Note: As a general rule, telling your competitors how good you feel before a ride and how much you’d like to kick their asses is a bad idea.
After a week and a half resting after my dismal performance at Monster Climbs IV, I foreshadowed my improving form with this simple tweet.
I dug the hole even deeper, sealing my fate with this one.
Flash forward to 8:30am the next morning, a bright and sunny day in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. There was a lot of joking and “boys being boys” while Marcos, MickeyGow and I kitted up. We all agreed this was the best weather of the season so far and pedaled out into calm, cool sunshine.
As soon as we passed The Gate, MickeyGow was off the front. Where he was going? Didn’t he get the memo to neutralize the start so everyone could warm up? I chased with cold legs, the pain begging me to slow down, but I knew I had to keep him in sight. What if he doesn’t stop at the “Oak Tree” at the bottom of Soapstone as we always do? What if Mickey just keeps hammering up the singletrack to Sunrise Highway? I pedaled even faster to keep him in sight.
Mickey did not stop at The Oak Tree. I shouted out, probably louder than necessary, to hold up and choked down a GU and some Perpetuem while Marcos caught up. I tried to give Mickey a bad time, but all I got back was a smile and that twinkle in his eye telling me this was just the beginning.
He took off again before my heart rate settled and I cursed as I stuffed my half-eaten GU back into my pocket. I’m the one who’s supposed to be off the front today, what the hell is going on? I chased and chased to Sunrise Highway where Mickey mercifully stopped to wait. I had the urge to blast by, but I resolved to wait for Marcos who was just behind me.
Marcos called out, “Move out!” as he approached and I jumped on the front vowing to not let anyone pass on the downhill singletrack. The course was narrow and a little technical and Mickey could have gone faster, but screw that! He’d f’d up by not taking point, I wasn’t going to let anyone build a gap now. I didn’t stop when we got to Fages Monument either, just cranked up the watts a little.
A rider was behind me but the course ahead was too technical for me to look back. I figured it must be Mickey coming strong – his wheel was never more than five feet off mine. No matter how hard I pushed, I could not shake him. More than once, I overcooked a corner and had to go full power to get out of the bushes and maintain my lead. I hammered up the last bits to the top of Soapstone and found it was Marcos on my wheel. Where the heck was Mickey? Did they tag before trading off?
As soon as Mickey caught up, we were hammering down the wide sections to Hwy 79 and Middle Peak. Mickey passed me going balls out and barely in control on the sandy fire road. His grin was evident. He waited at the highway and I blew past to get whatever gap I could before the real climbing began. I got no more than 30 seconds.
I started up Middle Peak with Marcos on my wheel. And I mean “on my wheel”. Every so often he would buzz me, rubbing his front tire against my back, creating a ripping sound. If you asked him I’m sure he’d say it was accidental, but I’m certain it was on purpose – to show me how easy he was climbing. I was certainly not climbing easy. I was on the rivet, going as slow as I thought I could get away with. Mickey caught up and we became such a tight group that at one point I looked back and couldn’t tell who was who.
I heard the recognizable “ping!” of a spoke breaking followed by a “ding ding ding ding” of it spinning through the fork. I called back, “Broke a spoke?” and received a “Yeah” in reply. I asked if Marcos wanted to fix that and thankfully he did, giving me a moment’s rest, time to pee and choke down another GU. Far sooner than I’d have liked we started back up again.
I knew I was a goner and tried a little psychological warfare. “Just warming up, starting to feel good!” I said as positively as I could. “Almost halfway up!” I said at the three-quarters mark, trying to dishearten my chasers. I went wide on an inside corner near the top and Mickey saw his chance and took off. I could merely watch him go. Marcos hung back with me for a little longer then left me to the buzzards as well.
I was being schooled. Punished for bragging about my form. My plan was working perfectly.
I congratulated them at the top and then down we went through the maze of rocks and tangle of bushes that makes up “The Shortcut” off Middle Peak. I was glad that Marcos was behind me in case I crashed and broke something.
At the Hollow Oak Tree we regrouped and then began hammering up Azalea Springs fire road. MickeyGow went to the front and I chased desperately, knowing that I couldn’t let him gap me before the big descent of the day. Ahead was a five mile rocky downhill and as the best descender I’ve ever seen, MickeyGow could create quite the gap here. There was no sense in giving him more time.
We tipped over the crest and I watched Mickey zoom down. I passed Marcos to stay on Mickey’s wheel and down we went, me focusing on staying loose and light. For some reason, I was staying with Mickey instead of him going quickly out of sight. I focused on holding as much momentum as possible through each turn. I flew through sections where I used to come to almost a complete stop. My line was a blur and I was beaten mercilessly by the bushes and trees on either side of the trail. I was going faster than ever.
We came to a slight incline and I saw that Mickey was just cruising up it. I hammered full power, closing down the gap completely. As we crested, I tried desperately to buzz his back wheel and let him know I was “right there.” The trail tipped down and again we were at the mercy of gravity but this time Mickey started to pull away. I hammered all the flats and dead spots, but could not keep him in sight. My bike slid, rattled, jumped and jinked underneath me like a mechanical bull, to no avail.
Finally, I arrived at the singletrack; the last 2 miles of trail before beers under the trees. I hammered as best I could and once got a glimpse of Mickey through the trees, but I never caught him. I was about a minute behind at the end, not counting all the other times he waited for me.
After just 2 and a half hours of cycling, I’d had my butt thoroughly kicked. Very little zero-time, lots of desperate chasing and being chased. My plan had unfolded perfectly.
Idea: Before your next buddy ride, tell all your friends you’re going to kick their asses and see what happens…