We received a note last week from a former teammate now racing for a team up North. He was bringing a squad down for a ride on the Morgan-Monroe course Sunday and asked if we were interested in joining, which is a little like the Sharks asking the Jets in West Side Story if they want to come out and play.
Tony, “You heard-it’s going to be a fair fight!
Doc, “And that’s going to cure something?”
It was overcast but unseasonably warm. Seven Tortugans met at the Sample gates for 9:30 a.m. and ambled up toward Paragon and 37 via Hindustan where we intercepted the seven other riders coming toward us and headed out on the Morgan-Monroe course. We had ridden about 45 minutes to get there and had about 30 miles of discovery ahead of us with a couple of thousand feet of climbing. A substantial wind was blowing in from the south. The roads were wet from the recent rain and where there was no standing water, the sand from the road crews formed small strips of muddy beach heads in the center of each lane.
The roads were familiar and so was the company as the peloton regrouped and headed east on Anderson. We were nervously talking to each other and doing some neighborly catching up at 20mph since we last met during races at the end of last season. We were approaching our first major climb and the tension in the group was palpable. Our tempo was high and all were eager to test their fitness compared to our peers. We were already covered with mud and wet through, at first, trying to stay out of the spray of the rider in front, but later taking the spray full-on as the speed increased and the mud no longer mattered. We occasionally spat out the sand and grit in our teeth.
We reached the base of the first climb. When statistical types talk about strength to weight ratio, they’re envisioning someone who climbs hills on a bicycle. That adds up to an athlete with a little more than 2 pounds per inch of height. Much more than this and no one will get to know your name in the group because you probably won’t be there.
Climbing is in unequal measure physiological and psychological. And each hill has its own personality. A rise chooses to ‘release’ you at a certain point, you can feel it, and it is all formulated on the variables of speed vs. group dynamics, power vs. strength, and, most importantly, self-will vs. self-doubt. That release point changes as these variables change. But it’s no mystery to a cyclist. Climbing is rank and file in its cruelest form. You’re either known as a climber or your not. For some, it’s a self-imposed exile spent languishing at the back of the field when the road goes up. “I’m just not a climber,” they may say and that is that. You can train to climb, and get pretty good at it, but it’s a little like learning a second language. You will never be a native speaker. For climbers, the hill is an elite battleground in rarefied air. A cyclist knows what gear they can turn to keep the pace high, stay in the field yet respond to any surges. A climber, by comparison knows, rather, senses where and when to attack on a climb with reckless abandon, shredding the field in their wake. Or, how to keep the pressure on until all-comers fall from grace, one by one, until it’s quiet This day was a little of both, a tete-a-tete on bicycles between two gangs of Indiana.
BIG DEAL: But the gym’s neutral territory.
RIFF: I’m gonna make nice there!
We would be making one more lap on this muddy circuit today. And, no one was keeping score. The climbers were waiting for us at the top. All is fair in love and war.