Casualties at the Causeway

The Sunday training ride to the flashers has begun to take on a life of its own.  That’s a good thing.  These early season tests allow a racer to sort himself or herself out in a way that wouldn’t be easy on your own.  Sure it’s important to dial-in your training on the lonely stretches of asphalt in your mind and elsewhere, but bike racing takes place in the spaces between, with the involvement of others in our own social network, adjusting to the ebb and flow of the group dynamic.

Today’s ride would not disappoint.  A group or about 15 or so assembled at the downtown Bakehouse, names and teams and antics I’ll recount soon enough if memory allows.  It was cold, 35 degrees and partly cloudy with a 12+ mph wind out of the west and favoring the trip out.  On 446 we picked up Karim Abdelkader (MOB) and Jeff Buchsbaum (Scholars Inn).  Jeff had already done the trip out and back and was just sitting in for some company for some extra miles.  Chris Kroll (Joe’s Bikes) and I took the group out past Knightridge before relinquishing the sharp edge of the wedge to the others.  I dropped back to survey the group.  We had several Little 5 riders from Lambda Chi and Alpha Epsilon Phi today.   The pace picked up measurably and we were now single file rolling south. It didn’t take long before the horses moved up front and picked up the tempo on the rollers before the causeway, causing an immediate response from those with an answer and just questions from those caught unawares.

From space, 446 looks like the profile of a plump face looking east with Bloomington at the eye, a nose at Pine Grove, the mouth near Chapel Hill and a double chin out towards 50, as though some ancient civilization drew this figure as a some sort of a sacred beacon for visitors.  We seemed to be alone now, in our own universe on this windswept course today only aware of the wheel ahead of us as the wind blew across the road from north west to south east.  Now our numbers were reduced to ten and included Rob Smallman (Proforma, visiting from up north and former Hoosier Climber/Scholars Inn rider), Tomas Golaz (DRT), Chris Kroll (Joes), Karim (MOB), Devon (Lambda), Aaron Stanley (Alpha/Scholars), Cam Johns (Alpha/Scholars), Gary Palmer (Scholars), Colin Allen (Scholars) and me (Scholars).

At the base of the causeway there was some discussion, for those of us who were able, whether or not to push it up the climb or to stay together as a neat and tidy group.  You could almost imagine the sun coming out and rainbows appearing with bright fluffy clouds on a warm spring day!  But there would be no butterflies and rainbows for this group today as that daydream was smashed in the gutter along with any hope of a conciliatory ascent.  Immediately Smallman and Golaz leapt to the front and hammered out a pace that would leave the group in shambles.  All made it across except me and sprint specialist Abdelkader.  Others were being jettisoned up ahead and the relentless climb looked more like an individual TT than a group effort.  We caught Johns and the three worked a tight paceline in an effort to catch on.  Allen, Devon and Stanley were just ahead.   Saccone and Abdelkader, owing much to Karim’s muscle memory and deep well, jumped hard at the top of the climbs to bridge to the three ahead, but Johns, recovering from some recent track crashes couldn’t follow.  Now these 5 worked hard to bring back the leaders (Kroll, Golaz, Palmer, Smallman).  Palmer checked out of the lead group and came back to the chase and we formed a disciplined echelon, taking short, desperate pulls and counting the distance and time to the leaders.  There’s a desperate beauty to a well formed paceline that can be likened to electrons moving about a central and invisible nucleus, pulled round and round its own imaginary orbit.  Each rider is responsible for holding the atom together.  When a rider carelessly surges to the front, it not only gaps the rider behind, but also opens a gap in front of the slowing rider, just coming off his effort, forcing both to ‘chase’ to close the gap, creating an accordion effect that will ultimately disintegrate the effort.  Only when the group  works together can they catch the leaders.

We were in the process of sorting out our little experiment in nuclear fusion and getting close to the three strongmen in the lead and we were able to see them mount the final climbs to route 58.  When we crested the hill, still together, just barely,  we saw our targets stopped, refueling and waiting for us at the lee side of the turn.  We commended them for staying away and we turned back toward home, knowing that our glasses were still half empty.   Some more than others.