There is no easy way to get faster. There is no short cut. It is commonly touted that no matter how much you ride, the pain doesn't decrease, but your speed simply increases. Races are the golden bullet for those who seek speed. The more you subject yourself to race efforts, the more your muscles will develop efficiency at those high efforts. But, we aren't professionals. We do not have the luxury of racing 180 days a year. Most of us are lucky to get in 10 races a year, so, we make do with simulations.
Wednesday Night Worlds is precisely that: a race simulation. Posed in Northern Baltimore County, its a ride with well over a decade of history. It always begins and ends at Oregon Ridge Park during the warm months and never, ever fails in making you work hard. There are two goals for the ride: 1) take the mid-way sprint point on Cedar Grove and 2) win. To claim victory you have to be the first man across the crest of Cuba Road heading southbound. Its a 5 minute climb at race pace that changes its pitch every minute or so making it hard to find a constant rhythm. It is beautiful in the pain it provides each week.
This week was no different than any other. It was hot as it typically is in June, and we rolled right around 6pm. The first 5 miles are neutral and there is much chatting and catching up with friends even if we do average 20mph for this section. This week was particularly fun with lots of familiar faces: Jim Miller, Matt Buckleman, Jim Taylor, Brad Snyder, Brett Katzen, Dave Weaver, Joe Siegel, Peter Malmquist, Dave Holland, Andrew Crabb, Chris Cosper, Paul DeSantis and more. With a group like that, we would have plenty of firepower to keep the pace up.
The turn onto Stringtown Road is one that makes me tense just thinking about it. Famously, this is where the pain begins, this is where the attacks begin. This week though, for a variety of reasons, the pace stayed moderate as we climbed the 2 mile stretch. I suppose moderate is relative though as I was still averaging 4.1w/kg to maintain my position. At the steepest pitch, Byron Horgash attacked hard and was immediately followed by Pete Malmquist. This left Paul DeSantis (who had been pulling most of the way up) and I at the front of the double wide group. Not knowing Byron, I decided to watch and see how he went before getting nervous and chasing. We gently lifted the pace and within 20 seconds had him back in our fold.
Up Yeoho and Benson Mill we chugged in a big train of riders. It is quite uncommon to be all together at this point. Typically, a break forms on Stringtown of 4-8 riders that becomes the selection who then go on to stay away for the entire ride. This week we were all enjoying the company of the big group of riders. We were reminded of our lax pace when Joe Siegel slipped off the front easily on the turn onto Cedar Grove. Sitting up, Joe was quickly brought back while Byron countered again. Taking the hint that we were displeasing some by our 20.5mph pace so far, I grabbed Joe (and everyone else it turned out) and set out to quicken things a bit. We immediately picked up Byron and began the fast run-in to the Cedar Grove mid-way sprint point. A steep downhill, hard right hand turn, that only the bravest take at full gas, drops you off about 400m from the top of a hill near the Cedar Grove and Bottom Road intersection. A long snake of riders formed and sprints opened up. Joe Siegel positioned himself well and after dropping 1,100 watts was able to come over the top first.
Bottom and Falls Road were uneventful and soon we were flying again down Corbett after picking up Jim Taylor . Jim Miller and Dave Weaver showed their experience as they ripped the descent that had me spinning out in my chase. There's a small kicker in the middle of the descent thats just steep enough to ruin the rhythm. Here, once again, Byron launched his attack. Dave and I looked at each other and hammered the pedals a bit to reel him in before the next section of descending. Second wheel to Byron, I was happy to let him lead the charge to the beginning of the climb out of the valley up to Carroll Road. With the pace of the day, it wasn't unlikely that someone like Joe would be itching to stretch things out a bit on the short 1 mile climb.
A Kelly rider and Jim Taylor flew past me as our group slammed into the first steep pitch and set the pace. I followed immediately looking for a wheel and found one in Jim Taylor. We rode moderately hard and the group began to compress as we neared the final 9% pitch. The likes of Brett Katzen and Dave Weaver were moving to the front and soon Joe hit it and had us chasing. Joe, Dave and I were on Carroll and when I checked back we had a nice string of riders indicating we would stay together.
