Mano-a-Mano

Here is a universally-understood cycling axiom:

  • Any time two or more cyclists of approximately equal ability share a ride, that ride will become an impromptu race.

And here are the universally-understood corollaries to that axiom:

  • At no point shall any party to that race state that a race is about to begin.
  • At no point shall any party to that race acknowledge that a race is in progress.
  • After the race, the loser shall decide whether to acknowledge the winner’s superiority, or to instead make a lame excuse.
  • If the loser makes a lame excuse, the winner shall treat the aforementioned excuse as implicit acknowledgment of the loser’s loss, and may in fact treat said excuse as more valid than an explicit admission of the winner’s superiority.

All those axioms and corollaries go out the window now, though. Here’s how it happened.

Last Sunday evening, I texted Dug, letting him know that due to the rain, I was seriously considering on bailing on the race at Corner Canyon the following morning. It just seemed unlikely that the trails were going to be good, and I didn’t want to pay $40 to ride trails I ride all the time anyway, albeit with much fewer people on the trail and with the trail not being a muddy mess.

Dug concurred.

I then admitted something: the only reason I was interested in the race at all was because I wanted to see who is faster: him or me.

Dug admitted he was curious about the same thing. (More about the reasons for our shared curiosity in a moment.)

So I proposed something I have never proposed before, in the history of my entire cycling life: how about — once the trails dried out — he and I race the originally-proposed Draper race course (with some minor modifications to remove the parts he and I agreed were strictly for traffic control and hence didn’t apply to us).

In fact, I don’t believe I can recall any instance of any two cyclists agreeing before the start of any ride that the ride was actually more than an “easy day,” and was in fact really a race. With an agreed-upon start and finish line, and contingencies for a tie (no finish line sprint, since our finish line is on the far side of a busy street — so if we’re together when we get to the street, it’s a tie).

But Dug agreed. So today, after work, he and I are duking it out. Two laps, Draper race course.

We’re going to find out which of us, right at this moment, is the less pathetic of the two.

Why We’re Interested In This Race

Dug and I have been riding together for 15+ years. Yeah, really: 15 or more. And at any given moment, we both had a clear idea of which of us was the faster of the two.

For the first few years, Dug was much, much faster than I was, both in climbing and descending.

Starting in my fourth or fifth year of riding, though, I got serious about climbing and became the faster of the two of us in climbs, although still lagging far behind in descending skills.

And that’s the way it’s been for several years.

This year, though, Dug’s outridden me or at least matched me on more than one climb. For example, he demolished me at RAWROD — not just in the climbs, but altogether. In our most recent road ride together, I was unable to shake him in the climb.

But that’s not the only change.

A switch has flipped in my brain and this year I’m finally at near-parity with my friends in descending speed. Part of that’s due to my owning some exquisite bikes. Part of it’s due to my finally having internalized some lessons BotchedExperiment taught me a couple years ago. Part of it has to do with my having found that I am about ten times more confident in my braking when I single-finger brake with my middle finger on the lever.

In any case, I can mostly hang with Dug on the descents, now. Or at least not lose major time.

In other words, for the first time in years and years, I don’t think Dug nor I would be confident in calling the outcome of this race.

And that is why it must happen.

Points of Consideration

Dug and I each have riding strengths and weaknesses. We’ve been riding together long enough that I’m sure he knows everything I’m going to list here (though I am terrified he is holding something in reserve that I don’t know):

  • Dug is a slow starter: Dug takes a while to get his motor going. I have an easy opportunity to get to the long singletrack climb (Clark’s Trail: about 13 minutes at our rate) before he does, after which it will be difficult for him to pass me.
  • I run hot off the start line: I am blessed / plagued with massive amounts of adrenaline at the beginning of a race, and I will fly off the start line, apparently without effort.
  • Dug is a strong finisher: In every race I have ever seen him, Dug seems to become less tired as the race progresses.
  • I fade badly: If I don’t manage to rein myself in at the beginning of the race, I often find myself all out of matches long before the race is over.
  • Dug is a better tactician: Dug will often think about race strategy during the race. He will make actual judgement calls and everything. I, on the other hand, tend to be a little bit…um…stupid in my race strategies. As in, I ride really hard until I can’t, at which point I slow down a lot.

In other words, it’s easy to imagine a scenario where I shoot off the front, thinking I’m winning for 75% of the race, only to have Dug pass me right after we climb “The Wall” for the second time and I have gone into survival mode.

What is at Stake

Since neither Dug nor I did early registration for the Draper race, we now each have a theoretical surplus of $39. The winner gets the losers race registration money.

But both of us know that the money is the least of what’s at stake.

And later this afternoon, we’ll — once again — know which of us is faster.

I’d like to go on record as saying that I would like it to be me.

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