Posts filed under ‘Racing’
Epic. This year’s race was highlighted by the most epic course of the season and an epic battle for the win between me and Kyle Taylor. I ended up on the losing end of that battle, but I’m still really happy with the race. I gave it everything I had attacking Kyle eight times on the forest road and double-track knowing that he was going to ride the singletrack much faster than me. You can see the entire race (including the epic climbing) in the annotated heartrate plot below.
How awesome is the course? Let’s start with the starting area — a giant boat launch area with room for maybe 25 or more riders on the front row! After a short mad dash up the hill, you enter the sylaward trail system which is very fast singletrack with hardly any roots (woo-hoo!) I entered the singletrack fifth. Kyle got the hole shot and was gone. Behind him two other riders quickly separated themselves from the next group — which consisted of Jayfer Bezier, me, Jamie, and Will Fyfe in that order. Jayfer was riding the singletrack at just the right speed – so I was content to follow him … until Mike Lackey tacked onto our group. I knew he was fast in the single track, so I was nervous that people were going to start trying to pass so at the next opportunity I went ahead and passed Jayfer so I could attack the uphills faster even if I wasn’t taking the corners or downhills quite as fast as him.
I led through the singletrack for the next few miles and we eventually caught one of the riders who had been ahead. When we finally made it through all the singletrack, we started to paceline it and got distracted missing the turn onto the new double-track that Brent had cut this week. Kyle had also missed the turn. We had ridden the singletrack much faster than expected so we made it to the tricky turn before the volunteers.
This cost Kyle more than the rest of us because the lead he had built in the singletrack was gone. Brent got us straightened out though and our group of about eight riders entered the double-track together with me in second position behind Jamie. I was nervous about the new doubletrack, but in the end was able to ride everything including the epic eight foot high entrance ramp which descended down into a huge mud puddle (hidden from view on the other side). In fact this double track was one of my favorite parts of the course because it was completely rideable and yet super challenging with some muddy steep gradients.
After crossing the creek, we climbed a steep hill and this is where Jamie, Kyle, and I separated ourselves from the rest of the group. The top of this hill dumped us out onto the forest road where the three of us pace-lined it and were gone. I was a bit uncertain at this point about strategy because I had been planning for a long chase thinking that at least one or two people would have a huge lead coming out of the singletrack and doubletrack. Jamie came off our group towards the bottom of the Cat 2 climb up to the Skyway. Kyle and I settled into a hard steady tempo, and I debated about attacking once or twice but I remembered how absolutely spent I was last year after attacking at the bottom of the climb to get the KOM. Kyle, too, was wanting to pace for the long race so we decided to split the KOM money but sprint for it anyway — the best of both worlds, neither of us has to blow up going for the KOM from the bottom of the climb — and yet we still had the competitive aspect of sprinting for it to see who could be the KOM. It was really foggy by this point as we had basically climbed from the valley right up into the cloud layer. It turns out that we started sprinting at about 500 meters (1/2 K) from the line which is a long way on a rocky climb, and then we both thought when the 200 meter marker appeared out of the mist that we were at the finish. Quickly realizing our mistake, Kyle attacked again and I couldn’t quite catch him before he reached Anna with the $100 bill at the top.
Making it to the top of the Cat 2 climb, you might think the next part would be easy – but I’d say the most epic part of the course is the skyway itself … epic ruts, epic puddles, and epic views (not today, though) with epic rollers some of which make it all the way into the Cat 4 climb category on Strava. Bike racing is such an interesting combination of camraderie, strategy, passion, endurance, skill, and strength – and that really played out in this race. Kyle and I worked together throughout the skyway with Kyle pushing the pace on the descents (faster than I would normally take them) and me pushing the pace on the rollers.
Both of us wanted to win the race, though, so Kyle tried to dislodge me on the long descent, and then I ended up attacking him eight times on the forest service road and double-track – but I couldn’t shake him. He probably would have distanced himself from me earlier in the double-track except for an epic crash. He had pulled ahead of me and was heading fast down the double track when he came to one of the large puddles — catching his wheel on a rut he wiped out landing in the puddle sending water/mud high into the air. I had a front row seat to watch it – epic. I made it through the puddle opting to ride through on the left since he had wiped out in the middle.
