River Gorge Day 2 – Road Race
The River Gorge road race is of course the highlight event of the weekend with the only summit finish of the year in the entire southeast racing calendar. Plus, throw in a tough climb up Sand Mountain early in the race, and this race really packs a punch for its 60 mile distance. Here is an annotated summary of the race using my heartrate data (no power on my light climbing wheel). Ooops! Correction – Tim Valentine just reminded me about Roan Groan on the TN/VA border with its mountain top finish. I’ve never had the opportunity to do that race, maybe next year!
Here is how the race played out. After we made the left out of the neutral zone, there was an attack. Then there was a chase all the way up the first hill. We flew up the hill, and as my mindset was on saving energy for the climbs later in the race, I let myself slide backwards through the group rather than trying to kill it to stay up front. We settled into a fast pace through the next several miles, and I found a few opportunities to move up so that I was about mid-pack (instead of the back) by the time we made the righthand turn to go up the first steep hill of the race.
Already on this first steep hill, there were riders heading backwards, and I had to come to a near stop a couple times trying to maneuver around them. By the top, there was a group of maybe 15 riders that had split off the front and had a 20-30 second gap on the field which coalesced behind them on the descent underneath I-24. Several riders worked the front of the group through the next rolling upward section and started to close the gap. By the top of the rollers, though, there was still a 10-20 second gap, and riders started to sit up for the descent. I went straight to the front to try to keep the pace rolling. There were only three of us who worked on the descent, but we eventually caught the front group.
It was gruppo compacto all the way to the Tennessee River where we turned left to head up the next larger hill. Several riders went hard, but the group stayed together to the top and down the descent at a crazy-fast speed to the next long flat section. It was here that I missed my opportunity to be in the lead group as two separate moves left the front, and I was too far back to go with them. I missed another opportunity when Brendan Sullivan attacked with a couple others on the road leading into Alabama before Sand Mountain. Afterwards, our pace plummeted in the group all the way to the foot of Sand Mountain. Our average speed for two miles was only 17MPH. I wanted to attack, but I had missed my opportunity as the guys in the front were going slow and there was no way to get around on the narrow road.
I had managed to very slowly work my way to the front still planning to attack before Sand Mountain when we made it to the bottom of Sand Mountain. So instead of attacking before Sand Mountain, I rolled off the front in a steady pursuit of a Krystal rider who had attacked right at the base of the climb. Then Nate Brown came flying around me as the climb started to get steeper. I dug deep to grab and hold his wheel as we caught and passed the Krystal rider a few hundred meters later. Nate’s attack had shattered the group, and there was only three or four of us left at the front of the climb by this point. Nate sat up at this point (calling it a day, I think?) and I was left in front. Mike Stone came around a couple seconds later, and I was planning on going to the back of our small group but there was a gap opening up so I rallied to chase back on to Mike’s wheel and then sat there for the rest of the climb way above threshold thinking that at any moment my legs would explode. He drilled it all the way to the top as we caught and passed a couple riders coming off the lead group.
Mike’s relentless pace up the climb meant that it was just me and him by the top. I grabbed a bottle from Kristine, and he grabbed a musette from his team. I worked hard to stay on his wheel and tried to help him across the top, but the pace would slow down a fraction every time I came to the front. Towards the end of the rollers across the top of Sand Mountain, I was starting to feel better and recovered from the Sand Mountain climb and there was still no sight of the field regrouping behind us. We flew down the descent back to the Tennessee River and made the right-hand turn with a group of riders visible in the distance in front of us. After a minute or so back on the flats, I looked back and could see the field already down the mountain behind us as well. The moto official gave us a split of 40 seconds to the field at this point. We kept it steady and pushed it hard over the smaller climbs and gradually closed the distance to the group in front of us finally catching them just before the stair-stepper. Michael and I were in pursuit of them for 14.5 miles (or almost 1/4 of the race).
Once we caught them, we kept pushing even though the field was only 1 minute back from us as we started the stair stepper climb. There were six of us in the group – me and mt teammate Pat from Tria, three Hincapie Devo riders (Mike Stone, Parker Kyzer, and Justin Lowe), as well as AJ Meyer (Hincapie Green). Once we made it to the top of the stair stepper and through the second feed zone, our chase group gelled the best I have EVER seen in a race. It was literally a six-man team time trial in pursuit of the front group which had a three and a half minute gap on us. Our chase averaged 30mph for 8 miles over rolling terrain with one steep downhill. At one point, we could see the women’s field up ahead of us with a follow car just too far ahead to tell what field it was. Pat asked me if that was the lead group, and I said “probably not, but let’s pretend like it is” and we went even faster in pursuit. Pat really dug deep during this pursuit even after he started cramping. We all were flying and for me those 8 miles were the best part of the race. It was awesome!
By the time we reached the turn-off for the final Raccoon Mountain climb, we had caught Frank Travesio (Realcyclist) who had come off the lead group. We had also lost a couple of the Hincapie riders on the climb up to the turn-off. So it was five of us heading into the bottom of the final climb. Pat went to the front and drilled it hitting 50+mph on the downhill and then across the flat to the bottom of the hill. At the bottom, Mike set out first and I came around to grab his wheel. I thought it would be a repeat of Sand Mountain with him pushing me to the breaking point on the climb, but instead I found that my legs were doing fine enough behind him for me to attack about halfway up the first steep section. I got a good gap, but couldn’t extend it at all until near the very top of the first steep section of the climb. I drilled it down the hill bunny hopping the speed bumps at 45mph because there were Cat 4 and Women riders on the descent at the same time and that was the only open line.
On the second half of the climb which isn’t as steep as the first half, I was able to keep the pace high and extend my lead on Mike. Up ahead I could see two riders climbing who I realized must be in my field. I came really close and could hear the cheers for the final sprint with 200 meters to go but I couldn’t quite catch Chris and Brendan. So we had nearly bridged a 3+ minute gap to the back of the lead group by the top of the climb!
With nine riders still left in the lead group, that means I finished 10th. Definitely not the result I was hoping for, but I am still very happy with it because of how good I felt on the final climb. All the obsessive climbing for Strava has really helped this year! Too bad this is the second and final of only two races for the entire year that have significant climbing (the first was the Tour of Atlanta Burnt Mountain road race at the end of May).
I rode my American Classic tubular wheel, so I don’t have any power data other than the Strava data below -
And here is the link to the interactive Strava data for all three events this weekend -