I was itching to try the new stem (and the rest of the bike) a bit more, but things kept me off the bike for a day. Therefore it was Sunday before I could get on the bike. With the high the prior day at 86 degrees and similar temperatures on tap for today I knew the ride would be hot.
I just didn't realize which hot.
I usually approach group rides with a bit of trepidation. I'm not strong overall and I rely on being able to draft effectively in order to stay with the majority of riders. I prefer larger groups that have a reasonably low proportion of very fit riders.
My guide today, like it was back in 2009, was a fellow BikeForums rider named Dennis. He selected a ride based on my temporary base camp, his home, and the ride start location. He chose a ride that would be "about 46 miles" that would take about 2 hours.
46 miles? In two hours? That's really fast, at least for me.
On the other hand this was Florida so it'd be flatter. Unfortunately for me (or maybe fortunately) I didn't realize the implications of the whole "there are no hills" thing.
It meant everything revolved around wind.
It also meant there were no downhills; other than a few seconds here and there we had no "easy" spots. In other words it was a full out FTP type of ride, exactly the wrong type for me.
All this was in the future of course. First my ride host drove me to the meeting lot. As we arrived first I got to meet everyone as they rolled in.
I got my bike ready, easy enough with just putting the front wheel on and checking the tire pressure. I had my various stuff all set, a saddle bag with my tools and two tubes, and a valve extender taped to the downtube. I had a third tube, phone (Strava), wallet, and a few bars in my jersey pockets. It was over 70 degrees at the start, and when I got my arm warmers and vest out, my host Dennis grinned and told me it'd heat up quickly and to leave them behind.
The tandem couple told me we'd be seeing a WW2 era tank and an animal shelter/farm kind of place that had a zebra, ostrich, buffalo, and some other unusual animals. My eyes lit up with the mention of the tank - I love military history stuff, especially to do with WW2, and I enjoy being able to see tanks above all. I asked if he knew what kind of tank it was - maybe it was the ubiquitous Sherman but it might be a more unusual Chaffee or a Stuart (we have one in Connecticut that I've seen) or an exotic Grant. He admitted he didn't know but that I could tell him what it was. Deal.
With introductions all around we set off, the tandem couple leading us, six singles (aka regular bikes) following. One single rider told us in advance he'd be peeling off quite early, netting us five single bikes for the majority of the ride.
As a novice tandem rider I have to admit I was in awe of the tandem couple's skills. I guess riding a tandem for 27 seasons will do it, covering something like 1000 miles a month. A month!
They stood and sat without any signals or words, and the stoker (the rider in back) would stand alone sometimes to give the bike some oomph.
Both riders standing fluently on the tandem - impressive!
We headed out and my stiff back and new stem combined to make things a bit uncomfortable. I did a short pull after the tandem couple dragged us through the first section of turns and such. When I pulled off they said, "Nice pull!" Very supportive, and something that happened regularly through the ride, this unexpected support from people who were strangers to me.
One of the guys, probably the strongest on the ride, asked me where I lived. I told him Connecticut, where it was 16 degrees when we left. His mouth dropped - he couldn't even think about temperatures like that.
It got a bit more business like once everyone warmed up and we were rolling along in single file in short order.
The group flying through a park that fascinated me the last time I was here.
I hung on while we drilled it through a park. I started focusing on keeping the gap closed, on staying on the wheel.
Things got fast on the MUP section heading north, with everyone raving about the tailwind and how fast we could go. Well unfortunately for me a tailwind means less shelter and the enthusiastic pace made it hurt even more.
I realized I was spinning pretty quickly (for me), spinning a bit quicker than some of the others on the ride. I'd stayed in the small ring (a 44T in this case) and it seemed to work fine. I looked around, though, to see what the others were doing, and they were all in the big ring.
I shifted into the big ring.
My cadence dropped a bit, I could stand effectively, and I could keep up without overspinning when the pace surged.
I started digging deeper, going into the red.
We headed off the trail and then north again. At some point the guys were really pushing, going hard, and then they spread out a bit, fanning out behind the first rider. I sensed a sprint coming up but without any references, without any info on the sprint, I didn't know when or where to go.
Plus, to be honest, I was so tweaked I couldn't think about going.
When the guys started going I just kept my pace constant, watching them ride away from me.
The group starts to go for some invisible line; unusually I merely sat up.
I somehow got 4th fastest on Strava for this "First Monty" segment.
Sure enough this was the bit just before we stopped for food and water. Someone bought a gallon of water and we all partook. The heat - I think it was 85 degrees - affected me a bit more than I thought and I drank a bunch of water.
We set off and I started getting a bit dizzy. I ate a protein bar for breakfast and that's it, and I didn't feel that great anyway, and now I was hungry. I chowed down a bar, feeling pro, and started feeling a bit better.
