Archive for October, 2011
What a great way to the end season – with the unique group ride / race / kom / party that is the Tour de Cullman. Carson Glasscock does a great job of organizing this every year and put on another great one this year even after the tornadoes in April knocked over every tree in his yard and did significant damage to his house. Driving up from Birmingham, you can still see where several tornadoes crossed I-65 with trees stripped and fallen over in all directions, and there are still a couple tall light posts twisted and folded in half serving as reminders 6 months later.
Enough about that, though, because the atmosphere today at the Tour de Cullman was one of celebration and having a good time. From the traditional parade roll-out all the way to the after-race party, people were laughing and talking. The serious part of the ride is a 16 mile section in the middle ending on the top of Skyball Mountain – a 4 mile climb. Pretty much as soon as the lead moto dropped the flag, Pat Allison put in an attack. It was quickly shutdown, and the group was still together as we made the left turn to tackle the steep 10-15% initial climb. I went to the front and set a fast tempo. By the top, we were down to five riders. Across the top, Pat drilled it and we were down to just three – me, Pat, and Paul Tower.
From that point until the end, it was a three-man team time trial. We traded pace pretty well, but I was saving up in case either of them tried to get away early on any one of the numerous short steep hills on the course. The right turn onto the Skyball KOM climb came much sooner than expected. When we started up the climb, Paul and I continued to work as Pat surveyed the situation. We cruised up the bottom flat part of the climb at a fairly easy pace which didn’t fit into my plans of attacking on the steepest part of the climb because everybody was still fresh.
Nevertheless, going into the lefthand turn onto Fat Dunn Rd, I attacked hard but couldn’t get a gap. I eased up but because the gradient was so steep at this point, we were still pushing well over 300 watts. Then I could see the next really steep section of the climb had actually been turned into a dirt road (they must have stripped the old, cracked, potholed road completely away and laid down dirt/gravel). I decided to attack again, and this time Paul came off the pace.
So Pat and I reached the top together with me in front. Pat kept me in front for the next mile or so before he attacked hard on the dirt road. I lost his wheel and started to chase with him just in front of me. We were flying. My Garmin recorded a top speed of 38mph on the dirt road downhill before the last turn with 200 meters left to go. It was at this turn that I finally caught up to Pat. I knew the finish was close so I went ahead and started my sprint and was able to hold him off to the finish to take my third win in three years.
Pat and I descended down the other side to try out the climb from that side, but this time Pat was able to take the sprint at the top. The group had a huge head start on us for the return trip to Cullman, so we drilled it for pretty much the entire ride back until we caught them just outside of town.
Then it was time for the after ride party and awards. One of Carson’s friends had brought over a portable stone brick oven that he had built and started making pizzas, which were awesome! The lady playing the accordion at the top of Skyball was joined by two people on the guitar, and the beer and cokes were flowing as everybody relaxed and recounted the race this year and races from past years. Awesome.
Here is all the data:
Wow, what a week this has been for the Strava KOM shoot-out. I thought for sure I had Pumphouse signed, sealed, and delivered – but no – Paul “TreeTrunk” Tower came along today and set down a blistering time of 2’22” with an average speed of 20.4mph on the 0.8 mile climb. Still, here is the data from my 2’25” effort (20.0mph) yesterday, which put a bulge in my Golden Cheetah critical power curve: (I can only imagine what Paul’s power must have looked like since he weighs a few pounds more than me!)
Great race today in Grant, Alabama. Chris Cundiff organized a race billed as “The Race of the Falling Leaves” in tribute of the race of the same name held today in Italy around Lake Komo. The race held up to its name as there were literally leaves falling as we raced three times up the mountain where the town of Grant is located. I ended up edging out Mike Olheiser in the final sprint to take the win. Here’s all the data!
