he was the only one trackstanding, in a blue jersey on a blue bike that looked like it wouldn't be able to handle the size of his calves and he was making all that hulking power look graceful and stationary.
i would end up memorizing the number of rectangles on his back (7) over the next hundred kilometers, straining to keep up, even in his slipstream, and imagining the cries from the carbon stays when he stood up, and really went hard. he was a mountain biker, a cross racer, a roadie with unprecedented handling skills and fluid movement. he educated me about the roadie snobbery - it's safety/trust-based because the risks are exponentially higher on pavement, in groups. he looked like the bike was an extension of himself; he was poised, like a guitar in the monstrous hands of a man who looked more like a boxer, or a bricklayer. the bike was strung and tuned, humming, suspended from his physicality, a delicate instrument cradled by immense power, skill ready to unfold.
i turned down the invitation to the sunday group ride i suffered through last weekend to embark on this saturday group ride that i had at least suffered through a few times before. composition of the group usually dictates the nature of the ride, and i've only just begun to figure out whose attendance will spell my disastrous undoing, and to whom i must dedicate myself to hanging on. i had never met the man in the blue jersey before. he was easygoing, ready to grin, too strong for his flimsy-looking bike, and he could trackstand. must be a mountain biker. we spun out easy onto lakeshore heading west, and were told at a light to ease off the pace as it was too much for a warm-up. i'll blame it on him, of course.
as we headed into mississauga, the pace was great, the draft was fine, and i did some pulls. it was going to be a great ride. i even kinda knew where we were going. we set up for a hard paceline on mississauga road. we dropped and got dropped and caught back on and it was not the devastating 'i'm f&*$ed' situation of last weekend. i could hang. i wasn't the worst off in the group. i had an extra bottle in my jersey.
somehow, there cannot be a weekend group ride where i avoid getting dropped.
my favorite spot, it would seem, is somewhere where the wind picks up, the stretches are long and lonely, and the air is clear enough to see just how far ahead 'unreachable' really is. this is the airport loop. sandwiched between highway and runway, the noise is not distracting enough, with the wind, to truly detract from the suffering at hand. and somehow, i got pegged with the 'fastest' group. damn it. so there i was, staring at those rectangles, mesmerized by those calves, trying desperately to hang on, to pull through, to take my turn. i did. then i got dropped. then i clawed my way back, up a hill and into the wind, then we dropped the third guy. then i sat up for him. then i clawed back to the blue jersey. then i let him go. i was shuffled off like a mortal coil, he churned away into the wind, and i finished the chase in absolute no mans land. it was glorious.
although getting dropped seems to have become a certain theme in my group ride attendance, i would admit that it is fantastic. i've learned how to chase, and in chasing, have become a much faster rider than i would be on a solo ride. and there's always a benchmark, a goal: to get dropped later in the next ride, and, eventually, not at all.
and the best part about following that blue jersey everywhere: he was gracious. all he ever said was 'nice!' when i pulled through, or, 'you caught back on! wicked job!', or 'great ride, man'. he didn't rip me apart for dragging down his pursuit team. he didn't offer pointers or tell me to get the hell off his wheel (that i'd been sucking since we started) and man up to a pull. he even let me attack up a hill and then came around after we crested, enough to make it a contest, but not enough to lord his power over my measly attempts. i never ride with people. and i can't wait to go again.