Across the first dam, I attacked again and tried to shake him on the next steep hill, but it just wasn’t happening. I let him by right at the entrance to the singletrack knowing that the game was over, and all I could do was ride fast hoping to hold on for second. I’m glad I did because Jamie was approaching fast and ended up finishing less than a minute after me.
Heartrate zone summary.
Epic race. Epic course
The photo below is taken from just south of Birmingham on one of my training rides last Sunday. Click to enlarge – you can see the annotated ridges with Skyway rising high above the surrounding valley. There is over 6000 feet of climbing in the race with over 1200 of that coming on the main climb from the valley to the top of the Skyway – one of about a dozen Cat 2 climbs in the entire state of Alabama. The Skyway ridge line is a single ridge line rising high and then dropping down into valleys on either side of it. And it is very long – snaking its way from just southeast of Sylacauga all the way up to Mt Cheaha – the highest point in Alabama. You can see how prominence of the ridge line in both the photo and the topocreator map below it.
The course traverses about 12.5 miles (25 miles roundtrip) of this long ridge line. The jeep road is rocky and rutted in spots (particuarly the descents and climbs) so you have to pick your line carefully – even at high speeds on the descent. It was great following Kyle on the descents because I could follow his line and watch how he handled tricky sections. Even with the rocks and the ruts, the skyway is fast and relentless – constantly rolling so that it is hard to settle into a good rhythm. At the bottom of each roller is a large mud puddle (width of the road) so that you have to snake around on the outside. There is just enough room to make it around if you brush into the bushes right next to the puddle … unless you end up trying to go on the wrong side. On one of the puddles on the way back, it looked like the line was on the left so I headed left and then realized that the puddle extended all the way out to the edge of the road so I had to ride through it — and it was DEEP! I had enough momentum to clear it, though, and catch back up to Kyle who had seen my mistake and taken the correct side.
With good tires and good brakes you can hit nearly 40 mph on the long descent back down from the skyway. The rollers across the valley are also steep so you can pick up some good speed to carry you into the next hill as long as you pick the right line heading around the corners. We only had one oncoming car the entire race and it was easily passed.
Finally, there is the Sylaward singletrack itself. I think Brent has described it as some of the most “grin-inducing” singletrack in the south … and even as someone who is not a big fan of singletrack, I would totally agree. I could go much faster on the singletrack then I normally would risk because the turns are banked and the penalty for failure is not severe (i.e., no huge drop-offs along the side). Part of the reason is that there is a good bit of climbing on the singletrack … there is some contour following (which usually means there is a drop-off to your left or right depending on the direction of the trail), but a contour bend around a ridge is usually followed by a drop-off from the ridge or climb back up the other side of the ridge – meaning that there is a place for me to make up time that I lose when delicately handling the bend around the ridge.
Really finally, the topography of the area is epic. I already described it, but here is some maps I made including a zoomed in view of the singletrack and doubletrack, a map of the entire course, and a zoomed out map showing the course and the ridge line extending all the way up to Cheaha. There is lots of good potential to make this a 100 mile race over to Adam’s Gap and back. I’m planning on doing a 120+ mile ride of an out/back to cheaha some time later in the summer. Will report on some course options then! Already looking forward to next year!!!
Only one week to go to the Skyway Epic … I’ve been working on the course map, and this year’s race is going to be “epic”!!!!
Quick summary – chasing after avoiding early crash, riding in a cold hurricane, slideout crash with five second slide, another near-crash, 20th place!
The details – I drove over from Birmingham past all the craziness that is talladega – partly cloudy and I’m thinking that it’s not going to rain. By the time I make it over to Sandy Springs, it is sunny and HOT. I thought about moving my car to find some shade, but by the time I picked up my number and changed clothes the clouds were starting to get much thicker. Still, there were periods of warm sunshine as I was riding over by the Chattahoochee River. When it started to get closer to race time, I headed back towards the course and suddenly encountered very wet streets with steam coming off them b/c it was still sunny where I was. Apparently while I was out warming up it started to downpour on the women’s race — whereas I didn’t get a single drop of rain or even know that it was raining just a couple miles to my east!