Awesome ride. I was aiming for about 9 hours on this ride (wall-clock time), but I ended up flatting in the middle of a KOM attempt on Sassafras only 50 miles into the ride. I spent 30 minutes changing the tire trying to inflate with a tiny mini-pump and could only manage to get the tire to hold maybe 60psi. But amazingly, it held for the rest for the rest of the ride with no pinch flats. I was a little bit more cautious on the descents for fear of a sudden pinch-flat blow-out, or rolled tire so I ended up finishing the 163 mile ride in about 10 hours, 15 minutes.
Beautiful fall colors. There was one overlook near the top of the 215 climb where you could see straight down into the valley and could see the different levels of “color change” in the leaves based on elevation. It was awesome.
I saw lots and lots of wild turkeys on the Sassafras climb. With the tire change, I spent nearly two hours on the mountain and did not see a single other person/car. On the way back down, I ran into the back of a turkey, taking feathers to the face, after startling it on the side of the road. It flew into the road and up in front of me. For a split second, I thought for sure that I was going down, the turkey was soon to be dead, and the ride was done. Instead, the turkey just barely cleared me brushing my face and helmet with its tail feathers as it gained enough altitude for me to go under.
North Carolina has amazingly smooth roads. 215 was perfect. The bottom of 215 with its rolls and twists was probably the “road highlight” for me.
Extreme winds across the ridges on the parkway. I would guess that there were 40-50mph gusts across the ridges. I was lucky with my deep dish racing wheels not to go down. The last mile or two of the 215 climb plus all fourteen miles (round trip) that I spent on the parkway had a temp of 47-50degF with light drizzle, lots of fog (i.e., riding in the cloud layer), and amazing winds. I tried to push 225-250 watts on the uphills and over 200 watts on the downhills to stay warm in just shorts, short sleeves, and sleeveless rain vest.
$1.59 pizza/coke after school special at the Salem gas station. I was down to $2 so this worked out really well. 1 large slice of pepperoni/sausage pizza and 1 twelve oz can of coke was perfect to get me the last 20 miles home.
The final ride highlight was making it back to the farm having completed the ride that I thought was doomed when I hit the rock climbing Sassafras and pinch flatted my rear wheel. And then to have Kristine and Analise out on the deck of the cabin watching for me and then seeing Analise and Josiah playing with the horses … well, it was the perfect end to a great day.
What a way to end an over-the-top season – with an over-the top epic ride of 163 miles! I planned out this ride a few weeks ago thinking originally that I would combine the Sassafras climb with the Highlands route for over 130 miles. But while playing around with topocreator to make the route, I realized that I could substitute the 215 climb up to the Blue Ridge Parkway instead of Highlands and then continue climbing up to the highest point on the parkway (6053′). It would stretch the ride out over 160 miles, but I knew immediately that this was the ride I wanted to do. About 15 years ago while I was a student at Clemson, I tried twice to ride from Clemson out to the Blue Ridge parkway and back, but failed both times — once making it all the way to the 215 climb but having to turn around unable to complete the climb with my back giving out.
Fast forward fifteen years to Fall 2011, and we’ve had nearly two weeks of perfect weather across the Southeast so approaching Fall Break I knew that the odds of continuing the good weather streak were low. Sure enough, I felt the first rain drops as I was leaving the driveway of the Fieldstone Farm Bed and Breakfast (awesome horse farm we visit every fall break). Even with the overcast skies, it never really started to rain until I was on the 215 climb up to the Blue Ridge Parkway over four hours later.
We changed our plans last minute to stay for Josiah’s baseball game, so we didn’t end up leaving until sunday right after his game. This put us into Fieldstone Farm pretty late combined with the 1 hour timezone change meant that when it was still dark outside at 6:30 eastern, we kept right on sleeping. Still, I made it out the door by 7:30 or so with the kids set up to watch a movie.
