Pecking pain


In bicycling there is a simple pecking order:

Stronger Legged Rider > Weaker Legged Rider

And even though the order can reshuffle from ride to ride and from year to year, you basically know where you stand because when they chuck it in the big dog you either ride away from them or they ride away from you. These temporary reshuffles are painful when you’re the reshuffle-ee, but what’s really painful is when the reshuffle is permanent.

This is a function of too much beer, or not enough training, but usually it’s the inevitable result of not dying. If you don’t die long enough you will get reshuffled, first to the middle of the pack, then to the back of the pack, then off the back.

It’s funny how the re-ordering happens. There you are, enjoying yourself, comfortable and confident in your place, and you notice someone you’ve never seen before. New Rider proceeds to stuff you into the box and your first thought after “Who the hell is that?” is “DOESN’T THAT PERSON KNOW WHO I AM?”

Sadly, New Rider doesn’t know, and more sadly, doesn’t care. Big helping from the sadness dish all ’round.

Unwilling to cede your place to the upstart you respond but upstart doesn’t appear to realize that this is your Crushing Move Designed to Devastate All. In fact, upstart appears hardly to be breathing, or if he is breathing, you can’t hear it through the pounding of your own heart and the rasping of your own lungs.

This repeats itself on a couple of rides until you are battered into submission. But it’s only the beginning, because no sooner have you adjusted to New Rider than you notice New Rider #2. Then #3. Then finally it’s a small wolf pack of hungry, fanged animals and the only thing they know about you is that you’re old, you tire easily, you don’t have any snap, you’re not very good, and you’re easily dispensed with because the real battle is between themselves. Count yourself lucky if they acknowledge you with a nod.

The composition of our Donut Ride peloton has changed lately. The old guard has quit coming and has instead gone out to pasture on a new ride called Mellow Mandy, a name that speaks for itself. The former Young Turks are now longer in the tooth and have graduated to profamateur status. The ones who used to be masters racers are now hanging on for dear life, because the deck is being reshuffled with a hammer.

This past Saturday I found myself on the Switchbacks with Diego, Jules, RJ, and Frenchy #2. Wily and Joker had attacked at Malaga Cove and vanished. None of my cohorts was over 25, and two of them weren’t even 20. One wasn’t yet 17.

It was magical to watch them attack, rest, and attack again. Unlike Old Man Riding, where we get into a groove and try to hold it, they slashed, thrusting the needle deep into the red, then sat up. I’d count to five and they were totally recovered, attacking again or chasing down the counter that had gone when one rider swung over. You could physically see their recovery and their youth. Each time a rider sat up to recover, my effort would drop from 100% to 95%. His would go from 100% to 0.

By sitting on and praying I made it to the base of Crest. Frenchy #2 had gone off the back after his tenth full-on attack. A flurry of accelerations on the short wall put me off the back, too, and the upstarts rode away, not apparently tired or even strained from the previous 9-minutes of no-holds-barred riding.

Frenchy #2 caught me and immediately began attacking. I counted twenty efforts before he sat up for good, and of course I took the opportunity to douche him at the end. I mean, if he were my kid he’d be the third oldest.

Of course the bright side is that you can then find a different group to ride with, hopefully with non-dead-but-getting-there riders who are closer to death than you are and therefore the new pecking order establishes itself with you at or near the top. Mellow Mandy is sounding really, really good.



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