The sun was out, though, with no rain clouds anywhere close (although there were some ominous looking clouds visible south of town). The firefighter’s race scheduled between the women’s race and the men’s race was cancelled b/c of the wet course so there was about 20 minutes of time to ride on the course. With a bunch of riding laps easy on the course, it was drying out pretty quickly. Still, the course was by no means dry on those first laps. We did a reasonable 23 mph on the first lap even with a $200 prime on the line – but apparently that was enough to give the guys at the front confidence to ramp up the speed for the second lap. Unfortunately for those of us at the back, that means even faster speeds around the corners to keep from having a gap open up. So that second lap was absolutely insane. The course was drying out pretty fast, though, but not quite fast enough as there was a nasty crash at the front of the race about three or four laps into the race. I was far enough behind it to maneuver around, but ended up in a second group with people not chasing very hard.
This only lasted for a few seconds though b/c a rider behind me attacked seeing that this group was not going to make it back up to the field. Sergio Hernandez (Predator) and I both followed making for a three man chase group. The rider who attacked never slowed down and did all of the work. Fortunately for us, the course was almost dry by this point so the three of us could fly through the corners whereas the field was a bit more tentative. So after almost 10 laps we finally made it back up to the lead group that had maybe 30 riders still left in it. Sometime during our chase, Frank Travieso (Mountain Khakis) and Karl Menzies (United Healthcare) escaped. Since these were the two strongest teams in the race, they were happy to let them go meaning that the overall pace of the field dropped with only Empire Foundation (NYC) chasing. The next five to ten laps were sporadic with various surges, but the pace always seemed to ease up. I came off the back once or twice through the start finish with the moto-official even passing me, but just steady chasing through the corners meant that I was able to catch back up to the field.
Then the rain started again – fairly gradual at first – so that we had about two or three laps of rain with a course still dry enough to go pretty fast. Then it was a crazy downpour / hurricane. Very hard rain with some high wind gusts dramatically slowed down the field – but because I was at the back, I had to risk the corners at a bit higher of a speed to keep from getting gapped. The last turn was the trickiest. About every other lap, I would be gapped off b/c I would still be taking the turn slowly while the front of the group was already attacking up the hill. This meant that a gap would open up, and it would take me about half a lap to close it back down. The irony was that once I was off the back, I could actually go faster through the rest of the course then when I was with the group because it was easier to pick a line.
Eventually, during one of the laps where I was chasing and hadn’t quite caught back up yet, I tried to take the final turn a little bit faster to carry some momentum up the hill. Without warning, though, both wheels slid out from under me and I ended up sliding on the ground for a good five seconds through the turn. It took me a while to get my chain back on the bike b/c I didn’t realize I had bent my rear derailleur and the chain was off the pulley wheels. Once I figured that out I was able to get the chain back on the bike and pedal back to the pit where I thought I was going to have to use one of the SRAM neutral bikes. One of the mechanics was putting zero pedals onto the neutral bike while the other mechanic worked to straighten out my derailleur. Amazingly, he got it working so I was able to hop back on my own bike and into the race with 9 laps to go.
I got put in on a particularly fast lap b/c everyone was strung out single file through the pit area. I quickly drifted to the back tentative through the corners not wanting to crash again. A lap or two later the rider in front of me went down on the same corner that I had fallen. I was able to get around but there was no way I was going to be able to go fast enough to catch back up to the pack. I settled into a pace that I was hoping would keep me far enough ahead of the leading duo of Frank and Karl, but with three laps to go the head official pulled me. The field was so small by this point that I ended up in 20th place, anyway!
