Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tuesdays At Donaldson - when it's done right, it's really really really fun!

Can it be done wrong, these Tuesdays at Donaldson? Well, First, you should know what Tuesdays at Donaldson are all about. They're about a lot of sweat, some groaning, a lot of grunting. It's rippling muscles with the sheen of sweat glistening in the setting sun, bodies working in unison extracting pleasure along with some pain. It's intimacy and closeness. All of this in the beautiful setting of the Piedmont. Tonight was an excellent example of how a group of 'strangers' can extract every ounce of pleasure from 29 miles of rolling country roads.

What? What did you think I was talking about? Get your mind out of the gutter! Of course I'm talking about group bicycle rides leaving from Southern Greenville County's Donaldson Industrial Park. Tonight (3/10/09) was the first ride of the year. Many thanks to the Greenville Spinners for putting together such a great event (and it's free too!!). Extra special thanks to Dan McNamara who led the country II ride (18-19mph pace) for the 29 mile loop. For Dan's benefit, I'm the guy in the Michelin jersey who gave you a break from the pull for that section leading up to W. Georgia Road early in the ride.

Dan started us out at a great warm-up pace. I had us clocked at an average of 17.3mph for about the first four miles or so (just about the time I gave Dan a break on the pull). I won't claim to be the guy who picked up the pace, as we were in two lines and the guy next to me was wearing a Lance Armstrong look-alike helmet....but, nonetheless, from early in the ride, the average pace gradually crept up.

As we rolled through the perfect evening and beautiful countryside, spirits were very high. I felt the group was very interested in staying together. We watched out for each other, slowing and stopping where appropriate. This really helped keep that spirit.

One of the best parts of a group ride is, yes, the group. When you get a bunch of people riding at the same speed, in twin pace lines, it is really awesome. Many different people pulled our group tonight. There was a few standouts who seemed to want to pull a little more than others. There was Ron in his bright orange jersey pulling like a madman for big sections. There was John (Lance A helmet) who seemed to have a reputation early on as a hammer (he was kind to us however), and there was Bryant who sprinted out in front of us on the flats and / or downhills as we approached the hills. If you don't know him, he's easy to recognize - he kept pace with our group pedaling with only one leg. Incredibly strong individual.

As we crossed 418 for the first time, our average pace had climbed into the advertised zone (now over 18mph). The group was sticking together and working together. After that first crossing of 418, we enter the best section of the ride (my opinion) - a rolling, twisting fast section with a short but steep climb as we re-approach Reedy Fork Road. I always have a blast in this section and there is usually a small breakaway. Tonight there was something that may have started as a small breakaway, but we never really broke away - the group was right on our heels throughout. This is what makes group riding fun - moving fast, riding close, pumping hard - the adrenaline was really flowing!

As we re-entered Reedy fork road for the long stretch back towards Donaldson, new riders came to the front to pull the group. We maintained a strong pace and our average continued to climb towards 19mph. It's a great feeling to sit back in the second or third position and just watch the riders in front as I maintain my position in the pace line. The beauty of the pace line is absolutely not appreciated by someone who does not ride a road bike - those nascar guys talk about the draft, but I'll never drive a race car at 200mph, so I'll settle for finding that pocket behind the rider in front of me.

As we pulled back on to perimeter road, you could feel the excitement building for the final sprint to the finish. We had several guys pulling for us, but on that last hill, knowing I don't really have a sprint, I decided to give a little grunt to get up the hill. That put me out front mid-way up the hill and that seemed to push others over the edge. As we approached the top, the sprint was on. I laughed (at myself) as most of the group motored past me for a strong finish. Thanks to everyone who helped pull me through the ride tonight, I think it ranks as my most enjoyable ride at Donaldson. I clocked the ride with an average pace of 18.9mph - perfect (if you ask me anyway).

So, I never answered the question about how you can do Tuesdays at Donaldson wrong did I? Well, if you haven't joined the Greenville Spinners on Tuesday nights at Donaldson, you're doing it wrong.

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