Sunday, March 8, 2009

Riding with the Pros Part 6 – Sweet Relief

The easiest stage did not start out easy. Karen and I let the other riders pass us by before we got on the bike trail. They were going to pass us anyway. So might as well let pass before we get rolling.

Five seconds after we got on the trail Karen says, “Jill, I feel like I have a flat. Can you check my back wheel?”

“Karen, you had a flat yesterday. You can’t have a flat today. It’s against the odds.”

“Jill, I swear. I feel like I’m flat in the back.”

I looked.

“Karen, you’re flat.”

We had to pull over and we hadn’t even started yet! Karen is barely off her bike when our biking buddies appear out of nowhere. They must have been lingering behind us.

They were off their bikes and I swear it looked like an Indy 500 pit. One guy held up Karen’s bike and the second guy had the wheel off before the bike was fully off the ground. Then I just saw dust and tubes flying, Karen’s tire fall to the ground then almost immediately picked up again and then, voila! Her flat fixed and she was ready to go! The guy didn’t even use tire levers! He used his hands!!!

“You had a small piece of glass in your tire.” One of the biking buddies told Karen thrusting his hand toward her.

“What?” Karen looked at the small piece of glass the magic man found in the process of the two-second tire change. “That’s why I got flats two days in a row!”

With that we were off and this time Charles didn’t lie to us. It was flat all the way in to the wharf. It was heaven! Our two biking buddies rode ahead. They knew it would be hard for us to get into trouble on this stage but they did look back at us every other minute just to be sure.

We made it to the wharf and the group of 50 riders was assembling for a picture. We made it in time to be included. The next stage was the longest and we were hearing rumors that the main group wanted to race each other. So I told Karen of my plan to ride the mile to the hotel and get a head start on the shower. She decided to go with me. So the group headed off for the last stage and the route happened to take us right past the hotel.

So Karen and I are taking our sweet time knowing we not having to keep up with the group any more. We’re riding down Cannery Row toward the hotel and I see a guy pull out from the pack and head back our way.
“There’s our buddy,” Karen said.

When he got within hearing distance I said, “Don’t worry, were just riding to the hotel and we’re going to pack it in.”

“That’s all I needed to know,” he said. Then he peeled off and caught up with the rest of the group.

I am really happy he got to ride with the big boys finally. And I was really happy we were going to get showers soon.

The luncheon was held in a luxury hotel and they had suites reserved for the riders to shower in. Karen and I each had our own shower so we didn’t even have to take turns. The suite over looked the Monterey Bay and was just gorgeous! We had all the time in the world and we took it!

As we were about to leave the suite to go downstairs for lunch, we could see the riders coming back from our 2nd story window. They looked spent! But happy! We heard rumors in the buffet line that the 4th stage became an all out race and only the most hardy weren’t left behind. I knew I had made the right decision to step out.

Karen and I got spaces at a back table. Hennie and the two pro riders Robert and Grischa were going to give a talk about cycling and their riding strategy for the tour while we ate.

While the presentation was underway, I wondered how many of the people in the room knew I was the girl who had to be dragged through the course. I was feeling a little embarrassed. But then it dawned on me, practically everyone was in front of me on the ride the whole time. I’m sure they weren’t spending any time looking behind them. That was not where the fun was. I felt much better and started to feel very secure in my anonymity of weakness. That is until Hennie started talking.

While Hennie spoke he started to talk about the importance of drafting. Then he said, “Today, I taught some riders about that. I see them at the back table.” And he points to Karen and I. Remember he is in the very front of the room and we are in the very back. Everyone of the riders now turned to look at who Hennie was talking about. I was back to being embarrassed!!! Oh well. At least Hennie remembered me!

After the presentation all of us at our table were chatting and Karen looks at two gentlemen to her right.

“Wow you guys, thank you so much for your help today! We couldn’t have done it without you!”

My eyes flew wide and I looked at the two men. I had no idea what their faces looked like. I never got to see them because us cyclists wear helmets and sports shades. I had no idea of their hair or eye color. But now, I looked at their clothes and recognized the cycling jerseys they still had on under their post-ride jackets. Suddenly, I recognized the ‘sole patch’ under the lip of Karen’s biking buddy.

OMG! We were having lunch with them! I know you’re thinking I would have gotten their names now. But no. The presentation had wrapped up and the pro-riders were signing auto-graphs and taking pictures. People were getting up to leave or meet the riders. I jumped up fast to get a picture with my biking buddy and thank him one last time.

To this day, I’m not sure. But I think his name might have been Alex.

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