Sandy Springs USA Crits Speedweek Finale May 5th, 2013 20th place Lap Time AvgPow MaxPow HR RPM MPH Comment 1 1:34 274 808 140 77 23 Wet 2 1:21 265 836 160 84 25.8 Insane 3 1:23 273 883 164 78 25.2 4 1:22 241 932 169 77 25.5 5 1:23 256 871 171 75 25.1 Chasing after crash 6 1:19 292 864 177 74 26.3 Chasing 7 1:19 252 909 177 77 26.4 Course starting to dry out 8 1:19 226 876 174 77 26.1 Chasing 9 1:19 294 846 177 77 26.7 Chasing 10 1:19 232 865 177 79 26.3 Chasing 11 1:19 266 890 175 77 26.5 Chasing 12 1:17 272 893 176 79 26.8 Chasing 13 1:18 239 892 176 77 26.8 Chasing 14 1:20 224 981 173 76 26.2 15 1:26 212 872 169 78 24.3 16 1:21 230 1009 169 78 26 17 1:18 244 893 173 80 26.5 18 1:23 188 873 171 77 25.3 19 1:18 248 913 171 78 26.8 20 1:21 227 875 170 77 25.7 21 1:22 210 946 171 76 25.2 22 1:24 212 972 168 83 24.8 23 1:23 207 896 168 75 25.1 24 1:21 228 824 171 77 25.7 25 1:27 202 913 168 75 23.9 Heavy Rain 26 1:30 231 906 167 76 23.2 Heavy Rain 27 1:31 217 894 166 71 22.9 Heavy Rain 28 1:30 214 866 167 77 23.1 Heavy Rain 29 1:27 198 680 170 78 24.1 Rain 30 1:31 233 803 168 80 23.2 Rain 31 1:27 214 845 169 74 23.9 Rain 32 1:27 206 832 167 75 24.1 Rain 33 1:24 221 876 168 73 24.4 Rain 34 1:27 204 667 167 77 23.9 Rain 35 1:27 219 744 166 75 23.7 Rain 36 1:24 198 818 164 75 24.5 37 1:26 202 889 164 75 24.2 38 3:22 73 491 155 60 23.7 Crash 39 3:43 73 816 128 66 6.2 Crash 40 1:32 185 784 154 70 5.3 Bad speed 41 1:31 209 587 160 74 5.8 Bad speed 42 1:37 199 644 157 75 5.8 Bad speed 43 1:34 187 642 156 75 19.2 44 1:42 149 603 155 72 20.4
Heartrate zone summary
Awesome weekend hanging out with friends in Athens. Perhaps the highlight of my weekend was being there to see Mark Fisher win the amateur finals race in a crazy solo move. I was also very happy with how I was able to stay near the front in the pro race and even attack to take a $100 prime late in the race. With two laps to go, a couple guys crashed in front of me of me going into turn 1. As soon as I hit the brakes to try to stop, the guy behind me plowed into me at pretty much full speed — popping me up into the air and then landing ironically on him, his bike and unfortunately for my right knee, his pedal (or my own headset). Initially, I thought I had shattered my knee b/c the pain/shock was so great that I was almost paralyzed to even try to move to unstraddle my bike. Somehow after untangling everything I still had one foot on the left side of my bike and the other foot on the right side of my bike. So I’m standing there trying to figure out whether I can still get back on my bike when the field starts to come down the stretch again. I knew at this point there was no way to even ride in easy so I scrambled off the course just before the remnants of the field came barrelling into turn 1 again with one lap to go. Disappointing finish to an otherwise great weekend! On Sunday, I partially redeemed the weekend by discovering a new Cat 2 climb for Alabama (Campington Ridge) on what was supposed to be a 120 mile ride home via Mount Cheaha. Instead, I got to climb Cheaha in a thunderstorm full of lightning and then descend it in a thunderstorm downpour. By the time I made it to Talledega, finishing the ride wasn’t even on the menu any more — but a hot coffee and supersonic breakfast burrito while waiting for Kristine to come pick me up definitely was!
Well, as it turns out my camera bounced off my handlebars in Turn 2 fairly early in the race … I think it may have been the second or third lap. Some kind soul found it for me and turned it into Ashley Travieso. So assuming that the camera card wasn’t broken by the impact, then I should have videos to post of the scrum, call-ups, and first one or two laps. I’m picking up the camera from Ashley at the Sandy Springs race on Sunday so I’ll probably have those videos posted by Sunday night or Monday morning!
