I love this time of year. This week precisely. The weather is breaking but still volatile. Collegiate cycling is in its final throes. Little 5 is in full swing and the contenders are sharpening their A game for the weekend. The domestic road season has just begun and the ‘local’ Midwest series are a week away. Wednesday Worlds are in their 6th week. Some local hardmen (and women) have miles of motorpacing under their wheels. It’s this beautiful confluence of fitness and speed and power and watts all coming together for one weekend in April! Or so it seems.
Today’s Wednesday Worlds almost wasn’t. I drove downtown for the start of today’s edition of North Shore/ South Shore, a 45 mile test that many DNF. But the weather, docile for most of the day took a turn for the worse right at the witching hour of 6:00 pm. But they came, nonetheless. We ride because we have to. A severe weather warning, is just that, a warning. We would take our chances tonight. We did, however call an audible and switch the course to the ‘closer to home’ Forest loop up Beanblossom, eliminating the long swing east to 45 and South Shore.
To say that a stellar field was in attendance is an understatement. Five of the Midwest’s top tier teams (and one pro) showed up to our event, and without the promise of granola at the finish on Old 37! This would have made any other pretenders in a P123 field take notice in any venue at any event. And they were here in Bloomington tonight for a local training race. Mike Sherer (Optum Kelly Benefits), Jon Atwell, Ryan Knapp (Panther/Bakehouse Granola), Chris Kroll, Jon Cody Woods (Upland), RJ Stuart, (Texas Roadhouse), Graham Dewart (Nuvo/Bissel), Thomas Walsh, Fred Rose, Ryan Shanahan, Brian Depasse, Andy Luetegen, (Scholars Inn Bakehouse), Tom Cox, (Riley/Aldefer), Shane Slaven (Unattached).
We rolled out just after 6pm from the Sample Gates and headed North in the pouring rain. But there was the promise of clearing on the horizon so we carried on. Our pace was steady and animated all the way out to the traditional lighting ceremony at Anderson and Old 37, but Sherer wasn’t interested in tradition! Despite a rainbow appearing briefly in the eastern sky he went to the point and carried the pace all the way out. On Anderson things really heated up with a few not making the cut on the small climbs heading toward Beanblossom. Attacks by Kroll and Shanahan kept the pace high. There were about a dozen of us at the Beanblossom turn. Kroll was just rolling ahead of the group at the base of the climb when Atwell attacks in the big ring. There is an immediate response by all comers and I see the group getting away from me. Atwell had a mechanical though and Sherer came back for him. I wasn’t able to make that group but saw another splinter off the back near the Forest road. When I got to the top, however, I was alone.
I rode the familiar roads alone happy in my participation during the accelerations earlier, but disappointed in my climbing. I stopped briefly to answer nature’s call in the forest. I knew that the elite riders would be doing two laps, but I decided to call it a day and head back to town. I was caught by Cox near Hindustan and we rode the final 10 miles or so together, silently. I sat on his wheel and was grateful for that. I often think about my place in the cycling community as a competitor and I wonder about my relevance. In the end it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that cycling is important and vital. It’s my art. My music. Like it or not.
Cox was so strong on the way home. Riding steadily. Not hard enough to drop me, not that he was trying. He could have easily left me behind. But I wasn’t able to come around and help the effort either. After a while, I didn’t let that inadequacy bother me. Instead, I was happy just to be out feeling the pedals under my feet and allowing the experience of cycling with these giants to wash over me like a warm spring rain.