My ride with Lance

Wow, what a ride!  This morning I rolled out of bed at 4:30 to get ready for the LiveStrong Challenge 90 mile ride.  We had to make sure we had everything packed up and loaded on the Hincapie bus so the bus could leave directly from the ride location.  All we need to have is the one carry-on bag to take on the plane.

It took me a little figuring to decide how to do that.  I think I have it down so that I won’t have any fluids.  The LiveStrong messenger bag we got at registration should be able to hold everything.  All my other luggage went on the bus that is heading toward Greenville even as I type this.  Joe and Joey Sullivan are going to drive pretty much straight through.

We tried to get everyone away at 5:15.  A couple of riders were a little late getting out to our van so the bus left without us.  Matt headed off down the road to find them.  Unfortunately, it turned out we were going the wrong way.  Matt did a sliding u-turn to get us back on the chase.  Okay, so it was a three point turn, but it felt like a donut!

We caught them on 290 and settled in behind the bus.  Good!  We wouldn’t be late.  It did take a while to get out to Dripping Springs, TX where the ride would be held.  As we pulled up, it was like arriving at the fair.  People were waving flags everywhere trying to direct the traffic.

The bus was at a disadvantage because it is larger and pulls a trailer.  It couldn’t be parked just anywhere.  The flag folks directed him to head toward the place where buses would park.  Matt was determined to stay right with him.

“You have to turn here,” the guy with the flag said.

“We’re with them,” Matt responded.

“But you have to park here,” the guy said almost with tears in his voice.

“Okay,” said Matt as he put the van in gear and continued to follow the bus.

That allowed us to park right up by the bus, which was nice.  That is where our bikes and other stuff was.  It would not have been good to have had to walk several miles from that parking lot to the bus!

After getting unloaded and set up, I headed up to the start.  There were thousands of cyclists out there!  I believe the total number was over 3200 of them.

I kept working my way up through the 90 mile group so that I could get up close to the front.  I didn’t want to have to work through all of those people in front.  Arthur was there.  That made me happy.  He is a smart rider with better conditioning than I.  If I was smart, I would stick with him and learn a thing or two… if I was smart!

Lance Armstrong and his group started out first.  After they left, the Ride for the Roses folks took off.  Those are the people who have given the most money in the fight against cancer.  Finally, it was our time to start.

Arthur told me that the first 10 miles would be pretty wild.  Well, he took off and before I knew it, I couldn’t see him!  He was slicing and dicing and making his way toward the front.  For me, it took a little longer to find the openings, but I was able to catch up with him.

It wasn’t long after that we came up on the group led by Lance.  It was cool to be out there riding while rubbing elbows with Kevin Livingston, Taylor Phinney and his dad Davis, as well as Lance Armstrong.  There were some other pros and former pros out there, but I didn’t know enough about who was who to know all the names.

Then I found myself up in a breakaway of three riders.  We were moving along at a pretty good pace.  It allowed us to stop and take a natural break.  Just as we were finishing up, the group came over the hill and we were able to get back in.  Looking back, that was very important because there were no more breaks for the rest of the ride!

At that point, I just marked Lance and his guys.  I knew they would ditch me in a heart beat and getting in a breakaway was pretty stupid.  I faded in and started working within the group to conserve.

The roads were incredibly rough.  They were rough asphalt roads going through hilly ranch country.  We had to cross multiple cattle guards.  That was another nice thing about riding in this group.  We were clicking along at 22 to 26 mile per hour and I felt entirely comfortable because I was confident that these guys knew what they were doing.

Then we hit a wide smooth road.  We had just climbed and things were leveling off and the moderately rolling.  I found myself off the front in another breakaway.  However, it wasn’t just any breakaway… I was in a five man pace line with Lance Armstrong!  We were rolling at over 30 mph.  The line kept rotating and at one point as I came around I could feel that Lance was looking over to see who his interloper was hanging with his boys.

Finally, I reached the point where I felt if we did one more rotation I would be spit out the back.  Lucky for me, the riders eased up at that point.  I was able to slide back again and rest a bit.  It was a good thing, the roads got rough again and the hills returned.  Hey, don’t think all of Texas is flat!

My next encounter with Lance came after a climb.  Everyone was riding in a double pace-line.  The way this works is two riders ride up front and when they are done leading the group, they split and the next two riders move up to the front to lead for a while.  As we reached the top of a climb and we came to a turn, the lines shuffled and I led the group into the turn by myself.

As soon as we turned, I could see a long hill ahead — probably 200 yards or more.  Then I sensed someone rolling up to my left.  It was Lance.  We started to pull the group together.

I looked over and said, “Hello from Greenville, SC.”  He smiled and said, “Oh, you rode here with that group?  George told me about you guys.”  We talked a little more about the Challenge to Conquer Cancer Ride and then he said, “I’ll have to e-mail George and tell him I rode with you.”  At that point, we were about 50 yards from the top of the climb.  I said, “I’m going to pull off up at the top.  Being up here is a little out of my league.”  Lance replied, “Hey, you’re working harder than me.  Just ease up and take it easy.  There are a lot of hills up on this next section.”  “Thanks for the warning,” I said, “I think I’ll just fade back and rest up for them.”

Okay, I know I was stupid.  I wasn’t naive to think that I was going to be finishing with the front group.  However, how many times do you get to ride in a five man pace-line with a seven time Tour de France winner?  It isn’t everyday you get to pull a group of riders with Lance Armstrong as your partner.  At that point, I was fine getting dropped when the time came.

It did come.  The group had shrunk to no more than 30 riders as we neared the final 20 miles.  We neared a sag stop where there were a whole bunch of people from other rides standing by the road.  Arthur had overheard something I didn’t hear and he made sure he gapped the field before we reached the SAG.

I learned why as I moved through the crowd.  Lance had sent some of his boys up the road (Arthur was marking them) and as he moved through the crowd he drew a lot of attention.  It clogged the road and I had to slow.  Then as soon as we where through the zone, Lance took off for his “protectors.”  By the time I made it through, there was already a good sized gap.  I knew right then I was dropped.

Arthur was still up there, though I never saw him again.  He said he was dropped not long after I was, but he was able to hang with some other riders and finished the entire ride in the top 10.  For awhile, I was all alone.  That was tough.  I kept trying to keep up my pace, but I was fighting negative thoughts.  Thankfully, before long, three guys who had stopped at the SAG came moving around me.  I fell in line.

We worked together pretty well.  However, I was feeling a cramp coming in my left calve.  The good news is that it worked itself out and I actually started feeling better and better as we continued to pace ourselves.  Before I knew it, we were pulling into the finish!

I believe my finish was in the top 15 or 20.  My Garmin was driving me nuts on the ride as it kept losing the satellite signal.  Because of that, I’m not exactly sure what my finish time was, but best I can figure I finished the 90 miles between 3 hours and 45 minutes and 4 hours.  We averaged over 22.5 mph for the entire ride!

What a day!  Now it is all over.  Still, I have some great memories of this week.  What a ride to cap it off!