ABRT did the Bike Doctor/St. Michael’s Century on the eastern shore this past weekend. It was a beautiful day for it; low humidity, sunshine and cool temperatures. This is one of the things I love about the “century season” in the fall and I try to do as many as possible (Bay Country, Civil War, Seagull). Such a welcome change from the typical summer conditions. While these are not races, it is fun to do them with teammates and friends in a challenging, but not “dog-eat-dog at all costs” kind of a way.
The attraction of this particular event was that Bob Roll, yes, THE Bob Roll (“Bobke” as he is known to fans) was going to be the guest of honor. I thought that was kind of cute, he’d be there giving a speech, ride with various people. Whatever. That to me was just a minor sideshow. A lot of ABRT folks were in and that’s what I was looking forward to. While I very much enjoy Bob Roll as a cycling TV commentator, both for his in-depth knowledge of the sport and his quirky personality, I’m not much of a celebrity worshiper. I typically don’t like to invest any emotional energy in social interactions that are not meaningful in some way. Shaking hands with someone who will not remember you and you will never see again is one of these scenarios, so the fact that Bobke was going to be there didn’t really raise the bar much form me. To quote Lisa, my wonderful wife, “The key to happiness in life is low expectations.” I’m not quite sure what this says about me… but I digress. Well, it turned out to be quite a bit more interesting than I expected.
It was a “mass start” kind of event at 8:30. It was a smallish group of typical century (non-racing) riders, maybe a 100 and change; much smaller compared to events like the Seagull Century with thousands of riders that filter onto the course over several hours time. Since the roads were wide (at least to start) and pancake flat, the ABRT train quickly built up a head of steam with about 20 riders. Sure, we were not “sitting up and smelling roses” but it was a nice group ride tempo. Not too surprisingly given our numbers of strong riders, we quickly were tête de la course. But when Spencer flatted, we lost about 10-15 minutes as riders streamed past – most notably to the Bike Doctor group (ride hosts) which contained Bobke. Once we got started, we chased at a good pace, weaving up and down the Peninsulas of Talbot County, never quite managing to totally reel in the Bike Doctor group. It wasn’t until about the half way mark, at the Bellevue-Oxford ferry, that we caught up with them at the scheduled rest stop. Since we were waiting for the ferry we enjoyed “ride” food and drink and had an opportunity to chat with Bob. Nice. He certainly seems to enjoy hanging with the bike crowd. Everyone got some nice pictures on the ferry, Bob was very patient and accommodating, getting his picture taken with groups and one on one as if they were old time buddies who hadn’t seen each other in a long time.
When we exited the ferry, the ABRT, Bike Doctor and a number of other riders trucked down the road. That’s when things really started to get more interesting. The ABRT train rolled off the ferry last and had been gapped a bit by the others on the ferry. Once we caught up to the main group, we rolled by. I thought we might leave them behind while they just kept riding tempo. No way. About a minute or two later, as I came off the front, here was Bob moving up the line looking over at us with his signature shit eating grin – not so fast guys… This was an omen. From that point on, the pace really started to jam with a nice rotating paceline. The pace was high enough and steady enough that riders were being shed off the back. By the time we got to the last rest stop at ~80+ miles we were down to about 8 ABRT riders, Bob and one Bike Doctor rider. Since we were tête de la course, the support vehicle led the way and some of the Bike Doctor guys were taking video and stills of our paceline. I can’t wait to see the footage! Another great benefit is that we didn’t need to pay much attention to the route, which is good given that we we took a wrong turn in the first 3 miles!
We got rolling again just as the off the back riders started coming in. The home stretch, the last 25 miles, was through some really scenic small farms roads with a pine tree canopy. What a beautiful smell. I was still in the rotation and taking my pulls, although they were getting decidedly shorter. At about 90 miles, Bobke starts these surging off the front 10 second efforts and accelerating out of every corner, opening small gaps and really fluctuating the pace. I was thinking “This is starting to hurt. He knows what he is doing. Testing, probing, tiring the group.” He only put out a small effort, making you chase then sitting back in. Every time he came as far back as me, I would (could?) not pull through. I was thinking “if you’re going to hurt me, I’m not pulling you back”. This went on for about 5 more miles and then at 95 miles, the rubber band breaks. Pop, I’m OTB. I recover as best I can and time trial my way back. The last 9 miles is basically on wide open roads leading into St. Michaels, but it is windy and the apparent wind angle is about 45 degrees, so it’s basically on the nose and I have to no company. I managed to struggle along at about 20 mph, finally catching a shortcutted rider with whom I work and that gives me a little rest. I rolled in with a time of 4:40 (22.2 mph) a few minutes after the remnants of the group, just hitting the parking lot with Bobke who must have sat up to cool down at the end.
The Wheelsucker was there until the end and recounts the last 10 miles with the group in his post.
All in all it was an extremely fun and interesting ride and a very pleasant surprise for a club racer like me to really RIDE with a guy like Bob Roll. Everyone socialized a bit after the ride with Bobke and more than that, I think the interaction we as a group had with him was indeed meaningful. I hope he enjoyed it as much as we did. I understand he has not been riding all that much and I’m not sure how hard he really worked. My guess is that he is like my old squash partner Joe Prahl who, over the years I was improving always put out just enough effort to beat me. That way you always think, “hmm maybe if I just did X, I’d win”. Perhaps Bobke has perfected the art of riding with local teams – just put out enough effort to make them feel like they are hurting an ex-pro. Who knows? A pro in many ways… Regardless, that guy can ride a bike and at the same time make you feel good about riding yours.