Ben looked at me. “You’ve put me through a lot of pain today, Matti.”
I didn’t know Ben knew I existed. I thought it sad and somewhat ironic that I was about to explode the moment he declared that I and my companion were stronger.
Then we hit steep, unrelenting ramps, the sort of ramps that buzz on your Garmin and display in red within the text file. Sadly, red wasn’t just on my cycling computer screen but also the indicator on my turbo. I was done as the race was getting hard, and the temperature soared to 100 F. Then, several things happened at once:
- Our group caught my teammate Chaz, who had been dropped from the lead group.
- We started climbing a stair-stepping climb from hell, and I impaled myself on the front of my saddle and ate pain.
- An impossibly veiny, gossamer-framed nose-plugged wraith glided up to our group – Aaron Calhoun had caught us.
Aaron had crashed in the opening gravel sweepers outside Fort Collins and not only had survived but managed to bridge, alone, 50 miles, froggering from group to group to reach us.
“Hey guys,” he said. “I’ll be your domestique now that I’m out of it!”
Aaron took to the front and, while nose-breathing, laid down a tempo that instantly gaped all of us. At the crest of the rise, he looked back, slowed, and almost apologized for going too hard.
I laughed grimly. “Aaron. Just go. You’re too strong.”
“Nah,” he said. “I’ll hang with you guys.”
Great, I thought. Nothing is more fun than riding with someone that constantly reminds you how much you suck.
I looked back. Chaz was gone. Ben was gone. It was me, Aaron, my breakaway companion, and the lead woman, who was sweatless, quiet, and visibly undeterred at Aaron’s violent accelerations.
Up ahead, the road swept to the right in a cruel, steep curve, and we spotted a dropped front group rider laboring up it. Oh shit.
Before we even hit the foot of the climb, I pulled the leash on my parachute. I was boiling. Sweat dripped into my eyes, and I could barely see. My breath, even in the thermal air, seemed hot. Just pedaling Z2 seemed increasingly maximal.
One by one, they left me. Aaron dropped them all without attacking, his light frame eating into the gradient, slipping away meter by meter without looking back.
I looked behind and saw the red dot of Chaz and the Mack truck built by Ben menacing not far below me.
Seventy miles down, 50 to go. The nightmare had begun.