Athens Twilight Pro/1 2013 59th place, crash 2 to go Lap Time Mi. AvgPow MaxPow HR RPM MPH 1 1:27 0.6 299 888 154 83 25.7 2 1:19 0.6 293 791 167 82 26.2 3 1:17 0.6 256 815 169 79 27.5 4 1:19 0.6 264 824 168 80 27 5 1:15 0.6 246 877 167 81 27.6 6 1:14 0.6 259 851 170 84 27.7 7 1:12 0.6 239 736 173 84 28.6 8 1:13 0.6 258 862 174 80 28 9 1:20 0.6 245 807 174 83 25.3 10 1:17 0.6 272 849 173 81 26.8 11 1:17 0.6 246 880 176 79 27.3 12 1:20 0.6 254 862 174 77 26 13 1:14 0.6 246 847 176 81 27.8 14 1:16 0.6 274 868 177 81 27.6 15 1:12 0.6 269 896 178 83 29.2 16 1:19 0.6 207 856 175 79 26.8 17 1:21 0.6 250 855 170 84 26.1 18 1:14 0.6 262 833 172 84 27.6 19 1:21 0.6 224 827 175 78 26.3 20 1:19 0.6 248 820 172 83 26.9 21 1:16 0.6 243 838 173 79 27.6 22 1:16 0.6 269 851 175 82 27.7 23 1:12 0.6 232 929 178 78 29.1 24 1:20 0.6 257 826 172 80 26.5 25 1:18 0.6 251 859 178 76 26.6 26 1:16 0.6 244 771 176 80 27.9 27 1:15 0.6 244 824 173 79 28.3 28 1:14 0.6 270 788 173 82 28.5 29 1:11 0.6 249 781 177 80 29.8 30 1:13 0.6 239 892 175 78 29 31 1:17 0.6 241 832 176 74 27.4 32 1:20 0.6 231 723 172 81 26.4 33 1:15 0.6 241 868 173 83 27.9 34 1:12 0.6 241 835 176 79 28.5 35 1:12 0.6 239 789 174 81 28.9 36 1:18 0.6 242 865 170 74 27 37 1:17 0.6 243 829 174 79 27.2 38 1:14 0.6 240 829 174 81 28.2 39 1:15 0.6 232 781 172 83 27.7 40 1:21 0.6 286 796 178 81 25.9 41 1:13 0.6 266 854 180 80 28.7 42 1:14 0.6 244 868 175 78 28.2 43 1:16 0.6 243 879 172 80 27.8 44 1:16 0.6 242 821 170 80 27.5 45 1:17 0.6 236 801 170 82 27.3 46 1:15 0.6 250 797 170 80 27.7 47 1:15 0.6 221 769 171 79 28.4 48 1:15 0.6 257 770 170 81 28 49 1:16 0.6 244 795 172 84 28.1 50 1:14 0.6 246 767 171 86 29 51 1:13 0.6 249 807 170 81 29.3 52 1:16 0.6 224 731 169 82 28.3 53 1:15 0.6 261 793 167 80 28.4 54 1:15 0.6 252 788 174 78 28.4 55 1:16 0.6 248 745 172 81 27.5 56 1:25 0.6 216 783 166 78 24.9 57 1:18 0.6 234 763 164 79 27.1 58 1:15 0.6 226 783 163 80 27.8 59 1:18 0.6 243 837 159 79 27.1 60 1:17 0.6 253 776 167 77 27.3 61 1:12 0.6 255 808 170 83 29.4 62 1:21 0.6 255 745 172 79 26.1 63 1:19 0.6 234 711 169 79 26.5 64 1:16 0.6 286 716 168 80 28 65 1:18 0.6 221 727 170 80 26.9 66 1:25 0.6 216 617 161 81 24.8 67 1:11 0.6 418 741 172 82 29 68 1:24 0.6 262 548 183 84 25 69 1:16 0.6 242 750 175 83 27.7 70 1:19 0.6 261 732 168 82 27.1 71 1:18 0.6 269 772 173 79 27.1 72,73 2:34 1.2 241 734 171 80 27.4 74-76 4:00 1.8 265 819 175 80 26.7 77 1:20 0.6 277 794 179 81 26.7
Towards the end of the lap data with rain moving in, apparently my GPS couldn’t keep up with the turns anymore and my auto-lap feature wasn’t kicking in correctly. Looking at the data, it may be that my crash was actually with 3 laps to go (2.75 laps).
