The Long Road Back Part Eight
Descending is underrated. A cyclist can gain massive time advantages on riders (and segments if that is your thing) if he knows how to bomb a descent. I have never given any descent much thought. I flat-out rip it. No, it is not a weight advantage, it is a skill of cornering, tucking, cranking a big gear, and being absolutely one with your bike. The greatest descenders in the professional ranks are the skinny dudes (Nibili, DeGendt, Alaphilippe), not the big sprinters. Allow me to be clear, I am not writing about a .4 mile hill in your neighborhood where body weight has an advantage on a straight shot, but the long and twisting and steep descent.
Descending was one of my stronger suits. As far a cyclist, I am second-rate at best. I do not consider myself to have “weapons,” but doing downhill after a hard climb was one of them. I know that many of you will say to give it time and be patient. I am willing to do that, but it has been weeks since my full release . . . and, a couple of nights ago, I took on my first seriously fast group ride. I mainly sat-in and just stayed with the bunch. No jockeying for position, just feeling the feeling. It was an hour or so into the ride when we crested a section and began a fast descent. My eyes darted from left to right. Who is close? Am I holding a good line? Riders shot past me, like bullets from a gun. I even caught myself feathering the brakes a time or two. My breathing increased. Tunnel vision had to forced away with a soft shake of my head. The speed increased. In the neighborhood of 40 mph, I was not allowing the bike to give me more. I could feel that it wanted to do so . . . badly. To give you a perspective of how much that is off, during the USA Cycling regional championships in Atlanta, I descended with the lead group at 58 mph, a few inches from other riders. Now, I am currently wetting myself.
The trauma of facing the giant again is massive. I was descending like my hair was on fire when my accident happened. The main voice screaming in my head now is not to go down again. This rider beside me is squirrely. Is that a few pebbles of gravel? Do I have the right line for the sharpness of this bend? It is a overlapping terror. I do know that this is a fear that must be conquered. I cannot give it time and allow it to evaporate. I must descend. Face my fear. Build my confidence again. I am going to take it slowly. I just know and have my thumb on what causes me to panic right now. I am descending by myself to get a feel of my lines and how the bike leans with me. When I am with a group, I will catch up to them after the descent. I just cannot be in the bunch at this time.
All in all, it is just another step on the long road back.