Tales From the A-Train (or should it be “tails”)

by Chris Geiser


And so the A-Train beckoned in the first GFNY Group Ride of the GFNY training season. The Fall is mostly behind us, and Winter is upon us. If you had read the last bit about how you only get better when you do things like test yourself on the A-Train, you are probably wondering — did you do it? Did it happen?


The usual pre group ride hijinx, brought to you by your friendly neighborhood Gruppo Sportivo members, Erin one of our new riders, and your humble narrator.

December 2, 2018

It happened. Sort of. Ish. It’s complicated. Well, maybe not complicated, but it was wet. With the best of intentions, of putting in my 46 miles, 3 hours, and 2,402 feet required in the commitment I made to myself for the week, I set out to meet the gang at Strictly. I won’t sugar coat it, it was wet. But as my friend Doug told me over the summer, when I offered that we just get on the trainer to avoid the rain “what are you going to do at GFNY Deutschland? You gonna tell them that you don’t ride in the rain, and that if they could pull a trainer up for you, under a tent, you would be happy to complete a workout that merits a finisher medal?”. Maybe Doug wasn’t as verbose as all that. Probably he wasn’t. He wasn’t. But that was his point. And I could hear his point echoing in the hollow chamber underneath my helmet, as we prepared to get on the road.

With Frank Lee leading the A group from Gruppo Sportivo today, I sallied forth and reported for duty. “It will be a tight two-rider pace line once we pass state line. If we are up for it, we can continue to Clausland Mountain Road and do some climbing, and then make our way back. Let’s see how it goes.”

Waiver signed, safety talk attended, and plan in mind, we rolled up Hudson Terrace. Frank was kind enough to lead out, and so we had a nice group of Killer B’s all the way through to State Line. Along the way we splintered into two smaller groups, but I hung with the front until we hit the top of State Line. Along the way, my automated hydration station of the guy in front of me’s fenders spraying water in Ari, and my faces, we didn’t need to drink. Thinking we should bottle that moving forward and sell it as “Pure 9W” — the kids from those hoity-toity bike clubs in the city will pay top dollar for it! As I continued to hydrate, I decided to ease back a little so that I could check my brakes, and so I fell off the back of the group, ever so slightly.

The thing about carbon clinchers (especially the ones that you may be fooled into thinking are tubulars for 48 hours), is that they are a really fast and comfy ride, and wet conditions do not slow them down.

But — here’s the thing. If you want to stop them in the pouring rain — you’ll want to plan ahead.

Having rejoined the group, and phobias about stopping aside, I pulled into State Line with the front group, hoping that we would decide to call off descending, on account of something completely reasonable like “I have a flight later today, let’s just get back, so I can clean my bike before I go….yeah that’s it”… and so we agreed. Since everyone’s clothing items were all 10–20 pounds heavier, we would opt for a savage burn back toward Fort Lee, instead of a continued slog to Piermont and points North.

The two lead groups at the top of State Line. My wipers and defogger were out of commission.

The thing about being the guy who takes the photo, is that while everyone is pulling out, you are putting your phone back in its water-proof hermit cave. That’s a whole 30–60 seconds, depending on how wet your gloves are, how much you try to rush getting your gloves off, and how important it is to you that you have your shit together before you follow.

And so the chase was on! But stop! Let’s set some Metrics for how we will measure tales from the A Train each week:

Distance stayed with the group (prior to being dropped): The number of miles/kilometers I stayed with the group before being dropped and finishing on my own.

Distance ridden solo: How long was the “ride of shame” back to the barn after being dropped. Also expressed as the “A Train Completion Quotient (for instance a 70 mile ride that I was dropped in mile 50, would have an ATCQ of 71%)

Number of Lifelines Used: The number of times I would have been dropped but re-established contact with the group, as they regrouped at the top of a climb, or were stopped/slowed by some traffic condition.

Number of Chases: The number of times that I had to chase down the group, in motion, to maintain contact. This is what we would refer to as a lagging indicator — in more ways than one! This is a reflection of how many times I fell behind and had to spend energy chasing back on. The higher the number of chases, the lower the ATCQ — I guarantee it.

Editor’s note: I am a little bit of a data nut, but more than that, this gives the oddsmakers the KPI’s they need to make reading MacGeiser’s articles more interesting. If you know what I mean. Not that I encourage that kind of behavior.

And so, with the group off and running, it was time to chase back on. But what I didn’t realize was that I was now chasing over the 3 remaining horseman of the fabled Four Horsemen of 9W (with the first being State Line). Our Second Horseman is a real beast, and for my money the worst of the four. Your elation from climbing State Line, which I did not have, combined with the little downhill that leads into it, which I was chasing on, mislead you to thinking it is just a gentle undulation. But I knew the secret, of how to get past this, and started to dip into my toolbox to start catching back on. And it was on.

By Kiku, and the end of the Horsemen, we had just the downhill, full gas, stretches of 9W back to Fort Lee, and so the speed was starting to pour on. I had reconnected with the group, and Ari and I were now working together to maintain. Until of course, Ari took his usual turn and E. Clinton. Wallace and Eddy started to move out ahead, and so it was real work to catch back on to Frank and maintain the pace. With a little pressing I was able to hang in, but as I looked at my Garmin, I realized that my heart rate was bouncing all over the place. Or was it. I slowed to watch it realizing, that, I felt fine. I had slowed just enough to realize that not only was I not watching my heart rate, (was watching my wattage), but that I had lost contact again, and was now chasing again.

