Last year I found out about the annual NYD ride the day before it happened. Ok, I guess technically "two years ago", but I found out about the 2016 NYD ride on Dec 31, 2015. I had ridden to work that day and cut out early to grab some extra miles with the RABA crew. All told, I'd put down about 65 miles with luggage & fenders. I was not prepared to throw down the next day.
But I showed up and learned the meaning of pain, spending the first 5 miles sprinting and stopping with the accordion train, and then bridging from group to group to catch the leaders at about mile 12. By the time I got to them, I was spent, and I opted to take the 30-mile short route as I watched the peloton speed away.
I didn't know, at the time, that there was a pro-tour rider there. I also didn't know just how "serious" this event was.
I learned some valuable lessons about navigating a bike field of that size, and vowed never to start that far back in so large a group again.
This year (dammit, ok: last year) with the event looming, I focused my post-marathon training on preparing for this non-race race. I had a better sense of who Ben King was, and had seen that local hero Edward Anderson was planning to join. It was gonna be a hard roll. But since it was being hosted by another local race team, I wanted to represent the best I could.
My plan was to survive the first 40 miles and then drop off into the comfort and security of the casual guys. I hadn't put down a 40+ mile ride in weeks, and most days I've been bonking right at the 40 mark of my overall commute mileage. 40. That was the plan.
Over and over again, that did not seem feasible. These guys hit 25 in the first half mile and only accelerated from there. There was no neutral, no rollout, no casual conversation pace. Just hammer and hammer harder.
The guidance I'd gotten for this year, though, was to stay on the peloton if possible. If the guy in front of you gets dropped, you are also dropped. I moved up into the thick of it quickly, found the center lane (when it existed), and stayed out of the air.
The first 3-rider break came at about 15 miles. They gained about a football field of space and held it for about a mile. I decided to see if I could bridge it, and as I was coming toward the front of the chase, a gap opened at wheel 5. I tucked back into line to keep the group from fracturing further, and we eventually reeled the break back in.
But that hurt, and just 2 miles later I was pulling. This was not a pattern I could repeat. For the next 20 miles or so, I sat into the group, getting close to the front but not fighting for the lead. And another pattern began to emerge: whenever Ben King came off the front, the guy two back from him would sprint. Sitting back in the group meant constantly looking for a Dimension Data jersey to jig left and then responding an attack that you knew was coming, but wasn't yet happening. That pattern started to take on an unsustainable frequency, and fortunately died just prior to the 40 mile mark.
But then 40 miles came and went. At 26+ mph, too. And I was still in it, and not feeling too awful. I decided to hold in to 50 and see. Around this time, my left calf decided it was done: the muscle seized and would not come back to me. Every time I had to sprint it said NO. Quite firmly, too. I changed my pedal-stroke and kept rolling, eventually finding a posture that would allow me to come off the saddle when I needed.
I kept waiting for either an impossibly-strong attack or a slackening of pace, but the Garmin kept showing a dead-steady 26.1 mph average. There was pretense of going neutrally through turns, but that was only an excuse to rocket out the other side. 45 came and went. 50 came and went. I was astonished to still be with the leaders and decided to see just how long this would last.
A mere 1.3 miles later came a hill that sent me backward. It wasn't particularly long or steep, but just steep and long enough that, at 51+ miles, my legs were not interested in climbing. My heart rate went deep into the red, and at the languid pace of just 19mph I watched the peloton roll by. This was it, and I was happy. I would fade back, find my teammates, and enjoy a much more relaxed pace to the end.
Except one of my teammates was still on the back-end of the peloton. Shit.
I yoyoed hard off the back for a while, ignoring the pain and the gasping-fish breathing, and clawed back on. I had remembered from last year's Jefferson Cup that spending an extra 8% to hold onto the group would have saved me 16% overall work after being dropped. I was tired and not interested in doing 16% more ANYTHING.
The next 2 miles were utter hell, but I began to recognize the roads and knew we were getting closer to the end. If I'd made it this far, goddammit I was going to be there to see the sprint to the finish.
Somehow I worked back through the group and ended up on the peg in a roll-through rotation. When I rolled off, the next dude jumped, and freaking NOBODY FOLLOWED HIM. No way I was letting a lone sprinter charge off the front with less than 10 miles left, so I jumped on his wheel while the group hauled us in. I figured that energy burst would ruin my plans, but it invigorated me. I found my teammate in the group and glued myself to his wheel.
The final set of turns into the airpark were remarkably uneventful. We were less than a mile from the end, and nobody was out of the saddle...yet. I tried to start moving forward, but still wanted to have a little something to play with at the bitter end. I missed the invisible cue to sprint, and wouldn't have had much for it anyway, but did get out of the seat for the last block or two and ended up finishing the 64 mile ride in 2:25, with an average overall speed of 26.1 mph.
How the hell I survived it is still a mystery, but I'm pretty jazzed to get the racing season under way. #rockthefrog