Archive for October, 2012
176 miles and just under 20,000 feet of climbing on a cold, foggy, sometimes rainy beautiful October day in the mountains of upstate South Carolina and western North Carolina. My one goal for the ride was to get the Sassafras KOM on the Cat 1 climb from the Eastatoe Valley, but I ended up setting a few other KOMs along the way! Climbing up through the cloud layer and then riding above the clouds up on the Blue Ridge parkway was definitely the highlight of the ride. Ironically, turning around a few miles later and descending back through the cloud layer nearly crashing a few times and absolutely freezing in the mist was the low point of the ride. I’ve included a few of my favorite photos and videos below and then a detailed write-up – and then the rest of the photos, videos, and Garmin screenshots at the end of the post.
We left Birmingham right after Josiah’s baseball game so we could try to make it up to Talladega before the end of the big nascar race and the ensuing traffic nightmare – but we were also hoping to see if we could catch a glimpse of the cars high on the track visible from I20 as we drove past. We ended up arriving about 5 minutes after the end of the race, which we listened to on the radio so we were hoping to see smoke from the big crash on the last lap but we missed that too. Still, it was cool to see all the campers and all the people in the grandstands.
The rest of the drive up to South Carolina was relatively uneventful, and we arrived at the Fieldstone Farm Bed and Breakfast just outside of Seneca shortly before 10PM eastern. After an early breakfast the next morning, I was off on what I was hoping to be a 10 hour adventure (it turned out to be closer to 11 hours). It was cold, overcast, and windy on the way over to Clemson – but the clouds didn’t look thick enough for rain (I was wrong about that, too). Riding through campus, I ran into a guy with a backpack riding a nice Trek while I was taking a picture of Tillman Hall – we chatted for a minute or two and then I headed north out of Clemson up past the mountain bike trails of Issaqueena Forest towards my first goal of the day – the Sassafras Mountain KOM from the Eastatoe Valley.
I decided to target 275 watts for the climb, but my legs were feeling great so I ended up averaging close to 300 watts on the climb up to Beasley Gap. After the long downhill before the start of the final steep Cat 2 portion of the climb, I had dropped down below 280 watts. The Sassafras climb is super steep in parts with downhills in between – there is only one short section with a steady easy gradient. Everything else is either straight up or straight down. I was surprised at how quickly I made it up the last steep section to the short downhill before the final kick up to the top. Then after pushing my bike under the gate, I was able to blow through the last slippery wet steep leafy section with no problem. I ended up getting the KOM by 20 minutes.
The very top of Sassafras (elevation 3559ft) was at the bottom of the cloud layer so there was a light mist, and the air temp had dropped into the upper 30s. I wanted to get a short video at the top, but was having problems with my iPhone crashing so it took a few minutes to get the video. I was freezing by the time I was ready to head back down. Fortunately, I was out of the rain mist pretty quickly and was able to bomb most of the descent. By the time I hit the Chimneytop Gap descent, the roads were completely dry and I let it rip down the mountain pedaling hard at the top and never hitting my brakes. I ended up maxing out at 59.5 mph, but it felt much faster than S Cove because the distance traveled at that speed was far greater (close to a mile!)
Once I made it back to US178, I started the climb up into North Carolina that crosses the Eastern Continental Divide. As I got close to the divide I noticed that I was approaching the cloud layer again. Once I hit the cloud layer this time, it was a much heavier rain mist. This continued all the way across the top and then all the way down the long gradual descent to Rosman, NC. By the time I made it to Rosman, I was absolutely freezing. I had no rain booties on so my feet were freezing with the wind, rain, and cold. I spent a long time inside the gas station warming up – drinking a large cup of coffee and refilling my bottles with gatorade. I also got a couple plastic grocery bags I could use as rain/wind booties inside my shoes. They worked perfectly.
