This past weekend I came back to where it all began for me with regard to cycling - the Midwest. Like a musician and his instrument, I packed my Kane into my Time bike case and took off for Chicago. The previous week it was unclear whether the weather would cooperate and let me get two nice rides in over the weekend, but luckily it stayed dry both days and gave me a chance to get out and ride with my former teammates and friends.
The plan for Saturday was to ride a new route called the "Hatchet," designed by Neil, taking us out of Deerfield, IL through north suburbs up to Wauconda and back down to Deerfield for a total distance of a little over 60 miles. I felt like I really needed a good workout on Saturday, so before I even showed up for the ride I planned on spending a lot of time on the front, taking nice long pulls and getting my watt's worth.
The instant I left the house, I realized that I was not in San Francisco anymore. In the 4 miles from my parent's house to the start of the ride, I dodged more potholes than I usually do in probably a month in San Francisco and Marin. But I guess that type of maneuvering just comes with the territory when riding in the Midwest.
When I ride in San Francisco and people find out I'm from Chicago, one of the comments I usually get is, "oh, you must be used to the wind." Then I have to explain that the term "Windy City" actually comes from the political climate around the turn of the last century and not the weather. Well, on Saturday it was definitely the weather. It seemed like a strong headwind was pursuing us most of the way, which made it kind of fun and was a good replacement for hill.
There were about seven of us in the parking lot as we set out on the new route. Once we got into a rotating paceline, the pace started picking up and less and less people were rotating in. In a few minutes, it was just Neil, Steve and I. The pace was very, very hard and I was very happy to be able to get this race-effort ride in - very good for fitness. I was also pleased that my achilles tendon was not bothering me one bit, which made it much easier to push higher watts. The ride continued with attacks, counter attacks, accelerations and long pulls throughout.
At about 3 hours and 10 minutes into the ride, I decided to scroll through the screens of my Garmin to see what my average watts were so far. I was very surprised to see 240 watts. To think that about two years ago, I could barely hold 250 watts for 40 minutes and on Saturday I pushed 240 watts for over 3 hours. "If this wasn't race pace," I thought to myself, "It sure as heck came close." The rest of the ride was at a much more relaxed pace, which let me spin my legs a bit before we settled into some Starbucks chairs with come much needed caffeine booster.
The weather for Sunday looked like it was going to be just a bit cooler, but dry, which is the important factor. A mixed group of A and B riders showed up in the same Metra parking lot for a West Loop route. As it is still early season in Chicago, the shorter 43-mile version of the ride was planned for the day. The A group left the parking lot first in a double paceline at a warmup pace. I wasn't planning on pushing the pace, nor taking long pulls because my legs were rather sore from Saturday's effort, and I spent most of the previous night eating and drinking at my friend's 30th birthday party, and I only got about 4 hours of sleep. But at the same time, I wasn't planning on letting anyone get the best of me either. So it was a roll-with-the-punches kind of deal.
Once we got about 10 miles out of the parking lot, we started in a nice, controlled rotating paceline. [Aside: rotating paceline is something I miss the most about riding in Chicago. It seems that it's almost impossible to get 5-10 people together in SF who know what the hell that is and how to execute it properly.] Then, Vitor started making attacks, Andre and I countered and pretty soon it was the three of us rotating with the rest of the group hanging on the back. My legs were in a lot of pain, but my ego would not permit me to sit back and rest up while others were doing the work. After all, I have been riding/racing since winter and the weather only recently became decent enough to ride in Chicago. I quickly realized that I was in for another race-type ride and told my legs to shut up.
After the brief bio break on Chevy Chase Rd., the pace picked up even higher. I attacked on the next climb, looked back and no one was on my wheel. I don't like riding alone, so I sat up and waited for the field to come closer and we regrouped. Having not ridden the route in quite some time, I missed the next right turn, but the yells from the back of the group set me straight in rather fast order so I made a quick U-turn and was back on course but in the back of the group. That's when Vitor attacked, Andre followed and I made an acceleration around the rest of the group so he could bridge me to Vitor
We re-grouped at next major intersection and picked up the pace again down Fairfield. The pace is always high down that stretch of road going back to Long Grove as the road tilts somewhat downhill. There were a few of us taking turns on the nose and we quickly came to our rest-stop at the gas station. A refill of water for some, bio break for others and we were ready to roll. As we came out of the parking lot, another group of riders came through. Some of whom we knew, so the groups merged and we proceeded back to Deerfield at a more relaxed pace. Frankly, I was happy the pace died down because I wanted just a few miles to let my legs spin easy in hopes that some of the lactic acid would get flushed out. If some of it did, it wasn't much, as I'm still very sore today.
As on Saturday, coffee and good company marked the end of the ride. I look forward to coming back later this year and riding with the Chicago Colavita club again. Hopefully in somewhat warmer weather and maybe some repaved roads, but I'm not really holding my breath for either.