Flowing along, Matt Buckleman lead us onto Glencoe and our descent began. Malmquist and Miller came around me and a few others to make a nice elite group of fast descenders. They ripped down to the turn onto Upper Glencoe and I was pushing hard to keep them in sight. Paul DeSantis gave me a little push to get me caught on as we all came together for the next section of steady climbing back to York Road. Soon, Buckleman attacked, and the whole group lurched forward to chase. Brad Snyder seemingly effortlessly pulled along side me proving his strength as he worked his way forward in the group despite the narrow and pot hole filled climb.
Weaver, Katzen, Dave Holland and a rider with a Powerbar kit hit the steep kick first and it got very real as Weaver dropped the hammer. Powerbar bridged up and I was lucky to have Hollands wheel and we rolled over the crest. Now, Weaver is a master tactician. Even though he went over the top first, he was quick to pull off the front and allow another rider (Powerbar) do the work up the final false flat to York. Weaver was smartly preparing for Cuba.
Over York, and down Ensor Mill we went. Hitting Belfast, the pace was high but tolerable; then Joe hit the front. Very quickly it was whittled down to Joe, the Daves and I. We began the descent on Priceville and looking back, I thought that may be the selection for the day as we were cruising at a healthy 33mph average with a large gap. But, there were some heros that were determined to claw their way back and thus by Thornton Mill it was all together. About that time, Malmquist gave it one more go but ended up just upping the pace dramatically with everyone in his slipstream. With mostly rolling roads to the foot of Cuba, the pace was now set, not to be changed. Ripping through Gerber and Western Run, the pace line was serious averaging well over 24mph.
Just about this time, I resolved to remain on Weaver's wheel until we hit the final 200m to go. But he also was playing it safe and wasn't doing any work. Cat and Mouse began as he pulled off the front and I with him. About 10 riders went up the road but with no one to close the gap, he waited, throwing glances over his shoulder patiently awaiting my fear to compel me to jump back up to the group.
We were now officially two groups. 10 riders up the road and probably 5-10 with us. I sat behind Weaver trying to call his bluff and I could feel the other riders getting nervous as the gap grew to 5 seconds. A tri-bike rider (who I hadn't seen since the parking lot) couldn't contain himself and launched forward, towing Weaver and the rest of us back to the front group. Weaver and I rolled up to 2nd and 3rd position overall as the march up Cuba began.
It's always interesting to see what people do on Cuba. Some like to wait for the sprint and others like to go for glory and solo away, while still others try to up the pace and thin things out. It wasn't a shock to see Byron go for it immediately as the road turned up. But when he was caught 100m later, another Kelly rider countered and made a very interesting move. Weaver was now on the front and I second wheel. I strongly discouraged other strong and capable riders like Holland from pulling forward and towing Weaver up as I wanted to force him to make the chase. The group glided up the first pitch at a steady pace of 4.8w/kg. But Weaver let the rider dangle. The small repreive midway up showed no action from Weaver. He was trying to draw someone out. The final pitch began and the rider was still a good 3-4 seconds up on the group; it crossed my mind that perhaps I'd made a mistake to let him get away, maybe I was too stubborn!
700m out. 600m. 500m. At 500m, Weaver won the poker game and Matt Buckleman came around us to close the final gap to the rider up the road. Matt downshifted and floored it, full gas up the climb and had me digging deep to stay with him and Weaver. Matt quickly closed the gap and we blew past the rider at 200m; thats where I opened it up hoping to get some momentum before Weaver started his sprint. We fought our bikes, crushing the pedals, but it was Dave Weaver who pulled away for the victory. I let up, defeated and crossed the line 2nd with Joe right on me wheel after having started his sprint a good 5 seconds late after being boxed in.
Another WNW was in the books. All in all, it was a great simulation, a perfect workout to raise the fitness for future rides and racing. In some ways, its more fun than racing. Pushing the limits with friends on beautiful roads in a low key environment; what is better than that?
For a more visually stimulating look at this ride, check out WNW 7/11/12