With a lifeline at Hillside, I was able to make it back with the group. Success, I guess, except I am not sure we are counting that as an official A Group ride — but in the end it sure felt like one. Scorecard:

December 2, 2018 A Train Scorecard

Distance Stayed with the Group: 21 Miles

Distance Ridden Solo: 0 Miles

Number of Chases: 3

Lifelines Used: 1

ATCQ: 100%

This was a relatively small test, but it was able to shine a light on where I was. The next week would be harder. And through the miracle of the wayback machine — here we are!

December 9, 2018

The rain gone, the road clear, and the sun out — this was a day to ride! It was cold, but not unbearable. With the right layers/preparation, it was downright pleasant. We had a bigger A Train today with some return players from the previous week, in Wallace, Eddy, Ari, and we would go farther and do a little more climbing. Thomas Han was back on board, and he and Frank would alternate as pilot and co-pilot of the group to take us out at a steady pace. It would be 9W, State Line, Oak Tree, Rail Trail, Convent, and climb.

Preparing for the cold! Photo Credit: Frank Lee

There would be no stops, with the exception of the regroup, and we would go back via Nyack, Piermont, and finally 9W past the market and up State Line. We kept a brisk but moderate pace through the State Line descent, and got caught at the light on Oak Tree. There would be two red lights, this one and the one at Piermont Road that split the group, but we regrouped each time, and headed through the rail trail.

Hanging in, but yo-yo’ing ever so slightly, through the convent area, we made the turn toward Greenbush and I was preparing myself for the steep start up Clausland. As we approached the right turn, I geared down to get ready and began to spin a too high cadence in a too easy gear. As we slowed for the stop sign, we got waved straight through by Thomas, and my first chase was on.
Bugger! We were heading for Bradley/Tweed and so I was geared down and needed to chase to the foot of the climb. Heading up Bradley the group strung out. As I kept pace with Ari, I saw Eddy disappearing. “Eddy is either one hell of a climber, or he doesn’t know about Tweed yet”. As it turns out it was a little of both. But now Ari was away, and I was bringing up the rear. By Tweed I should have been officially dropped. Staring an almost exactly 50% ATCQ right in the face. But as I got over the top of Tweed, they were waiting. A regroup at the top had provided me my first lifeline, and the climb would be my first chase.

As we descended into Nyack, past the college we were all congnizant of the 14% grade and the icy runoff that was coating the road. Carefully down, and then up the slight drag to the college, I was off the back again, and chasing. Saved at the red light near 287. Chase 2. Lifeline 2. I was dreading the humiliation of being dropped on State Line and doing the ride of shame across the Four Horsemen. We TT’d through Piermont, through the slalom, up Valentine and back on to 9W. Suddenly, I was not off the back but keeping better pace.

Certainly not with the climbers, but I was holding my own with the group, and up I went. I had decided that 70RPM was my magic number for today. As State Line started to ramp, I had it over 70 and it started to slow. My right hand began clicking. Up and to the left. Up and to the left. Up and to the left, up and to the left. Until I was finally out of gears, but luckily almost out of State Line. Then using the same method on the Second Horseman I was able to maintain my cadence all the way through without giving up every gear and staying relatively mid cassette. My legs howled a bit. But it was short-lived, and I was soon back to giving what I had on three and four, I was over, and heading for the Kiku mile marker. Today would not be a Four Horsemen PR day, but it was enough. I was mid-pack as the front riders were waiting at Kiku, and so I rolled on, knowing it would be an every rider for themselves TT back to Strictly.

Wallace and Eddy were gone. You know the thing with hanging in a group, is that your focus needs to be lazer sharp. Snooz even a little, and you start to lose the wheel. Lose the wheel you lose a few feet at a time. You need to know pickup and make moves, to chase, to yo-yo. Focus is a thing. The group’s apparent lack of sympathy for your lack of focus, is actually only your lack of focus. They don’t have any sympathy because they don’t realize you’re not focused. Mostly because they are focused on the wheel in front of them, and worrying about whether you are focused on them falls to the way side.

I was yo-yo’ing again, and was officially off the back again, when Lifeline 3 kicked in. I caught the group at East Clinton, and hung in the rest of the way. As we pulled away from the light at Hillside, Thomas thought I was bucking to lead. He pushed me out in front, and gave me my 45 seconds of glory on the front of the pack. We passed the C Group on their return, but somehow I hardly noticed as I was trying to keep pace with Frank and Thomas. They were moderately pacing back trying to bring the group back together.

#theseguys — Don Vito with Thomas on the return leg! PHOTO CREDIT: FRANK LEE

Pulling into Strictly with Thomas and Frank sealed the deal. Even though it was later officially termed a “moderate pace” I hung in with the A Train for one more week.

December 2, 2018 A Train Scorecard

Distance Stayed with the Group: 39.73Miles

Distance Ridden Solo: 0 Miles

Number of Chases: 3

Lifelines Used: 3

ATCQ: 100%

The A Train (Left), and the GFNY Post Ride Hijinx (PHOTO CREDITS: FRANK LEE)