Leaving Rosman, I continued heading north (and up) towards the Blue Ridge parkway. The climb starts out very gradual on some really curvy fun roads on NC215 to reach Balsam Grove. After passing through Balsam Grove, I was starting to finally warm-up again because the rain mist had turned into mostly just fog climbing up through the cloud layer below the parkway. By the time I made it to the parkway, I had climbed up through the clouds and was rewarded with some spectacular views. After another 10 miles of rolling roads and climbing, I reached the high point of the parkway, which was again back in a layer of clouds. Cold and out of food, I stayed there for less than a minute before turning around to book it back to Balsam Grove as fast as possible.
Some of the best views on the way back were near the Rough Butt Bald overlook. Several mountains were peaking through the cloud layer and looked like tiny islands surrounded by a sea of white. Plus, there were some arms of the main ridge line extending down into the clouds that were lit up with the beautiful fall foliage. Leaving the parkway, I knew that the descent back down to Balsam Grove would be wet, but I didn’t realize how cold it would be. After nearly losing it in the first switchback I went really slow and my heart rate probably dipped down into the 60s or 70s which meant that my body was a frozen popsicle by the bottom.
Fortunately, I made it back to the gas station and warmed up again with hot food and more coffee. I was running really late by this point in the ride and I was starting to realize that I wasn’t going to make it back before dark — so I poured the coffee into a gatorade bottle and stuck it in my back pocket — perfect to warm up my body while I was letting it cool off enough to drink. By this point I was having lots of problems with my phone (it kept on locking up whenever I tried to do anything) so I didn’t end up getting any more pictures, so that was disappointing.
The highlight of the latter part of the ride was finding a really cool road that paralleled US64 for a while — Old Quebec Road — which came after all the switchbacks on Silverstein Road. These two roads are amazing low traffic roads. If I lived anywhere in the Cashiers/Sapphire/Rosman area, I’d spend a lot of time on those roads. With my phone not working, I was worried that Kristine would be worried — especially as I approached my original estimated return time of 6:30PM. I booked it down Whitewater, which again was somewhat disappointing because as soon as you cross back into SC the roads are so rutted and stacked up from heavy truck braking that it is pretty dangerous. It feels like the bike is going to break up underneath you.
When I finally made it to Salem, I saw a Dollar General employee outside taking a break and asked if I could borrow her phone. She kindly let me use it to call Kristine and tell her that I was about 15 miles out. It was 6:45PM with a sunset scheduled to happen at 7:07PM. I was going as fast as I could as I skirted around West Union via Burnt Mill Rd when I saw a “Road Closed Ahead” sign. I thought “you’ve got to be kidding me”. I chanced that I would still be able to get through on my bike, thinking that worst case there would be a bridge out and I would have to take my shoes off to cross a small creek. But fortunately, it was just a closed bridge that was still perfectly intact, but must have been declared unsafe for cars. Once past there it was less than 5 miles to home and I was running on a lot of adrenaline to be done as the sun had already set and it was getting quite dark. I ended up averaging well over 20mph for that last 15 miles of the ride making it back to our cabin by 7:25PM.
We piled the kids into the car as far as possible and drove to Clemson to enjoy our favorite Mexican restaurant and then 3 spoons yogurt afterwards … perfect ending to a perfect day!
The Pro/1/2 podium for the Six Gap criterium. L-R: Scott Kuppersmith, Lucas Wardein, and Brian Toone
Analise wake-boarding with Brad
Josiah and me about to start jet-skiing
Josiah giving us the hang ten sign while wake-boarding with Brad
These photos above are my favorite from a great family weekend of hanging out with friends, racing and riding bikes, and enjoying the beautiful mountains of North Georgia. Analise and Josiah wake-boarded for the first time. I got to ride a jet ski for the first time. And we had a great time hanging out with Brad and Brenna and their kids at their family lake house on Lake Lanier less than 30 minutes from Dahlonega. Here’s how the racing went on Saturday and the epic riding went on Sunday…
Saturday @ 7:30PM, Six Gap Criterium
The course was the same three corner course plus the downtown square which is small enough that I heard at least one person describe it as a roundabout. So the course was either three corners and a 180 or 7 corners depending on how you count the square. Either way you go, the course is really fast with two uphill sections and two downhill sections. I was slow in getting to start line so I started on the back row of a small field of about 25 pro/1/2 riders. The layout of the course meant that there was really only one spot to pass people – just past the start/finish all the way through the top of the hill after turn 1. The rest of the course was so fast and had turns coming at you so quickly that it was difficult to pass anyone.
