Sunday, March 24, 2013

Love Valley Roubaix

The rain is so light you don't even realize it's there until you turn off the windshield wipers, but the intermittent clicking of sleet on windshield let's you know that it is real out there. Really real. I've got a front row seat to the suffering behind the wheel of the follow car. Riders slapping their hips with their hands trying to pound life and feeling back into them. The former leader sits in the car seat next to me, hunched over double, shivering uncontrollably, a frozen stream of snot hanging from his chin in defiance of the blast of heat being hurled out of the cars vents at him. I'm sweating, Owen is stripped down to t-shirt and sweat pants and still he shivers.

This is the Love Valley Roubaix. Gone is the fear of overheating that some riders had at the start. Gone are the majority of the riders who started this 50 mile jaunt through the Brushy Mountains. They've been left behind in the opening miles by the 7 riders in front of me. The opening climb that came in the first miles of the race was a veritable mine field of shattered dreams as one rider after another exploded spectacularly as the Fox Mountain road tilted up and up and up. Two riders popped from the lead group (including +David Clark ) fell far enough behind on the climb to warrant me passing them and nestling in cozily with the front group that included +Jeff Welch , Sonni Dyer, Reid Beloni, Miles Hubbard, and Dirty Darrel Prillaman.

This rolling sufferfest ground out mile after mile, passing through the odd bit of sunshine and then plunging into fog and so many different kinds of rain that I was able to marvel at the variety of precipitation that pelted the car. This lead group was rejoined by David Clark and another rider who chased back on with some impressive descending on the twisty dirt and gravel roads criss crossed with rivulets of tan water.

I stopped to help a rider fix a flat tire. He expressed simultaneous disappointment and relief at not being able to ride in the lead group any more. He fumbled the tube change with the frozen blocks of wood buried deep in his gloves. I took off to catch back on to the lead group only to find it in tatters on the second long climb of the day. Riders drifted past the car, numbly locked in slow motion heroics as they inched toward the unseen top. I finally caught Reid, his upper body pistoning up and down as he put every bit of strength he had into the pedals. Just ahead of him, Jeff and Darrel spun survival circles in pursuit of Miles dangling just in front of them. Just out of sight rode Sonni Dyer with the aforementioned lead rider some two minutes off the front.

For a good many miles a half-hearted chase was mounted by the group containing 3rd through 6th place. And then the penultimate climb appeared. Darrell chased mightily to catch back on to the group after exchanging gloves with me on the fly in the flat valley road leading up to the climb. He caught just as Reid came untethered from Jeff and Miles' wheels. The Miles set off on his own at the midpoint of the climb and by the three quarter's mark, Darrell had opened an inexorably expanding gap on Jeff. With the exception of the early retirement of the lead rider, this pecking order remained set in stone for the remainder of the race as riders switched from competition mode to survival mode. Each descent was followed by another brutish uphill in some cruel example of why gravity always wins. As we hit the final road, you could see the relief was through Jeff as he realized that the suffering was almost over.

I hadn't been in a follow vehicle for a long time, but my vantage point left no doubt to my conviction to not race this year. It was good seeing many of my racing friends, but today was a day that I did not envy them in the least. No, my weekend ride featured ride companions like this:

And I also got to experiment with riding new roads in a very familiar area by taking a turn that I've passed a thousand times, but never actually taken. Instead of following the road up Goat Hill, I turned right onto the dirt road right in the apex of the turn. It was nice doing something new, riding by myself, and just enjoying being outside in the semi-warmth of newly born Spring. I'm excited about the coming year of riding, surprised on not thinking about racing too much, and yearning for a lasting run of warm weather, clear skies, and bountiful sunshine.
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