There is an adage among competitive cyclists that it’s difficult to attack from the front. You have to fight the wind yourself and you cannot see your competitors coming.
I wish that I would have remembered this bit of cycling wisdom last week when I went shooting up that long incline on Crosby Farm Road down by Watergate Marina sure that I had caught out these three young lads who had been lolling in lazy circles at the base of the climb.
The whole affair was a debacle. I had never meant to go down there in the first place. On one of my favorite training runs—out and back—along Mississippi River Road in St. Paul, I came to that point where the road bifurcates. Stay left, and you ride atop the river’s ridge for a bit before making a slow but steady descent toward downtown St. Paul. A momentary lapse of concentration and you find yourself, like I found myself, careening down the blacktop toward Watergate Marina, on your right, and into the parking lot of Crosby Lake Regional Park.
Down in the river bottoms, the blacktop is potholed and dodgy. As I was rattling over the ruts and picking my way through the various ensnarements, I noticed a trio of young gentlemen, maybe seniors in high school, perhaps freshmen in college, who were becalmed along the margin of the parking lot. Two of them straddled the top tube of their ratty mountain bikes while the third was completely dismounted and bent low to examine what I assumed to be a puncture or a derailleur malfunction.
I gave these callow cyclists nary a thought as I navigated the divots in the road. I wasn’t pleased to have found myself down in those hollows, but I figured that I could rectify the situation by proceeding through the parking lot and onto the satiny surface of the Crosby Lake parkway.
I was wrong.
High water had inundated the park path, so I had no choice but to wheel around, trundle over the bombed out tarmac, and ascend that long gradient back up to Shepherd Road.
The young triumvirate had somehow gotten back under way, for I saw them just up ahead and on the far side of the roundabout wobbling their way over the crumbling pavement much like I had done only a minute earlier.
I closed the gap quickly and, as I got within earshot I heard one of them exclaim, “This road sucks.” Then, as I rode up alongside them, I offered my own assessment of the asphalt, “Pretty crappy stuff, huh?”
Just then, the pavement improved, and since I was close to the base of the climb I wanted to increase my speed and gain momentum before ascending in earnest.
I leaped up the first two thirds of that hill. I had it timed just right. I rose out of the saddle and stomped on the pedals for that last bit of effort I would need to make it to the summit.
And then he passed me.
That same kid who had been ministering to his touring ten-speed minutes before blew right past me when I had 100 feet left to climb. I don’t know if he gave everything he had or if he had been in my slipstream the whole time or what. No matter.
When he reached the top he slowed to a crawl and I was on him in matter of seconds. He did not look at me as I came up alongside him, and we did not exchange any words. He knew it and I knew it.
He got me.