I was still pretty new to the whole training for bike racing thing when I started going out for long days in the hills of Portland with the Cat Ones on the team I'd just joined. I wasn't new to training per sea, and I wasn't quite new to riding either--it had just been awhile--and as such, I thought I knew pretty much everything I needed it know about pedaling a bike with an aim toward racing.
True, I was the only Cat Four racer, on a team of fast Ones and Twos with a somewhat dubious reputation, but I possessed a special kind of hubris that imbues one with a with false sense of purpose. I rode a lot, often alone--but not lonely--spinning hours away attacking the climbs and riding the downhills like my bike had some special governor on it, keeping me under twenty-five miles an hour, and never more than fifteen in the corners. From time to time however I did get to ride with others who were better, and who provided me with my first experiences riding within a group.
DK was the head of our team. He was a good track racer with a swagger so intense that it could only be considered cockiness. He was a muscular fellow as well, and rode a little like Donkey Kong when in the thick of it. He was most definitely an ass hole, and I mostly disliked him, but he was capable of riding in a straight line, a skill I sorely lacked.
I was watching a lot of racing back then. At the time it was common to see some brave rider off the front, head down, fighting against the wind, and himself, not with his hands in the drops, but with his forearms resting on the tops of the bars. Somewhere around the end of our Sauvie loop I was at the front with Tommy, one of those guys who is somehow crazy fast, wins a lot of races and then disappears into some other pursuit, and there he was, forearms on the tops of his bars. I copied him.
"Tommy gets to do that Bob, you don't. Put your hands back on the hoods." DK said from behind.
I did as I was told.
There was no need to ask why Tommy was allowed to be so goddamn pro while I was confined to the hoods. The answer was obvious: I hadn't spent enough time in the saddle, riding with others. Nor did I have enough control over my bike to be doing anything remotely close to riding like a real boss. Two hours later, close to home, I was yelled at for coasting while on the front.
It would take another two years, a move to Seattle, and the knowledge that my true road racing days were over that I my learning in the ways of the road, and becoming a cyclist, would finally begin to take off. By then it had become easier for me to humble myself enough to learn from riders I respected, and were capable of keeping a clean reputation off the bike as well. Even still you won't find me with my arms on the top of the bars.
There isn't much point to this story, as if there's a point to riding period, when we really drill down to the bottom of it all. But that is why we do this thing in the first place. However, I suppose that if there is a point to this it would be: know what you have to work on and get down to it. You'll end having more fun with your friends.