When I started riding and racing in 1988, I almost immediately began riding Saturday river rides. I was hooked on the speed, quality of riders, and sheer size of the peloton headed up and back on relatively narrow roads. Saturday was a great learning experience-and it helped me improve quickly and move through the lower categories quickly (as it had for many Sacramento racers). Yet, Saturday river rides could be a bit deceiving in creating a false sense of strength, considering a relatively easy “sit-in ride” due to the size of the pack, and protection from the wind via the trees lining the river. I thought I had it figured out, though, because it was still damn fast. The sky was the limit with this bike racing thing once I started the Saturday ride. Then I heard about the Tuesday and Thursday river rides…
My first Tuesday/Thursday RR wasn't until 1990. Being a Sacramento boy, I am still not sure how I missed these weekday training sessions for my first couple years. I had been racing in the 2’s for a few months, and even though I couldn't beat the Scott McKinley’s and John Brady’s in the sprints-I could finish top 5 consistently on Saturdays. My teammates (most of us were riding for Rio Strada at the time) told me that Tuesday was different, and I really needed to be ready for serious speed. “Nothing to worry about,” I thought to myself. Vince Gee-one of my first mentors-pulled me aside and let me know, once again, this ride was going to be harder, and I really needed to pay attention to the wind and my position. “Right, right… I got this,” as I brushed Vince off.
We rolled through the back surface streets to get out to Freeport Blvd. It was a windy evening with the typical southwest wind that cuts across the road from the left and only leaves room for eight to ten riders during echelons. I had let myself drift towards the back of the pack, and realized Harvey-Nitz was next to me. “Good company… a bit far back, although I got Harvey to shepherd me,” I assured myself. As the pace began to pick up with the tailwind after the right turn from the bridge, I followed Harvey forward through the pack smoothly. Then-suddenly-I heard brakes screeching and riders spread out across the road. No one had gone down, although a large tree branch had fallen into the road from the strong wind and disrupted the packs echelons as we had begun to swing left by the farm houses. I was happy to not have hit the ground, yet Harvey was pissed. Rider etiquette hadn't been followed, and no one up front was calling out debris sitting in the road. Harvey, and I, was pretty far back and the braking left a healthy gap between the front group and the back. Harvey was done with the chaos and decided to swing out to the left (into the wind), and begin the effort alone to get across to the front group. “No worries, Harvey’s got this,” I thought to myself.
I latched onto Harvey’s hip and settled in to enjoy the ride. Harvey upped the pace to the low thirties, and we quickly passed the entire second group and we were now in no man’s land. There were about twenty-five top notch racers still in front, and I figured Harvey would get there, although it was going to take some serious effort. Well, Harvey kept notching up the effort and he quickly took us across to the lead group. “Perfect! Glad I was close to Harvey, now we can settle in and get ready for the real ride,” I thought. Yet, as we came up on the back of the front group, Harvey stayed on the center dotted line and just kept going. I had the perfect wheel, so I kept going, too. Harvey was now doing about thirty-five and he rolled right past the group with me hooked onto his wheel, all the while my eyes fixated on his back hub. After a good mile and-a-half effort, Harvey glanced under his arm and saw someone (I am sure he had no idea who I was-with him). He flicked his elbow for a bit of help, and I took a turn. “No worries, I got this,” for some reason, crossed my mind. After about a hundred meters, I swung off and said to myself, “Wow, this is really fast.” Harvey took over and increased the tempo a couple mph, since I had let it drop. He turned it for a few hundred meters and gave me a flick, again. I took my turn and swung off after a hundred (probably fifty) meters. Harvey quickly came back up and increased the pace, yet again. In a very short period of time, my lactic acid had spiked and my body and mind were buzzing. Harvey powerfully rode away from me just before the Ferrari tower, and in my state of physical and mental confusion, I had glanced back to see the lead/chase pack one-hundred meters back. “OK, that didn't work very well, although get some deep breaths and jump into the chase group,” I tried to convince myself. Scott McKinley, John Brady, Kevin Metcalfe, Dominique Anderson, etc. flew by in pursuit. I couldn't even get out of the saddle to sprint onto the back and was dropped, again. Fortunately, I saw another echelon coming along fifty meters further back, and their pace looked about right. Once they passed, and dropped me, (along with the next couple groups), I found myself riding alone asking myself, “What the hell just happened?” I rode along the river (quite peaceful when by yourself) and found my way back into town as I crossed the Tower Bridge.