I’m constantly seeing these photographs on the instagrams of people out with their large groups of beautiful friends riding their bikes. On a weekday, one like any other. These people are not on vacation, but they’re not unemployed, either. They somehow find time to do this, in the middle of their successful, joy-filled lives. And me? I’m stuck at my computer, dreaming about bicycles. Whenever I see a post like that, the same thoughts race through my mind every time: Who are these people? When do they do their laundry? Walk their dogs? And how in the world do they pay the bills and keep their spouses happy?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for them. I swear. I just wonder how they do it. When I find the time to ride, I mostly do it alone and when I join a group ride it never seems to be on amazing roads, in remote locations or with beautiful, friendly people. I do get to ride with my incredible wife a couple days a week and my commute includes a ride over the Golden Gate Bridge, but with my current commitments, finding a group of like-minded cyclists with similar schedules and strengths seems impossible.
Which may be the single greatest reason why I miss being on an inGamba trip. The chain gang, that beautiful congregation of riders from different backgrounds and with different levels of ability, all riding in unison, for no other reason than the fact that it feels good to be part of a squad. No man is an island, as some fancy poet once said.
There’s something particularly amazing having the strongest rider making sure that I’m still safely within the group when the pace ratchets up, rather than dumped violently off the back, in an explosion of breathless gasps and mashed pedals, as nature intended.
Whether it’s the Portuguese guy with the giant calves, steely eyes and wicked smile who happens to have won more than 40 professional races, or the giant Italian who once took home the win on the prestigious Tour de France stage atop Mont Ventoux, on an inGamba ride the strongest riders are not just trying to put the hurt on you, they’re making sure that the pressure is just enough, but not too much. We all want to suffer, but only so much.
Imagine this in real life. Your riding partners are actually worried about you. Concerned you are getting a good hard ride in, but not so hard you blow up and hate the day.
Now, almost every one of my inGamba ride starts like a lunch ride or a Chicken Ride or a shop ride, and I’m hopeful. Hopeful I’ll feel great and today will be my day. Hopeful these skinny people I am standing around with, chatting with, sizing up and calculating are not anywhere near as fast as they look, and that today will be the day I hang with the fast kids.
But unlike at home, I don’t dread the inevitable end to my day on the front. Because, unlike at home, I know there will inevitably be a gruppetto. And even though I love hanging on for dear life at the back of a Donkey Week double-paceline, it is on the back of the bus where I enjoy myself the most.
The gruppetto is in bicycling terminology the name given to the group of cyclists in a road cycling race that forms behind the leading peloton, particularly on hard mountain stages when the sprinters and their cadre just want to make it to the finish, exerting as little effort as possible. They could go harder, but they don’t need to, so they dial it back and save themselves for another day.
Of course, along the way they also pick up some stragglers. Which is where my ilk comes in. Our gruppetto forms when the front pack turns on the screws and our bodies start writing checks that we are completely unable to cash.
Some days this happens on the first climb, and some days it doesn’t happen until after the coffee stop, but it almost always happens. Luckily for me, on an inGamba trip, I never ride alone. There is always at least a small group of riders who either rode too hard the day before, decide to take a recovery day, or have arrived on their trip in the hopes of riding themselves into shape.
And I love the fact we, inGamba, put as much emphasis of taking care of the grupetto, as we do the hard chargers at the front. Because unlike at home, with inGamba, I’m never left to ride alone.