I found myself out of town, visiting family in Chapel Hill, NC. Usually I combine these family trips with recovery time, but this time I brought my bike and thought I would check out the local rides. I found the Chapel Hill Cycling website thanks to a Twitter friend, BicycleLab (who also has a cool website).
There were three ride choices. There was an easy 15-16 mph, a moderate 18-20 mph, and what they call the “P-Ride,” which is where the professionals come out to play. The middle ride seemed closest to my cup of tea and I liked that they emphasize pace-lines and group ride dynamics. I’m down with that. Plus the ride was ‘nodrop,’ so I felt confident I could head out to the country with them and not get completely lost.
We left from Carrboro, which is just a fantastic town for cycling. A good portion of the downtown area has bike lanes. In the short time that I rode there, I found that the drivers were very respectful and aware of riders. On a couple occasions they waved me by or let me into traffic, something that is almost nonexistent here. It was a pleasure riding there, with or without the group. Wilson Park was the starting point and from there we took the bike lanes out to the country, just a couple miles away.
One thing that surprised me was how many rolling hills there were. There really weren’t any climbs to speak of, and the highest grade was in the 6-7% range, but over time and at high speeds, they took a toll on me. For the first twenty miles or so, I was fine keeping up with the group. Some other riders had more trouble and small gaps would form. I felt comfortable knowing that I was able to usually maintain my place with the lead group.
Then the open sprint zone came. I was starting to get tired at that point and didn’t know it was coming until everyone bolted out ahead. It was too late to chase. They slowed a little, but not enough for me and another rider to catch up. We were dropped until the rest stop. From there some of the other riders splintered away. A flat tire drove a couple other riders away. That left the group at around half a dozen riders, all of whom seemed to be the strongest horses in attendance.
I hung for awhile, but my weakened legs were taking a toll. I think most of my performance was related to the big climb the day before. There was a mini-climb of just a few percent where I was second in the pack. I huffed and puffed up the hill, keeping pace with the ride leader, and it flat out chewed me up. I knew there was another sprint zone coming up and that would be the end of me. As the leader fell back, I grunted something about having ridden a mountain the day before and probably needing to drop. After taking a pull a little longer than I should have, I fell to the back almost completely broken. I let them go.
Oops. In hindsight, I probably should have pushed to hang on. Fortunately GPS saved me. After stopping for a few minutes to get my bearings, I was back on course and rode in at a casual pace. I took my time returning via Dairyland Road, finally taking some time to check out the local scenery that had been a blur to that point.
All in all, it was a great workout in a new environment. I’ll be back again someday to test my mettle.