We (the Missus and Junior) went down for the pre-July 4th weekend. With the thoughts of my recent racing failures in mind, and the fact that I wasn't absolute exhausted each evening, the Missus and I planned some training for me - the Gimbels ride.
The Gimbels ride is a huge group ride. It used to start at a Gimbels store somewhere in NY, but when a racer told me about it he told me to park in White Plains - they'd roll out for another 20-30 minutes and then the ride proper would start.
The pack at Gimbels July 1. I wasn't at the back either.
I have to admit that I haven't done the ride in a while. I definitely remember the fall of 2003, maybe September or October. It was still a bit warm, I was at my heaviest so about 215 lbs, and I got shelled on the roll out on 22.
This is kind of like getting dropped on the lap where the race announcer says, "Okay guys, we'll be a minute, take a lap okay?" and then I get shelled.
We were going about 14 or 15 mph and I couldn't hang - by the time we got to the classic car place I was done.
I turned around and rode back to the car.
A short time later I returned and made it to the 120 sprint (the first one) and got shelled after that.
I've been there since but I personally don't remember it. The Missus remembers me going though so I've been.
So it's been a while. I didn't know the current batch of riders. I didn't know the road conditions. I didn't know any other changes in the ride since those days many years ago.
On top of that we were going through a mini heatwave (it lasted at least 3 days so it's technically a heatwave I learned). The forecast called for temps in the upper 90s. I hate anything over about 82 (except in January in California) so I knew I'd be pushing my own limits with a 95+ degree forecast. In preparation I brought my two Podium Ice bottles, filled partially with ice (I only used one tray for the two bottles - I could have used one tray for each, but I didn't want to strip the house of ice cubes). I also brought two regular bottles for rinsing - they stayed in the trunk, no insulation, no cooler.
I got to the parking area a bit early, hoping that it hadn't changed in the meantime. The original parking area was the bowling alley lot but one weekend they started towing all the bike racers' cars so we started parking on the street a block away.
I got there early enough that I was one of two cars there. I got changed, got ready, and lo and behold some guys I know rolled up.
One is a long time racer Tom. He gave me some tips, the important ones, like the fact that the whole ride has come under scrutiny by law enforcement. Apparently the NY rules of running lights and stops is winding down - riders as recently as the day before were getting pulled over wholesale and ticketed.
He also told me about a closed bridge on the route, and that I'd need to take a left two lights later. He cautioned me on trying to use the sidewalk on the closed bridge - a slew of riders got ticketed there too.
I understand the need to do this and I'm okay with it, but it would definitely change the atmosphere of the ride.
Another guy Joe rolled up while Tom and I talked. Joe's the promoter (or co-promoter maybe) of the White Plains Crit. He's jumped through a lot of hoops to make this race happen this year and therefore I'm a big fan of his. He seemed much stronger than his license indicated and he chipped in with details on the various caution notes.
Tom's apparent teammate (they wore similar kits) Chris rolled up. He's a guy that as a kid I admired. He had all these really cool cars, really enjoyed them, and, most importantly, drove them the way they were meant to be driven. It's like showing up with a nice bike on a group ride and mixing it up at the front - that's what they were designed to do, not leaned up against a rail outside the local Starbucks.
Finally fellow promoter and former Cat 1 track racer Greg rolled up. He couldn't believe what he was seeing - me on a Gimbels again! When he asked how long it'd been since I'd been on the ride, I pointed out that there's this huge new Infiniti dealership on Central Ave.
"I think that was built in 2007 or so, and it was originally a motorcycle dealership."
I pointed out some other stuff that I noticed on the roll out. Greg decided it had to be at least 5-7 years since I'd last done the ride. He cautioned me on the law enforcement efforts, and, more immediately, told me to get out of the right gutter because there were some huge holes coming up.
I moved over and missed a crater by a few inches.
I started paying more attention to the road.
The group splits into Short Short, Short, and Long, but now it seems that riders call them Short, Regular or Medium, and Long. Short Short is pretty short, Long involves some hills I couldn't make even when I was fit, so Regular it was.
When we split (Long went left, Regular went right), the Regular group, numbering about 50 or 60, immediately started to string out. I didn't think anything would happen right away so I just surfed wheels at the back. We rolled down a slight decline when the light in front turned yellow. 15 or so riders sprinted through, past a police car with its lights flashing.
The rest of us stopped. We'd never see that front group again.
Reduced to about 30 or 40 riders we continued.
The Regular ride is kind of like a B race, with most of the riders being either 4s or 5s in pack riding experience. A few riders are experienced 3s (like me), just unable to get over the hills on the Long ride. Others are old timers that might have been 2s or 3s back in the day but now are leisurely 3s or 4s.
