On the way out it was pretty clear who felt strong and who didn't. Two riders in particular set the pace and would do so all the way round. I struck up conversation with one of them, Scott, while we were hauling ass through Cullen Park. He's a Texan, but married a french girl, speaks pretty good french (can't beat a sleeping dictionary...) and has a daughter who tells everyone she's french even though she's never left the country.
Out of the park and onto Park Row for the 9-mile drag to Old Katy. We initially start at a very gentle pace, but before too long we're back at 20 mph or so. I'm definitely feeling the pace and drop back with the Autobus. We regroup at the Shell station and get to practice our french a bit, amidst lots of laughter and folk wisdom (Scott's Dad told him, if you meet a girl and can see her boobs from behind, marry her). I manage to forget to eat my gel and regret it later.
Back on the road and it's hotter than Satan's armpit already. We cross the freeway (very steep bridge that brings out the sprinter in everyone) dead into a strong wind off the Gulf, than turn east for the run home. It's a cross-wind now and I try to ride en echelon for a while. Scott and the other hot shot leave us quickly but we catch them at the many traffic lights on this route.
Finally back at the Cop Shop and I congratulate the two speedsters on their promotion to the ILC (translation - bugger off and let the rest of us cruise along in peace). We head out along Wind Alley, but I'm fading fast (too hot, too fast, too much vino last night). The last section is straight into the wind and I struggle. We pick up Memorial for the run back to the shop and I get dropped pretty quickly, although we hook up again at the lights at Eldridge.
I'm very glad to get off the bike and sit down in the A/C comfort of the shop. I look briefly at a new wheelset (way too rich for my blood) then head home for a nap. If I'm going to keep riding with these guys I'll need to take it all a bit more seriously.