August 30, 2018/ Lucia Parker
Editor’s note: After reading Jim’s description of the incredible 1-2 finish he and son Will Parker posted in the 2018 Mid-Atlantic 100-mile race, I had to hear the story from Will’s perspective. What was it like in the peloton? How did he close that gap, solo? Luckily, Will is a greater writer. Here’s his story:
I got up to Washington, N.C. early last Saturday morning, and tooled around on the bike a bit. Before I knew it, we were off.
I started riding in the midst of a big DF (diamond frame or traditional bicycle) peloton. We were going along pretty fast (26-28 mph) for a couple of miles. Dad, Larry, and Ed (Dad and Larry on V20s, Ed on an M5) were out in front, but I figured I was OK because they wouldn’t make a break till later in the race.
I was wrong, though.
They made a break from the pack just a few miles in. Obliviously, I kept riding along in the DF peloton. Then, a DF rider rode next to me and said. “Go to the back or the front, that thing is not safe.”
I said, “What? Why is it not safe?”
He said, “Get to the back or the front, I don’t want to hurt myself because of that –” and he pointed at the V20 — “machine.”
I was embarrassed and angry. But, when an opening arose, I moved my bike to the left, out of the peloton and into the wind. The guy said “thank you.”
From out there in the open, I could see that the recumbent peloton had made a breakaway, and were at least 200 yards up ahead.
Without the ability to draft, I wasn’t confident I could catch the recumbent group. Alone, it was so much harder just to go the same speed I’d been cruising at in the peloton. I felt like I’d been tossed out of the pack into a dark, windy, night.
I considered my options as the DF peloton slowly passed me on my right:
1. I could continue to drop back. From the butt of the peloton, I could draft without being bothered. But that would mean totally giving up on helping Dad or placing well–and so early in the race, too. That would bring shame on Cruzbike, recumbents, the Parker Family, etc. That was what I was thinking, anyway. I was feeling particularly tribal at the time, probably because of the recent brush with the in-out social dynamic of the peloton.
2. I could make a break for the lead group.
I shifted up, gripped the handlebars, and mashed. My body engaged, and so did the V20. I zoomed past the DF peloton quickly. Soon, I couldn’t even see it in my mirror. The recumbent peloton, however, eluded me. On every straightaway, I would sprint to close the gap. And each time, it would narrow from 200 yards to more like 50. On the turns, however, my inexperience and caution hurt me. I looped through them slowly, and lost ground. This lonely yo-yo continued for 5 miles. Then 10 miles. I would close on the straightaway to within tantalizing distances of the recumbent peloton, near enough to see the outline of Dad’s torso. But then I would lose the peloton on the turn. I could hear my breathing growing louder. I silently willed Dad to slow down just enough to let me get in the slipstream of the recumbent peloton. He didn’t.
Finally, we hit a long straightaway. I pedaled harder than I had before. My heart thumped in my thorax. My legs ached. I knew that I was going way too hard, way too early. I knew I was spending too much time alone, in the wind. I didn’t know how long I could keep my level of effort up. To slow down, though, meant letting the DF peloton catch up to me. It meant going to the back. I put in one more effort at acceleration. The gap yielded. 30 yards to the peloton. 20 yards to the peloton. 10 yards to the peloton. 5 yards and then: slipstream.
The relief was incredible. As soon as I caught Dad’s back wheel the level of effort I needed to put out in order to maintain my speed plummeted.
I could almost feel my oxytocin levels rise. Here was my pack. I had caught them. I wasn’t alone anymore, and they wouldn’t kick me out. We were together, recumbent and strong. We shared pulls for the next 60 miles. There were ups and downs but the overwhelming majority of the race was nowhere near as difficult as the stretch where I had been trying to catch the recumbent peloton. Mostly, it was fun. Around mile 75, though, Larry cramped. At 85, Ed finally dropped back out of sight. At 95, I bonked and Dad surged.
After the first four cyclists–all recumbents–had finished, the first DF rider cycled across the finish line. He thrust his fists over his head, his arms making a giant “V”, as he went under the finish banner. I thought that was curious, given that he came in fifth.
But Dad said that was to be expected. The DF riders don’t think of us as part of the race anymore, Dad said. We’ve won too many times.
At first I was angry to be given the “front-or-back” ultimatum. For one, I don’t buy the safety argument behind it. It may be more convenient to ride in an exclusivey DF peloton (because of differences in acceleration, cornering, and wind profile between DFs and recumbents), but I’m aware of little evidence that a mixed peloton causes crashes.
After some more thought, however, I’ve come to peace with facing front-or-back with a Cruzbike. It’s like being met at a fork in the road by a hooded, old sorceress, who says to you, “To my left is a difficult path to greatness. To my right is a softer path to mediocrity. Oh and here’s a V20, it’ll make either way easy.”