There are times in life when you consider yourself one of the luckiest
persons in the world, and not a single day goes by that I don't count myself as
one of the luckiest of them all. From getting the freedom from my wife and
family to ride and race my bike, to writing a weekly column on this site, to
meeting some of the pros in the national and international peloton; as far as
cycling goes, it doesn't get any better than this.
Last Thursday, while doing our usual Peachtree Battle Ride, I caught
up with my friend Steve Colavito. Steve rides for the Fairway/CYFAC Elite
Cycling team ( Fairway/CYFAC)
out of Greenville, SC. The team's captain and manager is Rich Hincapie, of the
George Hincapie clan. As we pedalled along, Steve asked me if I was going to do
our usual ride on Saturday and that he needed a favor. I told him I was doing
the usual 9AM Vinnings Ride and asked what the favor was.
"Well", said Steve, "George is coming to town on Saturday and I will not be
here since I have to go to Greenville. And I need someone to take George out on
a ride....do you think you can do that?" Didn't I tell you I was one of
the luckiest persons? After thinking it over for about 0.0000000001 second, I
told him, "No problem, I'll take George out on the ride." We exchanged emails
later that night and I just kept my fingers crossed for it to happen. Of course,
I was asked to keep the information under lock and key, but an opportunity of
this magnitude only comes once in a lifetime, so I had to let someone know. And
three other lucky persons got the email (my best friend Dave in Texas and the
site gurus Janna and Vaughn).
I have to admit that I didn't lose any sleep that night, but I was up earlier
than usual, consuming the usual pre-ride breakfast, a bowl of Frosted Flakes, a
banana and OJ. The phone rang at 8:15AM and the caller ID said "Greenville, SC".
Then I realized things were going to happen. Kevin, a friend of George's, was on
the other end telling me to meet them at five after nine at the shop. I was out
of the door after kissing the girls goodbye for what was going to be my last
ride of the season. At the shop I met up with some of the guys who were going
mountain biking and waved goodbye to the road pack as they left without me. I
did tell the ride's leader (Don) to "keep an easy pace on your way out of town,
I may have a big surprise for you guys." George and Kevin came in right on time
and we set off to chase the group.
You have to pull too!
After the necessary introductions and hand shakes were taken care of, we got
rolling and I gave Kevin and George a rough summary of the ride's route and
quickly found myself going a bit too hard too early. "We have to chase," said
George and I started to look for one of their wheels to follow. Right as I was
drifting behind the USPS Classics leader, he looks back and says: "You have to
help us pull." I got the message and went to the front, trying to roll my tongue
back in my mouth. I vaguely saw the tail end of the front pack at the top of one
of the short, steep hills on the way out. That's when I started to regret going
out without a good warmup, and the Frosted Flakes was causing havoc in my
George and Manny
Before I knew it I was coasting down, trying to catch them both and the pack
now was just a few yards ahead. Once we latched to the back of the group, I
waved Don to let him know we were onboard and the ride could pick some speed
now. That's when I noticed one of my good friends, Barry McCarty, slowing down
on the left side of the group, looking around as if he had lost something. I
kept wondering what he was looking for and then his facial expression changed
and a HUGE! smile appeared. He started giggling and making no sense whatsoever,
but I could tell he was excited. "WOW!!!...Hi George!!" was the first thing I
could understand from him. He went over and talked to our new ride leader and
told him how much it meant for the group (and himself) to be riding with him. By
now, the entire pack knew who was with us and one could hear "is that who I
think it is?" and "how did we get him here?" Barry, still smiling, came over
towards me and said, "Manny, if I haven't told you this before, I'm telling you
now, YOU ARE DA MAN!!!!!." Coming from him, it meant a lot. He even considered
kissing me, but I was having none of it. Rumor has it he never wiped the smile
of his face.
They'll get CRA-ZY
Every ride in the world reaches a point where things change from a easy,
rolling, talkative pace, to full out war. Ours is no exception and the pace
started to pick up slowly, but surely, with the usual suspects (Kirk, Don and
co.) starting the festivities. George made an appearance on the front and
quickly had us single file, although he wasn't going all out (as far as I could
tell, he never got close to full tilt), some of the weakest riders (by
now the Frosted Flakes had settled in and I was in control of my body) were
falling off the pace. Earlier on we (Kevin, George and I) had decided to do the
short, 40 mile route, but when we arrived at the turnaround point, after some
fireworks from the local boys, George decided we should continue on. Giddie up!
One more hour?
I sat at the front to keep the boys in check and to talk a little with
George. I didn't want to talk about the season and this and that, since I'm sure
he had heard enough of that type of question. Instead, we talked about his quick
recovery, why he was down in Atlanta, plans for the next few weeks and off
season. The pace got faster, but I wasn't feeling tired, that was until George
hinted that we should do an extra hour once we got back to town (did I mention
he had a 80 minute crit that night, about two hours south of Atlanta?). My body
begged me to say "NO WAY!! man" but as usual, it's mind over body and I
answered, "Sure, as long as we go slow," to which he replied, "Oh yeah, we'll go
slow." To those of you who are new to the sport, never trust a cyclist when
he tells you that "we will go slow."
So, since we were going to do an extra hour, to the three we were going to
have once we were back in town, I told George that I was going back to the end
of the pack and he followed me. As I was sliding backwards, I asked Don, "George
wants to do an extra hour in town, wanna go with me?"..."uuuuhhhh, I don't think
so." Not the answer I wanted to hear. As we approached the half way point, I
indicated to George and Kevin that the "biggest" climb of the day was up ahead
and that we would regroup at the gas station a few miles down. I tackled the
hill at the front with George, who wasn't even sweating hard, despite wearing
leg and arm warmers. Next thing I know, my two new ride friends and a small
group of the homegrown talent were leaving me for death on the steep Chapel Hill
slopes. No worries, we regrouped and had a short water break.
There are three city limit signs on the way home, which are hotly contested
amongst those of us weekend warriors. Feeling a bit better than before, I gave
it full gas on the hill before the first sprint, just to realize that everyone
was coming with me. I waited a few seconds and gave it a second go and this time
I went away to win the first sprint. Of course, I claimed the sign with both
arms raised. Once I went back into the pack, George came by with a grin on his
face. Perhaps an impressive move? I can only speculate. The next two sprints
were not fought for, although on the approach to the last one, I was on George's
wheel and I almost asked him to pick up the pace, but I decided against it.
Still, it would have been a leadout I would have never forgotten.
Steve, George, Manny and Kevin
Back in town, I told our two guests that I would ride back to Steve's house
with them, but we were going to go on a different, easier route, although we had
to climb a nasty hill on the way there. Kevin gave the hill two thumbs up and
thought it should have been included in the US10K Classic the next day. I called
my wife who followed us in the car the last 5 miles of the ride. Good thing she
did, because all of the sudden, my legs went on vacation and I was dropped.
Quickly, my wife manuevered the minivan by me, rolled down the window and I
grabbed the door. She gave it some gas and I was back with the guys in no time.
I don't think they ever knew. Once back at Steve's house, I thanked the guys for
coming to ride with us, took some pictures and wished them good luck at the race
later that night. They both ranked our ride as "Peppy" and that just made the
experience even better.
I AM one lucky dude.
Ride Fast, Ride Hard
I would like to personally THANK my friend Steve "Vito" Colavito for the
experience, and George and Kevin for taking their time to hang out with us.