “u” and “me” phrase, that it’s perfectly acceptable to punch them in the throat.
What I’m trying to say is that as the front group winnowed down to fewer and fewer people, I realized that there was another guy wearing a white-on-red number. I then realized that I had seen that guy’s number many times during the leg thus far, but hadn’t connected the dots.
Now, though, it finally occurred to me: this guy was on a coed team, he was riding at the front like it was nothing, and I had no idea who he was.
Time to find out.
Meet the Mini-Beast
I should probably note at this point three very important facts:
- The rumors about Yann being a full-on cycling monster-man are fully accurate. He was killing it out there.
- The wind was strong, hot, and directly in my face.
- I was suffering. I could tell I was suffering because I was experiencing what I like to call my “internal tell:” the thought process I start having whenever I’m about to have a Massive Discombobulating Cycling Event (MDCE): I start mentally composing the story of how I bonked and why it was completely justified — and quite possibly heroic. (“I had given it my all, and likely more. My legs cramped, my heart screamed, sweat streamed into my eyes, and my lungs actually ignited.”)
All of this leads to a fact so important that I didn’t even include it in the above list: even working my way forward to this mystery coed was not a simple thing for me. Dropping him was out of the question.
Still, I managed to (casually, hopefully) introduce myself. “So it looks like you’re my competition for the day. What’s your name?”
He said his name was Nate, he was with the team called “Beauties and the Beasts.” He was the “mini-beast,” and the other man was the real beast. Like, a body-builder beast who’d be crushing leg three of the race.
Nate proclaimed was an analyst and so he felt no shame in having researched my team and the ZZRZ teams.
“You’re certainly a strong cyclist,” I said, obviously and without irony.
“I just wish everyone would stop going half-gas,” he replied, also without irony.
I did not reply that I knew of at least one person (hint: me) who was not going half-gas.
Then the wind picked up, at about the same time we began a big climb. Nate, along with one other very strong rider on a different team…well, he stopped going half-gas.
What was left of the front group exploded. I stood and did my best to stay with Nate’s group, hoping Yann would be there too.
And I held on. For a few minutes, I held on. And then I was no longer holding on. I was, instead, sliding off the back of this very fast group.
The thread snapped, and I was on my own.
Some kind soul dropped back and helped me bridge back. But it didn’t matter; I couldn’t — and didn’t — hold on.
I slipped back, behind the lead group, but far enough ahead of the chasers that I wasn’t sure whether I should sit up and wait.
Nate and his group rapidly disappeared off the front. I didn’t dare look back, out of fear I’d see Marci and Mary (and Billy) barreling toward me at an uncatchable pace.
My team rode by, parked, and set up for a bottle hand-up. (That’s The Hammer on the side of the road in this picture; I had just tossed my empty bottle before I got to her. The bottle I am holding in this photo is the one she just handed me.)
“How far back is Yann?” I yelled.
“Really far back,” they yelled back. Not the answer I wanted.
I was on my own.
Now solo, in a hot headwind, overextended after riding above my ability for many long minutes (I have to use vague terms like “many” because I really have no idea how many — fewer than it felt like, I’m sure, but it felt like a long time).
I slogged along, despairing. Nate — my competition in this race — was obliterating me. “We are going to lose this race today, against a team I didn’t know exists until half an hour ago,” I thought to myself. “And when we lose, it’s going to be because of me.”
I despaired because of the wind. I despaired because of the heat.
I despaired because I wasn’t as fast as I needed to be.
And more than anything, I despaired because I had made a massive tactical error: after going out of my way to forge an alliance with Yann for this race, I had managed to separate us just when it would have been smart to stay together.
I had — as is my way — let my ambition overrule my brain. And now I was paying for it.
Kindness from People I Thought Were Strangers, But Aren’t
Then, as I rode in my small ring on the flats (really!), completely shattered, two different people from different teams were awesome to me.
First, a guy on the side of the road yelled at me (easy to hear him because I was downwind from him), “Want water on your head?”
“YES,” I yelled with all my might, wanting to be sure he heard me.
He ran alongside me, emptying a full bottle of cold water onto my head and back.
Later, when I finished the leg, the guy who did that, came over and said, “I’m the guy who asked you why you were slow at True Grit.” Sounding apologetic as he said it.
“No, you’re the guy who brought my core temp down when I really really needed it at the Rockwell Relay,” I replied. Because that’s who he is. Plus, as it turns out, his question at True Grit was a good one. I am slower than I was last year. (And the reason is: I’m heavier, thanks to stress-eating and a lack of discipline and motivation this year.)
Then someone handed me a little can of Coke, ice cold. It looked like Big D from last year, but that didn’t make sense to me. Shouldn’t he be racing?
Yeah, I was really that addle-brained. I fumbled with the Coke, too, having a rough time opening it, and then dribbling most of it down my face, chest, and leg.
Even so: delicious doesn’t even come close to describing that Coke. I truly and sincerely believe that the single best flavor in the entire world is cold Coke on a hot day during a long cycling effort.
It’s just unbelievable.
Here Comes the Cavalry
My team had gone on ahead to get Lindsey ready for her leg of the race. I, meanwhile, soldiered on, with about eight of the 54-ish miles left of this leg of the race to ride.
I was moving so slowly, however, that they had plenty of time to pose for cute group photos at the exchange:
To be honest, I was moving slowly enough they probably had time to write and direct a feature film.
I kept going, though. Not giving up. But feeling like I didn’t have it in me to do any better. I was just twisting in the wind.
And then, I heard a voice behind me.
Yann. Yann. And he was riding in a group of three or four (I can’t remember which, honestly) riders in a neat rotating paceline.
I would never have expected I’d ever be so grateful to be swept up.
I grabbed on to the back of the train. They let me stay there for a couple minutes and pull myself together. Then I was able to take my place in the rotation.
I tell you, being able to work with people in a race can be such an enormous advantage.
We rode the final eight or so miles together, much faster than I had been going before, and sweeping up a couple of other riders who had been left out to ride as human windsocks in much the same way I had.
Finally, we got close to the exchange. I’m pretty sure I’ve never been so happy to finish a leg in this race. And I’m certain I’ve never been so smoked after a single leg of the Rockwell Relay.
I saw Lindsey and braked to a stop, putting my timing chip leg down as I got behind her:
Ben then pulled the chip off my leg…
…and moved the chip over to Lindsey…
…and then she was off:
And that was it for me. I had survived it. The Hammer gave me a hug, telling me she was proud of me for time-trialling for so long in that brutal headwind.
And I got a cold Coke (so good), and a photo with Yann, where I tried to express how I currently felt:
I was glad to have finished, I suppose, and I was trying to be proud of my effort: I had given it my all.
But the fact is, I had just lost badly to a coed team that had completely blindsided us, then crushed us.
Saying I had lost “badly” to Nate doesn’t even cover it, really.
Because in the first leg of this race, I had put our team an incredible eighteen minutes behind who I was a thousand percent certain was going to be the new coed team champion at the Rockwell Relay.
My only hope was that the rest of my team could make up for what I was confident would be an enormous deficit I’d rack up every time I rode against Nate. But eighteen minutes is a lot. a whole lot to ask.
Too much to ask, really.
On the other hand, Lindsey, Ben, and The Hammer are pretty darned strong. And Lindsey had started the leg with a good-sized group of riders. So it’s possible that — with eleven more legs and about 470 miles left in this race — we shouldn’t count ourselves out just yet.
And that’s where we’ll pick up in the next episode of this story.
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