Sunday, August 7, 2011

Hills of the West Coast Competiton...and Pride

Miles: 61 Climbing: 3300’ Route: Tibbets—Issaquah-Hobart Road—Tiger from the north—200th—Lake Francis—Cedar Grove—154th—Coal Creek—89th—116th—Enatai—Medina—Kirkland—NE 70th—Old Redmond Road—West Lake Sammamish Participants: 9 Attrition Rate: 1, even though technically he finished Hero of the Day: Greg, but no one but me knows it

While I have ridden the roads we were on today a million times, I had never done them all on the same ride. We did a kind of suburban circumnavigation route, working our way clockwise from Issaquah to Maple Valley to Renton to Bellevue to Medina to Hunts Point to Kirkland to Redmond and then ultimately back to Tibbets Park in Issaquah. As opposed to venturing out into the hinterland as we often do, today we kept things close to the vest. Traffic was incredibly light for almost the entire ride, and I don’t think five cars passed us on the sometimes busy four miles of Issaquah-Hobart Road down to Tiger Mountain Road.

It was a great day, we had a great group, and we did a great ride.

Having led the ride for eight years, there isn’t a whole lot I have not seen before and today was no exception. Nevertheless, I do have some reflections based on my observations on the road.

We had a double Olympic Gold Medalist with us (Greg from Team High Performance Cycling), and while he earned his medals in a kayaking event, it’s not hard to see how things translate over to cycling. Check out this resume:

Greg is a strong rider who just goes for it at all times. On 200th off of Issaquah-Hobart we established a regroup about two miles away at the intersection of 244th. I was the only one who noticed that Greg dropped his chain, and by the time I saw this he was quite a bit off of the back. With my little mirror I watched him put his head down and pour on the coals. The group had splintered a bit, but everyone was in sight of each other at all times. Greg motored on along, obviously not concerned about the big deficit he had to dig out of, nor the fact that it was not likely that he would catch up to the front of the group. He didn’t, but that’s not the point.

It was a totally unnecessary competition, conducted only with himself, but you could tell he gave it a big effort to bridge the gaps. No one but me was aware that he had started from way back, everyone was going fairly hard, and he still went for it. Nobody but me likely recognizes that it was the single strongest piece of riding by anybody the whole ride, and I’m betting that Greg could care less about that.

You wonder what Olympic Champions are made of, but it’s not really much of a mystery, is it? Contrast that with certain people I have ridden with who will leave the paved road and whip across a gravel parking lot to reach the bottom of a climb 5 seconds before everyone else. What the hell is that about? Isn’t the sweetest victory often the one that only the victor recognizes?

I don’t think Greg has been riding for very long, and maybe he just doesn’t know what can and can’t be done yet. I did notice him accelerate to close some little gaps that formed right before we were coming to a stop light. While he wasted a little energy doing that, he is so competitive that it didn’t seem to dampen his enthusiasm for going for it any time he had the chance. Olympic Gold Medals don’t go to people who are afraid to “give it a shot”.

Speaking of competition, I’ve been trying to figure out why I don’t seem too motivated by it this summer. Quite frankly, it’s been a struggle to motivate myself to ride hard. Seeing Greg must have started the subliminal process, because I now think I know what the issue is. This is an odd year in that I don’t have any big specific goals on the road—i.e. no big alpine tour, etc. I was thinking a lack of focus might be a reason for a lack of competitive spirit.

But I realized today that I do have a goal for 2011. I am learning how to be a decent mountain biker, and I have a brand new 2012 Specialized Epic Expert to learn with. I am incredibly excited about my new bike, and I am like a little kid when I go out for a singletrack ride. From now on I won’t dwell on the competitive thing. I’ll continue to lead the HOWC and stop wondering why I am content to just follow the wheels on less hilly routes than I normally take the ride on. Maybe I am subconsciously saving energy for my next MTB adventure:)

So there is competition, and then there is pride. Pride is what will keep me leading the ride, and trying to ride well. And pride is what several other people must have had on their minds today. We had one rider who was often off the back a little during the first half of the ride, but not far enough that he didn’t catch back on at a stop or if we backed off just a little. He was a bigger guy, one of those people who look like they are likely a locomotive on the flats. While we didn’t have a bunch of big climbs today, the climbs we did do were clearly taking their toll on him. I found myself directly behind this rider on West Lake Sammamish very late in the ride. When he rotated to the front of the paceline, right away he was riding off the pace. I quietly suggested that if he was tired, he could just rotate off the front, no problem.

