These guys

In a much abbreviated repeat of last week’s monstrous 200km day, this week I found myself and a handful of friends taking on some of the lesser climbs around Longquan. I’ve ridden the area thoroughly and know it like the nooks and crannies of my chamois, but in a real first for myself, I was not the de facto guide, the duty of which fell on the shoulders of a newfound riding mate, Doggy.

Doggy’s a solid dude. Seemingly decked in a stylish new kit each time we meet, he’s about mid-height and has the body of a sprinter, the shapes of his legs and shoulders angular as though he were chiseled out of big block of stone. Despite looking like a Cavendish, Doggy had planned a day with ample climbing. This is something I enjoy the hell out of and made my role as a passive participant all the greater. Nothing is more wonderful than a simple aim: follow the leader and try to keep up.

The route put us the main Longquan climb. With through traffic stopped for road repairs, it makes for a real rip. This also made for the first interesting part of the day and spelled out an intense grapple between two others along for the ride, Kent and Charlie.

To start, Charlie’s a hoot. He’s cool and quiet generally, but occasionally he’ll drop a bit of wry wit, leaving you with the anticipation someone might launch at and strangle him. He has a small skeletal frame and makes for a terrible draft, which is a shame because he’s good for a hard pull. Every time I’ve seen him, he’s worn the same red polka dotted jersey. Normally, when I see other cyclists donning kit with the codified insignia of champion prestige, I take it as a little brash. Charlie, though, somehow pulls it off, but this may be a result of me having had my ass repeatedly handed to me by him on every ride we’ve ever been on.

At the base of the Longquan climb, Charlie made his first break and me, like a dog after a rabbit, took chase. I think it’s part of Charlie’s style, his refusal to use bidons over regular water bottles, how his kit seems worn-in like he inherited it from an older sibling, that tricks you into thinking you can make good on a chase. But I wasn’t alone, as Kent also decided to latch on as well. Things were about to get rippy.

I started riding with Kent earlier this summer. Having spotted him on Strava, quietly nibbling up segments that only me and my closest riding companions had long squabbled over, I reached out to him and his wife, Steph, about riding. Over the past few weekends, the couple has become a mainstay, both in attendance at the weekend hill climbs and this past week’s super slog. Fortunately for Steph, she had a rough tummy this morning and missed the ride, and thus will be spared my description.

Kent, the Kiwi, is tall. He bows over his bike like a giant living in a country where he’s constantly wary of the height of a door frame. Strung in this fashion, his style of riding is basic: Hard. His two favorite tools are time and a hammer. If he’s got a distinct stretch that requires hitting it with everything he’s got, then he’s capable of astounding results. It’s this that made the catalyst for the climb.

Myself, with jersey pockets chock full of excuses, got spit off of Charlie’s wheel roughly halfway up the climb. From there Kent, by what appeared to be a force of magnetism, glued his front wheel to Charlie’s and off they went. Sweating heavy, I watched the gap grow, while trying to convince myself they’d pop, and I’d catch them, then I’d show them Who’s Who.

Needless to say, when we met at the top, they’d summited with the fastest time I’d even been active witness to. Shortly after, Doggy, and a few others that had set out with us, rolled up as well. From there we descended down the backside to take on another long and steep climb, Doggy at the helm. It was at the base of the climb we picked up The Guy in Black, who followed us up the lower part, along a tough climb that peaked out around 20%.

About midway up the climb the road widens and the gradient lets off. At this point, The Guy in Black disappeared much like he’d made his entry: Like a shadow. I’d never climbed the road we were on. Having gotten ahead of ourselves on the climb, I nearly misled our crew onto another farm road I was familiar with, a long, steep, sordid thing that probably would have left everyone dead roadside. Again, much to my pleasure, I wasn’t guiding the ride.

The hill lacked any kind of shade, something you rarely notice riding in Chengdu, but on a hot day like today, made for an obvious fact. We crawled our way up up up before rejoining a ridge line road that would lead us back. Completely gassed, it made for a good ride, riding with these guys.

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