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Article #8
Enjoining the Army

- SlingShot

Weakened rays of sunlight slanted through the chalky fog and highlighted riders strewn in disarray along the rise before us. Scattered about they all struggled to reach the summit.

Their numbers shocked me. I could never have imagined finding so many in this remote spot. The hill had caught them and held them for our arrival. Some seemed motionless standing on their cranks. Many were at odd angles to the slope: facing left and right they weaved diagonally up the groaning hill. Small groups were dispersed among the solo climbers which accented the lurching wobbling angles of ascent. There was no rhyme or reason. Road bikes amongst mountain bikes, touring bikes with panniers, riders dressed in full gear, riders dressed in street clothes. Some walked stumbling and pulled their bikes behind. 

We were many miles into the McQuade Fall Foliage Tour. The Monday Night Recovery riders know this climb as "Heart Attack Hill." I know it as several brutal bursts with a final insult near the top. It is preambled by a subtle half-mile grade that leaves the unwary wasted before the attack.

I was surrounded by three Army riders. We had come upon this littered crowd quickly and were now picking our way up through them.  I hoped they didn't know this route. It would be to my advantage.

I'd been on this slope every week all summer, and what I had learned would be decisive. If only I could crest the top without being dropped, I would fulfill a four-year goal: To hang with the West Point Team.

Reminding myself to be patient, I swiped two gears lower and spun into a slow build to anaerobic.

Just four years earlier I was on my first organized ride?The Tour de Goshen. My first time off the Heritage Trail, it was a cool sunny August morning, and I was stunned by the promise presented by the crisp new blacktop draped over the hills of Scotchtown Road. In amazed wonderment I was thinking, "I can actually take my bike out on the road. I can go anywhere!"

I was long since breathing hard along the flats of Stony Ford Road when I heard a couple of riders coming up behind, talking. When they finally passed, I redoubled my efforts to stay with them. A couple of miles later, just before the right turn onto 211 toward Montgomery, a few more riders joined us. The pace increased, and I was riding outside of myself.

All at once a blast of color and noise surrounded me. Countless riders passed over me like a dream of tropical fish in a chattering school. Furtive glances found multicolored spokes, exotic tires spinning on strange wheels, glinting helmets and unbelievable outfits. Extreme proximity, but just barely not touching. I gasped at how lightly they took the moment, as if disaster wasn't just millimeters away. They maintained conversation while I squeezed my twist shifters and held a straight line on the merest edge of the pavement. I fought not to panic and tumble off the road.

Then just as quickly as they'd engulfed me, they passed and were gone.

I stood, sprinted and held on for a few moments, but finally everything was silent. Then things seemed dead and colorless. Only the screaming in my head remained, "That was GREAT! Someday I'm going to ride with THOSE guys! I don't care WHAT it takes!"

A bit later a rider came by and said, "Did you see West Point?" So that's who they were.

The year after on the same ride, the same group reached me just after the hills on Hulsetown Road. Somebody barked, "You won't be able to lead. There are seven riders in the group. Just fall in behind."

I managed to hold on for a couple miles. Much later I opined how that barking sounded a lot like Sir Paul Levine (OCBC Pres at the time, whom I did not yet know), so sometimes I think it was actually the A's and not West Point. Doesn't much matter. All in all it's the same. My eye was on Army, and later that year I joined OCBC and began slingshotting the A's. Biding my time, laying in wait.

So this year at the McQuade Tour when I was with the B's as the front three West Point riders blasted by, it was time. I jumped and told the B's, "I'm going to go kick Army's ass." Everybody chuckled.

However I was still holding on ten miles later, half way up "Heart Attack Hill."

One of the Army riders was in front, one to my right side and one just behind and to the left. I had been very cagey in getting here. I knew this climb and knew I would have to be even cagier to make the top. I clicked down another gear maintaining my spin. I felt anaerobic approaching.

Try not to appear threatening. Another click down...spin, relax on the tops, click down, spin. Just thirty feet from the top. Hide in plain sight. Don't trigger an attack. Click. Full anaerobic. The two riders in front of me move a foot further ahead, and the third is still behind but now on my shoulder. Twenty feet click, click. No more gears. Spin. All three are now in front... stand push, push. Aargh! At the top I am ten feet behind.

