Steady As You Go

Distance: 35.9 mi.

Time: 1:41:48

Avg. speed: 21.15 mph

Weather: 77-75º, 65-84% humidity, wind W5-S1, partly cloudy

July mileage total: 492 miles

Song stuck in head: Songs From the Wood - Jethro Tull

After a decent trainer session yesterday, I felt quite ready for today's MRC Wednesday ride. There was much constructive discussion on the MRC forum about how to conduct oneself in the paceline and we set out to refine our technique on the road. Not least was the issue of safety and dealing with traffic.

A group of about 10 (Smudger, Bob Crane, Della, Michael Cole, Carl, Chris, Jonathan, Tom?, Stephan and I) left the parking lot shortly after 6pm and started up Red Acre Road. In no time at all, somebody dropped their only waterbottle and decided not to go back for it. I gave him one of mine as we rolled along.

Meanwhile, Smudger had suddenly trailed far behind us. We continued onto S. Acton Road where Smudger appeared with the guy's water bottle (there is a shortcut).

We proceeded along our regular route, going a bit faster than usual for the early part of the ride, but staying single file with each rider taking about a one minute turn at the front. As we crossed over Rtes. 495 and 2, the pull was fine tuned to 30 sec. each.

I was relieved to take the lead position as we pulled into Littleton Station, guaranteeing I wouldn't be in front as we started up Oak Hill. The paceline broke up pretty much as soon as we got going up, I was with a group of 5 riders in the front: Smudger, Stephan, Carl, me and one other rider (Tom?). Michael faded back to join the group that set out from the parking lot a few minutes after ours.

We stayed together as a group for about half the climb but the group frayed after that as Smudger, Tom and Stephan pedaled ahead. Carl and I traded places a few times on the way and eventually I caught and passed Stephan. Near the top, Carl called out some encouraging words just as I was starting to slow up a bit - that did the trick, I got out of the saddle and maintained my 3rd man up the hill position. Not a bad showing!

At Pinnacle, where we stopped to regroup, Smudger took the opportunity to organize our paceline more tightly: instead of the lead rider peeling off the front and drifting to the back on his/her own, we were now to peel off AS SOON as the previous lead rider called out "clear" and drift back just in front of them. In other words, we were going to create two pacelines: one on the right that was always pulling forward and one just to the left always drifting back.

This achieved three things: 1) we now a paceline that was about half the length of the one we had before 2) riders finished with their pull got a rest sooner as the next lead rider would be providing them with a draft almost right away 3) it was much easier to latch on to the back wheel of the right-hand paceline

Smudger also opined that for passing drivers, since our group was now about the length and width of a car, folks would be more comfortable passing us than 10 riders in a straight line.

We started out this new configuration along the top of the hill, very slowly at first, but began the descent down Old Littleton Road almost immediately, which broke up the group. We regrouped after we crossed Rte. 111 and got onto Depot Road.

As we grew more comfortable with the new arrangement, I really felt the benefits. We made our way up the Fruitlands climb nicely but near the top, I made a clumsy shift and dropped my chain but was able to catch up on the descent towards Rte. 110 were we regrouped again.

The next climb saw the group break up into smaller bunches again but gather together once we were on Bolton Road. Again, I was able to stay with the first 3 or 4 other riders along the way. On Bolton Road, we really seemed to have it down pretty well, smoothly cycling through the group, one-at-a-time and maintaing a really good pace.

The subsequent descents back into Stow saw us spread out a bit but regroup on the lower part of Stow Road and again after the short, steep section of Taylor. Once on the top of Taylor, the pace quickened noticeably, with pretty much everyone knowing that sprints might occur at any time from here on in. Sure enough, Smudger took off about 2/3 the way along Taylor with a few of us in pursuit.

Regrouping once again when we got onto S. Acton Road, I wanted to be ready for the next jump that was likely to occur but not endanger myself or other riders by being boxed in by the paceline when I made my move. Well, it seemed I was not the only one with that thought as the paceline dissolved enough to provide room to make a break for it.

Boom, off went Smudger to the left of all of us with Stephan and Carl on his wheel. I latched onto Carl's, pedaling at 130 rpm and hoping to shift down to pass him but ran out of gas after a couple of hundred yards (must do more sprint intervals!). Stephan flagged at about the same time leaving Smudger and Carl up ahead.

Usually, the ride back along Red Acre is done at an easy pace, but it seemed we enjoyed our new paceline skills so much that we fairly cranked it the whole way back, split into two smaller groups. Once back at the parking lot, there was a lot of positive feedback about what we had just done.

Hats off to Smudger for taking the leadership role tonight and helping to lift us all up a notch or two, it was a very fun ride.

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