It seems to the Wheelsucker that he is not a Wheelsucker by choice but by necessity.
In a more perfect world the Wheelsucker would be strong, have some capability to follow surges and would even be strong enough to take serious pulls and occasionally attack. But it seems all the Wheelsucker can do is hang on while stronger riders pull, attack, close gaps, etc.
Though well known to his team mates as a Wheelsucker, one of the benefits of riding elsewhere is that the Wheelsucker is not known to be a wheelsucker. A few weeks ago he was in Guelph Ontario for the week visiting family, and decided to do the Thursday Speed River Cycling Club ride.
The Wheelsucker’s experience with group rides in Canada is limited: one donut ride and now two rides with SRCC, and that is over several years. But in Canada club rides generally require one to be a member, for insurance purposes. But one can ride a single ride with the club – presumably some sort of a try out – if one provides a signed waiver. The staff at the Speed River Cycling store assured the Wheelsucker the ride leader would have a waiver form, so did not print one off for the Wheelsucker as he requested.
So the Wheelsucker rolled out to the Guelph Public Library building near Watson Parkway and met some of the riders. The ride leader was there, but without waivers. The Wheelsucker was questioned, assured those listening that he was not, in fact, a lawyer, and wrote his name and address out for the ride leader.
The Thursday ride is apparently not quite as spirited as the Tuesday ride (the Wheelsucker had hung on for a Tuesday ride some years ago), and goes out in a clockwise double paceline rotation. One rider took the trouble of riding next to the Wheelsucker (until the first rotation) to ensure that the Wheelsucker “got it”. The Wheelsucker succeeded in not crashing anyone out; almost certainly the major concern.
The ride rolled out of town at a civilized pace. Every so often the leader of the left line would accelerate slightly and pull over to the right, in front of the leader of the right line. Everyone else in the left line would move up, and the last rider in the right line would slide over to the back of the left line.
This was considerably simpler than trying to alter the rotation everytime a turn in the road resulted in the crosswind coming from the other side, thought the Wheelsucker. And the truth is that despite having raced sailboats nearly all his life, the Wheelsucker is terrible at determining which way the wind is blowing, while he is on a bicycle.
Once out of the built up areas the ride proceeded smoothly. Eventually the Wheelsucker rotated to the back of the right line, over to the left, and worked his way up the left line until he was leading the left line. But the pace was not that high and the Wheelsucker focused on staying level with the rider to his right, and even managed to move over in front of that rider, when requested.
The Guelph surroundings are generally flat or rolling. Guelph is on the upper level of the Niagara escarpment, and any ride going down that and back up would have longer climbs (apparently this ride did not), but glaciation and creeks and rivers have sculpted the landscape and there are some short climbs. And the Wheelsucker hates short climbs where the strong riders simply push more watts and climb in their big rings.
The Wheelsucker was near the back for the first noticeably hard climb and was quickly struggling to stay one. While many of the riders were not racers, they all seemed to be stronger climbers than the Wheelsucker!
A young female rider positioned near the Wheelsucker was letting a small gap open, so the Wheelsucker moved closer and offered her a push. With his fading hearing the Wheelsucker was not certain of her reply, but gently pushed her back for a short time trying to get her back on; she made it back on, but the Wheelsucker was a little blown and had lost his position in line, and was now at the back, not necessarily a bad thing for a Wheelsucker.
A little later the Wheelsucker was nearer the front for another short climb, and tried to convince the leaders to ease up for a moment, ostensibly so the female rider – who was again dangling just a few bike lengths back – could make it back on. But the truth is the Wheelsucker needed the breather! The battle cry of a tiring Wheelsucker is, “don’t drop the pretty women!”
But that climb seemed to be the start of a faster and harder portion of the ride, and the group started to shrink slowly over the next few miles. The Wheelsucker continued to rotate clockwise with the others and take pulls when he arrived at the front, but his turns were considerably shorter. And eventually the clockwise rotation stopped, it became a single file line, and several strong riders were driving the pace at the front.
