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Friday's foaming rant: Riding with Lance

By Patrick O'Grady
VeloNews editor at large

This report filed February 14, 2003 at

"I love to, fundamentally, just ride the bike."
- Lance Armstrong in an interview with the Colorado Springs Gazette

Lance Armstrong and I went for a ride in Colorado Springs the other day.

Not together, of course. Get real. He's known to be going for a fifth consecutive Tour, whereas I've been known to go for a fifth consecutive Guinness. The day SuperTex thinks it's smart to log a handful of quality miles with a wobbly 48-year-old tosspot is the day he's decided to chop the sleeves off an old maillot jaune and spend his daylight hours towing the kiddies around the Redneck Riviera in a Burley hooked to a beater with a frosty Shiner Bock in each water-bottle cage.

No, Lance was here for a board meeting at Carmichael Training Systems, one of the few businesses in town with a pulse, thanks to a preponderance of yuppie aerobots whose portfolios have yet to shrink into coin purses like a spider on a griddle. He apparently managed to slip out for a head-clearing spin later in the afternoon, according to the local cage-liner, which gives CTS the occasional hummer in its business section and scored a brief chat with the champ.

Me, I was out earlier in the day with my regular Thursday riding partners, Rob and Bill. Unlike Lance and his colleagues, the three of us, with Rob in his mid-30s, me in my late 40s, and Bill in his early 50s - an age range that comprises 39.5 percent of USCF licensees - are the Gray Panthers of domestic American bicycle racing rather than young lions prowling the international jungle.

And it shows. Back in the early '90s, we and a few other shaven-legged idlers would think nothing of a five-hour quad-popper come 10 a.m. Thursday. But when Lance was in town, a piddling three hours of hills on some of the same roads SuperTex would ride later that afternoon had the three of us sniveling like David Millar with a knot in his chamois and the team car nowhere in sight.

Our food chain has a few kinks in its links these days, too. By dint of youth and experience, Rob, a former Cat. 2, should be picking his teeth with our splintered shinbones. I should be next best, based on my volumes of published work and equally massive capacity for treachery. And Bill, our scrawny elder statesman, should be lanterne rouge.

But somehow it's mostly Bill spinning into the distance on the hills, me laboring grimly along behind, and Rob glumly bringing up the rear.

Welcome to Mr. Bill's Neighborhood.

There's a reason, of course. Bill is a regular on the weekend group rides out of Acacia Park; in particular, he never skips the Saturday death march to the Pikes Peak International Raceway and back, an unsanctioned, unofficiated and unrelenting 55-mile training race whose Nietzschean slogan is, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."

Since my season runs from September to December, I give that one a miss. Rob, the father of three and an overworked partner in a local eatery, attends only infrequently. And Mr. Bill, well ... somehow he survives to flog us both on the next day's hilly ride through the Air Force Academy. Ooooo nooooo....

Part of Bill's success lies in knowing which wheel to pick when the going gets tough. Both Bill and Rob are better at this than I am. I tend to get caught at the back when the split comes, jawboning, with one bulging eyeball peeled for squirrels as I struggle to refurbish my pack-riding skills, rusty after six years in the outback.

A few Sundays back, Rob and I both got sawed off at a red light at the corner of Death and Destruction (Academy Boulevard and Highway 83). About two-thirds of the bunch - with Bill among them, up near the front - sailed through the intersection as an absurdly short green clicked red, leaving about 10 of us standing there with one shoe in the pedal, the other on the asphalt and that look on our faces, because we knew we would have to chase these evil swine to the south gate of the Academy, where thanks to Osama bin Scumbag and his merry men we would have to pause to flash some ID before chasing them some more, all into a pretty stout head wind.

As we cleared the gate, this leather-lunged kid went to the front, took a fix on the pack ahead, and did a nut-crushing pull, and then another kid did the same, and I managed about three weak rotations before rocketing out the back as though I'd double-flatted, locked up both brakes and deployed a drag chute.

Rob was there with me shortly thereafter, looking equally knackered, and we settled down to something like a base-miles pace while watching the players dispose of the weak like bad cards in a dollar-ante round of seven-card stud.

We collected a few of their discards and began a creaky pursuit of the two groups ahead, like a pack of grizzled dachshunds chasing a couple of greyhounds chasing a rabbit. Bill told us later that some werewolf in the lead group was doing the same thing to them that the greyhounds had done to us, and what began as a pleasant Sunday outing wound up looking like the wounded dragging themselves in twos and fews to the field hospitals during the Battle of Verdun.

Still, it didn't kill us, and it may have made us stronger. Because while Bill gapped us early in a 50-mile road ride yesterday, just like always, it was Rob up front and breaking our legs a little later on an undulating series of climbs east of town, and me - of all people - taking a brief flyer on the final rollers on Highway 94 (OK, so I guttered them in a crosswind; I told you I was treacherous).

It wasn't a Tour victory, or a world championship, but it felt fine just the same. Even the smallest triumph over the least adversity reminds you that, like Lance, you love riding the bike.

Copyright © Patrick O'Grady/Mad Dog Media , 2003
Reproduced with the permission of the author
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