Alpha Male For a Day


What a weird group ride today. I must say it couldn’t have come at a better time. It was advertised as a 48-mile “follow the leader” ride. Instead of everyone having a cue sheet and eventually riding their own pace, this one forced everyone to follow the leader.

I showed up at the school near Culpeper and looked at the riders. I thought I was much too strong. To be fair, the ride was classified as a “CC” ride (12-14 mph) which is slower than my normal pace. But it was the only one I could find on this Labor Day weekend. I figured I would work on keeping my speed slow and my cadence high.

There was one guy pretty overweight (kudos for riding and trying to shed pounds) and another who smoked before, after, and during breaks. I did not see him smoke on the ride though.

The trip leader announced that he had forgotten his riding shoes. No one had a wrench to remove his pedals so he couldn’t go with us. The designated leader had been only been on parts of the ride before. The “sweep” made it be known we would have to wait for him.

There were no hills of note on the route but there were plenty of “rollers” here in the Piedmont. We crossed numerous streams and had an excellent view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Throughout the day when we came to any of the hills, I found myself going off the front and banging up the hills. I would sometimes sit up on the descent to let others catch me and sometimes just got in my tuck and enjoyed the speed. Top speed: 40 mph.

Often the best conversation starter on a group ride is a great jersey. And none is better than my Newton’s Revenge jersey. Maybe not surprisingly, no one, and there were 11 of us, ever mentioned it. But when I wear the jersey I hope it gives me wings to fly up the hills. I owe that much to the jersey.

In the early part of the ride, the group stayed together. But as they got tired, or as we got tired going at a slow pace and picked it up at the front, huge gaps began to develop. So that no one got lost, at every turn someone would have to wait at each intersection for the end of the group. Usually, I would stop and wait, sometimes up to five minutes.

Once everyone safely made the turn I would bridge back to the front, often with the leaders more than a mile ahead at that point. That made taking what was a slow-paced ride very enjoyable by giving me my own challenge of bridging through the group.

Our first rest stop was at a country store. One man was cooking BBQ — the ribs and chicken looked and smelled delicious. If I hadn’t been on a bike I would have loved to have bought something to eat then or take home. As we finished our break, we were warned of a very bad hill ahead. “It is a mile long.”

Whoa. A mile hill. I almost pointed to my jersey and said, “Now this is a hill!” But I didn’t. I just let my climbing do the talking. And if climbing Mount Washington doesn’t give one inspiration for any climb, last week our first major climb at the Blue Ridge Extreme was 18 miles. I had no problem zipping to the top. It was 0.7 mile.

For one day, one ride, everyone was looking at this old guy as the leader. Every hill, and every flat, remember, I bridged the group throughout the day, I was the one who went through the group to the front. I will claim only second fastest on the descent though as one rider was on a recumbent and he had the aero advantage, and probably 50 pounds too. We rode together a few weeks earlier on a ride out of Nokesville and he and I finished “first” on the day, out of about 30 riders. We would finish 1-2 again today, with me being the first back to the school.

I am reminded to something Phil Gaimon wrote a few weeks earlier. When he won a local crit in New York, he angered a number of folks when he wrote that he didn’t beat anyone, meaning the top pros weren’t in the race. When he won the Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb two weeks ago he more carefully wrote that the big boys were in Utah and the guys he beat all had families, 9-5 jobs, rode tandems, and were in age from 9-75. He was being humble for winning but recognized that his best competition wasn’t there.

There are just too many events that I registered for where my competition is the big boys. The people I rode with today don’t compete in the hill climb up Mount Washington or the Blue Ridge Extreme Century. One young lady was looking forward to her first metric century (63 miles). On a hybrid bike.

Too many times I am comparing my finishes to the Phil Gaimon’s and the college boys who smoke these events. I am both relieved and excited at finishing while being disappointed that my times often are in the bottom 25% or even 10%.

Every once in awhile a ride with a lesser group, CC in this case, is good for the ego. I do get dropped occasionally if the boys at Hains Point put the hammer down. They ride an A pace and I can barely keep up but do manage most of the time. But if they want to drop me, they can.

I am reminded what was published in Bicycling about magazine in Jan/Feb 2008 (page 48) about getting discouraged. “When you feel like your fitness has a long way to go, stop comparing yourself with other cyclists. Go to the mall and compare yourself with other Americans. You feel better now, right?

I spend way too much time being disappointed I am near the last of the finishers up Mount Washington or across the Blue Ridge. But today’s ride also reminds me that compared to most Americans, and even most other cyclists, I sometimes can be the Alpha Male. At least for a day.

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