Sunday, May 29, 2011

5-22-11 Hills of the West Coast The Decimated Dozen

Miles: 55 Climbing: 2735’ Route: Issaquah-Hobart/Landsburg/Black Diamond/Auburn-Black Diamond Rd/Lake Holm/Moneysmith/152nd/256th/196th/Cedar River Trail/Cedar Grove/Issaquah-Hobart Participants: 12>7>5>4 Attrition Rate: 43%

We were gathering at Tibbets Park when Chris Ragsdale and four others rolled up. Chris hasn’t made the HOWC since I moved the ride to Issaquah, so it was nice to see his group. As it turned out, they had bumped into a rider headed to the HOWC. We sorted out a merger after discussing what we were doing on the HOWC.

Our group of 12 headed south from Issaquah on the Issaquah-Hobart Road. While the pace was clearly at the top end of what I call the “Lite” pace we try to ride at his time of the year, I didn’t think we were going that hard. As long as no one lingered at the front and everyone stayed on the wheel in front of them, I thought we would work well together.

I had just finished a turn at the front as we rolled uphill just south of May Valley. As I rolled to the back, everything looked good. The grade steepens as one approaches the “pinch point” bridge, the scene of a not so great past encounter for me:

A few seconds later I was at the back of the line and doing what I needed to do to ride safely in a pretty quick paceline, when I looked around the rider in front of me and saw a big gap in front of the next rider, who was dressed all in black. I’d just done some time on the front, and my reward was to get dropped off the back as a group of three without even realizing it. The gap seemed to grow exponentially as we rode up through the left hand curve where the pitch is steeper yet. At this point I called out, “If you don’t yell ‘Gapped,’ you’ll never see those guys again!” Silence. His legs were silent as well, as he made no attempt (not that he could have) to close the gap. Maybe he was expecting one of us to go around him and pull him back to the bunch, but I don’t believe he could have hung and I doubt either one of us could have closed the gap anyway. It would have taken a BIG effort and there would certainly have been a price to pay later in the ride.

I can only speculate that the rationale for this silent treatment was that he was embarrassed and didn’t want to be identified as the guy who left the door open. Later on, someone mentioned that he had pulled pretty hard when he was on the front (just before he blew up), so maybe he was trying to make some kind of point. That’s funny! When Chris is on the ride, most people are happy just to survive. We were barely four miles into the ride; what kind of point do you make then?

In any case, the front group missed the light at Cedar Grove and the group came back together. Chris started in front, followed by Brian, me, and the rest of the gang.

As opposed to the Man in Black, Brian did a classy thing. While still on Chris’s wheel, he turned around and told me he was going to be off the pace and that he was going to the back. Presto, bingo, no gap, and I was holding onto Chris’s wheel for dear life (well, not quite that desperately). As we rolled south, Chris was slowly but surely ramping up the pace, and I saw multiple gaps opening as I looked back in my little mirror. It’s not likely that Chris was trying to drop everybody. Of course, should he choose to do so, Chris can open up a can of whoop-ass and ride anyone off of his wheel. That’s how you set records while winning 24 hour endurance races. I think that Chris simply doesn’t know his own strength. I mean, 23-24mph doesn’t sound all that fast, but we were riding into the wind…and uphill. I was looking at 280+ watts just to stay on his wheel.

In a short amount of time, there was Chris, me, and maybe one or two others in the front group. It’s not that other riders couldn’t have been there. If someone ahead of you lets the door open and doesn’t do what Brian did, it is just very, very hard to catch back on to a group that has Chris on the front. So I called for a stop just before Route 18 to let our group of 12 re-form. To me, there were only two ways the ride was going to work out well for everybody, and I was fine with either. We either had to back the pace down a notch, or we could split into two groups. I had promised that we would ride at the “Lite” pace of 20-22mph on the flats, and we were clearly ramping up to a “summer” pace. It wasn’t fair to the newcomers on the ride to subject them to something unexpected.

Everyone talked it over, and Chris and his gang decided to stick with their original plan of riding climbs on Cougar and Squak Mountains. Seeing as how I think only one of his group seemed to be solidly hanging with the group, I could only imagine the havoc Chris would wreak in the hills. Actually, I can, and I am sure that instead of waiting at the top, Chris just rolled back down the hill and rode up again.

One of the nice things about organizing the ride is that you get to “write” the rules, and sometimes the rules are composed on the fly. As it turns out, the Man in Black was with our group of five (two of the original group were MIA and accounted for at this point). South of Route 18, the Issaquah-Hobart road goes through a series of short and not overly steep rollers. We slow pedaled and waited for the (still) silent Man in Black several times after a short hill. It was obvious to all that we had four riders who could ride well together and one rider not capable of handling even the advertised Lite pace.

Normally when this happens, said rider will thank the group for the ride and mention that he knows the way home. If not, I’ll figure out a way to talk to the rider in private and convey that things are only going to get harder. All the cards are out on the table. Should the rider continue, he is aware that he may get dropped.

In this case, I decided not to play by those rules. As we slowed up again to wait for MIB, I asked our group what they wanted to do. I didn’t hear any strong opinions, so I proposed that we would just keep on riding and not sit up and wait again. I mentioned that I would explain my rationale later in the ride. Since we had not made a turn since leaving Issaquah, I knew that the dropped rider could find his way home. At this point, I didn’t feel like I owed him any favors, and that is what I told the group when we stopped later in the ride.

I only got to chat with Chris briefly on this ride, and we talked about some of the races he is doing in 2011. Chris will have support from Team RAAM at a number of big events this year. The biggest is Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP), a 1200km race he is riding in for the first time. There is always a bit of a learning curve for specific events or races but I like Chris’s chances, but then, I always like his chances. I’ll stick my neck out; I think he will win PBP. If he avoids bad luck (mechanical or otherwise) it is almost a certainty that Chris will be with the front bunch of 40 or so riders that usually pull away in the late hours.

Those Euro Dudes won’t know what hit them when the Ragsdale Tsunami rolls through them at the end of the race. He won’t be taking any prisoners; don’t expect him to sit up and wait for anyone. That’s his rule.

1 comment:

Tricia said...

Tom, as always, interesting post! I didn't read this before coming on the HOWC Saturday, but wish I had. Fortunately, Jeff had read this, and we had a little "what do you do if you get gapped" conversation on the way to the ride. Not having a lot of experience with pacelines, I'm not always sure how to handle these situations. It's really helpful to learn from others' experience on your blog (and a little easier than learning from my own...). Although Saturday was really hard day for me, I think I'll be a stronger, smarter rider for having joined you guys. Hope I didn't resemble the MIB too closely... -Tricia