On the day of the Tour of Flanders, my team went out to Pennsylvania farm country to race the Fawn Grove Roubaix. A look at the course profile showed me stuff I liked to see - hardpack, some steep climbs but not too much. Excellent, I thought. I think I'm better at that stuff than most other people. Me and a carful of teammates - all hard knock New York City bike racers - rolled in early and went off to drive the course and immediately thought, "Wow." The hardpack was gravel. The short steep climbs were really steep. And on gravel. The turns were sharp, and... in deep gravel. The roads had few clean lines. "This might be a shitstorm."
I prerode the first mile - rollers, a gentle descent, and a narrow 90 degree downhill turn onto gravel. Easing in to it was still too fast and I rode off the road. Auspicious. When the race began, the entire field had been warning each other about this turn. Nobody wanted anybody to hotrod in to it and take out half the field, so everybody was careful.
And then the pace immediately exploded.
The first six miles was spent flying along hardpack at thirty miles per hour, and then struggling up some extremely steep gravel climbs. And in those long, fast early miles I had some strange thoughts. Why am I doing this? Is this fun? I need a new hobby. This is ridiculous.
It hurt, it just hurt, it all hurt. All that before I flatted just 16 miles in.
The wheel truck was empty, the riders were flying by, but I had a tube. But the race was over - just another two brutal laps of premature exhaustion and general pain, and some company when I met up with a crashed teammate. We pace each other and rode home for 14th and 15th in a 60-rider field, over half of whom did not finish.
It would be lovely to say that we were back there because we tore the group apart so that our teammate, William, could get into that lead group - which he was - but it wasn't because of us. It's because he's strong, he's smart, and he was right where he needed to be in order to work with a handful of other frontrunners, steadily reeling in the lone leader, until they caught him toward the end of the last lap. And then William unleashed his surprising sprint and won the damn race by half a wheel.
Bicycle writers love to talk about suffering. I realized that I've hurt on a bike - I've gotten off with shakey legs, I've groaned through accelerations at the end of a long day. I've bent over and dry-heaved after big sprint efforts at the track. But I had never been in a situation where I'd felt so brutalized on the bicycle and had to continue, had to go through it, with it. Hurting is what you feel afterward. Suffering is when it's really bad and it's not going to go away for a while.
Next up is Battenkill, of course.