Athens Twilight 2013 Pro/1 – Heartrate zone summary
Athens Twilight 2013 Pro/1 – Annotated heartrate plot (click to enlarge)
Athens Twilight 2013 Pro/1 critical power curve
The detailed report
Athens Twilight is a race like no other in the country. From the atmosphere of thousands and thousands of people lining the entire course several rows deep, to the pre-race scrum fighting for position before the race even starts, to the super fast course, to the uncertainty of how the race itself could play out in any number of dramatically different scenarios. After racing it for seven years in a row now, I think I’ve figured out what makes the course so amazingly fast — the fact that turn 1 is so slow. What this does is it causes everyone from the back of the pack to have to accelerate really hard up the hill to keep from having gaps open up. Yet the course is so wide coming across the top of the hill that there are plenty of people with lots of momentum to slingshot past the guys at the front causing the guys at the front to respond and pick up their speed behind the new guys who are trying to attack or go off the front. And that new faster speed is easily carried through the wide turn #3. Heading into turn #4 you are coasting, so you have a chance to recover and then hit it really hard again through the start/finish. This process repeats itself enough times and pretty soon you are averaging over 30mph per lap.
I had a really great start in this year’s race on the second row, and I held good position towards the front third of the group until a crash coming out of Turn #1 at the very front of the field caused a pile-up. I could see guys pulling up behind it and getting ready to head back to the pit, but I also could see a way around the mess so I opted to just keep riding since there were no gaps I could see. Going up the hill out of turn #2, I was in a bit of a panic b/c I could see a front group of about 25 riders had separated itself from maybe the next 50 or so of us — and I was near the very back of this group. Fortunately, some heavy hitters were not in that front 25 so our group was able to catch back up before the end of that lap.
In the chaos of the crash and remerging of the groups, a few riders slipped away and formed a dangerous looking break. Predator missed the move, though, and after 15-20 laps of steady chasing they brought it back. A few laps later, a three man move including eventual winner Kevin Mullervy (Champion/NoTubes), Carlos Alzate (UHC), and Frank Travieso (Mountain Khakis) escaped and quickly got a good gap on the field. Predator went to the front again to chase, but they couldn’t get any help from anyone else. During these laps, I was slowly working my way back up towards the front. Then with maybe 16 or 17 laps to go, I was in good position and the pace of the field let up at the front so I thought about attacking up the hill with no real race objective other than to be off the front for Kristine. I realized it would be better to wait for a prime, though, and on the very next lap they rang the bell for a $100 field prime. The pace slowed again just a bit across the top and I took that opportunity to launch an attack to go for the prime.
I imagined the whole time I was attacking that I was just pulling the field with me or at least one or two other riders who would come around to take the prime, so I sprinted hard all the way to the line not realizing that I had escaped cleanly and had maybe a 5 second gap by the line. I was cooked from the effort, though, so I sat up, recovered, and waited for the field. I slotted back in at the front of the field and spent the next 12 laps attacking up the outside on the hill to keep from getting passed by the field and then slotting back in behind UHC through the start/finish. This was taking its toll on me but I was maintaining good position until 3 laps to go heading into Turn 3 when the pace eased up a bit on the downhill and I wasn’t close enough to the barriers so a whole slew of people came around me on the outside. I tapped the brakes feeling squeezed by the people on the inside and lost even more positions. I think I probably went from top 15 back down to top 30 by the start/finish line. Shortly after the start/finish line heading into turn #1, there was a big pile-up on the ground in front of me, and as I hit my brakes to try to stop before running into it, the guy behind me plowed into me from behind propelling me up into the air a bit and then ironically landing on top of him as he came sliding by me on the ground.
Side note – I’ve now crashed five times at Athens Twilight after racing it for 7 years. Out of those five times, my body has only hit the ground twice – once in 2007 when I landed on my butt in the straight section between Turn #3 and Turn #4 when somebody went too far outside hit the curb and bounced back into the group taking down a number of riders (including me) and then once in 2011 when I landed hard on my wrist in a very similar wreck to this year’s except going through Turn #1 instead of heading into it. The other three wrecks (two more in 2007, I had three wrecks that year, and one in either 2008 or 2009) have all involved me landing on top of other people already on the ground!
My first thought was get back up and try to tack back onto the riders who were still streaming by those of us caught up in the wreck. But my bike was so tangled up in two other rider’s bikes that it took a few seconds to even get the bikes untangled. By this point, the field was gone. Also, it was about that time I realized must have cracked my knee really hard on something (pedal, headset) as it was bleeding and hurting quite a bit. In fact, the location of the pain paralyzed me for a few seconds as I was afraid to move or bend my leg thinking that I had done some serious damage to my knee and would end up crumpling back to the ground if I tried to move. As I looked back to the start/finish I could see the lead moto and knew that the field was coming soon so this forced me to try to move and I found that I could move my knee without any additional pain. I climbed through the fence as spectators grabbed my bike and pulled it into the beer tent. Turning down numerous offers for beers, ambulances, and other forms of assistance, I was able to take my bike and ride it through the crowd to the start/finish line where Chad was interviewing the winner, Kevin.
