It was, in a word, incredible.
I am so very excited and proud of what I accomplished today. I did the entire 50-mile Miller Ride for the Arts route in a personal best of 19.5 mph average. But it's the way you accomplish something like that which was the most fun for me. Thousands of riders took part, each with their own personal goals or demons to exercise. Each in a way pushing themselves mentally and physically on a Sunday morning in Milwaukee. I had only ridden 50 miles once before, but NEVER like this.
I have been dying to experience fast riding in a large peloton. I hoped to get that at the one road race I entered this spring, but I never came close, falling off the back immediately in terrible conditions then. But today was different. I rode in a 20-25 rider peleton that was going in the low 20's most of the time. It was an awesome experience to say the least.
The peloton is like a large, colorful spandex blob that whirls down the road as a unit, bikes just inches apart. Yet there is an unspoken language that goes on in there, a system of points, waves, signals, all as you dance that fine line of being inches away from the wheel in front of you. It was scary and thrilling all at once.
I learned you have to work hard, and in some cases suffer a bit to make sure you stay in the pack, but you are then rewarded at times when 19-20 mph comes without effort, when you actually duck down and coast ever so briefly to take it all in.
There were people cheering us on during portions of the ride, having set up a morning coffee and danish at the curb just to clap and yell words of encouragement for us. I was in my own little version of the Tour de France. I couldn't believe how great this felt.
I rode with my two coaches and mentors, Jerry Pearce of Rainbow Jersey bike shop in Shorewood and Jeff Jeanpierre. These guys have taught me everything I know, and Jerry kept on teaching during this ride today. Thank you so much for everything you have done for me my friend. He instructed me on where I should be in the peloton, and pulled me into the clear numerous times today.
As we headed back into downtown Milwaukee along the shore of Lake Michigan, I began to finally fall off the back. When I tried to jump out of the saddle to bridge a slight gap, my quads were ready to tie into knots. I knew I had to back off and just spin the final 4-5 miles. But there was one more surprise waiting for me.
After passing several guys that I thought I would never catch earlier, let alone pass, I was riding those final miles by myself, just hanging on behind the peloton. As we approached a stop light just blocks before the finish I had to stop at the intersection. As I clipped out, I heard more clipping...then more clipping...then as it went green the finish line was ahead and as we started out a guy rode up next to me and said, "Hey, nice pulling back there. Thanks." I never even realized it, but the peloton had splintered at the very end of the ride and I was the one actually pulling the second group after losing the lead group.
Amazing. Even with looming quad cramps I was pulling that second group!
Looking back now, the peloton is a dance really, with steps all its own. The sounds are magnificant. Wheels whirl. Gears click. Wind becomes a hollow sound swallowed up by the riders around you. And trust is at a premium. No words are spoken, for your two-wheeled dance partners, like you, are all concentrating on the task at hand--how to work with each other so that you all go faster and with more effeciency than if you were solo. There is danger, but there is great satisfaction as well.
Yes, today I belonged. Today I found heaven in the peloton.
Some pix below...in order...
1. Me, Jerry and Jeff after the ride
2. Part of the mass start in downtown Milwaukee UPDATE: 8,000 RIDERS IN THIS EVENT!
3. Past city hall
4. A classic that was part of an old bike display at the post-ride party on the Milwaukee River