The Group Ride

Señor J and I were all smiles as we anxiously awaited the start of the ride

I finally got a taste of some real peloton action today during the Trek sponsored group ride this morning. Both Señor J and I had been chomping at the bit for this day to arrive and boy did it deliver!

The day started very early (sure enough the day after the Dr. Who midseason premier, so I was a wee bit short on sleep) as we had to drive down to Coconut Point for the start of the ride. I had my typical breakfast, suited up and did a quick prep of my bike. Señor J must have been even more anxious to start, as he was already parked out in my drive before I even opened my garage door. We loaded up our bikes and gear and  headed down to Estero, wondering what lay in store.

We arrived early (first ones there) and unpacked our bikes and gear. We gave the bikes another quick check and rode them around the parking lot a bit as we awaited the arrival of our fellow cyclists. Eventually, cyclists started trickling in. Some came by car as we did, while others rode in on their bikes. Slowly but surely, the parking lot filled up with approximately 60 men and women in brightly colored spandex with equally flashy bikes. Speaking of bikes, we saw some serious machines from Bianchi, Pinarello, Cervelo, and even a completely customized Project One Madone 6.9 (for those not salivating at the mear mention of these names, I’m talking about bikes that cost as much as small automobiles).

At 7:30 AM we received our ride instructions. We were to stay grouped up in our peloton for the first 11 miles maintaining a maximum speed of 22 MPH. Once at the Airport entrance, the speed limit would be dropped and the Peloton would split into an A (unlimited speed) and B (20-22 MPH) group. There was to be a 15 MPH neutral zone at the airport terminal and a regrouping, after which it was a race back to the Trek store. Total ride milage would be 36 miles.

We mounted up and briskly headed out of the parking lot onto Sandy Lane behind Coconut Point. The immediate sensation of riding in a tight group of 60 plus riders was exhilarating. Riding wheel to wheel, shoulder to shoulder at over 20 MPH was rather intimidating at first, but I settled into a groove in under a mile.

We turned onto Coconut Road and immediately sped up to 22 MPH. Our serpentine-like group moved down the road as one solid mass, actually commanding traffic (one driver just pulled over to watch the pageantry of so many bikes zip by). We turned onto Three Oaks Parkway and gradually brought the speed up to about 24 MPH. Mind you this is above my and Señor J’s normal cruising speed, but being tucked into a peloton really made maintaining  the speed easy. We witnessed first hand the power of the peloton, as it mercilessly reels in breakaway groups on grand tours….ok this wasn’t a grand tour, nor were we reeling anyone in, but you could certainly feel the aerodynamic advantages of the peloton (riders within a peloton can conserve over 25% of their energy).

We turned right onto Estero Parkway and effortlessly sprinted up the I75 overpass at speeds near 25 MPH and then turned left onto Tree Line Ave. We cruised past FGCU and GCTC maintaining our tight group, never dropping below 22 MPH. I had to make a big adjustment in my riding style, switching to much larger gears than I am used to. I normally like to stay in lower gears and maintain a high cadence of 100 RPM on my rides, but at these speeds I quickly found that I’d be a spinning my way into the rear of the pack, so it was time to use those small cogs on my back wheel.

By this point I had found a comfortable rhythm and stayed planted a mear 6 to 8 inches off the wheel of the person in front of me.  The ride leader pulled along side to welcome me to the ride and give me a heads up to the madness that ensues when the speed limits were removed at the airport turn in. His basic advice was to stay relaxed and find a group I was comfortable with. Staying with the speed demons of the A group causes many riders to crack, or in cyclists speak, “bonk”, and get left behind (something I would witness first hand).

Señor J had moved many places in front of me now and seemed to be holding his own very well, which is very impressive considering this was only his 6th ride ever! I was so relaxed and entertained, chatting it up with other riders, that the airport turnoff snuck up on me, and just as the ride leader warned me, the speedsters in the group tore off at breakneck speeds leaving me at the back of the group. I quickly peddled up to the group in front of me and planted myself on their rear wheel. We were peddling against a very stiff 15+ MPH headwind, yet we were riding near 25 MPH. Fearing the wind, I decided to just stick with this group instead of trying to catch what now was three distinct groups.

I looked up and tried to spot Señor J. He had hooked up with the second group and seemed to be going well. A few minutes later I looked ahead again and saw a large gap was forming between Señor J and the second group. He was at the mercy of the headwind now as our group was gaining on him incredibly fast. I gave him a pat on the back as I passed him and told him to jump on, but Señor J had cracked.