Even having to pull out with three to go, I still ended up 59th as many of the nearly 100 starters had already abandoned the race earlier. So I’m happy to not have to put a DNF in my results! Kristine related to me later that the race for first was an intriguing one with Kevin attacking the break with six to go and Frank and Carlos hesistating to chase. This gave Kevin enough room to solo it in from six to go. Carlos ended up outsprinting Frank for 2nd with Frank rounding out the podium in 3rd. All-in-all I think it was a good race for me being in good position so late in the race and then just a bit of bad luck with two to go. C’est la vie – can’t wait until next year!!!!!
Alabama’s newest Cat 2 climb – Bain’s Gap to Campington Ridge
On the way home I had Kristine drop me off on the old Fort Mclellan property so I could ride a new Cat 2 climb and then bike almost 120 miles home via Mount Cheaha. Along the way I saw a really cool wild turkey run across the road, and a long black snake, and then I got absolutely soaked in a thunderstorm on the top of Mt Cheaha – quite scary with all the lightning – and a huge downpour on the descent down into Talladega. By the time I made it to Talladega, I was ready to be done riding so I called Kristine to come pick me up. I got some cool pics that I’ve posted in the gallery below.
SATURDAY’s Sunny King Pro/1 Criterium
A five man break gets away about one/third of the way through the race. A four or five man chase with Frank Travieso (Mountain Khakis) and eventual winner Carlos Alzate (UHC) gets away a few laps later after my own very short-lived bridge attempt. I watched them go from near the very front having just been reeled back in by the field thinking that looks like a good move, but no way I can do anything about it right now. Our pace in the pack plummits as UHC now has Karl Menzies in the original break and Carlos in a strong bridge move. Brendan Cornett related to me at the post-race dinner how amazing (and painful) it was as Frank and Carlos traded pace ramping up the speed insanely after giving each other a short rest. Two or three guys end up getting dropped from the break, which doesn’t surprise me given that it takes practically no time at all for the break to lap the field. Once the break laps the field, UHC goes to the front and controls the pace for the rest of the race to make sure that nobody from the original break has a chance to try to escape again. Perfect leadout train for Carlos leads to another UHC win. Sergio Hernandez (Predator Cycling) takes second followed by final leadout man from UHC (Karl Menzies) in 3rd.
Meanwhile, back in my part of the race, fighting elbow to elbow with everyone behind the UHC leadout train, I end up in decent position maybe mid pack 25 riders from the front when two guys run into each other in turn 3 – right in front of me – with maybe five laps to go. They don’t go down, but I end up having to chase around them to close the gap. Tired from this, I lost a lot of places and end up towards the back of the pack with three laps to go. By two laps to go, people in front of me are starting to sit up and a gap opens up about five riders in front of me after turn 1 across the top going into turn 2. Nobody (including me) closes it down quickly enough, so the field slingshots itself down the hill a lot faster than those of us who are now suddenly off the back. I’d say at this point there’s about 30-35 guys left in the main field with another 15-20 of us gapped off. There is still almost two whole laps left, so I end up chasing hard with a small group. One of the things about the sunny king course is that in order to control the field, you have to keep the pace super fast since it is a really wide course in spots. This means that when the leadout guys are done – they are done, I mean really done, put a fork in them done – so it’s pretty easy to catch and pass all the leadout guys after they sit up. My small group ended up catching and passing about 15 guys from the front pack who had sat up on the final lap and I ended up 4th in that group to take 21st for the race.
About 75 starters and only 40 or so finishers. Here’s a video of the last three laps and another one of the call-ups and the first 20 minutes of the race:
Here’s a short video of me attacking and trying to bridge … and if you look very carefully you can see towards the middle of the video where the successful chase group including Frank and Carlos has separated itself from the field. I’m heading backwards by this point.
