Athletes By Design is a cycling club to which I belonged a few years back while doing a bit of criterium racing. The group is housed out of a pair of Prairie Path Cycling shops run by Mike Ferrell, whose own pro years mix with those of epic teams such as 7/11.
ABD and PPC put on some of the best races in the Chicago area. They also host the Tuesday night criterium racing in an underdeveloped tech corridor area south of DuPage airport. Every week 50-75 riders from throughout the Chicagoland area and in all categories practice their road racing skills because ABD/PP puts on the events.
They also host a solid group ride on Wednesday evening. Years back when I began cycling that group ride was a staple of my training weeks. The ride once attracted 20-25 riders and a mix of men and women. It was popular but a bit unwieldy at times.
This week when I showed up I recognized the familiar young face of a rider named Konrad Witt. I recall his first ventures into cycling when he was just 13-14 years old keeping up with guys ten years older. He’s a beast now, with massive cycling thighs and a competitive record of which most would be envious. He’s attending school at College of DuPage and intends to transfer to a school named Lindenwood University in St. Louis, Missouri. I had not heard of the school prior to that, but I guess they have a good cycling team.
Witt rode with us for a while , the first 10 miles or so, but disappeared at some point to go ride at a faster rate, I’m sure. I overheard a quiet bit of coaching from Mike Farrell to Konrad before we departed. “The last five miles should be hard,” Coach Farrell instructed the young man.
Riding in the company of someone so talented as Konrad can be disconcerting. No matter how fast the group may be going, or how good you personally feel, there is an awareness with a rider of that caliber that they can pedal away from you any minute. In fact, there was a bit of joking at the start of the ride about how The Kid has to carry all that muscle around in his thighs. He chuckled quietly and kept pedaling. Elite riders know that there are always people who can beat the hell out of them on any given day. Elite runners and swimmers know that too. No amount of muscle or confidence equals perfection.
Instead, the act of perfecting your riding is a constant journey. And as we rolled out on the roads west of Batavia, the pace picked up and I found myself doing one of the first pulls. This is both wise and unwise with a group that you have not ridden with in a long time. Doing pulls requires more energy, and when you don’t know what the typical pace might be, or how you might be at sustaining it, doing pulls is risky territory.
But I figured that would figure itself out. I’d ridden with the group years back and discussed pace in advance with a couple other riders, and was told it was 20 mph on average. I knew that was possible because my riding has been going well. So I did my two minute pull at the front and tried to drift back. But we were on narrow roads and the back did not come forward right away. So I wound up doing another pull fairly quickly, but felt fine. And then another. Well, so it goes.
As a relative newbie to the group, this was perhaps silly of me to carry on like that. One does not want to send some arrogant message or suggest that you’re a superior rider by doing too many pulls. When the next stop sign came around, I made sure to drift further back and hug a wheel for a while.
Then we turned west onto country roads toward Kaneville and the group dialed it up again. This time, we were at 23 mph, or so I ascertained when my turn at the front with another rider came along. We were pedaling two abreast and spinning off the right and left in rotation. He turned to me and asked, “Keep it at 22?” So that told me that we were riding decently, but not out of control.
Because a few years back the ride turned into a weekly race. Guys on the front might hammer the group to pieces. It wasn’t constructive for anyone that could not hold that pace, and eventually, the ride busted up on its own accord.
It’s been formed again with a firm yet friendly hand. Everyone is into the scene for its steady benefits, and the ride still goes fast now and then, but cooperatively so. That makes for a great group ride. If you’re feeling strong, you do more pulls. If you need a week to regather, you sit in, do the pulls that come along but don’t stay on the front too long.
Only the most pitiless riders take pleasure in dropping people on group rides anyway. There are a few cycling sociopaths who live for this, their big egos focus on small things like that. But the ABD guys were in this thing together, and it was a great ride as a result.
As expected, the ride truly dialed up the last 10 miles coming in from Kaneville. Hard riding when everyone is warmed up and nearly home is acceptable. I did have to pedal hard to stay on and not let a gap open up. In fact, for most of the ride, I ignored the scenery, which was beautiful on a summer evening, focusing instead on riding a clean line with the wheel in front of me just inches from my own.
At some point, another rider actually tapped my rear wheel with his. A quick apology was issued and I was glad it was not any worse. That can turn a lovely ride into a living hell. Fast.
We rolled back into town and my legs felt good the entire way. My phone died and my Strava lost the last six miles, which was too bad because someone after the ride shared that we’d averaged 21.5. A perfect mid-week ride in the company of good guys who love their “work.” I took no photos because that’s a good way to crash when you’re riding in a group of 10 or more. But I kind of like the photos held in my mind. The whirr of wheels. The slide from front to back in rotation. The feeling of being on the front and doing pulls, and getting quiet compliments on the quality of your pulls. It’s what you want from a group ride. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Thanks, ABD. We might see you again to hug a wheel and ride until the sun sets.