In 2002, I had a business meeting in Austin , Texas in mid-April. I decided to travel early, the weekend before, to visit a friend, Chris Williams, who lived in Austin. Thinking I would try to get a bicycle ride in, I borrowed another friend's Bike Friday to carry with me on the airplane. A Bike Friday is a small-wheel travel bike that fits in a suitcase and can be carried on a plane, generally at little expense.
I arrived Saturday and had a wonderful supper with Chris. We took plenty of time to reminisce. Chris and I shared two years in the Peace Corps in the late 60’s, teaching English as a second language in the Marshall Islands, a group of atolls in the middle of the Pacific.
Sunday morning Chris drove me to the starting location. When he dropped me off, he took the photo shown above. It turned out I was almost too late. But, by blind luck, this worked to my advantage. At the ride start I looked across the huge staging area where the riders were assembling for the start, and I saw several huge groups of cyclists waiting for their turn to begin the ride.
As I was puzzling over where I was supposed to assemble, I heard an emcee announcing the ride start. I could hear him exchanging quips with, of all people, Robin Williams. I knew he was a cyclist and friend of Lance, but I didn’t know he was expected to ride that day. As I looked across the thousands of people, I saw an area with a large banner above it, and a cadre of photographers with cameras raised high. I had brought a camera in my jersey pocket, so I made my way to where the commotion was and ... Egad! ... There was Lance, and next to him, Robin Williams, Eric Heiden, and Davis Phinney! There was just enough time to grab a couple of quick photos with my camera before the announcer blew the horn for the start for the first group, the group with Lance, where I was standing. I jumped on my Bike Friday, and we rode out of the stadium.
We started through the western outskirts of Austin, heading further west. At first, we were on a well-traveled highway. I could see Lance farther forward in the group. I could tell it was him because of his US Postal Service cycling clothes and his rapid cadence, which stood out from that of the others. Leading the group was a stake-bed truck loaded with paparazzi taking pictures of the celebs in the front.
I was reluctant to go farther forward and snap a picture of Lance riding in the peloton for fear of making the congestion at the front worse than it already was. I thought there might be an opportunity later when the front pack thinned out. But when we got further out of town, the pace picked up to 25-30 mph and it was all I could do to stay with the group. Finally, at about mile 35, I had to drop from the front pack. I've never been a great climber, and having extended myself just trying to stay with the group on the flats, I was quickly dropped when we went over a small rise. But I'm happy I was able to stay with them as long as I did. I heard someone say that we averaged about 25 mph for those first 35 miles. When the next group came by (the fastest riders of the next group to start), I jumped in with them and continued at their fast pace. Later I heard someone say we did the first 60 miles in 2 1/2 hours.
Riding with one such group, I started talking with a female who was asking about the Bike Friday. I mentioned that I rode with the front group that included Lance for 35 miles. She replied "Oh, then you started with the VIP group!" That’s how I learned that the first group consisted of specially invited people, including those who had each raised at least $1000 for the Cancer Research Foundation. So that's why I said I was lucky to have come late, because I got to ride with the VIP group without even having to feel guilty about it. I didn’t know that I had crashed the party!
The weather was perfect. We had a cloud cover that kept us from heating up too much, and it even sprinkled a few drops of rain a couple times. I continued the pattern of riding with a fast group until I got dropped on a hill. I’d then wait for the next group coming through and jump in with them. And there were plenty of fast groups, so I had ample opportunity to ride in fast pelotons.
At about mile 80, after having exhausted myself trying to keep up with these fast groups, I was on the verge of cramping in my calves. I only stopped once before then, to get more liquid. I was drinking fairly dilute powdered Gatorade, with a small amount of powdered milk for protein. I also had a banana the one time when I stopped. On that occasion, I stretched a bit. When I resumed, it was at an easier pace, and I was able to recover quite a bit. There was a final rest stop at mile 92, where I got more liquid, some orange slices, and a few pretzels. That was enough to get me to the finish, with no more threat of cramping.
When we arrived at the finish, I found out that we rode the 100 miles in about 4.75 hours! It was the draft from the fast riders that enabled such a fast time for me. At the finish, there was a wonderful music group playing old Beatles songs, especially Sergeant Pepper tunes. There was also free beer at the end, courtesy of a local micro-brewery. Chris finally picked my up, and after a long shower to clean up from the effects of the high humidity, I took a nap. Life was good that day!