Half a wheel can make the difference between a bad day, good day and a great day. We have all been there, staring at half of a wheel with mixed emotions.
My last two summers have been mixed with emotions when it comes to riding. Last summer I had an external Iliac bypass, which sidelined me until the spring when I got to test my new plumbing in Majorca and Girona. Four weeks after spinning mega miles in Spain, I was flying at our local Saturday club ride. Winning the sprint was more of a choice rather than a lucky possibility. I was back and felt invincible. It didn’t last long though. Just a few weeks after feeling like superman, I was exposed to my kryptonite. My right leg started to fatigue during any power efforts and my Garmin confirmed that sustained wattage of more than twenty second wasn’t feasible anymore.
Not riding with the “A” group wasn’t an option. I didn’t have the energy or the desire to find a new group of riders that would tolerate my idiosyncrasies on the bike. After getting medical confirmation that my right leg had only 60% blood flow, I elected to get angioplasty to reopen my artery, so I can rejoin my group of comrades on the bike.
Ten days have passed since the procedure and today’s club ride was going to be the test. My last few rides had me off the back or dropped before the serious climbs even were in site. Today’s goal, get over the climbs and hopefully finish with the group. Riding in Orange County for the past twenty five years have created bonds on the bike that go deeper than wearing the same kit. I am never alone, I have a team that pulls, closes gaps, comes back and brings me up, slows the group from the front, shields me from the wind, all without threats or money that Lance would be envious of today. My team of supporters are George, Doug, Danny, Jenn, Clemson and a few others wearing different kits. Knowing that I am not alone makes a day like this less stressful. It gives me a mulligan or two if I find myself in trouble.
You are only as good as your last ride. The last ride I did I got dropped at the base of the Ridgebury climb. Today’s first goal was to suck it up and stay attached to the group anywhere in the middle, dangling off the back would only set me up for anaerobic debt that I most likely wouldn’t be able to get myself out of. Ridgebury is about five minutes of lung burning, eye bleeding, leg screaming discomfort that typically separates those who don’t deserve to be there, which I found out in previous weeks the hard way. I crested the summit mid pack and felt fresh enough to continue rolling towards the front as the group strung out towards the rolling descent.
I checked my perceived effort, I don’t use a heart rate monitor, and felt comfortably uncomfortable, just as I hoped. Opening up my artery from 2mm to 7mm allowed blood to circulate into my oxygen starved muscles. It was time to see what 7mm could do. Can I attack like I used to or should I be conservative and stick to the original plan, finish with the group?
Driven by my emotions rather than my logic, I jumped up the next stiff step climb. There was one guy away and I had him marked. Going deep at maximum effort would either blow me up or let me know what my new redline was. Passing the lone rider I found my redline and waited for the group on the descent, feeling like I tested out my first vial of EPO. Power, check…recovery, check…reload? check.
There was one more test, the last hill before the two mile flat sprint finish. I jumped off the front, gapped the field and shut it down hoping on hope that when the group caught me that they wouldn’t blow by so fast that I couldn’t catch the last wheel. The team controlled the pace back to me and allowed me to slide in as if I was a space station docking to the mother ship.
The last two miles and the pace picks up as always. I try to remind myself that ten days ago I would have given up my first born (sorry Bryanna) just to be able to make it to this point. Laying on an operating table makes you wonder if it is all worth it. Being alive isn’t a consolation for not feeling alive. One mile to the finish and the group strung out in a single line, makes you feel alive. Pain starts to feel like pleasure and pushing that much harder becomes addictive.
The peloton tracks through the last “S” turn with one half mile to go. I am sitting mid pack with team mates all at full gas, three guys go off the front each with ten meters between them. I hesitate and wonder for a nano second, “shut it down?” rings in my head, “making it this far is a win for today”.
My legs weren’t interested in what my head had to say. I up shift into the 12 tooth rear cog, jump out of the saddle and take my blood filled pistons and redline them until they blow, or not. Passing rider three, then two, I was running out of real estate before the finish. Second place was going to be a good day. Better than I had hoped or even allowed myself to visualize.
A half a wheel, I won by a half a wheel.
It is great to feel alive.
Friends, doctors, relatives, wonder why I elect to go through these surgeries.
I do it for a half a wheel.