There is a small town in Southern Illinois called Metropolis which has two things going for it, Superman and a Riverboat Casino. Every year on the second weekend of June they hold a festival in honor of Metropolis’ most famous hero and has part of that festival for as long as I can remember the Kiwanis club has organized a charity ride. This ride is a bit special for me because 23 years ago it was the first organized bike event I ever went to my 14 year old self it might as well been the Tour de France.
For the last few years I had to work Saturdays and was unable to do rides like these that almost always take place on Saturday. The Ironic thing is that now I’m free on weekends to ride them I almost didn’t go. The drive down to Metropolis takes about an hour, and no one around here could go and I really could just save the gas money, I kept telling myself. Thankfully I had told my pal Shon Hargis I was going and I decided that I should keep my word.
The ride generally attracts around 150 or so riders and has a mass start, to my recollection it has neither grown or shrunk considerably in all the years I’ve gone. Probably about half the riders look to be serious bicyclists, and the other half families out for a fun ride. In years past my favorite thing to do was start in the very back and work my way to the front over the first few miles. This is dumb and I don’t do it anymore.
I met up with my pal’s Shon and Justin. Shon is probably the most fit he’s ever been and spent the Spring concentrating on running but has now switched almost completely to cycling. Justin said he had been on two road bike rides this year and wasn’t really in any kind of shape though in the past he’s been a monster on the both road and mountain bikes.
So Superman himself shows up and stands in the back of a truck which leads the ride out of town. Eventually the truck pulls off and we’re left to our own devices. Thanfully for the first few miles they have local deputies at major intersections to stop traffic and let the ride go through. Like clockwork every year a group forms at the front and this year I was right there feeling good having not chased through the pack.
A guy did a great turn on the front right about 21 mph, we probably had twenty or more riders grouped up behind us. He pulled off after a couple miles and the next guy upped the pace to 23. After a couple miles i looked back and saw maybe 15 or so riders. When he pulled off the next guy upped the pace to 25. After a few more miles we were down to maybe 10. Eventually it was my turn to pull. I started on a hill and pulled for maybe a half mile mostly downhill and in the flat then pulled out. I was pretty much maxed out, leaving my buddy Shon to continue pulling.
So in the past I would get in the fast front group and see if I could hang on until we got to the first stop at 15 miles where I would stop and catch my breath. We shot right past the stop and I stayed with them. Shon pulled off right as we rounded a turn into crosswind, this was really bad timing to hit a crosswind because he got no draft and slipped from the group. Now it was just these three super fast guys and me.
For ten miles I hung in their group but didn’t take any pulls, I didn’t want to and actively avoided going to the front, but the truth was I would have been toast if I’d done a turn pulling. The route has changed a bit, which is crazy because the route hadn’t changed in all the years I’ve been doing the ride. It’s a pretty flat ride with one tough hill about 40 miles in, but the new route had a challenging hill about 24 miles in and that’s where I got dropped. Had I been super motivated I think I could have caught back on the downhill but once I saw them going up the road a big part of me said, screw those guys. I was cooked anyway.
For the next few miles I struggled to catch my breath, even after my heart rate returned to a normal pace, I still felt like I was in oxygen debt. It didn’t take long for me to notice the black and white St. Nick’s jersey catching up to me all alone. I sat up and waited for Shon to catch. He drafted me for about 30 seconds to recover and then pretty much pulled me the next 30 miles back. Most of that in a headwind, he’s a beast!
Eventually one guy caught us I could see him for miles back as he was in a high viz jersey and trucking in aerobars. WHen he pulled up behind us he yelled, “Have you seen those guys in the front!”
“Yeah they dropped me about 20 miles ago, and I have’t seen them since,” I replied.
“Yeah that figures,” he grumbled back. Right about then we began the climb up the big hill, a moment later I looked back and the guy was gone. Poof! Now we began passing riders from the 40 mile route and that made the ride far more interesting. We eventually passed a teenage girl with no helmet on and I thought back to my first few times riding this when helmets weren’t required and I didn’t even own one. I was yelled at several times by do gooders to get a helmet. I wondered if she’d been yelled at.
At the end of the ride, despite hanging on Shon’s wheel and despite him holding back for me several times I was shot. Our average was 19, though mine had been 23 until I fell out of the lead group. One last ironic thing, the lead group guys were all still there changing clothes, they had suffered in the headwind and had managed a 20 mph average finishing about 15 minutes before we did. I talked to one of them for a bit and he talked about how tough the headwind on the way back had been. Then talked about how they could have really used more guys to share the work through that wind. I felt like saying well since you guys felt like riding everyone off your wheels in the first 15 miles you had to tough it out. If you’d waited for about 5 minutes you’d had a Shon to pull!