As soon as I blew up they regrouped and immediately gained a hundred yards. Still, maybe I could catch up.

The next few miles of various turns and minor hills brought some relief and recovery. My three targets remained a bridgeable distance ahead. We were now in rolling hills. A long ascent showed I was slowly starting to gain back ground. At the top I was looking down a long straight gradual descent that troughed over to a similar gradual ascent on the other side. One of the riders reached for a water bottle. I hammered.

Rebounding off the bottom of the trough and up the opposite slope, I was soon on the paceline's wheel. However I was moving faster by 10 to 15 mph.

I pulled out and...SLINGSHOT'd 'em.

Before they could react I had a thirty-foot gap and was continuing to move away. Uphill (sort of) and just over 30 mph. I never felt stronger and figured I could keep it up all day. A few moments later I looked back to see how much distance I'd gained.

They were on my wheel!

With poise and restraint they had quietly slipped up behind me and were covertly monitoring the situation. No way to trip the triggers on these guys. They had the safeties on, and discipline. It wouldn't be long for me now, so I called, "Off" and drifted over. Maybe I'd have just enough left to hop on the back. As they drifted past I saw that a gap was open in front of the third rider. I looked at it twice then he kindly offered it to me. I moved in, glad to be out of the wind while still strong.

After that things got fast, and I lost track of the ride until a road sign woke me with, "Round Hill Road."

'This is the Thursday night ride," I thought, "where all summer Brian of the Irish Maniacs brutally schooled me in the art of sucking a desperate wheel. Yeehaa! I might survive."

When the lead rider finally complained of a loose bottle cage and stopped to deal with it, we were already on the approach to Goshen Road and the "Hamptonburg Alps." If we were going that way, I knew with total certainty that I would soon be finished; so I went on alone, hoping to have the first slope or two beneath me before being caught.

Thankfully the ride arrows soon pointed away from that route and took a kinder, gentler course. By the time I came upon St. Dennis and his friend finishing a shorter route, I could only gasp, "West Point's coming up fast behind."

As we turned onto 94 for the final leg into Washingtonville, Dennis said, "They're here. Get going."

Over my shoulder I saw more than a dozen riders dressed in black, gold and gray. I soft-pedaled until they caught up, then pushed with the leaders to the Winery, where I got boxed in behind the final sprint. By the time I finally got out in the open, three riders were just finishing a hundred yards in front of me.

Go Army!

You ask how a geezer of my advanced age and girth could hang with the West Point Team?


I used: every bit of four years determined conditioning, hard won knowledge and sophisticated guile while keeping as close to my aerobic threshold as humanly possible?a best effort.

While they: rode along easily talking, remained mostly unaware of my presence?took a nice day off.

As soon as we turned into the Winery, I looked back and saw (Shiftless) John Handago. He reported that after I left with the front riders, he jumped with the next group and hung with them while they eventually re-grouped for the end.

In the parking lot, Shiftless struck up a conversation with the team and invited them to OCBC Saturday morning rides. I took the time to quietly watch, listen and learn whatever I could about these riders, anything that might be useful in future encounters.

Very, very impressive, the way they carefully and kindly congratulated John and me on how well we rode, how they discussed elements of their bikes, maintained a truly communal (and co-ed) sense of teamwork and support. Each was uncommonly polite, thoughtful and engaged. All exuded a presence that reflected the highest standard of what you would hope from the best and brightest. It seemed each was constantly working the problem?all caution and coalition.

Maybe you had to be there. It's really true and hard to express what those West Pointers are like.

I thought, "These are people not to be trifled with. Anybody that tries to come up against these folks will be sorely tested. I'm sure glad today was just a recovery ride for them. I wouldn't want to face-off against them in all out competition. Teamed patience, skill and restraint. Yowsa! Unbeatable!"

In case you're wondering, I didn't hear a word of what they were talking about during the ride; and, even if I had, I wouldn't be at liberty to comment.



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this page last updated:
02/01/2015 10:38:45 PM

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