I didn’t pass him. That would have been a dick move, so just as I was about to make the catch I sat up a little and coasted onto his wheel. As far as I could tell he never even turned his head to notice I was there, but I was trying to get my lungs back in my mouth and keep my brain from bursting out my temples, so maybe he did.
I don’t know why I did it. It was just one of those stupid commuter games you play. “Can I catch that guy?” you think. “I probably can’t. Maybe I can. Well, screw it.” And you go.
He was probably 50 meters out in front of me on the long climb that leads up to my house, but I could see he wasn’t going very fast. He had a bag on, like me. He wasn’t rushing. He was just going home.
I closed half the distance pretty quickly, as you do on a climb, but my heart was red-lining, so I had to back off. That’s where it gets challenging, right? It’s hard to know how much to slow. Your brain is telling you to let the pedals go slack, to coast until the engine room gets the fire under control. You have to find that middle point, fast but not heart attack fast. You have to maintain enough progress to continue the chase, to maintain motivation, but not go all in like a poker player with a pair of nothing.
Like much of what I do on the bike, there was no real point. I was commuting. He was commuting. Why race someone who isn’t racing you? Why go so hard on the way home? It was stupid, but I needed something to ride for. I hadn’t realized that until I was getting close enough to believe I would make the catch.
The pros calculate their every effort by whether they have something to ride for or not. A chance to put a teammate in the winning break? They ride. A chance to save a podium place? They ride. A chance to set up for the sprint? They ride.
I can’t be so discerning. I don’t stand on many (any) podiums, but I need to ride. I need that something to motivate me, or I let the pedals go slack. I coast.
After D2R2 this year, I swore I would take my fitness and plow it into trail riding, that I’d double down by running on days I couldn’t fit a ride in, that I’d play more soccer, that I’d keep it going. Instead, I gave myself a week off. I slept. I drove. I ate stuff. One week became two became three.
I needed to ride. That poor bastard didn’t ask me to chase him. He was just the right challenge in the right moment. By the time I turned off his wheel my breath rasped in my chest painfully, that bronchial ache made of effort and car exhaust. I didn’t pass him, because it would have been the wrong thing to do.
As I stood in the kitchen after, sweating like a summer soda can, I wondered aloud, “WtF was that?” But it felt good. It focused my mind. I thought, “I’m going to ride every day this week.”
Image: Matt O’Keefe