I wanted to take myself out on the bike Sunday morning but get back in time to watch Versus, the cycling channel, and the finish of Stage 14 (115 miles) of the Tour de France, the first day in the Pyrenees. About 10 AM the leaders had 25 miles to ride before the finish in Ax 3 Domaines with a 3000 foot climb before them; while my ride, 17.5 miles, was on the relative flats around Goshen. It would take us about an hour to finish our rides: me here, riding slower but shorter and flatter; the peloton there, riding faster but longer and climbing. However, if I rode quickly I hoped to get back before the riders started streaming across the finish line as the final ascent would slow them.
I was riding well, but not as fast as I'd hoped; I might miss seeing the stage winner. I could feel strain in my glutes as I pedaled.
With about 4 miles to go, I was passed on a slight downhill—so I did what I do, strain or not—I sped up and stayed with the passing rider, wondering if he would maintain his speed on the slight grade coming up as I watched his head bob—a sign of stress—he was probably riding faster than he normally does, but so was I.
Here came the grade: he slowed a little—my heart was pounding but I had to go—"Passing," I said when I accelerated around him to take the lead. I had to maintain what I thought to be an unpassable pace until the end no matter what my heart rate was or was to become. And I did.
At the last mile marker—my finsh line—I recorded the time on my Garmin cycle computer and backed off the pedals; I rode slower to cool down over the 1/4 mile ride to my door; as I turned off the trail, I heard from behind me, "Hey thanks, man." I yelled back, "Yeah, yeah..."
At home I saw that I'd recorded another season best: 16 miles in 53 minutes and 53 seconds; well over a minute faster than the previous best time recorded last Sunday and only 13 seconds slower than my all-time best recorded in 2008. I should have thanked him.
Sweat dripping from my nose, with the AC roaring, I sat down before the TV to watch the last 2 miles of the Tour drinking from a gallon of Poland Spring.
"...Christophe Riblon of France attacked early to out-run Mark Cavendish and the other sprinters winning the stage, finishing in 4 hours, 52 minutes, 43 seconds; ahead of Denis Menchov of Russia and Samuel Sanchez of Spain. Andy Schleck of Luxembourg was 4th but retained the yellow jersey with a 31 second lead on main rival, and last year's Tour victor, Alberto Contador of Spain."
These professional riders are fast (they can ride more than twice as fast as I can on a level road)—all legs and lungs—almost "superhuman" with an incredible tolerance of pain. Now that Lance is out of contention, behind by 39 minutes due to crashes and bike breakdowns, I'm pulling for Andy.
I ride 52.5 miles a week in 3 outings. Normally I ride in the evening after tending the sheep but today because of the heat, I rode my 16.0 timed miles (with warm-up & cool-down: 17.47 miles) this morning, leaving the house about 9:30 AM with the temperature already in the upper 70's on its way to a mid-day high of 90F.
The first 12 miles of the ride were easy: three fast 4 mile splits, but on the 4th split I slowed at bit because I was riding into a head wind. And as it happened, another rider passed me. He said, "Good day," going by. A little surprised, as I didn't see him coming up on me, I nodded, yes, it is a good day.
Being passed is in some ways inspirational: I speed up and follow the rider staying about 3-4 bike lengths behind him, letting him do the front work of cutting the air, riding at a pace that is faster (today, an average of 17.5 MPH) than my normal speed (16.0 MPH) for that stretch of the trail. Being passed proves that I can ride faster.
Sunday I ride my road bike early in the morning on the Heritage Trail to avoid the families of riders who weave back and forth being a danger to other riders and to themselves.
I ride 16 miles, split into 4 mile laps, measured and timed with my Garmen 305 Edge GPS, recording my heart rate and my pedal cadence too. I enter this data into a spreadsheet. Some days I ride hard when I feel strong, but most days I tell myself "I'm tired, I work, I'm a farmer..." and dog it a little bit, until I come up upon a rider in front of me who I must pass, like a mountain to climb, because he's there.
This Sunday, 3 miles into what I thought was going to be an easy ride—there he was—the rider in front of me. I came up on him staying 20 feet back for a quarter mile measuring my breath—I knew what I was going to do—I geared down, pedaled faster, sped up and passed him then geared up—not looking back—I pushed it, so he couldn't pass me back.
I was off again, flying, riding hard, tired—beyond pain—I felt pure.
My Garmen recorded the 1st 4 mile split in 13:59. That's fast for me, but the next 4 miles is slightly uphill. Yet I can't waste a good first split so I tell myself, "Stay on it and see how you feel." My heart rate climbed to 155 but I still felt like I had something left for the steepest part between mile 6 and 7 and recorded the split in 15:15—good for the climb—then I turned round and headed home: what was uphill & slow is now downhill & fast. I rode the next 4 mile split in 11:58, sometimes going over 20 MPH but with my heart rate dropping into the 130's, resting. For the last 4 miles I knew all I had to do was hang on and keep my speed above 16 MPH on the uphill portions and I'd have my season best:
16 miles in a time of 0:55:42 at an average speed of 16.2 MPH with an average heart rate of 145 BPM at an average pedal cadence of 75 RPM.
This is about 2 minutes slower than my all time personal best from last year, but it's June, young is the riding season, and I am inspired by watching the Tour de France coming up in July on TV. Later in the Summer, I'll be stronger and I know I'll find a steeper mountain in front of me, and take him out.
Today finishes the day 3 of lambing; one would expect twenty lambs on the ground now, but we have one: ram lamb number 001 to be exact. We should be busy in the lambing barn; instead we wait. Most of the ewes are bagging up (showing udder development) and they are due, have been due, will be due...all twenty plus ten more will lamb tomorrow; I'm as sure of this today as I was sure of it yesterday.
The sheep are not worried so why should I be; they're laying around in the warm sun, ruminating on something pleasant—what I don't know—but each has a peaceful, lost-in-thought expression like my brother Kirk had when he sat across the kitchen table from me at breakfast, eating Shredded Wheat with milk and sugar, dreaming about the Indian lore he read on the cards from inside the Nabisco box.
With the weather this afternoon, I decided to take my Cannondale Synapse out for its maiden ride on the Heritage Trail. The tires needed air after not having ridden the bike there since October; the branches overhanging the trail are barren now, but the buds will redden and the leaves will burgeon green—like me, the trees are waiting.