As my group rode up to the terminal and entered the 15 MPH neutral zone, a rider dropped back to look for stragglers. The road basically looped back onto itself at this point and I saw Señor J was easily a half mile or more behind us. Unfortunately, he was on his own now.

The second group looked close enough to chase down now, especially with the aid of the small descent from the terminal. I took it upon myself to try to bridge the gap. I went into my drops, lowered my head and, as Phil Liggett says, stomped angrily on my peddles. I quickly pulled away from my group and seemed to be making up some ground, but, on cue, my nemesis the wind, decided to step it up a bit and make life miserable for me. I quickly realized that the effort needed to catch this group on my own would probably leave me bonked like Señor J, so I lowered my cadence a bit and waited to be swallowed up by my original group.

I incorporated myself back into the rear of my old group and recuperated a bit. This group was composed of two other males and three females. There is no shame riding with the girls, especially since I’ve run across many that can blast by me in the blink of an eye. We wound our way through the access roads of the airport. These roads were unknown to me, so I stayed firmly planted as last wheel of the group…and frankly I needed a little more recovery time. We eventually emerged from the twisting side roads back onto Tree Line Ave about a mile and a half north of Daniels Parkway.

I was thinking about Señor J, wondering if he was ok and more importantly, if he was lost, after all, these were new roads for him too. I wondered if he had turned around, or perhaps even headed for home (he was much closer to home when he bonked vs trying to return to the start point). I was hoping I’d see him as we were now headed back towards the starting point.

As we backtracked down Tree Line, I started seeing the cracked remains of the A group. Just as the ride leader had mentioned, we began passing slow moving cyclist who’s legs must have been screaming in pain from lactic acid build up. As we passed them, some tried to latch onto our group, only to end up falling behind again as they grimaced in pain. Others just waved us on with encouragement. Our group passed one rider after another and methodically began reeling in the second group. It reminded me of the old tale of the tortoise and the hare, as our slower but steady pace was catching and passing the elite speed demons and their über expensive bikes.

We were moving well as a group maintaining an 18-20 MPH pace against the wind inching ever closer to the second group. We picked up a few more riders as we rode past the airport entrance, GCTC and FGCU, making our group even stronger. As we turned onto Estero Parkway, we could see the second group cresting the I75 overpass. It was just a matter of time until we caught them, but we still had to climb the overpass…on tired legs.

As soon as we hit the incline the group began to slow. I knew if I lost my cadence now, I would probably never recover it, so I dropped a gear and shot up the hill (which at this point felt like a hors categorie climb). As I crested the top, I saw what was left of the second group stopped at the light at the base of the overpass. To my surprise, and relief, I saw Señor J with them. Excited to see him, I stayed on the peddles downhill and pulled up along side of him.

I asked him how he was and what happened. He confirmed he completely cracked on the airport sprint and had nothing left. Being abandoned, he meandered through the airport and eventually found a path out down the heavily trafficked Daniels Parkway and back onto Tree Line. He rode alone for quite a bit giving his legs a chance to recover, eventually coming across other stragglers and the remnants of the second group. Our little reunion gave him a good boost of energy as we formed up a new group and continued barreling down Three Oaks Parkway.

The end of our ride was near now as we turned onto Williams Road and rode pas Estero High School. Just a couple more miles and we’d be toasting our success over some juice and bagels at Paner Bread. Señor J was in good spirits and feeling well while I was riding with a huge grin in my face knowing I had done well on my first real group ride.

We coasted into Panera, now swarming with tired cyclists having coffee and spirited conversations about the ride. All the A group was there as well as the B+ group. We dismounted, leaned our bikes against some hedges, bought a couple cold OJ’s and sat down to make some new friends.

Our wives and kids came out to meet us making a good day even better. Today’s group ride was everything I had hoped for and more. It was empowering, challenging, even addicting and left us both with a feeling of accomplishment. Sure, Señor J bonked, but he continued to push on, recovered and finished strong. Next Sunday’s ride can not come too soon!

Route: Trek Airport Group Ride
Ride Time: 1:58:05
Stopped Time: 13:50
Distance: 36.55 miles
Average: 18.57 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 26.13 miles/h
Ascent: 167 feet
Descent: 161 feet
Calories: 2225

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