My favorite group ride ever was the SUNY Purchase Tuesday Night Sprints on the southeastern edge of NY State. Every Tuesday, from about 4:30 PM, anywhere from 50 to 200 racers would show up, from non-licensed to National Team racers and everything in between. They'd do sprints on a two mile loop, taking about 7 or 8 minutes each loop. At about 7:30 the sprints would wind down and the group would break up into little cliques and cool down with a lap or two of 42x21 twiddling.
When we first learned of the ride a bunch of the team and I went to check it out. And it was incredible.
We pulled into the parking lot and there were cars and bikes everywhere. My body went into race mode, my heart racing, adrenaline coursing, my body quivering in anticipation. And as we got our bikes out of our cars a huge group rolled by, winding it up for the sprint. With the line about 300-400 meters from the lot, it was the most exciting part of the sprint. What an inspiring sight!
We quickly got ready and rode backwards on the loop until we saw the group thundering towards us. Even years later I'd be shaking with adrenaline at this point. We turned around and snuck into the back and started trying to figure out what was going on. The problem with underground rides like this (it was pre-Internet so it was all word of mouth) was that there was no information on how the ride worked, what was okay, and what was not.
For many years a few racers, the "patrons" of the ride, would dictate things. They'd ride up to someone, tap them on the shoulder, and tell them "Go to the B's". Meaning sit up and do sprints with the other group. The second group, smaller and less experienced, would ride a bit behind the first group.
When they split the group, the worst thing was to be demoted. The best was to be selected as an A. The splits didn't happen often (only when the rider count went way over 100) but they happened enough that you knew your place when the two groups started to separate.
Like any group ride with a sprint, there was a bit of prestige associated with winning sprints so racers really tried hard to win.
My first vivid memory was when I mixed it up for the first time. I was being somewhat led out and watched a guy attack from about a kilometer from the line. Suicidal for most but from what I knew the attacker was a Cat 2, had a custom team outfit, a custom bike, and even a matching helmet. I figured he probably knew something I didn't since I had only a team jersey, generic shorts, and a generic Cannondale peppered with stickers. I scampered off after him and after a big effort, got on his wheel.
I was astonished at his commitment to the effort so far out but I dug deep and stayed on his wheel. Not much registered in my head except his freewheel and rear hub until the field recaptured us and swarmed around me. I tried to keep a decent vantage point in the group and went with the surge. Suddenly a racer rocketed away from the field.
It was the same guy!
Holy smolies and a dozen canolies.
This guy was a cookie monster. I decided I'd have to be on his wheel and launched a mega effort to bridge up to him. I managed to do so and hung on, my wheels a little choppy as I started bobbing with effort.
We were flying past the parked cars and I wondered what it looked like from there, two guys flying along, the field intent on devouring the escapees. The road beared slightly left and up before bearing right and slightly down for the final 250 meters.
I wasn't sure when to go and so started from pretty far out - I figured I needed to get as much of a head start as possible on the field. My initial jump crushed this Cat 2 and I thought, well, Cat 2 or not, riding in the wind for no reason doesn't get you anywhere.
I was sprinting and sprinting and sprinting down the interminably long straight when I heard the whooshing of tires coming up quickly.
That Cat 2 flew by me.
I was almost apoplectic with shock.
I adjusted my trajectory and managed to get on his wheel. He had to be totally dead and I just knew I'd be able to beat him. But it wasn't true. He maintained some incredible speed to the line and I simply could not get around this guy.
We crossed the line and I looked over at him. He didn't even seem totally spent. Okay, like he did a sprint. But not like he did a jump, pursuit, jump, pursuit, jump, sprint. All in about a kilometer.
Man this guy was a monster.
He attacks at the start of the "sprint" bit, counters and leads out, then after I sprint away from him he comes back and just annihilates me. And there's no one around at the end. I mean he is so clear of everyone else after the big pull and the big jump.
Okay, we all know that we have those days where we feel invincible. And I figured maybe the guy had it for a mile. But the next sprint was almost a mirror copy of the first. And the next.
And the next week.
And the following week.
This story was getting old and I desperately wanted to rewrite it. But I didn't know how.
So for a few weeks I tried to assimilate this uber-powerful sprinting and time trialling demigod disguised as a Cat 2.
I mean, if he's a 2, what are the 1s like? And the pros? And the guys who dominate the pros? And Eddy Merckx?
A month or so later, cooling down with a half dozen friendly racers after a couple hours of haplessly chasing this demigod, I finally blurted out my frustrations in trying to beat this guy.
"Man, I can't beat that Sleepy Hollow guy."
"You know, that Sleepy Hollow guy. Rides a 56 or so. I just can't beat him."
"Who do you mean?"
"That Sleepy Hollow guy."
"You mean the triplets?"
I looked at my friend in blank incomprehension. The gears started turning. The grey matter was processing.
He laughed at me.
"You know there are three brothers right?", he said, " They're triplets."
I cracked a grin.
"Wait, you thought it was one guy?"
The group burst out laughing.
"Well how was I supposed to know? I mean I see this guy with the team clothing do a big attack, I go with him, we get caught, he goes again, I go again, and then after I sprint around him he comes back and beats me. How was I supposed to know there were three of them??"
Everyone was cracking up. And I laughed too.
From them on my tactics were that much clearer. Figure out which one was the designated sprinter. And beat him.
And that's what I did.