At the end of a week spent testing bikes in Tucson, Bill and I rode the Shootout, a famed Tucson-area group ride roughly analogous to the Lehigh Valley’s Fleetwood Derby. Their ride seemed to have a higher concentration of pros, including a large contingent seemingly in town just for the winter.
Going to a new town and checking out their group ride is pretty fun. Earlier this year, I rode the Gimbles for the first time and had a similar experience, even though Yonkers is not exactly a new town for me. While Bill is certainly an expert on riding the Derby—and I am quickly learning the ropes—we were both completely out of our element on this new event.
After arriving 30 minutes early to the start, putting our bikes together and getting dressed, we suddenly saw a huge group roll past. Crap! They’re leaving without us!
Van door slams, and we’re off and chasing. Oddly, it doesn’t take all that long to catch up. I stop to lower my saddle and, once again, quickly get back to the group. Bill’s bike guides us to a realization: This was the B group, which rolls out 15 minutes ahead of the main ride. Dura-Ace Di2 is, apparently, an unusual sight among this crew, and more bike than most people need for the casual ride with friends.
I don't know about Bill, but I briefly contemplated rolling with these guys. They seemed friendly, it had been a hard week and my legs really did feel like crap. But no, we’re not here for the B ride. We circle and wait and before long the A-group comes along. These guys seem better organized, and move along efficiently. Di2 doesn’t stand out quite so much here, although, the girls in the other group were cuter. It was all very civilized until we crossed Valencia. Like the Derby’s turn, that’s where the race starts.
Like many of the roads we perused over the previous week, the Shootout seemed to climb to infinity at a steady 2-percent grade. We knew we were going up, but only because of the pain in our legs. And oh! What pain. Clearly, a week of starting-and-stopping-and-switching-bikes-and-yeahsure,I’llhaveonemorebuthenIwantsomeScotch had exacted a toll.
I went to the front because I felt like I should. I did one rotation, and it fucking hurt. I thought I was going to have to sit up and turn for home right then. But I kept pedaling. I took one more pull then drifted to the back. Bill was tail gunning as riders were going out the back. I sat in. I talked to a local who wanted to know about my bike, a Focus with murdered-out paint. I drifted back to the front and was assured that the mid-ride “finish” was about 10 minutes away.
“Ten minutes,” I thought. “I can do anything for ten minutes.” I knew that the finish was on top of a small hill, a moderate grade. I knew that after the finish we’d be about 30 miles from the van, and that the group would allow itself to re-form before rolling home. I knew that at some point, there was a turn that would take you on a 30-mile extension, and no matter how much I wanted to ride more, I absolutely could not take that turn if I wanted to make my flight. I also knew that I was still in fucking trouble, even though I’d managed to push knots of inert, uselessness from the core of each muscle out to the periphery, just under my skin, where the iron bars of immobile tissue now sat, threatening to hit the emergency-stop – an action that would manifest as a cramp. The road was getting steeper, and headwind seemed to be intensifying.
We were about five minutes from the finish, I reckoned, and there was a little group up the road, with another group dangling between the main field and the front. I didn’t come here to sit in, lets be damned. I went to the front again, advancing on the double-yellow. There was a surge. Some dork on a tri bike (they allow those here?) jumped as if to try to bridge. I got onto his wheel, and let him take me up the road. He made it halfway and was clearly not going any further. “Bad wheel,” I thought. I jumped around him and closed the gap to the second group. They were gassed. These would have been my peers on the Derby; maybe they had a chance to win if they played everything right, but instead they chose to gamble with an early move. We still had a gap. I clenched my left molars around my tongue to keep it from hanging out of my mouth and jumped again, reaching the first group. These guys were also clearly gassed, but still moving along. I was in that stage where my legs become so numb with lactic acid that I feel like I’m either going to completely seize the engine solid like a Formula car that’s burned off its oil, or transcend onto some higher plane where my internal Gruber assist kicks on.
I got the Gruber.
There was one rider off the front, and I caught him easily. We were maybe 300 meters ahead of the main group, which had swept up everyone else. I could see the finish hill arcing ahead to the north. I sat on this wheel and tried to collect myself. There was clearly only one thing left to do, so I jumped again and hit it hard. Yesterday, a similar effort on the last hill we climbed as Bicycling Magazine test riders had nearly cost me my lunch, but today all I’d had to eat was a PB&J. I had a little gap. Holy Shit, I’m going to win! But, I didn’t know the climb.
Turns out, it’s pretty fucking long. And kinda steep.
Then came the curtains. My legs completely shut down, and then the first wave of riders went by me – including the eventual winners, I’m sure, although I wasn’t close enough to see the finish. I dropped the chain onto the little ring and ground up the rest of the hill.