I was looking forward to riding RBA Alan's 200k this year- I missed it last year due to work and started the series with the 300k. This year I've already completed a full series and an additional 600K, so I'm in pretty good "early season" form. I'm still trying to figure out what this "season" is that everybody talks about... ;)
One of my big goals this year is to enjoy the ride more- I spent most of last year suffering at the back of pacelines trying to hang on and eventually getting dropped, destined to ride solo from then on because the group had built up such a lead. My plan for this 200K was to ride in the front group until they started their hammerfest up the hills, then stick with the more reasonable paced riders. But that was not to be. A check of Weather Underground told me that we'd be fighting some wind out of the west on our route to Siler City- the hourly forecast showed it building in the morning to about a 15mph headwind by 11am, then into 20+mph in the afternoon. I modified my plan and decided it would be in my best interests to stick with the strongest riders until the turnaround, then ride the tailwinds back home.
The morning was cool- just below 40 degrees when we started, yet it was supposed to be in the 60's later in the day. I fitted my VO Campagne handlebar bag to my front rack but it was mostly empty, ready to receive my shed layers as the day warmed up. I stayed near the front on the way out of Morrisville- I'd been gapped off by the traffic lights in town on one of the brevets last year and I've learned my lesson. Once we were out on country roads I pulled out my camera and shot the obligatory group video.
This would be the first 200k for Bryan H. (fast Bryan.) He spent most of the morning talking with Geof, and I was sure they were hatching some sort of strategery... I had a chance to chat with Martin and John P. before we got to the hill on Jack Bennett Rd. that usually causes all sorts of splits in the pack. Surprisingly I went up Jack Bennett really well, and was still with the front group after the summit. I spent a little time talking with Fast Bryan and trying to convince him that I'd get dropped at some point, but he just didn't believe me.
I can't remember what caused the first real split, but I was in the 2nd group on the road and for some reason I decided to try to close the gap. Fast Bryan came with me, then passed me, but I just couldn't hold his wheel. Eventually I was swallowed by the group behind and everything came back together, so I'd burned some matchsticks uselessly. You'd think I'd know better by now...
A bit later there was another split on Lindley Mill Rd. as we were approaching a left turn, due west on Greensboro Chapel Hill Rd. I knew we'd be turning into a full-on headwind so once again I tried to close that gap, but a car pulled out from a driveway and got between my little group and the front runners. At the left turn stop sign the front group got through while we had to negotiate around the driver who had suddenly become timid and wouldn't go through the intersection. The combo of headwinds and the big rollers into Snow Camp meant that we wouldn't close the gap, so Geof, Fast Bryan, and myself rolled into the control just a bit behind the leaders.
I got the card signed and a Mountain Dew, and as I was shedding the first layers of the day I saw Tim rolling out solo. I said something to Geof, and he was back on his shiny new bike and on the road lickety-split. I chugged the rest of the Dew and took off after him, but now I was out there solo and trying to catch up. Bryan caught me and I hung onto his wheel as long as I could (man that guy is fast!) but soon I had to bridge the gap myself, and not nearly as effortlessly as it looked like Fast Bryan had! Eventually Geof, Bryan, and I were caught by some others from behind who had left Snow Camp shortly after us, but we never caught Tim.
This group was strong, the headwinds were picking up, and I was starting to run into my first real trouble of the day. Every time we'd hit an uphill roller the rest of the group would hammer and I couldn't keep up their pace. At the top I'd be faced with closing a gap in a headwind. At first the gaps were small, but this is a problem which compounds itself- the effort I put out on the uphills wasn't enough and the gaps would get a bit bigger each time. The effort I put out on the flats and downhills to bridge the gaps kept me from recovering and being able to keep up on the next hill. On one uphill just a few miles from Siler City my legs started to cramp. I'd been going too hard and now I had to gear down and spin and watch the group go. John O. passed me and I told him I was cramping- he offered to wait for me but I told him no- I really didn't know if I could spin through it or if I'd soon be writhing on the side of the road!
Turns out I was able to spin it out, and as I rolled into Siler City I saw that there had been another group that left Snow Camp first that Tim was chasing- now they were on the return trip and he was still on the chase. Joel was waiting in Siler with a fantastic spread of snacks and liquids, and I had every intention of making a long stop but a little voice in the back of my head kept suggesting that maybe I'd be able to keep up now that we'd have some help from the wind. I got back on the bike just in time to roll out with the same group that had dropped me on the way in.
I kept up over about 2 or 3 rollers, then the cramps came back. Once again I spun a low gear through the pain and the cramps subsided. I was able to ease my way back up to a reasonable speed, but I'd lost Geof and Bryan until Snow Camp. After the control I lost them again, but got caught up by another group and we were making good time. As we approached a left turn on Hwy 87 I saw Geof and Bryan stopped at the old gas station. I pulled off, but I should've just kept going. My little group went on down the road and I tried to catch them but just didn't have the gas to do it. Bryan passed me and caught the group, then Geof passed and caught them too. Soon I could see the pair of them out in front of the group and pulling away! Somewhere in here I noticed that I'd lost one of my gel flasks. I found out later that it had bounced out of my bag on a rough stretch and later was smashed by a car. What a waste of Hammer Apple Cinnamon... The handy pockets that face back toward the rider on the VO bag are just not big enough to buckle closed with a gel flask inside.
I was still thinking that I could possibly catch when I heard someone behind me call my name. I think it was Jerry- at least I could tell he was back there because his Cinnamon Girl is easy to spot. We were approaching Frosty's, and I thought perhaps one of them had picked up my flask. I stopped and waited for them, but no flask- they were just inviting me to join them for a rest stop at Frosty's! Funny how things work on a brevet. I was too dumb to know that the last thing I needed was to keep digging deep in my "suitcase of courage" (read with Phil Liggett accent) to try to catch up with the next group up the road. Far better to take a short break and ride with the next group! The only problem was that my legs started threatening to stiffen up while I was sitting inside Frosty's, so I got up to walk around a bit and get ready to go. Back on the road my new group included Jerry, Chris Camm, Tom F, Ricochet Robert, John O. and a few others. I took the opportunity to shoot another video.
We were getting some really intense wind now, and not always tailwinds! The predictions of 20+mph winds gusting even higher apparently had come true. Anytime the wind direction turned into a tailwind I took advantage of it and built up as much speed as I could. Eventually I had built up a little gap on my companions. Robert came across the gap and since I had some company I just kept doing my thing, tucking into the aero position when the wind was in my face and sitting up when it was at my back, letting my body act as a sail. Having the opportunity to set my own pace really let me get into the rhythm and I felt really good on this last leg of the ride. Robert kept telling me that he was out of gas, but he didn't appear to have any trouble keeping up...
Just as we were getting into Morrisville, Robert and I were caught by Chris and Jerry and the four of us rode in to Alan's house together for a time of 7:55. I was beat, but pretty satisfied with the ride overall. Still trying to put these lessons into practice: I should conserve more energy early on, perhaps I would have had enough to stick with my group those last few miles into Siler. And I should never stop with the really fast guys for a nature break, I don't have the speed to keep up with them!