The Wheelsucker was digging deep making very short hard efforts to close the small gaps that occasionally opened to the rear wheel in front of him. The stop signs at intersections – the area is laid out on a grid with township roads at regular intervals – were a God-send, as the group would ease up and coast into the intersection, stop, and the Wheelsucker would gasp some air, recover a little and then grab a wheel again as the group accelerated away.
A rider ahead of the Wheelsucker was letting the strong riders into line ahead of him, such that that rider, the Wheelsucker who was on his wheel, and anyone left behind (the group continued to shrink) were no longer rotating to the front and taking pulls.
This was fine with the Wheelsucker, who was completely focused on hanging on. The Wheelsucker normally relies on Googlemaps on his smart phone to get him back when dropped, but he does not have a data plan in Canada, so had no idea at all which direction Guelph was in. Being dropped could have been grim!
One rider in particular seemed to be able to pull really hard for nearly forever, but eventually he would pull off and let one or two others pull for a while, before he got back on the front and drove the pace hard.
And the, towards the end of the ride, a rider pulled up alongside the Wheelsucker and told him about the climb coming up. “You’ll be able to big ring it”, he said. One more turn, and there it was. OMIGOD. The Wheelsucker went in third wheel, ramped up the power as others did, and then going as hard as an aging Wheelsucker can go, was quickly gapped.
It seemed the worst situation; the leaders were together, and the Wheelsucker was well back by the top of the climb. But the situation was not quite lost, as there were a few riders close behind the Wheelsucker, though by the top of the climb all the oxygen available was going to the Wheelsucker’s legs, and none to his brain, so he did not look behind him to find this out!
The Wheelsucker caught his breath quickly, put his forearms on the bar tops to be as aero as possible and went to Wheelsucker pursuit mode.
It turns out that a desperate chasing Wheelsucker may not be able to hold 600 watts long enough to stay on for a climb, but he can chase hard at 300-330 watts when really desperate. And the Wheelsucker was REALLY desperate. One rider was on his wheel, so after his first pull the Wheelsucker flicked his elbow and pulled over. The second rider pulled at a high cadence while the Wheelsucker gasped for air in the draft.
All too soon the Wheelsucker was on the front again for another pull. Despite their best efforts, the gap to the 6-7 riders up the road was not closing. But a few more riders had chased onto the Wheelsucker’s pair (interesting considering the Wheelsucker thought they were going as hard as they could), and several of them were now contributing to the chase.
It is not clear if the few desperate riders chased back on, or if the lead group eased up and let the gap close, but the groups recombined. A very grateful Wheelsucker sat in at the back gasping for air.
After an all-too-short recovery the Wheelsucker noticed riders maneuvering for position. This was looking like a sprint!! (Note, the Wheelsucker learned later that sprints are not allowed on this ride, so the Wheelsucker may have been mistaken). None-the-less, there were attacks, chasing, following and then what looked JUST LIKE A SPRINT to the Wheelsucker.
Not being a sprinter (not close at all), not knowing what the finish line (if there was in fact a finish line) was, the Wheelsucker simply picked what looked like a strong wheel and followed. And then there was a stop sign, the group eased up and stopped, turned left and pulled into a driveway.
That was it.
As riders chatted, stragglers pedaled in to join the group. This group ride ended here, not at the starting point, and riders rolled off alone or in small groups to head home. Unsure of where he was the Wheelsucker followed three riders that were going back to near where the Wheelsucker’s sister lived (and where his car was parked), which conveniently allowed him to not pull any more. The rider who had taken the hardest pulls during the ride was the one leading this small group.
As they neared downtown Guelph, the Wheelsucker recognized where he was, and realized he had survived the Speed River Cycling Club Thursday ride, without being dropped and abandoned somewhere in rural Ontario.
Thanks for the rider-members of the Speed River Cycling Club!