I rode the SDBC Saturday "B" ride this past Saturday. One of the things I really noticed when I did the Green Trolley race was that my pack riding skills have seriously diminished. Riding by yourself is a very different dynamic than riding in a pack. When you ride in a pack you've got so much more to deal with; you've got riders of all different abilities, the pace can be fast, then it gets slow, then accelerates quickly, then you've got some turkey who is beside you but can't seem to ride in a straight line, etc. These are the sorts of situations that you can't simulate when you ride by yourself.
Based upon my lack of recent pack riding experience I wanted to get into the middle of things, see if I could push the pace at the front, ride in close proximity to others and see what I could do to match the accelerations of the group. Things went really well. Prior to hurting myself I used to ride with the SDBC "A" ride, which is faster than the "B" ride. It's been a long, long time since I've ridden with the B group. Things have definitely gotten pretty complacent with the B crowd.
About 5 minutes into Saturday's ride I was feeling like the B ride had become a ride for the elderly. Things were moving along at a leisurely pace with no one interested in getting on the front and moving things along. Once we started to climb out of Sorrento Valley I decided it was time to get on the front and push the pace a bit. Initially this resulted in me being a few hundred feet up the road on my own, rather than having the desired effect of getting people to get on my rear wheel and speed things up. So I dialed things back a bit and gave the group a chance to catch up.
As we left our meet-up point in Fairbanks Ranch I again found things to be ridiculously slow. Fortunately Duane Noel, one of the guys on the category 4/5 team was at the front with me, so I had someone to trade pulls with this time as we again pulled away from the group. The pack finally caught me near the top of the climb up to stud loop, but it was great to see that I could pull away from people (at least on the flats). I was able to stay with the lead group around stud loop, which is a stretch of rolling road that really tests your cardiovascular system.
In Rancho Sante Fe I accidentally dropped my sunglasses, had to turn back to pick them up and spent a couple miles riding by myself trying to catch back on to the group. A little frustrating, but it provided a great opportunity to work hard and catch back on.
As we turned west onto La Costa, the elderly were again on the front moving the ride along at a snail's pace, so I headed to the front, pulling the group into the wind at 25 mph or so. It was the same situation as we turned south onto the 101, everyone was soft pedaling waiting for someone to do all the work, so I obliged and again worked my tail off at the front. It felt great to be back on the front pushing the pace and making others suffer as they tried to keep up. Frankly I'll never understand the mentality of people who join a group ride simply for the purposes of sitting in and drafting. The whole point of this sort of ride is supposed to be to get an anaerobic workout, i.e. pushing yourself past the point of your lactate threshold. If you're doing these rides right, you should have snot running down the side of your face, be breathing heavily, and wishing the pain could come to and end; not riding at a level of effort that allows you to carry on a conversation with a friend.
A couple observations on my current fitness:
1. My cardiovascular system is in great shape. Whenever I dropped back into the field for a breather I was able to quickly get my heart rate back into an aerobic range. When I needed to ride at maximum effort I was able to hold my power at a steady state for minutes at a time.
2. My power is definitely my limiting factor right now. I still struggle to keep up with the group when we head up steeper hills. At times of maximal effort I find that my heart is capable of giving me more than what my body is able to use. So there's definitely some room for improvement here.
Based on the success of this last week's ride, I'm hopeful that I might ride the "A" ride in a couple of weeks. I plan to do the "B" ride again next week. If I can really put the hammer down next weekend I'll look to do the "A" ride the following week.