Pelotonic

OK, before I give you the scoop on Saturday’s Tour de Cure VIP ride with Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner, I need to take a minute to say, very sincerely, thanks. Amidst all the fun and excitement, I would be remiss if I failed to recognize that the money raised benefits a very worthwhile cause. I lost an aunt to diabetes, and both my mom and a cousin of mine battle it. So while the fight against diabetes was never something I imagined myself taking up, I’m very happy to have stumbled upon the Tour de Cure. And while I’m tremendously grateful that your financial contributions have afforded me the opportunity to be part of such a fantastically fun event, I am all the more grateful that those funds might someday make real people’s lives fundamentally better.

Now, without further ado, here we go.

I arrived at Aberdeen Bike & Outdoors, in Chelsea, just before 8a. Following registration, complimentary bagels, bananas, and coffee, I donned my sweet-looking 2011 Tour de Cure jersey with my number 847 neatly pinned to the back, and milled about with others eagerly anticipating the appearance of Levi and Chris.

We were told there’d be no opportunity for autographs, but that each person would have their photo taken with the Team RadioShack riders. Fortunately, however, one participant was bold enough to make a move following the photo-op, and Chris and Levi graciously signed a jersey he had brought with him for the occasion. I quickly stepped forward and asked each to sign my Team RadioShack cap.

As excited as I was to see these guys, I didn’t miss an opportunity to take a gander at their bikes.

The sticker on Levi’s stem, by the way, is the logo for his King Ridge GranFondo. As additional group shots were taken outside, participants strapped on their helmets and got ready to ride.

It wasn’t long before we were en route. As luck would have it, I fell in right behind Levi and Chris. I really cannot do justice to what a cool experience it was actually riding with these guys. They were so unbelievably accessible, down to earth, and cordial. There were numerous instances in which Chris, in particular, would put his hand on the back of a rider next to him to offer a push. And while plenty of the conversation centered on their lives as professional cyclists, they seemed equally happy to shoot the breeze about perfectly mundane things, just like ordinary guys. It was just like a regular Monday night club ride, albeit with two guys who just happen to spend three weeks each year riding in France in the company of Fabian Cancellara, Andy Schleck, Alberto Contador, Thor Hushovd, and so on.

I want to take a second to mention also (again) what an amazing experience it is riding in a group. That said, riding in a group like this was something exceptional. We were a fairly large pack, in a relatively tight formation, clipping along at around 21-23 mph, give or take. It was absolutely amazing.

I hung in until around 11.5 miles, and then began to fall off the back. I would have been perfectly content to get that much, but then, by around mile 13, I found myself once again amidst the lead group. Granted, for these guys, this hardly even qualified as a Sunday afternoon spin along the bike path. But for a crusty old schmuck like myself, it was a total rush.

Then, things took a nasty turn. Around mile 21, I was trying to return my camera to my jersey pocket, and I missed. Thankfully, the camera survived the fall, though it’s a little beaten up. Turning around, I found that a guy I had met earlier had snatched it up and was already mashing the pedals to make up the lost time. He said, “Let’s catch those guys,” and told me to grab his wheel. We were cranking when he began to veer slightly left. I thought he was peeling  off to give me a turn at the front. I pushed forward on the right only to realize too late that he was actually preparing to turn right. I, unfortunately, had missed the route marking, and soon collide with him. I survived the encounter upright, but he went down … hard. He tore his shorts and his flesh in multiple locations, and his bike was scuffed up, too.

I have never, to my knowledge, caused someone else to crash. Rest assured, it is a miserable feeling.

We rode the remaining three or four miles to the rest stop together. I apologized profusely, over and over and over again, and then decided it was probably best if I just shut my mouth and kept my distance. Hence, the shot taken of my injured fellow-rider from across the picnic pavilion, followed by another photo marking an experience that I will never forget.

Two or three miles after the rest stop, the 40- and 70-mile routes split. Levi and Chris stayed with the 40, as they both had planes to catch. (Levi was flying to Switzerland for the Tour de Suisse, which begins next Saturday. Go Levi!). Only seven riders, including myself (and the guy I caused to crash), took the 70-mile option. It was a hard ride, for me at least, though I was the third to finish. I ended the day with 74.01 miles on the trip odometer, 4:05 in the saddle, and an overall average of 18 mph. And at roughly 50 miles in, something flew into my mouth and stung me twice. Needless to say, by the time I got back to the bike shop, I was cooked.

Now, as cool as all this was — and it was incredibly cool — none of it holds a candle to the wicked sweet pair of sunglasses Hannah and Lauren gave me later that evening at a graduation party. Check ’em out:

I cannot think of a more apt addition to my kit, because, you know, I’m wicked cool like that.

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