Pride can be a powerful thing. Instead of heading to the rear for a rest, this rider actually upped his pace by about three mph. He wasn’t up there for long, but he made his point. Unfortunately, when he got to the back, I watched him get shot out of a cannon backwards, receding into the next zip code, if not county.

Just before we reached Newport Way, I let the group go while I waited for this rider. As he rolled up, he was apologetic about not wanting to hold us up. I told him that there was no reason to drop someone near the end of the ride when they may not know how to get home. And what did he do when we rejoined the group? He went right back to the front of course!

Just before I was behind this rider, also on Lake Sammamish, I found myself behind someone who had earlier been riding quite strong, but who must have been fatiguing just a bit. He would let the door open in front of him, and then grit his teeth and close down the 15-20’ gap, forcing everyone behind him to do likewise. After this happened several times, I mentioned that he could yell “gap” and the group would slow down. He didn’t, and I’m sure he didn’t want to be recognized as the person who had let the gap form. I guess it’s OK to be gapped, as long as you are not the one who let it happen. In any case, I made sure to move back into the line one ahead of him my after my next short pull.

After you’ve done a bunch of group rides, you learn to try and not follow someone who might be struggling even the tiniest bit. Slowing and surging over and over to regain the paceline takes a tremendous amount of energy. I do my best to keep the group riding at a consistent pace, but it’s never perfect. I’ve learned that I can’t afford to waste unnecessary energy on a hard ride.

I had a good day on the ride, and yes, I guess I am proud of that. I learned something as I always do, I rode well, and while I wasn’t the strongest, I was the oldest. I have no way of knowing, but I think I was the only one who noticed that. In addition, it’s also been a ZAD (Zero Advil Day). For proper context on that comment, see the post below.


Johny said...

Glad to see that the HOWC is still going strong. Also, good luck with your MTB adventures. just don't go over the handle bars too often. I'm still riding 8-10 hrs a week but the hills are not quite has daunting. That's ok. I'm still having a great time every time I get on the bike. It's hard on the body but peaceful for the mind. Enjoy your rides. Johny

Tom Meloy said...


We miss you on the HOWC. You will have to make a guest appearance.

David Young said...

Hi Tom,
I'm going way back to this post because of a tragedy yesterday. My good friend and cycling buddy was killed yesterday on the way to work. Lance was the rider mentioned in this post that was off the back like he was "shot out of a cannon backwards, receding into the next zip code, if not county." I was on that ride too - I think I suggested the ride to Lance - and at the time was a little reluctant to send him the link to your post. However, ignoring my wife's suggestion I did forward it to him, and he loved it. He sent it far and wide, and the term "getting shot out the back like a cannon ball" became a frequent refrain on our rides. Lance was a great sport, and took maybe 5 days a year off from hard cardio workouts. The ride you wrote of came on a day his legs were cooked from the previous day. He didn't tell anyone that, but I knew to ask when I noticed he was struggling on the hills. He and I rode Hurricane Ridge every summer and I was always amazed how strong he was on the big climbs. I'm not making excuses for him, he'd never have that, but I wanted you to know a little more about him, and that your ride and post added a bit of flavor to our cycling banter.

Tom Meloy said...


Thank you so much for your comments. I just re-read that blog post, and I very specifically remember that ride, and Lance, and the private talk we had near the end of the ride. I am sorry for your loss.

I manage a cycling team called Team High Performance Cycling. Would you mind if I posted the text of your email on our message board along with a link to the blog article? We have 80 people on the team, and there may be people who knew Lance.

David Young said...

Sure, of course post as you see fit. I'm not sure what lessons there are to be learned from his accident, but we can all learn from his love of life.