Sunday, May 31, 2009

5-31-09 Hills of the West Coast Ride Report

Miles: 74.5 Climbing: 4000’ Route: Downtown--Mercer Island--Honda Hill--Newport Way to Downtown Issaquah--Issaquah-Preston Trail to Highland on the Sammamish Plateau--Issaquah Fall City Rd.--Duthie Hill Rd. climb--202 North--Ames Lake Rd. climb--Carnation Farm Rd.--203 to Carnation--Tolt Hill Rd. to West Snoqualmie River Rd.--40th St. SE climb--Flying Wheels Route to E. Lake Sammamish--Issaquah--W. Lake Sammamish Parkway--Trail on north frontage of I-90--Eastgate Park and Ride--Mercer Island--Downtown

Butta…smooth as butta. Those are the first words that come to mind when I think of today’s ride. Today’s effort was one of the best rides we have had in years, if not since the inception of the Hills of the West Coast ride. So smooth that the group of 18 rode together like a well oiled machine. Throw in a strong spirit of camaraderie, and an elated sense of sheer exuberance of riding bikes together as a cohesive group, and it was a beautiful experience. It was as if we rode together five times a week, despite the fact that we had total newbie’s on the ride.

Today’s route didn’t hurt either. I guess I could count, but it’s easier to guesstimate how many HOWC rides we have done over the last six years. My conservative estimate is somewhere around 25 per year for a total of approximately 150 rides. Not once can I recall using the same exact route two weeks in a row until today. I think this “new” route through Issaquah, the Sammamish Plateau, and then out through the southern part of Snoqualmie Valley really is outstanding for the type of riding we do at this time of the year. Spring is usually a “build” time, and we make a lot of trips out to Squak, Tiger, and Cougar Mountains for the long and steep climbs available there. Summer is fun time, a time to enjoy the form you have built, hitting some routes where one can stretch their legs.

Speaking of form, I felt good today, but my legs were not as sharp as they could have been, especially early in the ride. Several consecutive hard riding weeks, including fifteen thousand feet of climbing last week might have put a little fatigue in my legs. Perhaps I just waited too long to go to the caffeine, because by the end of the ride, I was feeling pretty darn good, at least on a relative basis. In any case, I was super appreciative and thankful for all of the eager help on the front of the ride. As usual, we had a lot of strong riders, but Jeff in particular was in top form. I’ve ridden with Jeff for three or four years, and I think he is the strongest I have seen him. Looks to me like he will do well in his upcoming inaugural Ironman.

We rode a little bit above the advertised pace, and we had a few people comment that the pace was right on the edge of their capabilities, but they were grinning when they said it. Everyone knows that to get faster, you have to go faster, and people pushed themselves. I don’t think anyone failed to garner a little “training effect” today. No one cracked, no one dropped off the back on flat sections, and waiting time was minimal on the top-of-climb re-groups. We put in quite a few miles of some fairly serious pacelining (including 11 minutes on Snoqualmie Valley at a hair under 25mph), and I never saw a wheel out of line.

So what blend of magic elixir could be responsible for such an enjoyable, safe, and successful ride? In a nutshell, it’s called cooperation. I have felt for a while that many people on group rides wind up using half of their energy bridging gaps that form as the leading riders “roll” through stop signs, etc. This is particularly true for the riders at the rear of the group, and these are the riders who tend to be the most tired anyway. It’s not the pace per se that is damaging, it’s the very hard efforts required over and over to close those gaps. When the group is not together before the hammer is dropped after a slow down; well, that’s not even fair now, is it?

We killed two birds with one stone today. Several of the rides this spring have been “looser” than customary, and I’ll be honest, I have not been happy with the sight of our groups of 15 to 20 riders blowing stops, especially when quite a few riders are sporting the Team HPC kit with “Cascade Bicycle Club” and “Cycle U” emblazoned front and center. Yes, I know that just because the HOWC goes off with a little more courtesy is not going to repair the damage that certain parts of cycling’s image are suffering from, but hey, just like global warming you have to start somewhere. I beat this subject to death in a recent previous blog post (“Close Encounters of a Car Kind”) in case you would like to chime in with your comments.

There is no need to mention how we accomplished these goals, other than the aforementioned courtesy. Suffice to say, be prepared for a few small changes in the ride protocol the next time you join us. A few small changes that didn’t seem to take away any of the fun, increased the safety of the ride, and made the ride go a lot smoother than it has been. The HOWC is important to many of us; massaging the process as we go is important to continue the spirit and viability of the ride.

Once again, the power of the group was obvious, and not just to the people who were really digging deep to hang. Even if I felt fantastic when I woke up this morning, there is absolutely no chance that I would have gone out and ridden solo with anywhere near the intensity I did with the group today. By myself, I likely would have just cruised around, but the power of the group put a lot of “training effect” into my legs.

Yeah, racing will give you that, but people hit the pavement too frequently, and you lose the social aspect that was so prevalent on today’s ride, at least while you are actually racing. For my money, riding like we do on Sunday gives us a lot of what you can get out of racing, but with almost none of what you don’t want to get out of racing.

I hope to see you on the Tarmac.


Cascade Cyclist said...

Bummed that I missed it, but we did have a good hike up Mt. Si, crowds and all. "Cross training."

It would be awesome to get some video from a HOWC ride like this when the group is totally in sync.

Next Sunday might work. I don't necessarily need to be there to manage the cams.

psorr said...

Great ride overall!

The only hiccup I remember was when one person had a flat and I simultaneously got a twig sucked into my derailleur--I touched wheels with Jim when I quickly pulled right; should have given more warning but I was afraid my rear wheel was about to lock up entirely--fortunately a low speed incident.

Smoother than I've seen in a long time as far as keeping the group together. My only critique is that the communication must be consistent (a few times people were 'all on' but the lead riders didn't know it for a while) and conversely you shouldn't call out 'all on' if someone still has to bridge a gap before they're truly 'on'.

How long can this amazing weather last?