I had to watch the early breaks on the first couple laps go as I was still working my way to the front. Fortunately, none of those stuck, and I was able to get to the front by the fourth or fifth lap. A few laps later I went with a move that didn’t last long. A few laps after that was another move that I was in – this one lasted a couple laps but never got a good gap. Only a couple laps after that, I bridged up to a move started by Brendan Cornett (TBB Sports), who has been riding super strong this year, and one of the UHC-706 riders (Jonas?). Brendan was clearly the strongest and drilled it hard, but we never got our gap out to more than 5-10 seconds. Even so, we held that gap for quite a few laps (about 1/4 of the race) before getting pulled back in.
Then there was a flurry of attacks that eventually saw Scott Kuppersmith break free. A lap or two later, Lucas Wardein (Florida Velo), attacked and bridged to Scott solo. I think at that point everyone looked to UHC to bring back the move, but the gap had ballooned to nearly 30 seconds so it was too late to bring it back in the last five laps. Johnny Brizzard (Subaru) raced aggressively but couldn’t get a gap to stick. He was at the front drilling it hard at the start of the last lap when I decided to attack as soon as the pace let up. Going into turn 1, we slowed down just a bit and it was now or never so I attacked as hard as I could hoping to hold it through all the corners. I was able to just barely hold it to the finish with Brendan and Oneal Samuels (UHC-706) coming up fast behind me for 4th and 5th. Kristine got a good video of the finish starting with me charging through with about 500 meters to go…
She also got a video of the field rounding the square earlier in the race…
I was really happy to finish my last criterium for the year with one more podium! All my power/heartrate data is below:
Six Gap Criterium Pro/1/2 – heartrate/power data (click to enlarge)
Six Gap criterium pro/1/2 power map (click to enlarge)
Six Gap criterium pro/1/2 last lap power data (click to enlarge)
Six Gap criterium pro/1/2 heartrate zones
Six Gap Criterium Lap Data Pro/1/2 Third Place Lap Time AvgPow MaxPow HR MPH 1 1:16 301 796 165 25.7 2 1:15 255 725 169 26.2 3 1:14 266 849 170 26 4 1:13 301 877 169 27.3 5 1:08 381 874 181 29.1 6 1:12 324 711 185 27.6 7 1:17 280 651 177 26 8 1:17 247 570 175 26.2 9 1:22 233 806 165 25 10 1:14 304 955 166 27.8 11 1:10 359 801 181 29.4 12 1:20 219 644 176 26.5 13 1:20 210 779 165 25.9 14 1:20 233 882 162 26.7 15 1:13 325 884 167 29.3 16 1:11 344 921 183 31.1 17 1:09 352 691 185 29.5 18 1:15 300 655 186 28.4 19 1:21 234 594 178 25.5 20 1:15 239 777 169 27.9 21 1:16 217 813 166 27.7 22 1:18 259 920 163 26.3 23 1:13 271 756 176 28.6 24 1:13 352 890 180 28.5 25 1:11 296 696 184 28.6 26 1:13 317 661 183 27.7 27 1:15 279 631 182 27.4 28 1:14 294 643 180 27.4 29 1:17 291 837 179 25.9 30 1:16 228 630 177 27.3 31 1:19 192 738 172 25.7 32 1:20 214 746 164 26 33 1:15 221 745 166 26.5 34 1:27 195 767 163 22.8 35 1:21 241 973 161 24.9 36 1:16 240 807 169 26.2 37 1:17 235 872 164 25.5 38 1:23 206 873 166 24.4 39 1:21 234 890 166 24.4 40 1:15 249 852 165 26.8 41 1:20 282 887 166 24.9 42 1:21 262 810 180 25 43 1:15 285 912 177 26.8 44 1:13 287 917 175 27.4 45 1:12 235 715 176 27 46 1:07 463 990 185 29.2
Sunday @ 7:30AM, Six Gap Gran Fondo
Less than 12 hours later, I was lined up with close to 3,000 other people awaiting the start of the annual Six Gap century. There is a reason why this event draws so many people – the course covers some of the best cycling roads in the entire country. Huge climbs, awesome descents, and lots of fun awaits those who do this event. The century also has a KOM competition that was sponsored this year by the USA Pro Cycling Challenge (the pro tour race in Colorado). This year’s competition was based on your chip timing up Hogpen Gap – a 7 mile stair-stepper climb with sustained sections as steep as 15%.
