A medium sized group was gathered in the Davidsonville Park and Ride, with Eric Boone, Stu Waring, Steve Owens and Devon Baummer probably the strongest riders. The group rolled out and was joined by a couple more.
The Wheelsucker always starts the ride worried about making it up Harwood Hill with the leaders, fearing he will be dropped. He either wants to jump away early and have a big head start for this climb (very risky, as he could easily be caught before the climb and start with the group, already tired), or sit in and conserve as much energy and hope that he can hold on to the top of the climb, if the strong riders go hard.
But even the Wheelsucker couldn’t avoid rotating to the front, and he took a decent pull on Patuxent River road, to the 214 intersection. The traffic light was red so the group stopped and waited for the green. When the light turned green Devon Baummer and Eric Boone were the first across, along with the Wheelsucker, who had not yet rotated back after his pull. Eric accelerated.
No one in the rest of the group seemed to be paying attention. The Wheelsucker accelerated to catch Eric’s wheel and motioned to Devon to come along. Almost before anyone else in the group noticed, Eric was pulling the three of them clear as a small gap opened.
It would have been risky for the Wheelsucker to make a hard effort before Harwood Hill, but having someone ELSE make a hard effort while the Wheelsucker followed in the draft was fine. The Wheelsucker encouraged Eric to go, telling him they had a gap. And Eric went. Not as hard as Eric can go, but the speed increased.
So far so good, thought the Wheelsucker. But riders in the group behind had seen the danger and were reacting. The Wheelsucker was second wheel following Eric and not looking behind him, but the group behind was chasing hard. Devon was on the Wheelsucker’s wheel, having a snack. Eric was not going quite as hard as he could, and the gap was soon closed by another rider.
Soon after Eric swung off the front to recover, leaving the Wheelsucker on the front. He checked behind him, saw that they had been caught, and was immediately not interested in making anything resembling a hard effort. He pulled off almost immediately – shameful! – and drifted back along the line, to join Eric near the back.
Riders continued to rotate off the front after taking pulls, and going into the dip where the Patuxent River occasionally floods Patuxent River Road. The front riders were riding steady-hard and did not slow at all on the short steep section climbing out of the dip. Uncle Bob took it easier slowing slightly on the steep section and opening a gap between him and Stu’s rear wheel. The Wheelsucker was nervous and worried about Steve and Stu’s strength, so came around Uncle Bob and glued himself to Stu’s wheel.
As the group continued past the Sands road intersection, Devon, Jeff, and a non-ABRT (club) rider took their pulls and peeled off to the back of the line. Steve took a hard pull part way to Harwood Hill and pulled off. A little later Tom pulled off. Just before the start of the Harwood Hill climb the non-ABRTer came back. Then Stu took over and pulled steady-hard up Harwood Hill.
Stu was going hard enough that the Wheelsucker was regretting his second-wheel position and wishing he was a few places further back in line for more of a draft effect. But not even a nearly shameless Wheelsucker can pull out of line and drop back a few places, one has to at least rotate to the front and pull through and over…
Stu continued up Harwood Hill, going harder to keep the speed up on the steeper sections. The Wheelsucker was suffering, but holding on. But by the time they reached the short flat section before the last part of the climb, the Wheelsucker was in big trouble. Stu was not in trouble at all, and continued up the last steep part while the Wheelsucker — cross-eyed and blowing snot-bubbles — going as hard as he could, could do nothing as the gap to Stu’s wheel opened.
A quick glance behind revealed that the pace had been hard enough that Uncle Bob had lost the Wheelsucker’s wheel and was dangling, with most of the group behind Uncle Bob. But Eric and Devon emerged from that group, went around Uncle Bob, and rode past the Wheelsucker to Stu’s wheel. One of them encouraged the Wheelsucker to make one more effort, as they rode past.
The Wheelsucker was desperate. Three of the strongest riders in the group were together going up the road. Digging deep into his limited reserves a suffering Wheelsucker somehow closed the gap to Devon’s wheel as the incline eased to false flat and tried to hang on.
But then Eric decided to make his play. Despite Stu’s hard pace at the front, and having to come around Bob and cross the gap, Eric was still feeling fresh. And he wanted to get rid of some of the riders in the group; in particular, one riding a Triathlon/Time Trial bike who apparently had been a little inconsistent riding in the middle of the group, in the aero bars.
So Eric came around Stu and accelerated. Stu was strong enough to follow his wheel, and Devon hung on to Stu. That left a spent Wheelsucker trying to somehow pedal harder than he had been, to hold Devon’s wheel.
The gap quickly opened. The group disappeared behind and was out of site behind a curve by the time the leaders flew past Lankford Road. After an amazing pull, Eric pulled over; no one else would take up the pace, so Eric got back on the front and continued to drive the break.
Then Steve, his face a mask of pain, lost the Wheelsucker’s wheel, was gapped, and despite going as hard as he could, slowly fell back. Finally, with the chasing group out of site and even Steve receding into the distance, Eric pulled off the front, slid down the left side and pulled in behind the Wheelsucker.
The Wheelsucker muttered “holy [expletive deleted]” as Eric slid past. But there was no respite because Stu took over and drove the pace, and was followed by Devon.
It was all over well before the right turn onto the route 2 shoulder. The four lead riders were clear with no chasers in site.
So it was going to come down to a sprint, thought the Wheelsucker. Stu was on the front going hard. Eric was on his wheel, with the Wheelsucker at the back. As they went up the false flat to the finish line, just before Governor Bridge Road, the Wheelsucker was expecting Stu to jump, or Eric to jump left around Stu, but neither moved.
The Wheelsucker could not stand the suspense and jumped left from third wheel. Neither Stu nor Eric responded and the Wheelsucker stood up and sprinted as hard as an aging, tired Wheelsucker can sprint, and crossed the line first.
It was shameless, after taking short pulls and hanging on while the other two did all of the work, nearly being dropped and chasing back on as the other two eased up for him, the Wheelsucker had the temerity to sprint around them for the “win”.
The Wheelsucker doubted he had been the third-strongest rider in the group, but whoever WAS the third strongest rider was not there at the finish, and the Wheelsucker was …
Back in the P&R, all the familiar cars — driven by other ABRTers — were gone. Eric, Stu and the Wheelsucker concluded the others had shortcut and were long gone.
NO ONE HAD BEEN CHASING THEM. All that hard pedaling was for no good reason.