On Wednesday morning, Mike (a fellow Fort Collins resident) and I met in front of the high school and headed up to route to meet his buddies from year’s past RTRs. We were going to head out in a 4-man group and tackle Wolf Creek Pass together. I had met two of them a few nights earlier. They seemed like good guys, a few years older than me I guessed and pretty solid riders. I had managed to keep up with most folks thus far on the trip so I thought this would be a good fit. Mike and I had ridden once together in Fort Collins and we seemed pretty compatible, skill-wise.
Before we had even hit the first real rises of the main climb, we lost one rider whose knee was bothering him and wasn’t warming up well. Within another few miles, we lost Mike. It turned out he had a slipped seal on his tubeless tire and was running at about 60PSI, not great for handling or climbing. Soon, we had picked up another two riders, a larger man (as in tall, brawny and strong as an ox) and a very petite woman, probably about the same age as the rest of the group. Within a few more miles of the easier climb, we lost the man as his chain decided to daisy chain itself around his crank arm, something I had never seen happen nor was aware was possible with a chain.
We continued up to the first aid station, just the three of us, chatting away, pacing along, me trying to keep up with the other two. Just before the first aid station, we were passing a few individuals spaced about three lengths apart. The lead guy called out to each of them as we passed and everyone pulled over to allow us to pass without crossing into the travel lanes. As we passed the last guy, he must not have known there was a third cyclist (me) and began pulling out a bit. As he did, he saw me, but I had already pulled out to accommodate, and as I did, I hit a rock (about the size of small egg) which caused me to jump over more than I anticipated, which in turn threw me into the wheel of the woman in front of me.
I have only been cycling – seriously – for about three years. That was the time I learned the finer points of drafting and pace lines. Over the past two years, riding with the same folks, I’ve gotten better and better. Riding with groups in Fort Collins has helped tremendously with both my skills and my nerves. One thing that I have never – knock on wood – experienced is a fall or near fall.
As I hit her tire, my bike lilted to the left with my wheel locked in on the right side. Within the few seconds that all this was happening, I was able to look at my left to make sure I wasn’t going to take anyone else down with me, listen behind me to see if a car would run over me when I fell into the road as I was currently doing and think about how this was going to tear the **** out of my one good riding kit. And I was hoping it wouldn’t hurt.
After listening to Bob Roll speak the other evening at the Durango RTR Cycling Seminar, I remembered him talking about his experiences crashing. I realized there was no big, doughy Italian cyclists to grab onto as I went down. I was going to eat pavement. I was riding into a woman’s back wheel, my wheel to her right, my weight and bike moving to her left, and I out-weighed her by a good 40 pounds. Probably more.
But this woman was a pro (well, maybe not a Pro, but she knew what she was doing). She held on, braced herself, and helped keep me up while I corrected. I don’t really know what I did (besides hit brakes, pray and pull back) but I know what she did. She saved my ass.
I pulled up to her at the rest area, profusely apologizing more. She was kind and acted as if it was nothing. We headed out again and they both dropped me like a wet rag. I was a bit shaken and took it easy climbing the rest of the way up Wolf Creek Pass.
I caught up with most of the original group after filling (and emptying) the tanks and we decided to all head down as a group. That lasted about 30 seconds as the strongest rider sprinted, and I – always loving a great descent and/or a great chase – followed suit. I ride a 50 tooth big ring (a compact set) and he had a 53 tooth. When I topped out at 53MPH, he was still cranking it out and growing the gap between us. I sat up, turning my torso into a sail, and slowed back down to a more reasonable speed. I didn’t want another catastrophe.
Soon the descent turned into a the flats and we all rejoined at the next aid station. We pulled out and formed a paceline to fight the flats all the way to Alamosa. Soon, we lost Mike again (the tire issue), lost another one or two, picked up another one or two, and peeled off taking turns at the front, keeping a steady 27MPH across the plains.
At some point, as I was waiting for my turn to come up and pull, I felt a weight slam against my back wheel and start pulling me out towards the driving lane. I didn’t panic. I didn’t clamp down on my brakes. I remembered earlier in the day and how cool and calm she had reacted. I pedaled through it, leaning slightly into the weight to help keep us both up. A few seconds later, I heard a winded apology come in through the rush of air blowing past us as we pedaled on to Alamosa.