Several weeks ago, Steve, a Rogue Racing teammate, texted me:
“Hey, do you want to be included in our team time trial?”
The TT was something he was putting together since racing had been postponed. The course was a little over 5-miles and had a challenging climb. There would be teams of two; the first rider would leave from Clovercroft and once he reached Wilson Pike, his teammate would head back in the opposite direction.
I mulled over Steve’s offer, glanced at my 61-year old legs and wondered if they’d be able to compete against these guys who were significantly younger and stronger. “I have a snowball’s chance in hell!” I thought to myself then heard myself answer, “Sure, why not.” After all, I love a challenge and I figured I’d race against my PR on the course.
Lady Luck smiled on me when I was assigned Oscar as my partner. He was one of the youngest riders, is strong, and a good climber. For my age, I climb well but I lack the power on steep gradients I had when younger. In a time trial, I knew my slower speed over those gradients would more than likely spell our defeat.
The race was a week away and Oscar and I discussed “strategy” via text. We were Team 5 and would go last so he opted to ride the first leg, which has the most challenging climbs, and I’d be the anchor (maybe literally!) which has the more challenging descents.
Come race day, I was glad it wasn’t overly humid by Tennessee standards and that the wind, what little there was, blew in my favor. By 6:30 A.M., we were all in our positions ready to go.
Prior to the race, I rode around for an hour to warm up; I needed to prime this old body before going all out. As I sat with my teammates on the Wilson Pike side making nervous chit-chat, the first rider flew around the bend and sprinted for the finish. Once he zipped past the finish line his teammate took off. In no time, Team 2 rider came around the bend followed shortly thereafter by Team 3. But when Oscar rounded the corner before the Team 4 rider, my heart jumped a beat…
“OMG! He passed him! HE PASSED HIM. Game on!”
I have to admit, I was as giddy as a school kid! Although it took me a moment to get cleated in, I took off. My heart raced but not from the cycling but because Ben, one of our fastest, younger riders, would be in hot pursuit and that we were ahead of him. I pushed those thoughts aside knowing that would’t help me and focused instead on executing my ride.
The ascent to the summit is gradual for 3-miles and then pitches upward sharply. I knew I had to ride smart and not blow up early, which I’ve done before on rides like this. About a mile into the TT, I glanced back to check on Ben; he wasn’t in sight which, to be honest, surprised me, so I kept my eyes forward and focused on pacing.
I kept spinning, making sure my breathing was deep and relaxed, and when the thought of Ben whizzing past entered my head, I rejected it and kept on keeping on.
I reached the point where the road pitched up to the summit and I was tired and much slower. I dared one more glance over my shoulder, expecting Ben to be closing the gap. But the road was empty. Knowing it was all or nothing, I attacked the incline and ignored my burning lungs and weary legs. I crested, shifted into big gears and had my mouth wide open like a bass to suck in buckets of oxygen.
At the bend in the road that led to the steep descents, I had a decision to make…
“Do I ride safe or crouch over the top bar to get more aero?”
Days prior to the race, Steve had asked if I was afraid of descents because I’m usually dropped on training rides. I laughed. “No, I don’t weigh as much as you guys and I run out of gears to close the gap!”
The night before the race, I knew in order to descend as fast as possible, especially against my teammates who fly downhill, I’d have to crouch over the top bar. But I ruled this out as being too aggressive and too dangerous and, well, I didn’t think I had a snowball’s chance!
But now, flying around that bend everything changed. Hope stirred, adrenaline pumped, and Ben was nowhere to be seen. So I made my decision. I shifted to my biggest gear and ramped my speed up. Faster and faster and faster I pumped until I couldn’t pedal anymore. And then I crouched over my top bar.
The wind howled. My Colnago soared like a rocket. I was calm, relaxed, confident, and I never looked back. It didn’t matter. If Ben caught me at this point there was nothing I could do; I had given it my best and was maxed out.
I focused on my downhill lines, shaved off angles, hammered over rises before dropping back over the top tube.
I flew around the last bend that led to the finish and glanced back. No Ben. I sailed across the finish line averaging 20 mph and hit 44 mph which is my fastest time EVER descending Burke Hollow. Not bad, Grampy, not bad at all! I was stoked that my body performed well (at this age you never know!) and that my downhill tactic, IMHO, paid off.
In the end, Oscar and I came in third place! Wow! I’m still pinching myself. I should also add that Ben had ridden a crushing ride the day prior so his legs weren’t fresh.
So what’s your “Yeah, I have a snowball’s chance” challenge? I hope my story will encourage you to give it a go. Who knows, maybe hell will freeze for you, too!