I am 9 minutes slower than Captain America

The bicycle has allowed me to do some pretty incredible things over the last decade. As I look back, racing has been a part of it, but my greatest memories haven’t happened in competition. They center around people, places and events associated with helping others. I’m talking about “charity rides.” Well, I have another thing to add to my “that was incredible!” list.

Definitely one to add to the "that was incredible list!" (photo Eddie J. Helton)

As you know, I signed up to ride in the Stars and Stripes Challenge as a way to remember my friend Michael T. McCaskill and raise money for the fight against cancer. The ride is scheduled for Monday and I’m still planning to roll out with everyone that morning. However, something I didn’t expect came my way.

Because of the generosity of those supporting me in the cause, I was given the opportunity to race the USA Cycling Professional Time Trial Championship course. At 9:49 AM Saturday morning, I was slated to start from the same ramp that the pros would use at 11:30 AM. There would be a dozen of us rolling off to see how fast we could make it around the course.

I had no idea how I would do. I really didn’t care about where I fell within the group. What I wanted was to get the best time I could and then see how that would measure up to the pros. In my mind, I was thinking I would be happy to come in within 20 minutes of the winning time.

As I got there it was like a reunion. I was running into various people associated with my Palmetto Peloton Project days. Some of these folks I had ridden with from Greenville to Austin — twice. I also had the pleasure of meeting some new folks. I will admit that it is kind of cool to say, “Hi, I’m Jonathan” and then have the person say, “Wait, Jonathan P… P… Pait, right? The guy with the blog?”

John Cash finished in 51:20 on his Trek (photo by Lance Footer)

John Cash showed up. “The Man in Black” is a great guy. He absolutely knows no stranger. He has a few years on me, but he is fit and has enough energy for both of us! I knew if there was anyone there that was going to get a faster time than me, it would be him. As the previous “winner” of the ride, he would start last with me right before him.

However, the thing about it was even though we had fun trash talking, mostly we just had a great time talking about the things we were doing to help others. I caught him up on what was happening with Ride for Mike and pointed him to Helping Hands Ministries for a project he was interested in doing. He told me some stuff that LiveStrong was doing (he is a LiveStrong ambassador) that I was not aware of and I was glad to hear about.

Then we got in the starting chute.We weighed our bikes and John’s Trek was just a tad heavier than my Felt — and I had a disc wheel. His sure looked faster though! The Felt weighed in at 8.51 kilograms (18.8 lbs) so I was well above the UCI requirement — not that it mattered.

The tool for the day -- got lots of nice comments

Then I had a moment that really stuck out to me the most. Tom Wennogle was standing in line before me. He was kitted out in normal riding gear on a typical road bike. He looked at me sheepishly and said, “Don’t mind me when you go by. You’ll probably catch me right away.” He continued, “I don’t think I’ll get anywhere near your time.”

I asked him, “Yes, but how much money did you raise?” He got a perplexed look on his face and replied in a questioning tone, “$5000” “See,” I told him. “You beat me. The money we’ve raised means a lot more than the times we’re going to get out on the course!” It did me good to see him smile. “Thank you for saying that,” he said. Well, I meant it.

Wow. I’m not ashamed to say that I was pretty pumped about standing at the top of the ramp getting ready to go out on the course. Later that day, Dave Zabriskie would be preparing to roll down that same ramp to claim his 7th US Pro Time Trial Championship. Here I was about to roll off with the same officials following the same process. Even the race announcers were calling the event as we slow dozen started our attempts.

With about 20 seconds to go I started to wonder if anyone had ever fallen off the ramp. I fleeting moment of panic passed over me that I might be the first one. It passed and I just got ready to roll off when the official waved me to go.

I was away. I could hear my family and some other folks cheering me on. The voices of the announcers were saying something about John and I battling it out (I was John’s one minute man). Then I started up the long climb up to Old Sulpher Springs.

Before long all I could hear was the sound of the solid disc wheel turning beneath me. I tried to keep right on the edge of my comfort level. I knew I would turn left and then have a roller with more downhill than up. I could recover a bit then.

It seemed to be working as I made the turn onto Verdae Blvd., I was starting to feel my legs loosen up a bit. Then the tightness came back as I had to climb a short punchy stretch coming back up Old Sulpher Springs. That led right into some more shallow, but painful, climbing up to the turn around before flying quite a distance downhill to reach Innovation Drive.

That was the place where you got a rush! At nearly 40 mph I entered a sweeping left turn. I was thankful for those fast descents I had been making on the west side of Paris Mountain! I was hanging on as the bike screamed through the corner.

Then it was time to climb again. Innovation Drive was basically a climb (with one short downhill break) all the way up to Laurens Road. However, once up to Laurens there was a long downhill where I was able to recover a bit. One short climb near the turn onto Millennium Blvd and then it was like riding a shallow bowl from end-to-end up to the finish line.

I made the first lap in 16:16. I had no idea if that was a bad or good time. I just knew that it was a time that was fast as I thought I could go knowing that I had to do it two more times!

The second lap was 17:01. I felt that it was slower than that. However, starting that final climb away from the start — I felt it was REALLY slow. I just tried to imagine that John Cash was getting ready to catch me. I searched for a comfortable cadence and tried to get my wattage up to 300 if I could.

Checking the wattage while starting the climb from the start (Eddie J. Helton)

By this time I had passed all the riders in front of me except for Scott Tetzlaff. He was out there Merckx style and I just could not close the deal. I could see that I was gaining, but he finished probably 200 meters in front of me.

As I was coming down Laurens for the last time, I looked at the clock. By that time, I had realized the times I was getting and I so wanted to come in under 50 minutes. I knew it wasn’t going to happen, but I set it as a goal to see how close I could get to that time.

All during the ride, I could hear people cheering. As I would come by the start/finish, I could hear the announcers calling. Somehow, someone had gotten them the story of Michael T., Ride for Mike and Low Cadence. I was lifted during the earlier laps by hearing them telling people to go by the blog and learn more about it. That made it all worth it. I as also encouraged that John Cash never came around me!

As it turns out, I learned that I am 9+ minutes slower than a pro on his best day and about 2+ minutes slower than a pro on his worst day. That was the spread between the top pro finisher and my time and the final pro finisher and my time of 50:39. Still, for me, coming within 5 minutes of much of the pro field was pretty cool!

I went to bed Saturday night with a smile on my face.

Another bib number to add to the collection of fun!

Thank you to the Palmetto Peloton Project, Sunshine Cycle Shop, Boyd Cycling, Eddie J. Helton Photography and the wonderful supporters of Low Cadence and Ride for Mike. You all made for a pretty great day.