I'm on my ride home, tired as hell. I always drag ass towards the end of the week, the old shanks are filing paperwork for a rest, they want to take the hamstrings and quads offline for a bit. Old Shadowfax is running kind of clunky. It's day 10 of a 10 day lubrication cycle. He's noisy.
Traffic is jacked. Fountain Avenue is a solid wall of stalled out rice-burners and earth-hostile SUV's. I'm splitting the difference between the parking lane and the flow lane - I've got 18 inches of leeway on either side of me, this being a particularly tight section of the route home. Up ahead, this guy dressed entirely in black, on an old italian road bike, is trawling along at about 12 miles an hour. I'm going about 20. I'm closing pretty fast with him. He's buffed up - sinewed arms, tight black tank top, no helmet. Just up ahead, a city bus pulls out and blocks off the entire lane. The cars next to me slow down. I think, great, now I can get around this guy, he's slowing me up.
I pop out to the left, into the middle of the lane. I stand up on the pedals, and give the bike a short sprint, swinging around the nose of the bus. Now I'm around the bus and the slow biker. Smooth sailing until Sunset.
Out in front of the hospital, the guy passes me! He's obviously hustled to catch up, and now he thinks he's dusted me off. He's in decent shape, and on the road bike, he's got mechanical advantage on his side. But this is a pride thing. I'm a professional, this guy is an amateur. One night, riding home, I was utterly shamed by a 50-something on a totally cherry Fuji roadie with legs like redwoods. That guy was a pro - this guy is a piker. Pikers get passed.
I get low and profile. I drop into my next to highest gear and spin up. I take the pace up to around 25 miles an hour. I can't hold this pace forever, but I figure I can hold it for 5 minutes and ditch this guy. I pass him on the left and then swing back into the bike lane. It's a mild downhill grade that flattens out. I count off the cadence, one two three four, one two three four, get the bike grooving on my pace. I start singing Caribou by The Pixies to myself, cranking twice for every beat. I'm really hauling ass. My lungs start burning. I tell myself I have to hold the pace for the whole song to be sure I've lost this dude. The song's over. I slack off. Several minutes pass.
It's near Silverlake and Sunset that the guy blasts past me at full tilt. He has been chasing me for something like 10 minutes. At first, I'm freaked out. This guy has blown me off twice, and I don't want to get served crow again. However, I've recovered from my earlier sprint, and I know the route. I know that the Mother is coming. I've got a plan.
"The Mother" is a decent piece of hill along Sunset. Headed towards Downtown, it tops out just before the big intersection at Glendale. I crank up, but don't aim to weld the guy's doors shut as we would say back home. Instead, I lock in on his pace, and draft. This is a little hairy, especially since this guy may take offense to my drafting and jam on his brakes. However, I can't imagine he wants 190 pounds of Igloo rolling up his ass at 25 miles an hour, so the risk is a calculated one.
Drafting does a couple of things. One, as this particular instance is involuntary, it makes the guy feel like he's being chased. This makes his ride harder, hopefully well up above his anaerobic threshold. In other words, I'm encouraging him to override. Two, he's pulling while I'm on drag. He's having to break the air, while I'm hanging out in his wake, doing significantly less work. I'm cranking the bike, to be sure, but this is all below my Vo2 Max. I'm holding steady, while this guy is using up his afterburners. I'm waiting for the Mother.
And here she is! The grade climbs. I drop into my top gear, stand up on the pedals, and go into a total sprint. I'm not holding back a thing, this is max afterburners, peak RPM. The bike shoots up like a scalded dog. I see the guy crank up, but I've been winding him for a mile, and I've got much leg in reserve. I feel myself pulling away from him. I hold the pace. The ozone from the street is making my throat burn. I can feel the interior volume of my brachial tubes imaged inside my chest by the burning, so acute and pronounced. I top the hill and lay down across the handlebars, profiling, cutting my drag.
Up ahead, I can see the firemen at the station point towards me, and presumably my pursuer. They begin to shout and whistle. They are yelling, "Come on! Come on!" Fuck it, it's street theater. I give a big rebel yell and feel a kind of crazy numbness shoot down my legs. As the route flattens, I'm topping out the bike. I literally can't make it go any faster. The big intersection of Glendale and Sunset is 100 meters ahead. I see the red hand icon at the crosswalk indicator go solid. I see the light go yellow. I am within range. I hold the pace, even though I want to pull over and puke. I skunk the intersection at a solid 30 miles an hour as curtain of angry rush hour cars closes behind me.
I did it. My hands shook for the next two hours.