Wednesday, February 14, 2007

California - Day Eight - Old School, or how things should be

A quick preview:
1. One pro siting.
2. Ride with a guy who last changed the world of road cycling.
3. No Palomar.

I had set today aside as a Palomar assault day - sunny skies at 8, no rain forecasted, and legs that were (hopefully) fresh. I packed up gear for the expected cold descent (jacket, vest, knee warmers) and set off in shorts and a long sleeve setup.

Within a few miles I was passing multiple rose stands. At home there are a few here and there but in California... well, put it this way - if the woman asks for roses and the guy doesn't deliver, there's no excuse. Anyway, after passing about 10 of these stands at one intersection, I realized something - my fiancee was working from home today due to the severe weather in Connecticut. And the roses I ordered are being delivered to her office.


I called her and explained that, in so many words, she wouldn't be getting anything today. She laughed and said she figured that would happen but that she understood. I guess that's why we're engaged. We chatted for a while until I pointed out I was working sort of hard on a climb and should go.

At the top, a guy caught me at the light. He asked if things were okay since I was going so slow. Slow? I mean, okay, I wasn't rocking and rolling but I wasn't going that slow. Was I? Well, I was. He closed a few minutes on a relatively short climb.

When he found out I was going to Palomar he asked if I'd like to join his group - their route would pass close to the base of the mountain. I didn't want to cause problems though (if they all climbed like him I'd be severely slowing the group) but he waved off my concerns. He called this guy Jim (Pete doesn't have a cell phone) but they were on the climb up to the intersection where we stood so they didn't answer the phone.

"So who are these guys?", I asked, concerned they'd be, say, some hotshot Masters team.
"Oh, it's a good bunch. Pete Penseyres is one of them."
"Pete like RAAM?"
I motioned the aero bar position.
"That Pete?"

Okay, screw Palomar. Pete Penseyres is the last guy to radically change the world of road cycling. Since 1984 there have been four major innovations in road (and track) cycling - clipless pedals, disk and aero wheels, brake-shift levers, and the aero bars. Pete made the first set of aero bars ever in March 1986 for the 1986 Race Across America. He ended up winning with a record time that still stands. Three years later, Greg Lemond used a many-generation removed version to win the 1989 Tour de France with much of his gains resulting from powerful time trial performances using aero bars.

His invention is more significant than brake-shift levers and just as significant as aero wheels and clipless pedals. Think about what you can downgrade on a current bike and still perform.

Aero wheels save time and you'd be at a huge disadvantage if you took them off. I give them props.

Ergo or STI levers? Not a huge difference. I know because I only lost some of my sprint advantage when they came out. This is because I used a bar-end shifter and could sprint while shifting without Ergo or STI levers. Now everyone expects to be able to shift without taking their hands off the bars. No props.

Clipless pedals? Aside from the safety factor, they are a lot more comfortable. However, their ultimate reliability is sometimes suspect. Take a look at some recent track events to verify this. So mixed props for the pedals.

Aero bars? Tell a time trialist he can't use them. It would destroy his chances against those so equipped. They're so effective they've been banned from mass start races. And the new Hour Record forbids the use of aero bars, again because they're so effective. You want a cycling revolution on your hands? Forbid aero bars completely.

Anyway, being able to meet Pete Penseyres was a great honor so I nixed my other plans for the day. Like I've said before, you have to be able to adapt.

We're standing there and suddenly, swoosh, a Jelly Belly pro goes by. Turns his head, waves Hi. At least he waved and looked. Gone. He's flying. Pro Siting number 4.

Pete, his brother Jim, and a few others showed up. I cautiously rode behind the front group, trying not to make waves. After all, it would be in poor form to be the one to take out Pete Penseyres.

He ended up introducing himself to me. Although I had no expectations either way, he ended up being a great guy. Friendly, smart, and pleasant to be around. No attitude, no snobbiness, nothing like that. It brought me back to when I was 14 and learning how to ride in a group. I was surrounded by riders anxious to teach me how to ride the right way, without attitude, with respect for those around.

Old School.

Bicycles, although vehicles in their own right, should not impede on others. So he'd tell people to clear a driveway so someone (picking up roses) could pull through. He'd recommend getting off the road when changing a flat, instead of standing on the shoulder. He pointed at things in the road. He waited at the top of all the climbs - and since he can climb, he had to wait every time. If the road was narrow and there was traffic behind, he'd call out to "Single up!"

It was an absolute pleasure riding in a group like that. No swearing, no gesturing, just getting along with everyone else.

That would have been enough for me. But it went further. Everyone in the group chatted with me, asked me where I was from, asked about work, etc. Nothing too bike-centric like "How do you like those bottle cages?" or "I tried those wheels and hated them." Nothing too snobby like "Oh, just a Cat 3?" No racist jokes, nothing unpleasant. Just good, whole hearted topics.

The one time they asserted themselves was when we reached the jump-off point for Palomar. One guy (Ves, the one who flew up the climb to me) looked out at the distant peak.

"You should ride with us. The peak is covered in clouds and it will be cold and raining. Perhaps snowing since it's cold down here."

Mind you, it was 65 degrees and I was in shorts. So I didn't think it was cold. But I heeded his advice and stayed with them.

They took me all over the place. Rice Canyon, some Kruse Canyon or something, a two mile climb on Lake Wolford-ish Road, nice, meandering, quiet roads.

We were carving some nice arcs on a descent when I rounded a curve and felt the rear wheel slide about a foot.


I slowed, raised a hand, and yelled "Flat!".

They stopped. How cool is that!

Pete (or Jim, his brother) said "I saw you move sideways and thought, 'That's not like him' ". Heh. The translation is "You ride a bike reasonably well so a move like that was unexpected."

I changed the flat and we dropped into the fastest, curviest, most fun descent I've been on. I'm sooo glad I didn't flat on that bit because I'd have done a header into the cliff or taken flight off the edge. That was the Kruse Canyon road.

Another highlight was when I actually pulled up a reasonably long climb and no one went around me. I didn't want to pull hard enough to hurt people, I just wanted to maintain a pace consistent enough so I would have less distance to make up at the end. It didn't work out that way though - it ended up being good enough so the others were content following and I had zero distance to make up.

The final great part of the ride was riding back to the house with Lance, a guy who happens to live in the area. He guided me back to the area for a while, passing the rose stands which started the whole day for me.

There are only a few times I've called my fiancee when I've barely gotten off the bike. The first time (and the time that I realized that perhaps she could be my fiancee) is when I won the 2002 Connecticut Criterium Championships.

This was the second time.

It was that great of a day.


Anonymous said...

That's such a nice story! I'm glad you met such great ppl to ride with. Your comment about no racist jokes was interesting, it never occurred to me that you might deal with it that much.

Aki said...

Racist stuff is much less frequently aimed at me, but it doesn't stop people from telling other racist jokes. It is a trait that differentiates people I want to hang out with from people I don't want to hang out with.

Jim Thompson said...

Great story!