For the past month or so, I've been meeting up with Perry and Gavin and a bunch of other folks for a ride out of Oakview on thursday evenings. This is a pretty fun ride. There are some guys who can really lay the hammer down on this ride and sometimes it is just about hanging on for dear life.
My first week out there, I sat in the back and just tried to get a feel for the dynamics of the group. These are a bunch of people who are strong riders and tend to average in the 20 - 21mph range (or more) for the 35-40 mile ride. Of course if the ride starts out with two groups, the faster group probably averages faster than that, but I can't say I've gone out with the faster group.
This week, we went out as one group, and at the end of the ride I showed an average of 20.7mph. Really a very respectable pace for a bunch of normal people. Ok, I'm sure there are plenty of folks in Greenville who have the strength to average more than that, but hey, I'm going to take credit where I can and say that I'm proud to be able to hang with (and do my share of pulling) this group.
What is neat about this group is the fact that the group size is about the same every week. There are people who drive to the meeting place, but there are more people who live in the nearby subdivisions who ride to the meetup location. All of the people who show up for this ride are strong enough to keep this pace. If they are not, they push themselves hard enough that in a few weeks, they are hanging with this group.
As with the Donaldson route, as I have become more comfortable with the route, I take more and more opportunities to get out and pull the group. Tonight I did my share of pulling. It's mostly because I really love it. Getting out in front of a group and pulling that group along a really nice, hopefully fast section of road is an awesome feeling. Of course, while I am out there, I'm constantly wondering if I am going as fast as I think I am.
Sometimes in this group, the pace drops a bit. Of course at other times, the pace really cranks up! I'm a guy who would rather maintain a steady average 20mph for the entire ride than have a surging average (i.e. avg 15mph for a while, then 24mph for a while). However, group dynamics being what they are, sometimes you have to go with the flow. Tonight I felt it was a little more like a steady average than a surging average.
There was some guys out there tonight who normally ride in the faster group, but they took it easy on us for the most part. They let us 'slower' peeps pull hard in the sections where they might normally hold back a little more, then in the fast / sprint sections, they ramped it up big time. This is ok with me. I like to work hard even when I am sitting in. We had some sections where we were averaging probably in the 25mph range. And not for a little tiny section, but for a few miles. Really fun with different people pulling the group along.
There is a nice long section with a sprint zone at the end. When we turned on to this section, a small group broke away. A number of people bridged to create a slightly larger group, but the main peloton was a little slower off the line. We set up a rotation up front (not by any specific organization, but just by folks doing what comes natural to a bunch of experienced cyclists) and didn't let the break-away get too far out front. I was near the front of the peloton and Perry was in front of me. It seemed that each successive rider who pulled the peloton in that section pulled a little harder than the last. As expected, pretty soon the break-away group was dropping riders off the back.
The peloton kept pushing and pretty soon Perry was out front. The man truly doesn't know his own strength. I knew we would gain on the breakaway with Perry up front. Sure enough, he poured on the steam and began reeling them in. I was up next and did my best to keep the pressure on the front group. I felt like we pulled them back a little more before I had to drop off. Behind me was Gavin who did an outstanding job of gaining more ground on those guys. Of course, that group was still spitting peeps off the back.
At about the half mile mark (from the end of the sprint zone), Gavin was still out front and the breakaway was getting pulled in (the peloton was really close). I had dropped back a bit (maybe to 10th position in the peloton) and other riders who know the road better started making their move. By this time we were close enough to the breakaway group that these guys were not worried about blowing their load without gaining on the breakaway. Perry had a great sprint and ended up third, I managed to move past some folks to be about 8th or so. It is a fun section of road that usually ends up very fast for the entire 5 miles (or so).
After that, we took a slightly slower pace for a short distance to give everyone a break, but soon the pace was picking up again. there is a very cool section along hwy 417 where we can really get a head of steam. I did some pulling through this section and tried to keep the pace high. Others who pulled in front of me and behind me also did a great job of keeping the pace high. When we turned on to Anderson Ridge road, I think the adrenaline was really pumping through everyone.
The ride is not over when we make that turn, but it does seem to back off just a hair. At that point, we are getting within a few miles of the finish, and we all want to have some opportunity to cool down a bit. That doesn't mean the pace is easy though. If there is one thing I've learned about these Thursday nights at Oakview - you have to bring your 'A' game - even if you are riding in the 'B' group!