Today we finally got to do the much-postponed Pattison-Bellville ride with Larry. Sadly it turned out to be a tough day, with a challenging route, screaming head winds and a nasty wreck that took out some of the speediest Mules ahead of us.
Lots of riders today, including some of the strongest Mules. We started as a group but didn't tay together for long. The first few miles are due north and slipped by pretty easily with the tail wind. Once we turned west our speed dropped dramatically. A strong cross-wind can be almost as challenging as a head wind, and we couldn't really ride en echelon like the pros because the road was busy and the shoulder only one bike wide. On top of that, once we crossed the Brazos the terrain became much more challenging. This is on the MS route and there are usually a few people pushing their bikes by this point. The Mules of course were well ahead, but Paul as ride director dropped back to check we knew the route. I suspect Kevin and Larry could have hung with the speedsters if they wanted but they were good enough to stay back with me.
Paul had previously found a quiet country road that runs parallel to 529, starting just after the river. He and the rest of the speedsters were waiting for us at the turn and we regrouped but not for long - this was a short section dead into the wind with hills and they got ahead pretty rapidly.
At the next turn we saw Gene (he of the fabulous Pinarello) stopped by the side of the road, looking a little shaken. Not sure what had happened but he had a scrape on his leg. He had been with the fast group but was happy to ride with us. A little further on he realised that his gears weren't shifting properly (and he has the super-duper electronic ones too!) and he couldn't get to his lowest gears, not good news with hills in front of us.
The main road into Bellville has a lot of rollers and the country road had even more (they don't have the same limits on grade), but the trees on both sides knocked down the wind a bit. We more-or-less kept together - Larry and Kevin took it easy on the descents, allowing me to catch up - but Gene found his second wind and blew ahead despite his lack of climbing gears.
One in the outskirts of Bellville we relaxed a bit, at least until the Austin County sheriff's deputy coming up behind us put on his siren and issued Larry a stern lecture about riding two-abreast (which I though was legal, and we weren't doing it anyway, and it was on a quiet country road...).
Paul had dropped back again and guided us the rest of the way to the Valero station in downtown Bellville, where the Mules were taking a well-earned break. Gene decided to rejoin the fast group and headed offf with them. Larry, Kevin and I hung out a bit longer, then headed out too.
The climbs had not got any smaller! It was definitely a struggle to keep up and it didn't help when I overshifted and threw my chain off halfway through. Larry and Kevin were in front anyway and left me for dead, but were good enough to wait for me a little further on.
Back on to 529 and I was really struggling, so much so that I rode en echelon with Larry for a bit of relief, and to hell with the traffic. As we approached the Brazos I pointed out to Larry that the deputy's jurisdiction ended at the river, where we cross the county line into Waller county. "Free at last, free at last" he declaimed as we zipped over the bridge. Odd to think that we're more comfortable in Waller county, which is basically redneck central.
And then we made the turn south! I tried to hang on to Kevin and Larry but I was at my limit and had to call them back several times. Then Larry spotted a wreck ahead and as we got closer I realised it was the Mules. A SAG vehicle for another ride had stopped to render assistance and it was needed. Patty was sitting on the ground with a wad of tissue held to her mouth and blood on her legs. Meggin was holding her but she had clearly gone down too. Catherine was sitting in the front seat of the SAG waggon, looking shocked. Meggin is a physician's assistant so I knew Patty was in good hands while they waited for the ambulance. The three of us set out for home (6 miles away), planning to come back with cars for the bikes if needed.
Back at the start we weren't needed, thanks to the SAG waggon getting people where they needed to be. Patty was on her way to hospital, Catherine was heading home with Flo and Barry was looking ruefully at his bike, which had sustained a broken chain stay in the carnage. He's a strong rider with a beautiful bike, sadly no more. He had scraped his knee and landed on outstretched hands, bruising up his fingertips. Apparently they had been in a paceline, someone made a mistake and the chain reaction brought everyone down. Happens all the time in pro cycling, of course. I suspect that the strong wind and rider fatigue also played a part.