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Tales from the (off-road) Peloton
A chance meeting
One of the advantages of living in Austin, Texas is that you never know who you might bump into out on the road, or the trails. And you never know how silly you'll make yourself look, as Andy Bury discovered.
I swear, I was just riding along, not looking to embarrass myself . . .
My friend (call him Jorge) and I are out riding some nice single track. Started at 8 am and we've gotten about two hours of solid riding in when we decide to turn around and head back. We come to a confluence of trails, and take the one heading downhill. Soon I hear someone ride up behind me. My buddy is ahead, so it's not him. Of course, I give it some stick, since I don't want to hold anyone up. (Actually, this is my 'hood, and I don't want anyone thinking I can't ride faster than my grandma).
I catch Jorge when he doesn't make a ledge. After I pass, he says something to the rider now attached to my behind, but I don't catch it. I slow up a little to save some energy for a steep section I know is just ahead. I give it some gas and clear everything… everything but the last limestone step. Rats. Now this guy's going to pass me on home turf. So, I turn around to see who's coming. It's Lance.
Like many other Austinites, I've seen him from afar, zipping by going the other direction, and I've seen just a "few" pictures in mags and on the net, but here he was in the flesh. My reaction? Start cheering for him like he's just left Jan on the Alpe d'Huez. My crazed-fan-yell pierces the peaceful silence. As he passes, I stick out my hand for a high-five. I'm left doing the "Statue of Liberty" as he rides by. The look on his face says it all.
Then it's really quiet again. Or is it just the stark contrast with my "Crazed Fan" act? The first thought that passes through my mind is "High five? Did you really expect him to give you a high-five?" I felt a little betrayed by whatever that was that just possessed me.
I snap out of it as two of his friends come up the same rise and pass me by. I jump on their wheel and just manage to pass the skinny one before we come to where the trail passes over a new road. As I ride up to Lance and his two friends (the skinny one must have taken a shortcut to the pavement), Lance is looking the opposite direction, like maybe I won't recognize him. Didn't he hear me back there? Maybe I should have screamed louder. Anyway, I pull up and keep a respectful distance, not knowing what to say, now. Maybe something like, "I'm not usually a moron." Or "Hi. I know enough about you to make you slightly nervous." Somehow I kept my mouth shut.
Fortunately for me, my friend Jorge arrives to save the day, as always. Jorge is one of those guys that you can base your life on. He is comfortable around everyone, and everyone is comfortable around him. Jorge pulls right up to Lance and starts talking to him like they were old friends. No hesitation. "How are the twins?" I wish I had thought of that one. Lance smiles and says they're great. "I have four about the same age," says Jorge. Lance smiles and says, "Four twins?" Everyone laughs and Jorge says that he has four kids.
Jorge asks Lance, "So, what are you doing these days?" "Oh, I've been drinking some beer," Lance says with a smile. From the looks of him, he hasn't been drinking many (as opposed to Beer Boy, who reportedly drank 24 beers in the last 24 hours, or something). Maybe Lance has had one beer since the SFGP, or maybe he thought about drinking one beer, one light beer. Or, maybe he's just been watching Beer Boy drink. Whatever, if he's been knocking back many cold ones, he's also been riding them off, because he still looks extremely lean.
After a bit of "you're getting in better shape" and "I drank so many beers" talk amongst the group, one of Lance's friends, the skinny guy, says that he's feeling a bit whipped. Lance jokes with him that maybe if he didn't start the ride like he'd been shot out of a cannon, he'd feel better right now. Lance says, "When you get to be an old man, you can't start out like that anymore." I think, "Old man? What is he, 30? Maybe after winning four Tours, you feel old at 30. Wait 'til you tie on ten more years. Then we'll talk!"
We start off down the other side of the road and Jorge tells me that if I want to hang with them, go ahead. I don't want to leave Jorge behind, but I do want to ride with Lance and Co. for a while. Lance is riding fast, then stopping to wait for his buddies. The skinny one gets dropped first, then Beer Boy. Lance stops, I pass him. He passes me then stops. I pass him. We do this back and forth for a while. After passing him one time, I just keep doing my diesel thing, grinding up a little rise. He jumps on my wheel and says, in a voice just loud enough for me to hear, "Whoa! World Cup pace." Do I detect a bit of sarcasm? Grind, grind, grind. I lead him into a section of limestone ledges that is moderately challenging. Since I'd picked up the grind after that last little comment, however, I'm feeling close to the edge. In fact, I'm trying not to suck my lips down my windpipe.
Then what do I hear?
Brrrrng! "Hi. Yeah. He was screaming? What did you do? Uh-huh. Just a sec…(he scales a ledge) OK. Uh-huh. Yeah. Just a sec…(he scales another ledge). I'm out mountain biking. Just a sec…(he scales the third ledge right behind me.) Okay, bye."
He's calmly taking a cell phone call while I'm at redline. He sounded like he was being toted along in a Laz-y-Boy. Okay, time for me to stop and "wait for Jorge." I watch Lance go by, then Beer Boy, then the skinny one. And that's it. I turn around and ride back to Jorge, then we ride home together, talking about how cool that was and how it could only happen here in Austin.