The ride out to the mountains was great. Even with a few rain drops and threatening skies, it was still clear enough to see the dark blue outline of the blue ridge mountains. I made it out to the Eastatoe Valley and hit the Dug Mountain climb at 275 watts to try to set the KOM on it without digging too deep. I went easy up the climb out of the Eastatoe Valley and all the way to the top of Beasley Gap on 178. I had my eyes on the Sassafras Mountain KOM. I knew that I still had well over 100 miles left in the ride, so I was aiming for the 280-290 watt range for the nearly 5 mile climb. I was over halfway up it and enjoying chasing the turkeys out of the road on the climbs … they would fly up the road and then land again 1/2 mile ahead. It was a good distraction because I was pushing it hard with a 290 watt average 3 miles into the climb when I was looking down at my GPS to see my current wattage for the climb when I came across some large gravel rocks washed onto the road. I hit one of them hard and immediately pinch flatted. Doh!!!! I realized a couple things very quickly – 1) my attempt at the KOM was done 2) if I didn’t get the tire changed I was in for a long walk back to civilization. I had everything I needed to change the tire, except for the cO2 cartridge that goes with my mini-pump. Without the CO2 cartridge, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get enough air into the tires having to send the air through the valve extender through the deep dish rim. Fortunately, it worked, albeit very slowly. At one point, I laid down on the road with my helmet still on and pushed back as a head rest, with the tire propped up on my knees and pumping on the tiny pump for several minutes. I would count to 100, rest, and then try some more. I think I eventually got somewhere between 60-70 psi into the tire.
After finishing the climb to the top, I took a couple quick pictures and then headed back down somewhat slowly to make sure I didn’t have a pinch-flat blowout. It was on one of the steep pitches that I startled a group of turkeys nearly taking out one (see ride highlight section). The bottom part of Sassafras has been repaved so starting to get a little bit more trust in the tire, I went ahead and let go of the brakes hitting 54 on the steep section below Chimney Top gap. Oh and I forgot that I almost hit a squirrel through here going 54. That would not have been good for me, the squirrel, or my squishy rear tire.
Once I made it down to the bottom, I was faced with a choice – turn left to head back and finish up a nice 9000+ ft 85 mile ride and be back way earlier than Kristine was expecting me, or turn right and try to finish the ride even with the squishy rear tire. I turned right reasoning that Rosman, NC probably had a bike shop where I could borrow a floor pump to finishing pumping up my rear tire. When I made it to Rosman, I couldn’t find a bike shop, but my rear tire seemed to be holding the air that I had it in it. I pushed on reasoning that it was mostly uphill to the Blue Ridge Parkway and that I was going to make it there and then I could repump up my tire with my mini-pump once I made it to the top and before I started back down the mountain. As I started to gain altitude, the weather started to head south because I was climbing into the cloud layer. The light drizzle became a heavier rain mist / fog and the temp dropped below 50 degF by the time I made it to the parkway
The Garmin was really helpful as it counted down the miles to my next turn, which I knew would be the parkway. This helped me make it up the long steep 215 climb. Then, once I was on the parkway, my Garmin counted down the miles to my turnaround spot at the high point on the parkway. I had to keep pushing hard to stay warm, but my legs were getting tired. Eventually, I made it. I asked a motorcycle rider to take my picture at the top. I took one picture looking off the side, and then I started back down.
Squishy rear tire, high winds be damned as I was now tired, hungry, and cold. I drilled it on the descents on the parkway and made great time back to 215. My philosophy has always been this — if you are cold, then you need to ride faster! This didn’t work well on 215 though as it was raining heavier there and the road was twisty with LOTS of leaves on the road from the high winds. I had to brake a lot and would have gotten dangerously cold, except it was amazing how you could feel the temperature increase on the descent. It was well into the upper 50s by the time I made it back to Balsam Grove for a very important refueling stop. I chatted with the gas station clerk, who was also a mountain bike rider, as I ate a sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit and loaded my bottles with a 24oz coke and 20 oz gatorade.
