During Sunday afternoon's ride, the three of us are heading in from the Turkey Foot/Berryville loop, having enjoyed a nice ride so far. We'd seen about a bajillion people out riding, but so far as I can remember we hadn't passed or been passed by anyone. Everyone was going the other way. Turning off of Falls and onto Oaklyn, we spot a solitary guy in a red jacket up the road a piece. Being with two women, and generally of a mindset to try and not be a douche, I become very conscious of subduing the chase instinct and hold our pace. I don't want to be the subject of any "why do guys always..." discussions. Keep the group together, pass him if we pass him, whatever, but not screw up what's been a really productive ride so far.
Gradually, we're catching him, and his effort level is becoming more erratic. He's kind of got a good pace on the flats but on any risers he's sort of mashing and flailing. We get up behind him on a flat and I ease the pace to keep a gap behind him as we're just about to get to a riser and we'll just go right by him then. Riser comes, he slows down dramatically, and we cruise by with a friendly greeting. He's got tt bars.
Our mistake in strategy was having the one with the hair sticking out of her hat in third wheel. That's the big red "dude, you just got chicked" flag that's going to lead to the next series of events.
We ride on at our pace, soon hearing the inevitable locomotive chugging of a dude who won't submit to being chicked, and he - well, you couldn't say he blows past us, more like he rattled past us? whatever you'd call it with grinding way too big of a gear in clear misery and going just a bit faster, because that what it was - gets by us just in time to hit the downhill and turn onto Persimmon Tree. And man is he working it, his form looks like some spasmodic church organist in the throes of holy rapture while banging out the solo from Inna-Gada-Davida. He's rocking and swaying and weaving and bobbing and jerking and it's just a mess. He's also mostly riding out towards the double yellow. I keep a gap behind him, not wanting to get into any sort of pissing match and mindful that I have no idea how much gas the people with me have in the tank to make a definitive and final move past him. Our slowing to stay behind is the least harmful of all circumstances, so we just do it. Finally, on the rise up to Eggert, he is completely shot. I come to a near standstill behind him, meantime the wife just chugs by and gets almost level with him and clearly has no idea what the etiquette is. He's so far out into the road that passing on his left is an impossibility, so she starts to move to his right and sort of gingerly starts passing. B gives her an exceedingly effective "tap tap shove" at which point the missus just bombs by the guy, as the two of us follow suit. He made that same turn we did onto Macarthur but we never saw him after that.
A little while later, we come up behind another group of two ladies one guy. They are clearly more serious than the last guy, and we follow them up Goldsboro. I'm thinking that they're going to go past Mass since they were coming out Macarthur, but they turn onto Mass to go up the hill and we follow them. Exchange of jolly greetings as one of ours, I guess looking for a good last effort of the day, starts a decisive effort. I give them a "whatareyagonnado?" shrug and we each give the effort that we want to give up the hill. One of the women from the other group pounds up the thing in the big ring which makes my knees hurt just thinking about it, but she made it up pretty quick so I guess whatever gets the job done. I was impressed with her effort and told her "nice one," hoping as soon as it left my mouth that it would sound genuine and not condescending or something else that it wasn't.
I don't really know what the point is. There are a lot of people around here who ride, some are faster, some are slower. I've been fully humbled by people flying past me looking like they were doing nothing more strenuous that lying on a couch, and been fully humbled by the restraint shown by some of the better riders who I recognize, who keep to their plan despite whatever else is going on. There's an old saying in sailing that you're always racing, it's just a question of whether the other guy knows it or not. Totally inapplicable to cycling.