It's always a good feeling to get that first real ass kicking of the season out of the way. Judging by the upcoming weather forecast, Sunday looked to be the only day I could get out to ride this weekend. 10 AM wasn't exactly the optimal start time for me, but other responsibilities had to be maintained to 10 it was. I'm hoping to get a bit more of riding to the ride incorporated into my training plans this year so it seemed like an optimal time to exercise that option as well. I rolled out from home just after 9 and headed towards the meet up at the shop. Squirrel, Steve, and Brad were joining up for some good times riding outside.
It seems that this winter has kept a number of people inside this year. Judging by the number of posts I saw on facebook about yesterday being their first outside ride of the year, there were a number of people taking full advantage of some warmer temps. On the ride over to the shop, I noted my legs weren't feeling too keen after enjoying a few drinks with friends the night before and not rolling into bed until 1 in the morning. My initial plan was to roll easy out to the Walnut woods/Maffit area and then do some tempo and hill work staying in Z3 and Z4. I think Squirrel was out to blow me up though. He was rolling skinny tires and gears which is never a good thing whether he's been training or not.
As soon as we hit 63rd, all bets were off. We scooted down to the long grade up to Walnut Woods drive and then pushed the pace the entire length of the hill. I sat just back from his wheel and let him set the pace which luckily didn't pop me fully into the red. Luckily I'd ridden over so I was decently warm or I'd have probably been in a similar boat to Steve since it takes me a good bit to get warmed through as well. By the top of the climb, Steve had been gapped, but Brad was sticking on strong. We rolled through the loop and slowed a bit climbing over the bypass in hopes Steve might catch back on, but it ended up just turning into a slight breather before we'd hammer the next section.
The head wind out of the west kept the fires stoked as we burned some matches heading to Maffit. The big hill climb popped me into the 190 range for my heart rate and I knew I'd be pretty well cooked from there on out. We kept the group together and traded some pulls out to the little housing development west of Maffit. From there, the hill work continued with Squirrel showing us his prowess on the hills and Brad and I had our tongues hanging out and sliding backwards. A quick loop to the back of the development with one more hill climb thrown in for good measure and we headed back towards Walnut Woods.
With the wind at our backs, I upped the anty for my turn at the front. I put pretty much everything I had out there climbing back up to the south turn towards Walnut Woods. Squirrel just sat back there yelling encouragment at me... For my part, I couldn't do more than grunt since I was maxed out. We cleaned the hill still sitting around 20 mph with the nice tailwind and rolled back down over the bypass. I let up for a second or two and Squirrel said adios! Brad latched on and took a short pull trying to get me back over the gap and I tried on my own as well, but just couldn't bridge up. I got a little closer at the base of the soccer hill climb, but even hitting it hard, I couldn't get closer than about 100 yards. I was totally shot at this point, but knew I needed to get more time in.
I opted to head back for one more of the 7 mile loops while Squirrel called it good. I was thanful for that as he'd put me in the hurt locker pretty much the entire ride. Brad decided to ride the second loop with me and we made a pact to keep it out of Z4 for the duration. We did a pretty good job of that, even crawling up the big climb headed west in the single digits. We traded some pulls back to the soccer hill where I gave into temptation and went all out one more time. Brad managed to hold himself in check so off the front I went. After the loop was done, I rolled back up to him before we parted ways.
I had a few hills left to work me over on the way home, but luckily most had a nice tailwind to push me along. The gradual grade from 63rd up Army Post always seems magical to me. It almost never fails that no matter how tired I am, I can easily push up that hill and often gain speed near the top. A scant 20 minutes or so later and I was back home. I'd managed to bag 2.5 hour, 42.5 miles at 17.4avg, and kept the heart running strong at 160bpm for the duration which is the top of my Z3. This early on in the season I feel pretty good about that kind of speed/duration especially on a cross bike with some knobby 32C tires.
I have a feeling I'm stilling going to get spanked pretty hard on the Tuesday night rides, but my hope is that I can at least hang on for the full loops on a regular basis this year. I made it exactly twice with the lead pack last year at the end of the season. One could also argue that the times I made it seemed to be slower nights. All I know is that it's good to be getting more riding outside than in finally.