Getting dropped on a group bike ride is our sport’s equivalent of being posterized in a basketball game. It’s not just the embarrassment of getting dunked on, it’s having the ball ricochet off your face as you land in a heap on the floor after getting charged with a blocking foul. In cycling, the only difference is there’s no crowd going berserk as the replay of our demise gets shown again and again on the scoreboard. Oh, and it’s not on Sportscenter either.
That’s because there’s nobody around to witness it other than the pack or riders who blew past you. I thought about this last weekend at the locally legendary “Simi ride” near Los Angeles. After 30 miles of clinging to the gruppetto amidst a sea of Cat 1 and Cat 2 cyclists, my fatigue spiked up, my legs gave out, and my willpower caved in. And thus began the Ride of Shame, that lonely haul back to my car by myself as the peloton zoomed further from eyesight until it took on the appearance of a swarm of bees on the horizon. Angry ones too.
During said Ride of Shame, I thought about the act of being dropped and the resultant inner monologue that occurs afterward. For your pleasure, I give you The Anatomy of a Dropping.
Pre-Ride: Elevator Eyes
Cyclists start arriving at the pre-appointed meeting location. Everyone is wearing a beautiful kit, never in a poseur-ish way representing a pro team — unless it happens to actually be a pro riding for that team…that’s when you’re really in trouble. Hmm…isn’t that Ted King? Yup. Carved calves. Disproportionately large thighs. Everyone knows each other. Except me. Nerves rising.
First 20 Minutes: I’m in a Gang!
I can do this! I’m totally riding with the group! This is fun! And almost effortless. We’re going 30 miles an hour, and taking up an entire lane too! I’m a badass. I’m in a cycling gang. A badass cycling gang. With toe covers. The Sons of Rapha.
Next 10 Minutes: Whoa, That Was Close!
The first sprint is on. Oh. That wasn’t the sprint? No that was a warmup. THIS…this 7 percent grade we’re collectively taking at 20 miles an hour for a full minute while motopacing off a slow-moving tractor…THAT’s a sprint. Well, it’s nice to know that what I thought was my max heart rate has now been raised by a few beats. I’ll be sure to change my heart rate settings in Strava. And I’m still here! Barely. Pleasedeargawd <wheezes> Ineedaredlight. <Wheezes> No, seriously. Please!
Next 15 Minutes: Come Back!
Caught the red light. Thank goodness. More group riding. OK, I can do this! I made it. I’m hanging tough. I belong here!
Now we’re climbing. Fast. The Sons of Rapha are now the Every Man for Themselves. I’m the slow gazelle in the Serengeti – but not the slowest. I know this because I keep looking backwards. Someone is gaining on me. Wait, is that a 60-year-old guy who just passed me? My legs buckle.
Down the hill we zoom. Well, everyone else is zooming while I coast and try to shove my heart back down into my chest. I NEED A RED LIGHT!!!!! COME BACK EVERYONE!!!!
Next 15 Minutes: Cruel Torture
No red lights for me, but the next best thing: Catching a train of bigger, slower climbers who can hammer on flats. Pedal dammit! Pedal! Harder! Shut up, legs! I am Jens Voigt. I am Jens Voigt. I AM JENS VOIGT!!!! I <wheeze> am <wheeze> Jens <wheeze> Voight!
I am not Jens Voigt.
I’m still in the peloton though. Every roller feels like a mountain. Every downhill feels like a suspended sentence. The inevitable is coming soon, I just don’t know it yet. I’m still fighting, but more important, I have fight left. It’s not over.
Next 15 Minutes: It’s Over
The first big climb was the jab. The rollers were body shots. The 12-minute steady grade climb? The knockout. The Sons of Rapha, which had since re-formed, apparently held a meeting and decided to jump me out of the gang. It happened so fast. One minute, it’s “C’mon! You can do this! Stay on his wheel! Only look at the wheel! Boss! Boss! Da Wheel! Da Wheel!” Then, meekly, “Nope. That’s it. You’re done. Let it go. Let them go.”
And off they went.
Next 2 Hours: This Sucks
Mordor minus the Orcs. Plain. Lonely. Cold. Passers-by take pity on you. For they know from whence you came. And where you have yet to go. What was I thinking? Why is all my food gone? Why didn’t I bring cash this time? How many more hills are there? Now I’m a 5-year-old. “Are we theeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre yet?”
Final 20 Minutes: Desperate Heroism
I’m faced with a tough choice. A fork in the road. One path is easier but has more mileage and involves a Cat 4 climb. The other path is more direct and features an ominous, harrowing Cat 2 sojourn. I bonked miles and miles ago. There’s a quarter-bottle of water left. I’m supposed to meet my friend for lunch soon. The choice is simple: Cat 2 climb.
I recorded a personal best on the final climb, literally talking out loud during a 15 percent grade portion, “Don’t give up! Don’t give up!” Over and over, grunting, growling, drooling, incapable of a coherent snot rocket. I’m just a stubborn, crazy cyclist who doesn’t know when to quit.
And that is the lesson I learned on this ride. The personal best time on that last climb wouldn’t have happened had I not made the decision to push myself even harder. The harder path was the sweeter one too, even if the process to get there was ugly.
I may not be a Son of Rapha. Yet. For now, I’m a Son of One. Looking for my next ride.