I accidentally helped myself to an extra 40 minutes sleep before yesterday's ride and it may have paid dividends, as I got around a tough parcours fairly comfortably. Fortunately our new tradition is a pre-ride stop at Starbucks, so I was able to get a breakfast of a sausage/egg/cheese biscuit as well as my usual coffee. Like a good team leader I picked up the tab for my domestiques, hopefully that won't invalidate their amateur status.
We had planned a tougher ride this time, either Sealy or Bellville, but the wind was out of the south east so ideally we needed a loop that finished with a north leg. I suggested some options but in the end we decided that the wind wasn't going to be strong enough to be a factor anyway and headed off to Sealy.
As we passed the BP complex (aka the Black Lubyanka) Lee noted that the vultures circling the towers seemed more numerous than usual. Perhaps they too had heard that lay-offs were in the pipeline?
The park in Sealy where we start our rides was completely dead (except for the city employee unlocking the toilets, thank you very much sir). I don't know why Sealy isn't a more popular venue for weekend road warriors, there are great routes through pretty country on safe roads. It may be that it's just a bit too far from Houston but it's really not too bad a drive, especially when you have a domestique behind the wheel.
Everyone's equipment is back to standard. Kevin had his broken spoke replaced and was on the Roubaix, Lee had his crank re-attached (complete with a custom end-cap) and I'd got new tyres front and rear. As we geared up, Lee laid down a solid marker in the contest for "Most Favoured Domestique" by pumping up my tyres. That sort of brown nosing will stand you in very good stead my friend, come on Kevin, pick up the pace please. We're still riding in full (or nearly full) winter gear but with the forecast showing 60 degrees by noon I anticipated a strip tease.
So off we rolled, the Three Amigos, taking on probably our toughest route, the first time since my epic flame-out and subsequent rescue by Kevin last year. It was certainly pretty nippy during the early going but Kevin set a strong pace to warm us up. He was looking very comfortable on the climbs, even by his standards, and was definitely happy to be on the carbon bike rather than the steel. We put this down to his daily work-outs on the stairmaster, so I suggested to Lee that we adjust the intensity setting on the machine to "El Capitan Dawn Wall" or "Everest". We'd pay in the long run but it might slow him down for a bit.
On to Caracara Alley, the section on the run in to Bernardo where we have a lot of bird sightings. Too early for the scissor-tailed flycatcher but we saw herons and several large hawks. This took us into Bernardo proper where we usually stop at the feed store to regroup a bit. Kevin went in to buy water and exchange pleasantries with the proprietor (apparently they had a wet fall so they're not behind on rain this year) while Lee and I ate some snacks ( and I wrung the sweat out of my headbad, harbinger of hot times ahead in the months to come).
The next stage features very nice scenery, some impressive estates and the dreaded hell hounds. I was riding with my helmet-mounted video camera and told the team that I would be recording the sprint past the mastiffs' lair. Predictably enough I was poised and ready to capture the excitement - and the dogs stayed in bed. Lazy buggers.
We made the turn on to FM 949 and the short run into Cat Spring. The wind (which wasn't going to be a factor, remember?) was firmly on our backs and we cruised into town in fine style, hardly noticing the climbs. The Cat Spring Kountry Klub (I kid you not) marks the gateway to the Alpe de Sealy section, and we always stop for water and a chance to be glared at by the grumpy lady who runs this fine establishment before taking on the lumpy bits. Surprisingly enough she was almost pleasant today, probably because her daughter and grand-daughter were visiting. Kevin, in his role of Mr. Congeniality breaking down the barriers between town and country, made sparkling conversation while I "strained the spuds" and pulled off my arm warmers.
Time to get going again! I turned on my video, announced that it would be every man for himself and we set off, up hill and down dale for about 8 miles. In the end I made it through pretty well, perhaps because I was anticipating a lot of pain - I had to grind pretty hard in the usual places but when we got to the end I felt better than I normally do. This could be because I've trained harder this year, but I think the wind out of the south meant that I started the climbs feeling less worn down than if I'd been fighting it all the way. The video shows that the run lasted 28 minutes, but MC edited it down to a more manageable length, focussing on the section that usually kicks my butt. Take a look here: http://youtu.be/IK2Nc9rxjyk. Somewhere along this section, way in front of me, Lee caught Kevin on a climb when he missed a gear and lost his cadence. The recovery apparently had him blowing like a freight train (whence "Locomotive Breath", perhaps not what Ian Anderson had in mind but very apt for Kevin the Tull fan). Lee was feeling aerobic enough to offer a few words of encouragement, which probaby didn't help. Come on chaps, focus please.
Back on route 36 and a 7 mile run in on smooth surfaces but with a decent head/cross wind. Kevin set the pace as ever and I was able to hang on without too much effort. But I was glad to pass the Sealy city limit sign.
Home in time for lunch, a short nap and then a fun evening with Lee and BJ watching "Selma", followed by an excellent dinner at Ibiza. Outstanding food and company and excellent wine selection by Lee.