I just fulfilled a lifelong (or nearly so) dream.
Since I was a young teen I have loved cycling. I remember reading everything I could about it in the high school library in rural Ohio in the early eighties. Everything, being maybe two magazine articles. I remember reading about drafting and specifically, about how the pros call it “wheelsucking.” For the non-cyclist, that’s when you ride close to the rider in front of you, allowing them to break the wind for you. The whole idea of riding at high speed with lots of other fit cyclists intrigued me and I could imagine wheelsucking as I raced over cobbled roads, sweaty and in fantastic shape. Unfortunately in rural Ohio in the early eighties, no one else had apparently read those 2 magazine articles, so I rode my bike every day by myself. All-the-while, imagining the glory of pro cycling.
Since that time I have continued to ride my bike with some regularity. I even remember buying a bike one time to the dismay of a steady girlfriend who assumed that my big purchase was going to be a ring. But I digress. I have participated in triathlons since my senior year in high school for the sole reason of being able to race my bike. But, as happens to many cyclists, I fell on a railroad track while training last summer and fractured my collar bone, which required surgery and a plate. Admittedly, since that time, I have let myself go a bit, have gained some weight and generally gotten out of shape. Only recently have I gotten back on the bike, and going across railroad tracks has been a bit scary for me.
Well, this morning I was perusing Twitter and to my surprise, local pro racer Ted King posted that he was starting his training ride at a local bike shop at 9am. That was in 30 minutes. He just finished the Paris-Roubaix race last week with Liquigas Cannondale and is currently training for the Tour of California.
Wait, did I read that right? An open invitation to fulfill my dreams? I could potentially wheelsuck off of the back wheel of a real pro cyclist! Who really rides the big races! He even rides cobblestones!
But wait. I am sorely out of shape and there is no possible way I could keep up.
So I decided to think about it as I got my bike ready. The last time I rode I got a flat and haven’t changed it yet.
So, as I changed my flat tire, I began to think about whether I should give it a go or not. Surely, if Tom Brady was at the local park tossing passes and invited me to catch a few, I would go. Sure I’d drop a few, but who cares. It’s not like he would expect me to catch them all. Or if Michael Phelps was swimming at the rec pool, and wanted me to swim a few laps, I’d join him. Or even if I was out with my daughter and ran into Bruce Jenner and his daughter I’d.... ok forget that example.
But, you get the point. Carpe diem. Seize the day.
I have spent much of my life using that motto. It has allowed me to have some amazing experiences, simply because I have not let opportunities pass me by.
So, tire changed and cycling clothing on (which by the way, fits way too tight for my recent weight gain), I head off for the excruciating 1 block ride to meet up at the bike shop.
And, there he is. Ted King. Or @iamtedking if you twitter. Decked out in full Liquigas kit. (Phil Liggett pronounces it Leaky-gas. Love that.) His bike has crazy spokes, lots of Red parts, and a whole lot of sponsor stuff. As I pull up beside him, I see him check out my bike. Its about 10 years old, decent condition, kind of light but nothing special. I like it, as it has been my training bike forever and even survived when my collar bone didn’t. But, clearly, I have worn Keds to the Olympic 100 meter dash.
Focus I tell myself. You are about to fulfill a dream. Just then, his brother shows up. Yes, another pro cyclist! Oh boy, this is going to be fast. And I’m not talking about the ride. No, I’m talking about how fast I am going to be dropped.
Focus. Carpe Diem.
So a few awkward hey’s and hi’s later, I am told by someone with skinny, shaven legs that my back tire is flat. Again. WE HAVEN’T EVEN STARTED TO RIDE!!! UGH!!!!!
Ok, Chris. You now have to change a tire in front of pro cyclists who can do it faster than you but don’t have to, because they can just wave for the team car. But, no pressure. So, I am not making this up, I somehow pulled off the fastest ever tube change in my life. My NASCAR brother in law would have been proud.
Ok, now time to ride. The Keds are retreaded and ready to go.
We take off from the bike shop at a decent pace. I purposely did not bring a cycling computer because I didn’t want to get psyched out at the mind boggling speeds. Plus, I don’t know how to change mine to Kilometers and that’s probably the only way Ted communicates these days. “Hey lets go 68!” he must say. But in Italian.
Instantly, we are in a paceline and, I don’t really know how this worked out, but I am in third. THIRD. THIRD!!!! And right in front of me was, you guessed it. Ted King. I was ACTUALLY WHEELSUCKING behind a pro cyclist. My front wheel was inches (I mean centimeters) from his back tire. I was looking straight at his gloriously trained butt, which was decorated in lots of Italian sponsors. I was too out of breath to remember exactly, but it must have said italian words like Go Fast! or Fragile!
And just as fast as I had achieved this crowning moment, reality set in. Though I was not wearing a heart rate monitor, I am fairly sure that the calculation for max heart rate was clearly underestimating what my heart was currently pounding out. And if I, shutter to think, actually touched the wheel of the cyclist in front of me, well, potential for some serious Leaky Gas drama. Tour of Cali gone. Maybe more.
So, as fast as it started, it ended and I pulled out to let those who have actually been training continue their ride with the pro. I finished my ride through the beautiful New England springtime laughing the whole way home about this series of events.
But also, the rest of my ride was useful to put in perspective a few things. Mainly, I will continue to subscribe to carpe diem. Because without taking the initiative in life, where would we be? And also, for me it was a wake up call. I love cycling and know that in most previous years I would have been able to keep up with these guys, at least for a while. So, its a motivator.
It challenges me to get back in shape, get on my bike, and put in some miles. As it turns out, Ted King will be back in town on Oct 20 for the Krempels King of the Road Challenge (http://www.kingchallenge.org) and I’ll be ready. And though clearly I am not Ted King, I’ll ride with him again. You can bet your leaky gas that I’ll stay with him longer too.