Baptism By Fire

I rode the Tuesday Night World Championships for the first time this cycling season.  The Tuesday Night World Championships is a 40-km group ride done at race-pace through the suburban neighborhoods and twisting country roads of Needham, Natick and Dover.  It is informal and the rules of etiquette are, at times, debatable.

Every cycling community has the equivalent of this ride.  In Palo Alto, it was the noon ride.  In Albuquerque, it was the Grim Reaper. And so on.

I often refer to a “group ride” like this a “group crash”.

I’ve had a love-love, love-hate, hate-hate relationship with cycling in groups in the years since retiring from full-time racing. As spring approaches however and the snow melts away, I find myself longing to be on two-wheels again.  And if I’m not a bike, I better be going fast.  And if I’m going to go fast, I need help.

Doing the Tuesday Night ride with few miles and very little on-the-bike intensity is a shock to the system.  I often find myself questioning the merits of such an experience and my judgment for participating in it.  But I always end up with a renewed appreciation for the beauty that is bicycle racing.  My other sports — nordic skiing and running — are different in that I tend to find the point of maximum discomfort, back off just a little, and suffer there for the duration of the event.  It is much more an effort of attrition.  Cycling, on the other hand, is all about the flow.

Flow.

How the pace peaks and ebbs. How you can work you way up through the pack of riders, making space in the gutter,  hopping from wheel to wheel, to get to the front. Or slip back to catch your breath after a hard pull.

Or how you can be on the rivet, barely hanging on, wondering how you’ll hang on any longer, and then the pace eases up, you coast, you catch your breath with your mouth hanging open and maybe bits of drool stringing out from it.

Or how you maneuver in and among the other riders, their wheels, the unseen potholes and storm drains, bumping into other riders, or getting nudged off the road, or seamlessly fitting in, telepathically opening up gaps that you can easily slip into.

I realized on this ride that I’ve been doing this for nearly 30 years now.

The muscle memory of riding in a pack.

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