What this means is that the ride isn't quite as tight as a Cat 3 race, and, notably, there are riders who are extremely nervous in the group. I noticed one guy who hung out off to the side, in the wind, maybe 3 feet from the closest rider. It's better to go Long because the riders are all pretty good in the field; on the Regular route it was maybe 1/3 of the riders not so good, 1/3 fine, and 1/3 as good as anyone on Long.
Other guys were slipping through tiny gaps, getting good position before the choke points of the course, corners or tight roads or whatever.
At some point Mr Nervous, the guy hanging out on the side, reached out to caution the rider to his left that he was there. I think I must have been a bit frustrated with Mr Nervous's fear of the group because I told the guy he touched to ignore the guy because he had plenty of room.
I rolled up the other side of Mr Nervous to get away from him. He had all sorts of warning signs - unsure in the group but "knowledgeable" enough to reach out to touch a hip (that was pretty far away); riding on the hoods when nervous; strong enough not to have any kind of negative conditioning potential (meaning he wouldn't get shelled based on his poor riding so he'll be around, dangerous, later in the ride).
It happened to be near the 120 sprint. I really came to the ride just for the 120 sprint - I wasn't sure if I could make it further, plus all the law enforcement stuff happened shortly after the sprint.
Therefore I wanted to be in good position for the sprint, i.e. near the front, maybe 10 back when I jumped.
Problem was that the group started to split up about a mile before the sprint. First one group of 6 or 8 escaped, gaining maybe 75 meters, then a second group of 8 rolled away, just by 10 or 20 meters. The third group, where I sat, didn't seem intent on closing up quickly - I got ready to take the initiative.
I rolled hard up to the second group just as a guy there started a surge. Slotting in third wheel I tried to figure out how late I could leave it and still pass the guys which, at that point, were about 50 meters up the road.
Vinnie, another veteran of the ride, on his first helmet cam ride in fact, pulled through unhurriedly. I don't think he was contesting the sprint but I wanted to get in my jump and follow through, so when we got to within 20 meters of the front group, with not much room left for the sprint (it was probably in the last 200 meters), I jumped hard.
I got about 3 pedal strokes into my sprint when BANG I slammed into the bike. My chain derailled over the large ring, my right foot unclipped, and I had to pull myself off my bars.
The heck happened. I don't know. I just put on new cleats, a few rides ago, and my Keo Carbons are pretty much maxed out on tension. The big ring is new so that's a non-factor. I have to check my chainline in the bigger gears; I also suspect that my pedal bodies are worn out, allowing too much movement in the cleats.
Whatever, I clipped back in as Vinnie rolled by unconcerned. Pedaling a bit harder I caught up to Vinnie.
"Good work staying upright."
Yeah, but ideally I wouldn't have to worry about unclipping or having a chain fall off.
The heat, the effort, and my disappointment in myself got to me. On the next rise I moved to the right and eased, allowing everyone to roll past me.
I went through the heavily patrolled bits of the route, finished the ride, and rode on towards the intersection where riders hang out after the loop. Only one guy sat there, the rest choosing to head home. A long while later just 7 riders rolled up.
Incredibly Joe was there, as well as some other guys I knew. They got some cold drinks, stretched out their legs, and we all headed back to White Plains.
On the way back I suddenly got lightheaded so I ate a GU, the first thing I'd eaten since 8 AM. I was out of water - the Podium Ice had kept the water cool until I drank it all, but two bottles for that ride, in that heat, it wasn't enough.
When I got back to the car it'd been 3 hours since I left.
The bottles in the trunk seemed surprisingly cool, and after a short rinse of the head/face, I felt a lot better. I cranked the AC, got changed, and headed out.
The thermometer read 97 degrees as soon as I got going. I felt that long distant but familiar fatigued feeling, a cumulative one from the heat, the legs, and the stress of doing the ride. The hot car, the bright sun, my starting to bonk, it all seemed appropriate. It felt like I'd returned home.
I may not do the ride often going forward. In other words I'm not figuring out ways to get down there to do the ride right now. It seems just a bit more chaotic than I want, with conditions not quite as nice as I remember. Nonetheless the ride brought back memories of my "pro" cycling days, when I worried only about cycling. I saw some of the same faces, went around the same loop, and found, to my surprise, that I could move around like I did before.
I do pine for the days where I scampered up the short hills without too much trouble, where I had a chance of finishing the Long ride in the group. I wished for some more spring in my legs, a bit more staying power, a bit more speed, a bit less stomach. I guess, though, that this is what life is like. Getting older, getting slower.
As I merged the car onto 287, I knew I was driving back to my dad's place, where the Missus and Junior were hanging out. I'd end up napping (as the Missus predicted) but then hanging out with family. My cycling may be on a decline but it's all good.
Life goes on.