I didn’t ride with Lance

Last week my teammates and I did a lot of riding:  100 plus miles on the beautiful Natchez Trace – in the dark, 80+ wonderful miles through the walking horse country of Tennessee, dozens of miles here and there, and – not to be overlooked – 85 miles that included 2.5 hours through tropical storm Rick.  However, the miles I was looking forward to all week were those in Austin when I would once again try to catch Lance Armstrong during the LiveSTRONG Challenge.

I did it last year. A few of us riders took off from the start and caught Armstrong about 15 minutes into the ride. It was a once and a life time experience – at least I know that now!

This year I took off once again to relive the excitement of the past. Fifteen minutes into the ride there was no Lance and my teammates who started with me were no longer around me.  One succumbed to cramps and another to a mechanical. I wasn’t sure of the status of the third.  All I knew is that I was hurting and trying to stay with about 6 other riders who were putting the hammer down.

My mind went back to last year when I was on the super team of the Palmetto Peloton Project. We had a strong collection of riders and I came to Austin much fresher that year. It was a different experience entirely. That year we gloried in our strength – and I loved it. It culminated with enough reserves in the tank to ride with Lance.

Here I was again in 2009 trying to bring back some of that magic. I kept hanging on to the chase group knowing that if I could stay there then the crud would pass and catching Lance would still be a possibility. I was right.  Twenty miles into the ride I was starting to feel better.  I took my turns on the front and then slid back to recover.

Nearing mile 24, I was on the front.  We were going through a small town when we came to an intersection with some policemen directing traffic.  It wasn’t clear what we were supposed to do.  I motioned to the guardians to give me a signal of how to continue you.  They waved us directly ahead.

We then approached another one.  There was on policeman on duty here and I motioned to him for a sign as well.  He made a small motion with his hand and in a split second I realized I misread his signal.  He told us to go right.  I continued straight.

Unfortunately for me, all the other riders were paying better attention to the road markers.  They whizzed through the turn and took off.  The one guy who went straight with me got turned around faster and took off after them.  By the time I got back to the turn, the group was out of sight.

I chased to get back on.  However, I knew at that point it was fruitless. To be honest, I knew it was going to be tough the day before when I went for an easy spin around the city of Austin. A couple of times I gave my legs a test, but the screamed back at me and simply did not offer me any power.

My team this year was much different. Most of them had taken up cycling just recently. I was not on the “super-team” this year. My miles from Greenville to Austin included a fair amount of pulling my teammates through headwinds. There simply was not enough fuel left in the tank. Had I been able to catch Lance, I probably wouldn’t have been able to stay with him because I would have shot my wad to get there.

Now, does that mean that this wasn’t as good of a week? No – not by any means. It was simply different. This year’s team gloried in each new accomplishment – and we loved it. This year it wasn’t about me going fast with a bunch of racers. It was about watching relatively new cyclists grow by going farther than they thought they could. It was with pleasure and a sense of ownership that I pulled them (not to say they didn’t work hard!)

All alone somewhere in cattle country of Dripping Springs, Texas I had opportunity to think through these things. Finally, some other riders came along and swallowed me up. I gladly jumped into their pace line and began to think that while I might not catch Lance, at least I could get a good finish.

Will Flanagan was in the group and we stuck together for many miles. I owe him big time. Here I was the “racer” the “Lance chaser” and I was trash. Will had to pull me along. He didn’t complain when I began to ask to stop at the various SAG stops along the way.

Then with around ten miles to go I came upon Sally Dunn.  I knew it was her because she had her pink cape on.  As we approached her we called out her name.  “Oh, hi, Jonathan! Your wife is just ahead!”

One thing I didn’t mention is that my beautiful redhead decided on Friday to do the 45 mile ride of the LiveSTRONG Challenge! She had never ridden over 20 miles in her life and here she was biting off quite a piece of cycling! I was a little concerned knowing the rolling nature and rough roads of the Dripping Springs area.

I caught her and we began to ride together. She was doing her best, but after the 20 mile mark she was starting to have some pain in her knees.  She was really suffering up the hills. It caused me to slow down to nearly a coast.

Rider after rider passed me.  Racer types, overweight types, older riders, and kids finishing their shorter distances.  I recognized some of them from pace lines I had left behind earlier in the day. My competitive nature cringed as I watched them leave me in the dust.

I urged Annette on and we continued together. Rather than being frustrated about being passed, I put my focus on the fact that she was doing this for me. She isn’t a cyclist. She doesn’t want to be one. However, she wanted to experience this with me.

We rolled into the finishing shoot together.  She was hurting so badly that she couldn’t put much pressure on the pedals. I looked back and she gave me a smile through a painful grimace. I finished my 90 and she her 45 together.

No, I didn’t ride with Lance. I rode with Annette — and I grew to love every minute of it.

For memories sake, I am also including last year’s video.