It doesn't matter what caused the funny taste in my mouth. The ride was off pretty quick, within 15 minutes of the designated start time. For early season road rides, this means we left a little early, beating expectations of 7:20.
We all participated in the ceremonial early season Pedaling of The Perfect Squares as we clunked around the Parkway and tried to remember how to shift gears and steer and not hook our handlebar ends, and we eventually made our way out to Bell Branch road, and then 450.
I didn't feel great. My legs weren't really opening. I wasn't in agony keeping up with the easy pace - no, I was in steady, mild discomfort. When your legs don't open up, it's like being in the middle of a Very Special Kind of Date, the ones you were on in all relationships with people prior to your current lifelong soulmate, at that precise moment where you realize you just aren't into the person. It's been a long time since I've experienced just that feeling with a person, but "Oh, you're still here?" is what my legs were saying to me yesterday. My cycling mind was saying to my legs, "oh, come on... couldn't you have told me this before we bought this bike together? Oh, f***..."
My legs just weren't that into me riding yesterday. Matter of fact, my legs have been open about as often as the Italian Industrial Efficiency Ministry or the German Institute of Humane Riot Policing Techniques this season. Of a dozen rides since I got back on the bike, only the second half of a ride I did last Wednesday with Beppo felt good. There the legs opened for an hour. Of course when they did, we discovered that the Cupboard of Sustained Power was bare, except for a few #10 cans of ShitI'mWeak. But at least I was able to put in a good, steady long effort. There was none of that yesterday.
Saturday, there was nothing good in my legs. They weren't up for anything, as they reminded me each time the road tilted upward even slightly. So it was time to conserve energy, to be smart, to ride skillfully...
Or as some might view it, to hide.
This isn't as gutless as it sounds, though admittedly it sounds pretty gutless. If you aren't in great shape and need to hide out... well, you actually have to be capable of doing some work. You will probably get tested to your limits, and for longer, than if you ride bravely and try to animate the pack. Despite the fact you are hiding like a whipped dog, it is possible to wring more total effort out of yourself than if you rode hard alone, or burnt all your matches in 30 minutes trying (futilely but nobly) to animate the group. You'll get to work harder for longer, and at ride's end you'll get to pretend you hung in because you're a stud, not because you're craftier than Mike D.'s girlfriend.
Okay, fine, it's gutless to hide. I'll stop trying to defend it as smart. But it's how I manage to stick around on rides until my legs are up to doing some work. Jon and I were talking about this yesterday because I used every trick in the book to not get dropped yesterday, and actually felt good at the end of the ride. Our talk got me to thinking about the tricks I'd used... Forthwith...
The Gutless Rider's Compleat Guide to Hiding Out on Group Rides
The key tactic in hiding out is to never work hard unless you really need to and never put yourself into a situation where you'll have to work hard. This means never giving up speed by tapping the brakes, and never burning off energy unless you have to. You should do this anyhow but when you're in really good shape, you can sometimes get away with being a total moron. When you aren't in great shape, or if you're just outclassed, you can't get away with it, it's a rule of physics. And what's more, everybody will know you are riding like a moron. So if you are hiding, never ride harder than tempo, unless you're about to get dropped in some isolated location where you'll never regain the group. If you have to close a gap, close it up gradually, and ignore the temptation to do a short, sharp effort to close it. If you need to slow, soft pedal or pop out into the wind for a second to scrub a little speed. If people are braking going into a turn in front of you, look for a safe line that lets you pedal through the turn - smoothly. In addition to saving energy, these tactics will make people think you are a "good wheel" - a great person to ride behind because it lets them get the maximum benefit of your draft.
The second tactic is to stick near the front of the group. The handle on a whip moves fast, but the tail of it snaps around exponentially faster. Every tap on the brakes up front translates to a little gap at the rear, that you have to work very, very hard to close. This will happen repeatedly over the course of a ride if you hang back there, until you wonder whether the boys up front simply hate your guts and are punishing you. If you want to work hard, go to the front and work hard where it means something. Don't waste your efforts off the back - unless you need to get in a series of, say, 50 hard 10 second efforts. For that, it's a *great* place.
The third tactic is to slip a little when the going gets hard. Because you are near the front, when the group starts to go harder you can slide back quite a ways before you get spit out. On a hill, you go from 2nd to 3d to 4th to 5th wheel, and so on. You keep working hard, and maybe you even go the tiniest bit into the red. But you never fight to hold your place, and never go all out to hang on the wheel of a guy passing you. Then maybe by the time the group clears the hill, you are last man, or just off the back and able to regain the thread as everybody eases up and regroups. But you can only do this because you didn't blow up, and you didn't blow up because you stayed out of the red on the hill. You worked hard but slipped back, knowing you'd regain the group over the top.
The fourth thing is a strategy - know your group ride and plan so that if you are cracking, you don't split wide open before regroup points. Other than a mid-season month or two where repeated 20 minute hard efforts may break out, the FBS shop ride is one of those group rides that is sensible and group oriented, somewhat predictable in rhythm. Jon doesn't like to shed riders, so where going hard wouldn't gain us anything, we slow and regroup, and chat. I know the roads well enough to know where we'll be regrouping after hills, long hard tempo efforts and so forth. So going up a hill with a regroup at the end, I rode within myself knowing I'd catch up on the regroup, or maybe the traffic light right after that. This saved matches for a 15 minute effort later in the ride.
The fifth thing is to never stop pedaling. If you're working hard just to hang on, your legs will get stiff and you'll have trouble getting them to spin smoothly again. Moreover, you need to take advantage of the regrouping points to catch up. Picture this - the group climbs a hill, you get popped out the back, they clear the top, and work hard up to a stoplight. You clear the top, see them braking for the light that just turned, and want to hurry up to catch them. Don't. Try to time it so that you are doing a light spin and rolling up to them just as they clip in and start to go. And use the momentum to pass, and get into a 2nd or 3d wheel position.
The final thing is to cheat. If you're going around a set of corners, don't take the sweeping line - go straight and clip the apexes if you can do so safely to cut 35 feet off the section of turns. If you're in a paceline and slipping back, don't go all the way to the back if somebody is silly enough to leave a gap. Slide in there and avoid the back-of-the-pack whiplash. When you pull, don't go hard or accelerate. Pull through by keeping it at a steady pace, maybe a little bit of extra effort, then pull off as soon as it's decent to do so, 10 or 20 pedal strokes maybe. Watch the ride's lone rangers - the guys who like to go way off the front and ride alone, or to get to the front of the paceline and then accelerate hard. Make a point of not following them.
Yep, that's how to ride like a coward - but also how to hang onto a group you have no business hanging onto. It's gutless, but it sure is satisfying; you get the training in without the mental beatdown that comes with getting dropped.
One other thing. All those tips? When you are in shape and trying to do well at a race, or on the local group ride, you can use those techniques to keep your legs fresh so you can drop the bombs on everybody around you. Truth is, even when I'm fit I do that stuff so when we do get down to hammering it hard, there's gas in the tank.
And that isn't gutless. It's how you're supposed to ride.