Thursday, April 7, 2016

Tuesdays at SCTAC

Tuesdays at SCTAC - the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center, formerly known as Donaldson have been a tradition for a long time.  I don't know how long, but I got involved in 2008 and they had already been a fixture in the Greenville Bicycling scene for many many years. 

During 2008 - 2011 I was quite active in these tuesday night rides - even becoming quite the fixture as a ride leader for the fastest country loop (known as the C20+ hammerhead ride at the time).  That group was a relatively small core group of about a dozen or so with most rides starting out around 25 cyclists.  That is a good number for a group ride on public roadways.  The core group worked well together and we turned some pretty fast loops of that country route.  We always tried our best to be respectful of the traffic out there.  Usually the size of the group steadily decreased throughout the ride and generally finished with just a few more than the core group that started.

In 2012 I got a bit disillusioned by the size of the groups and their manners.  The fast country group had expanded to 50 to 60+ riders and the few times I rode with them they acted like it was a race rather than a hard group ride.  Respect for traffic was not great and safety of the group was secondary to getting off the front.  (I'm sure plenty of people will argue with me, but this is the way I felt when I went out with that group early in 2012). 

I stopped going to the Tuesday night rides.  2012 was the year I got into triathlon and had recently met the woman who is now my wife.  We did all of our rides together and they did not include the SCTAC tuesday night rides. 

Fast forward to 2016.  In a brief conversation with a member of the Greenville Spinners board I suggested that I could probably help out with the ride leader duties.  I knew that I was not in the same shape as I was at the end of 2011 and into 2012, but I thought I could help out with what I know to be one of the largest groups out there - what they call the C18.  Of course the C18 group has a targeted average speed of 18 mph.  Frequently this average speed ends up above 19mph and I've heard complaints that it ends up sometimes near 20 mph.  2 mph difference in average speed is a lot over the course of 30 ish miles. 

So, last Tuesday I loaded up my bike and my gear in my truck, headed to work for the day.  At the end of the day, I cruised over to SCTAC with plenty of time to get ready to ride.  It was nice to see some old friends out there - some of whom I haven't seen since I'd ridden at SCTAC last.  I was a bit nervous, after all, my fitness isn't really there yet and my longest ride was just last weekend at 49 miles.  My previous longest (since IM Chattanooga) was 33 miles.  My only saving grace I think is the fact that nearly all of my rides since IM Chatt have been in our local mountains.  That means climbing and that builds a lot of strength.  I'd been running good distances lately so I felt ok about my endurance. 

I chatted with the Spinners President and the ride coordinator and let them know I'd be happy to lead the C18 group.  We watched what now seems to be called the C24 group head out for their ride.  It was a pretty big group but I didn't really get a sense of how many - 40 maybe?  I don't know. 

Finally, Jill called everyone up for the C18 group and announced me as ride leader.  Someone asked about our route and someone else said 'The Prison route' with a distance of about 31 miles.  While I know just about all of the roads out there, I wasn't sure exactly which way they were talking about getting to the prison.  No worries, we just headed on down the road.

Almost immediately our average speed was 18mph.  Jumped pretty quickly to 18.5 and kind of stayed there until after we crossed W. Georgia road and headed up Garrison road.  I had been on the front with a great guy who introduced himself as Mark.  He had been riding out there lately and was familiar with the route.  We began to move off of the front to give others the opportunity to lead. 

Not surprisingly, after the stop sign on Richey Road, the pace started to pick up.  Richey road has a nice little hill on it and it can really zap you.  It's fairly typical for people to push up that hill so truly not a surprise to me that the group started to blow apart.  What did surprise me was the fact that they stopped at the stop sign and waited for the group to reassemble.  Thanks.  This gives me hope for the cyclists in the upstate and restored in me some faith that riding in these groups is going to be ok. 

It's a serious pet peeve of mine to go out for a group ride where people get dropped, stop signs are ignored and traffic isn't looked at safely.  Up to this point, the group had been doing well.  Some of it because I was on the front, but it certainly wasn't all because of me - these folks were getting it. 

As we made the turn onto Woodville road, I figured we'd be in for another hard push to the next stop.  As we pulled away from the stop, I heard someone call out that a group had stopped.  I sprinted to the front of the group and told Mark that he was now the ride leader - I was going back for the group. 

It didn't take long before a solitary rider approached.  I asked him what the story was - He was dropping from the group saying "I should have gone with the C16 group".  But he also told me that a guy had stopped to adjust his seat and was also dropping from this C18 group.  Oops, now I have some catching up to do...

If you know me, you know I live for that kind of thing.  I don't want to ride out there by myself, so I put my head down, got into the drops and kicked it up a notch.  Woodville road is a super fun road to ride.  Mostly a slight downhill grade, with a sharp but quick uphill as you approach the turn onto Davis road.  I pushed myself for all I had and I just caught onto the back of the group as they started up that sharp uphill. 

Just as I caught on, I saw my good friend big Jerry pull off to the side - his saddlebag had gotten slightly askew crossing the bumps on the bridge.  I called out to him to meet me at the top and we could play catch-up old school.  Which means I was going to do my best to pull him back to the group.  There'd been plenty of times he and I had traded pulls on some hard rides, so I knew he'd be up for it.  Sure enough, as the group pulled away, he and I got together and started working. 

I did a longish pull that took us half way up the hill on Reedy Fork road and Jerry pulled through.  As we got near the turn onto Old Hundred road, I began a second pull.  We traded pulls one more time before I made a last long pull to catch the group just as they slowed down for the stop sign at Hwy 418.  I was getting whipped, but I loved it.  This is where the strength comes from - hard intervals followed by short periods of rest. 

We rested briefly at the stop sign until traffic allowed the group to pass.  Again, this group was impressing me.  Regroups, stops and respect for the traffic - most of the reasons I had stopped riding at SCTAC. 

Not surprisingly, in the miles to come the pace increased and gaps in the group were formed.  I played as much as possible chasing down the leaders whenever a gap opened in front of me.  I love that stuff.  Getting in the drops and just pushing hard to reel in someone in front of me.  I'd like to say I always caught the leaders, but alas, there were several times I was still reeling when they slowed for a stop sign.

By the time we got back to Reedy Fork road and headed back to SCTAC, I had regained my position near the front of the group.  Perhaps they still recognized me as the ride leader, I don't know.  They were still pushing pretty hard, but the group was a little more together it seemed.  I stayed tucked in near the front - I couldn't stay up there in the wind - until we turned onto Michelin Road.  At that point, my average speed was showing 19.1mph and I had decided that I'd be mostly noodling it back to the car. 

I finished with an average of 18.6mph and 31miles for the ride. 

My key takeaway from this ride is that there is hope for the Upstate Cyclists.  The new route is much more traffic friendly (roads are smaller with much less traffic) and the riders are showing respect for the road and the group's safety.  

Finally, although those guys were stronger than me on this day, it's still early in the season....

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