At some point we passed a tank. My Contour battery died (I'd plugged it into the wall not knowing it was controlled by a light switch so when others turned off the light for the night my Contour didn't charge) so I don't have an image or even location of it, but another rider asked me about the tank.
"Vietnam era, M60 tank."
I realize now it may be an M48 tank (to me that's most likely) or an M47 or M46 tank, all Patton tanks. Whatever, at that moment I was proud simply that I could lift my head enough to see the tank, forget about trying to ID it.
At some point we went by the animal shelter/farm place but I had no clue what was happening at that point. I was deep in the red, my legs twinging, my eyes were probably starting to roll around in my head.
I kept pushing, driving, trying to stay on wheels. The relentless pace on the flat roads was totally different from the peaky type style I prefer. Florida emphasizes FTP. Connecticut emphasizes short term power. I have no FTP. I have short term power.
After another five minutes, another five minutes, another corner, another skipped pull, my mental walls started crumbling. I realized that I'd have to sit up shortly, to ease up. I didn't have it in me for another five minutes, another intersection. The gaps would start opening soon and not closing.
My pair of deuces wasn't enough for this card game.
I prepared myself to holler to my host that I had to fold. I quickly chowed down on a second energy bar, washed down with some still-cool water. I looked down at the SRM, I'm not sure why. The top line, which alternates every five seconds between time and miles, read 44.6 miles.
Waitaminute. The ride was "about" 46 miles. With this relentless just-over-my-comfort-level FTP type pace, I couldn't go another 30 or 40 minutes but I could definitely make it another mile.
I even responded to the last semi-surge before we got to the parking lot.
I made it.
The tandem couple had a cooler in their minivan with lemonade and ice tea. Although I passed on the ice tea (actually I didn't know about it and already returned my cup) I took in the cool, soothing lemonade.
(The lemonade is a great idea for summer rides and races, btw.)
I learned that one of the guys used to do Bethel (he's from New York). The others were mainly in Florida, but incredibly none of them raced, not for 6 or 8 or 10 years minimum (the New York guy), and the others not really at all.
I clipped in and out of another rider's Keo Blade pedal. It didn't seem as tight as my original Keo Carbons. I want to try the new Keos that have a much higher retention pressure (the Blades were 16 nm, the new ones are 24 nm).
We headed out as if on signal and Dennis dropped me off at my home base. I felt a bit better by then, not quite as shell shocked as when I first climbed off the bike.
I had some more thoughts on my ride and experience as well.
First, this was one of the first proper group rides I've been on since I think 2011. I've ridden with someone, meaning I've caught or been caught on a training ride, but I don't remember actually starting and finishing a ride with a group since I used to ride with a local shop's Monday and Wednesday rides.
I was surprisingly unnerved when we first rolled out so I intentionally sought out the tandem. I knew it would be less jumpy, sort of like an 18 wheeler versus a sports car. After about half a mile I got over my nervousness and within 10 or 15 minutes I was comfortably sitting a few inches away from the next wheel.
Second, I had some back issues at the beginning of the ride. Due to Junior being awake for a large part of the night I was up as well. What little sleep (1.5-2 hours) I got was on a strange-to-me bed so it wasn't an ideal night of rest. Therefore I arrived at the ride with really stiff back and I worried a bit about my somewhat radical looking stem. It basically keeps my drops at my earlier level but drops the tops and hoods by 3 cm.
At first the stem was a bit much with my back protesting for probably the first hour of the ride. As things warmed up, both temperatures and efforts, my back loosened up considerably. I found myself on the drops more and more, getting to the hoods only to stand up to relieve pressure (and focusing on not pushing my bike back when I stood up). Except once, when I inadvertently swerved when checking my six, I think I succeeded in being a smooth enough rider.
Third, when I'm maxed out FTP-wise I'm not inclined to sprint.
Fourth, I appreciate a friendly and open group. The riders accepted me without any problems, rode smoothly, and allowed me to take short pulls (the latter was critical for me!). My host thought I took short pulls because I didn't know where to go but they were all more than accommodating in terms of hollering out directions and such. I feel confident that I'd have had no problems leading the ride, at least from a directional standpoint. From a strength one? No way.
Unfortunately the trip wouldn't allow me to schedule another ride so it meant I'd be doing solo efforts until we headed home. Although slightly disappointed I kept in mind that the main reason we headed down was to visit family, not for me to do a training camp. I was fine with doing solo rides when I could and even not riding if necessary.
I just hoped that I'd be able to do some efforts on the bike, mainly so I could see how the stem (and the resulting bar position) affected the bike. I hoped for, and planned for, an improvement, but obviously I wouldn't be able to confirm that until I went out and ripped out a sprint or two.
That's the plan anyway. We'll see how it goes.