By now, it was 3:30PM with Kristine expecting me back by 4:00. I still had over 50 miles to ride and no cellphone reception. But on the top of one of the climbs on 281, I had enough reception to call her and leave a message that I wouldn’t be home until 6. She got through to me a little later once I made it over to Sapphire and helped talk me through a couple of the climbs leading into the Whitewater Falls descent. The Whitewater descent was supposed to be a late-ride highlight, but the road was really crappy immediately after you hit the South Carolina border and I couldn’t just bomb over everything with the threat of a rear tire blow-out. So I would say that this was the ride “low point”. It was over soon enough, though, and I made it to Salem where I found a gas station with an after-school special of pizza and coke. This was just what I needed to get me home the last 20 miles. I pushed it hard and had a nice tailwind making it home 10 minutes before 6PM. Done!
Other random pics
I lived in this trailer for about 4 months while I was at Clemson. It looks like it might be abandoned now. Rent was only $65 / week!!! I passed this on 188 by Lake Keowee near the start and finish of the ride
What a beautiful fall day today with temps never even making it out of the 60s! I had set aside today to take back a KOM that is one of my favorites here in Birmingham – the Vandiver KOM climb. So after Analise’s soccer game this morning, I headed out on what would turn into one of the funnest training rides of the year. I started out pretty easy to the point of actually getting passed by somebody on the Dolly Ridge climb. You have to understand riding in Birmingham to know that it is entirely possible to do an 85 mile ride on a Saturday and not see a single other person riding, so to encounter another cyclist less than two miles from my house, and to be passed by that person was a bit of a shock. It took quite a bit of discipline to continue on up the climb at an easy tempo and let whoever it was ride away up the climb.
I headed up Dolly Ridge, did the tornado loop in reverse, down through the Colonnade, out Sicard Hollow to Rex Lake over Bailey eventually to Elliot and up the first of the ridges where the photo at the top of this post was taken a few years ago. I climbed up the steep side of Vandiver at a nice steady tempo, headed down the descent, turned around at the bottom and headed back up to try and break my teammate Paul Tower’s KOM time. I couldn’t remember his time exactly, but I knew if I was close to 6 minutes that I would beat it. I started out in my big chainring thinking that I would switch to my little chainring towards the middle of the bottom steep part of the climb. Instead, I found that I was nearly over the steep part before losing all of my momentum from my initial surge at the bottom. I decided to power through the last remaining steep part at the bottom in my big ring to avoid having to shift down and then back up again. This worked well because my speed never dropped below 15mph so I entered the less steep part of the climb carrying some momentum and was able to accelerate back up to nearly 20mph by the middle flatter part of the climb. I started to fade again towards the switchback at the top, but I used this switchback to push myself to the top thinking of the Tour de France commercial about the temporal nature of pain.
The rest of the ride flew by, and I ended up setting KOMs on Bailey Rd, Grants Mill into nasty headwind, and Big Spring, so by the end of the ride I was completely drained. But the main highlight for the latter part of the ride was setting a new all-time max VAM of 2031 m/hr on the short, steep 0.5mi Big Spring Cat 4 climb. I double-checked the elevation and it is recorded correctly (no atmospheric drift) 300ft in just 0.5mi for an average gradient of 11.6%. I averaged 10.9mph, 417 watts for the super steep section with my weight at this point of the ride probably down to around 140 pounds and 12.9mph by the top of Smyer Circle. I can’t even count how many times I have ended a hard training ride at the top of Smyer Circle knowing that I can just cruise on home from there! I was out of food and hungry, though, so I kept on pushing to get home and ran into John Karrasch heading the other way to the crest of Vestavia Dr on his mountain bike as I was heading down.
Another highlight on the latter part of the ride was a first ascent of Oakdale via a crazy climbing route I mapped out last night that has nearly 1000 ft of climbing, one 27% section, a couple other 20% sections, and a couple very fast roller coaster sections.
And the final highlight of the ride was making it back home to find my son and daughter playing with chalk on the front sidewalk with a friend and to have them so happily welcome me home!
Here are some of the data highlights from the ride:
Interactive data from this ride is available on Strava: http://app.strava.com/rides/1821635