Staring at the hub

I see a flashing bike light a few hundred meters off in the distance, approaching me as I speed down Neva, a few minutes late getting out the door, but so was my riding partner. As the bike with the flashing light comes into view more clearly, I see that it’s Chris, and I gesture questioningly to him which way we should go. He points straight ahead, and I turn around before I reach him, we both roll to a stop for what will be one of four pee breaks in the first two hours of the ride.

It is a dreary August day, overcast and cool. I’m wearing a base layer, leg warmers, and arm warmers, with a lightweight jacket stuffed under my jersey at the base of my neck like a hunchback. This weather is meant for November, October at the very earliest. I feel like it might be November not only for the weather, but for my legs. I haven’t been training much in the last month as I recover from an injury and regather myself for the last racing block of the season, which will take me into December. My legs come around though, and we ride north towards Fort Collins.

Our conversation is varied, littered with life advice for one another, as well as crude jokes, rants about society, and our favorite types of food. A typical bike ride talk, which would not last much longer.

At the two hour mark, a few miles below Horse Tooth Reservoir, Chris pushes a button on his computer to start the “progression” interval—two hours in zone “Oh. . . I don’t know. Harder than we’ve been going but I’m tired so I’m not sure.” We’ve averaged around 230 at that point, so I’m hoping that 10 to 15 watts harder will be enough. It will not be enough.

Climbing up towards the reservoir, six minutes into the interval, I look down and see that I’m averaging 349 watts. This is not sustainable for me, so I half wheel Chris for a few minutes and continue the conversation. This counterintuitive tactic proves unnecessary, as we stop for water at a pump a few minutes later.

We get going again. I’ve zeroed my power meter, and now the power looks more realistic, but still too high for me to hold for another hour and 45 minutes. Soon the climbing is over with as we descend into Fort Collins, and my suffering begins. We’ve been riding hard now for half an hour. Chris has not slowed down. In fact, I soon realize that I can’t hold even with his front wheel any longer. I look down as we descend a false flat and see I’m pushing 364 watts and not regaining my position. I ramp it up to 400 and am now side by side with him. I fall back again and this time decide to take a breather behind him. I don’t want to slow his interval down anyways, so this is the best place for me.

20 minutes later and I am still taking my breather. I have tried coming around him to ride side by side numerous times, but each is a failed attempt. We have a strong tailwind, which makes his draft less impactful, and I inch ever closer, always searching for the best spot. 10 inches back and slightly off to the right since the wind is coming from the back and left. I stare directly into his rear hub without looking away for long spells of time. I switch it up and stare at his rear brake calipers near the bottom bracket. Droplets of water hit me in the face. I wonder if it’s about to rain, but it’s just sweat flying from Chris’ head. I think of the times during bike races when I’ve felt the mist of a rider up ahead of me peeing off the bike, and then the sweat doesn’t seem so bad. But Chris is sweating up a storm, and I wonder again if it might be rain after all.

I look at my power meter and see 275 watts. This draft is bullshit. Maybe it’s just as much effort up front and the tailwind is so strong that I’m not getting any draft at all. I tentatively peek out from behind his front wheel to come around, and I’m suddenly doing 330 again. I pull up beside and ride for 30 seconds, then blow up. I curse my lack of fitness and retreat to the draft.

An hour later and the pace has slowed somewhat, but so have my legs. We’re now in Hygiene, but there’s still 20 minutes of interval to go. I have tried to come around a few more times, but I can’t sustain anything for more than a minute. I try to motivate Chris to continue on after he concedes that he’s getting pretty tired. He continues on.

By Diagonal and 75th, I’ve averaged 261 watts sitting behind his wheel in the TT position for the last hour and 25 minutes. We say our goodbyes and he turns right as I continue straight ahead. I instantly stop pedaling hard. Sometimes not doing something feels terrific. This is one of those times.