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Life in the peleton (is pretty cool)

Posted Aug 22 2010 11:19pm

For awhile I've wanted to find a local group to ride with.  In a post about a month ago I mentioned I met a guy from OC Velo who invited me to join them on their weekly Sunday morning ride.  It's what the club calls the weekly "recovery" ride - 32 miles, with the same route every week at a 18-20 MPH pace.

I finally got the chance to join them for a ride last Sunday.  However, I may have picked the wrong week, because I had no idea what to suspect and a whole group of serious racers showed up.  That meant the pace was going to be high and I had brought a bag full of potential rookie moves.  I did OK (I think) for the first half by staying near the back of the pack.  But about half way through (where the Turtle Hill climb started), I got dropped.  And on the run-in back to the HB pier on the Coast Highway, I ended up being the solo member of group "C".  I was thrashed and just couldn't keep up.

Despite my underwhelming performance, it was an awesome ride and I was ready to have another go.  And, since no one told me it wasn't cool to come back, I was at the pier this morning at 8 AM.  Today, none of the hardcore racing guys showed up (It was mentioned, that they where, in fact, off racing).  Instead it was a group of 20 or so guys more like me - decent enough, but decidedly mortal.

I was more prepared this week, at least academically.  Over the last 5 or 6 days I read everything I could find on the dynamics of group riding - How to ride in a pace line, the various rules of etiquette and where to put my front my wheel in relation to the guy in front of me for maximum drafting benefit.

We set off.  And though we where going a little faster than the advertised pace, I felt a lot more comfortable than last week.  I also felt confident enough to move up from the back.

Riding in a peleton is one of the most thrilling things I have ever done.   Two rows of ten cyclists clustered together, moving fast and in sync.  I don't know any of these guys yet, but I instinctively trusted their riding abilities.  And they seemed to trust me.  When in a groove, the peleton truly acts as a single organism.  It's such a different experience from racing in a triathlon.

When we got to Turtle Hill, I was in the middle of the pack.  I was feeling strong and so when we hit the grade, I shifted into a gear one or two higher than I normally would shift to and glued myself to the guy in front of me.

The climb went fine - I kept my place in the pace line all the way to the top.  When we crested, I heard gears shifting all around me and felt the pace increasing.  Unfortunately, this is where I blew up.

Yep, I got dropped at the top of the climb.  I didn't realize this was even possible, but it happened.  Luckily, there was a decent downhill so I was able to get my sh*t together and catch back up.  Plus there were a few guys that got dropped on the climb.  So I wasn't the last guy to rejoin, and so the second attempt of Turtle Hill ended up going OK.

The next ten miles went by quick.  The route took us over gentle rollers back down to Pacific Coast Highway for a fast ride back.  I was really enjoying myself.  About eight miles from the finish, we merged with another group of riders.  So suddenly we where a group almost twice in size.  About two miles from the finish, guys started attacking, and groups of 2-3 riders started peeling off the front.  Suddenly, I found myself second in the right hand line.  "Screw it" I thought, "let's get a feel for how this bike racing stuff works..."

I moved off to the right, shifted up and took off.  I was out of my seat pedaling as hard as I could.  The bike computer said I was going 30 MPH.  After riding hard for about 400 yards, I looked over my shoulder to see who was with me.  According to an article I read, I'm supposed to do this to see who followed and start making tactical judgments on how to work with the other riders in order to keep the break away. 

The problem was that I was alone.  I'm not sure if the rest of the guys decided I wasn't a threat to get the last onion bagel at Starbucks or what, but I was hanging 75 or 100 yards out in front by myself.  So I slowed down and faded back into the group.  No one said anything, and we all rode the rest of the way together.  I guess I'll have to attack earlier next week, or maybe jump on the wheel of another attacker.  Either way, I want a taste of the action.

I've added this ride to my training schedule in permanent marker.
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