The first few miles leaving the high school were a great time chat with people and enjoy the draft of such a huge group. When you get that many cyclists together, you know that there are going to be a lot of yo-yoing back and forth as the pace accelerates on the downhill and then suddenly slows on the next steep roller — so you do your best to pay attention and help each other out by calling out when the pace is slowing and everything is fine. The group takes up pretty much the whole road, but on a Sunday morning in a rural section of the mountains of north georgia, I can only recall seeing a couple cars the entire 10 mile section leading into the first large hill on the course.
I was pretty far back when we reached the first of the six major climbs of the day – Neel’s Gap. I worked my way close to the front by the top of the first section of the climb. Then shortly after the bottom of the next climb, I finally made it all the way to the front. My teammate, Boris Simmonds, accelerated a bit and got away from the group early on the climb. Jimmy Schurman (Globalbike) set a fast pace that eventually reeled in Borris and dropped everyone except Christian Parrett (Globalbike), Mark Fisher (strong rider from Birmingham), and me. Across the top, we slowed down enough that quite a few riders joined us on the descent with a group of maybe 20 riders starting the climb up Jack’s Gap together.
The pace up Jack’s was tame enough that most of us were still together going into the third climb of the day (Unicoi Gap). Mark pushed it super hard at the bottom. I was on his wheel so I initially went with him, but I was pushing 375 watts up the climb and wanted to save some energy for the next climb up Hogpen Gap. Mark went on alone and I joined the rest of the group cruising up Unicoi at a more leisurely pace. We stopped at the top and refueled with lots of PB&J sandwiches.
Our group pushed the pace hard heading into the Hogpen climb so we were down to less than 10 riders by the turn onto GA-348. Jimmy Schurman was drilling it hard at the front and pretty soon it was just me, Mark, and Christian again. We crested the first part of the climb together, but Mark came off our group on the next steep section of the climb. Eventually we caught a couple riders who had not stopped at the Unicoi rest stop. Last year, Jimmy had dropped me at the steep section of the climb where there is a pull-out and several portapotties setup. This year I was happy to be able to hang with him and Christian all the way to the last steep roller before the top (about 1K to go). I just couldn’t sustain an above-threshold pace anymore so I eased up a bit to finish the climb at right about my threshold power of 300 watts.
After a couple minutes of waiting for more people from our group to catch up at the top, we headed down the super fast Hogpen descent. I thought Wolfpen was included again in the KOM competition so I pushed the pace hard at the bottom, Jimmy took over in the middle, and then Christian finished it off. Wolfpen is not nearly as steep as Hogpen so there was about 10 of us who survived the climb together. It’s tricky passing all the 3 gap riders and my voice was kinda horse from shouting “hello, on your left” up the climb and down the descent on the other side.
The final climb up Woody’s gap is much shorter than all the rest, and the descent was mostly good this year. Last year, we got held up by more 3-gappers and more cars on the road. This year, we eventually caught a truck pulling a 4-wheeler on a trailer and had to wait for him for a mile or two. Then he decided to stop to let us by (which almost caused us to plow into the back of him) but I was thankful that we could bomb the remaining mile or two of the descent. The rollers were good, and Christian pointed out the start of the dirt climb up Woody’s gap so I’m going to try to hit that up for southern cross in february.
Another year, another fun time at Six Gap! Here is all my power data … the first map below has the six climbs annotated with power, time, distance and vertical elevation gain.
Finally, here is a map of our boating fun yesterday and a couple more videos of the kids wake-boarding with Brad.