This year the first rendition of the infamous Winter Bike League (WBL) happened on December 4th. I was anxious to do this edition of the WBL in particular because the ride was going to Homer, Georgia. The year that I did every WBL ride, we never made it to Homer…. it was the first ride of the season that we took the ‘scenic route’ aka. got LOST. and it was about 135 miles of a expected 120 mile ride before we made it back. It was just one of those days.
I was fortunate to have a place to crash in Athens the night before. I pulled up a ride report from last year’s New Year’s day ride to refresh my memory of what would make this feat possible with less training this year. Sometimes Life and career tend to get in the way of being able to hop onto the bike and get the necessary miles in the saddle.
I awoke excited and nervous about the upcoming event. Just starting an event like the WBL can be an experience. We park, hop out and friends are milling about, chatting and saying Hi to each other, some folks that I haven’t seen lately.
I slowly make it past people attempting to sign-in – 2 points for this year’s WBL already. On the table I spy a much coveted Book – Winter Bike League 2010
The (mostly) true account of what went wrong by the (mostly) dependable man in the field, The Humbler Chronicler.
I had heard that the Mineral Man had written a section for the book & I was especially anxious to read that section from our fabled days of being Mineral Men.
I began to realize that this was a big gathering. It seemed about 150 people were in attendance for the first outing of this year’s WBL. No sprints today and ‘only’ 75 miles, so that usually brings out more people than usual for the kick-off to ‘the other season’.
Photo by Eddie Murray
As we headed out of town, a whole flock of vultures stirred up and were squawking while seemingly circling the road to see who was going to be the first to be left behind like a weaker Wilda beast that can no longer keep up with the herd. Luckily for me, it wasn’t long before I was able to catch a wheel that was heading up ahead of where we were, and being the foxxy, devious, wheel-sucking sprinter that I have been, I felt less than guilty about motoring right up along with them to the front section – but not so close that I would have to pull.
I have put myself on the front of the WBL ride several times. Trust me, at first the pace is not too bad – steady 18-22 mph. But this is the WINTER bike league, and the weather around Athens in the winter is typically not far above freezing and mostly Windy. Add to that the rolling hills that made the Pro riders in the Tour De Georgia more than just mumble curse words to anyone that would listen. It all makes for a tough day in the saddle – all the while you are leading a pack of hungry, battle hardened men that do their utmost to belittle you if they notice a chink in your armor. All you have to do is slide to much to one side and there will always be someone eager to take a turn at the front and this year, I am more than happy to just sit-in and enjoy the comedy of friends old and new in the group.
The legs seem to remember this kind of beating that they have taken so many times before. A group this size can be extra aggressive on the muscles when the ‘piano’ effect occur, slow down for an intersection or hill, only to jam back on the pedals for a 30 second all out effort, then slow back to the standard 20 mph that the front group is doing.
Photo by Eddie Murray
Soon, I was starting to start my nutrition – taking bites from a clifbar and chasing it down with water. Every 30 minutes or so, I kept eating a little bit to keep my body energy to keep me with the group. Every time a hill hurt a little more than I thought it should, I would take a little bit from the gel flask.
At the store stop, I re-filled with water and was happy to be doing well so far on the ride. I tried to eat extra food while being stopped, but still only managed half a clifbar and part of a candy bar I nabbed from Eddie.
Luckily, yet unluckily it seemed that everyone on this ride today has read my post about last year’s ride and is gathering at the very front of the group. We have jammed up both the entrance and the exit of the store stop. We turned onto the road and the typical 2 abreast group was now about 6 abreast, everyone seemingly vying for a position ‘near’ the front, but not ON the front.
As the field settles in, and sorts themselves out, I get good placing in the group, I’m more than half way to the front and the paino effect isn’t too bad. I was on the gutter side of the road, so moving up anymore would be tough anyway.
We come up to a stop sign and suddenly many people that had been at the back came surging to the front, taking up nearly 3 lanes. As the pack shot away from the intersection, I was once again behind mid-pack.
As we took the hilly route back to Athens the rollers and the lack of LSD started to take their on me and I was coming unglued at the filament level. The muscles didn’t get enough nutrients in the last 2 hours and were now on empty. Micro-cramping ensued. I called this micro-cramping because I felt the cramps, but they were not near the leg stopping cramps that I have gotten before, these were more effective of slowing me down than stopping me. I guess those electrolytes that I took before the ride were effective for 3.5 hours….of a 4 hour ride. As we were going up a larger roller, I had to pull to the left onto the yellow line and allow others to pass and stay out of the way & not cause an accident. I always try not to impeded others flow and momentum.
Once I made it over the top, I could raise my speed back up and slowly reel in the group. I wasn’t the only 1 at the back end of the field. Some guys were suffering and then as usual the guys who could be pulling the field were hanging out chatting. You see the really strong riders tend to stay at the very front or the very back of a field. It’s the safest areas & they stay Out of Danger. I find my friend Artur along the back and trade bottles for a Gatorade filled bottle. My body was craving sugar, and although it wasn’t enough to snap me back immediately it would be enough to give me some energy to hopefully keep me with the group.
Well, it did until the next big roller. Then suddenly I was struggling off the back again. Then as I hear a rider passing, I get the rush from behind, just steer straight and keep pedaling. And just like that I am over-running other cyclists that are hanging on. I keep pace and keep downing fluids. I’m feeling better, but the miles and hills are taking their toll on me & my glue on the group is less and less tacky. Then another push & I’ve been forcefully re-glued. Someone likes me & wants me to finish this together. I say Thanks as I check to see who it is – U.S. National Pursuit champ Daniel Holt is grinning at me, “I give good pushes, huh.”
As we get back to the red lights of Athens a chick looks over her shoulder and says “thanks for the pushes”. For the first time I have to say “it wasn’t me” It seems I wasn’t the only 1 getting pushes today & thus another reason that there is so much comradere in the WBL field. The cyclists that go through the frozen tundra together have something in common that no one expects or demands, being a WBL zealot.
Somethings that I learned on this outing:
I should have used some electrolytes in my bottle & refilled that bottle at the store stop with an extra tablet. I usually use NUUN, however I am currently trying out CamelBack’s version – the ingredients appear the same, but they give you 2 extra in the pack & a stronger flavor. Either 1 would probably kept my cramps at bay while I kept eating on the clifbar, however, it would not have been enough.
The second lesson was that I should have taken the extra few minutes to fill my 2nd flask and bring it along with me. That extra gel would have given a lot more energy to get me through the ride. I usually try to err with having too much food/water with me, but this is 1 of those times where I under estimated – by quite a bit and suffered because of it.
I’ve made it through big rides that I haven’t done enough miles for, and the 1 main factor is nutrition! You have to eat for what is upcoming, not for how you feel.