SUNDAY’s Foothills Road Race
A key part of this race is summed up by the picture above I took during the race. Why did I take a picture during the race? Well, long story but I accidentally brought my phone with me when I forgot to drop it back off by the car after my warm-up before the race. I realized this about an hour into the race. A little while later as Team Lupus was chasing I had just moved up and noticed that three teams were lined up at the front (Team Lupus driving it, a couple guys from Predator Cycling behind them – but not visible in this pic, and then the Mountain Khakis team). Much later, 1K from the finish when I was dropped from the break with bad cramps, I missed another golden opportunity – to call Kristine and chat with her towards the end of a race – since the field was several minutes behind.
Oh well, now back to the race – Lupus was chasing because they only had one guy (who was not a climber) in the original break. They knew their best chance to win the race was with one of their strong climbers (Mike Stone) who I think had missed the original move. Lupus has a number of strong riders, proved by the fact that they were able to bring back what I thought for sure was the day’s winning break. It took a long time, though. In fact, it wasn’t until the bottom of the third big climb of the day (Cottaquilla west to east) that the catch was made. I was in good position towards the front having been following Frank Travieso around in the field thinking that he was going to launch for Mountain Khakis but several other people attacked first and had a small move. When that move was brought back, the pace eased up a bit, and I found myself on the wheel of a different Mountain Khakis rider who attacked. I was right there and saw him shift to attack, so I just went with him up and over the top. This attack ended up splitting the field so that there was about 25 of us left by the bottom of the awesome switchback descent (end of the first video below). It was at the bottom of this descent back in the field, though, that David Carpenter (Village Volkswagon) was t-boned by a dog that darted out into the road. He was air-lifted back to Birmingham, but I’m happy to report today that he has been released from the hospital already once his ct-scan came back negative.
Meanwhile in our race, I noticed that there wasn’t very many of us left so I tried to rally the troops to keep the split open. Instead, there was a number of attacks in quick succession that led to a break of 9 separating itself from the field – me, David Guttenplan, two globalbike/706 project riders (shawn gravois and another rider), two mountain khakis riders, Sergio Hernandez (Predator Cycling), one Astellas rider, and one other rider I didn’t know with an Australian accent – making for a total of 9 of us in the break. We worked really well together for a long time and yet our first time split from Bill was only 40 seconds. I was nervous that the break wasn’t going to make it, but our next time split was a minute. Then it went out to two minutes. But then when we turned left to head back into the steep rollers, the gap had come down to 1’30”. A few minutes later it was down to 1’25”. Then it was back up to 1’30” and held steady there all the way until we started attacking the crap out of each other (see endgame video). At one point towards the beginning of the video before the first set of attacks, I try to convey this with “come on guys, sell out!” meaning fully commit to the move instead of holding something back for later.
I was on Sergio’s wheel when he launched the first attack. I went with it b/c I saw him get ready to attack. I didn’t pull through b/c I was thinking we still needed the break to work together to make sure we stayed away from the field. Instead of a counter attack, we went back into a rotation for a couple minutes before there was a series of attacks leading all the way into the bottom of the final climb. During one of these attacks, I started to cramp and I thought “that’s it” I’m not working any more. If we get caught, we get caught but I cannot put any more effort into the break. I didn’t need to, though, because the attacks kept going constantly. I would get dropped by each attack, then catch back on during the ensuing cat and mouse. Sergio’s final attack towards the top saw him go clear with one other rider. The rest of us crossed the top together (I couldn’t believe I had survived the climb after cramping at the bottom). After a nearly 50mph descent we were closing in slowly on the leading duo when somebody hesitated (wasn’t me b/c I was just sitting on the back by this point) and Shawn Gravois rolled off the front. He finished the bridge up to the leading two and eventually finished third while the rest of us slowed down and started attacking each other again. I would get dropped with each attack and then roll back onto the group. Eventually, David Guttenplan rolled off our group and nobody was able to cover. He didn’t quite make the bridge but finished fourth just behind the podium sprint. I don’t know what happened in that sprint they were so far ahead by the time I crossed the line about a minute or so later having come off the remnants of the break just before they started their sprint for the line.
What a crazy race with the break getting reeled back in by Team Lupus over a distance of maybe 20 miles and then the second break forming straight into the nasty headwind. And then the finale with so many attacks and a blowing up of the break … I guess if you think about it — the break finished in four groups – the top 3 sprinting it out, David Guttenplan just behind for fourth, the next four guys sprinting for fifth, and then me by myself for 9th.
This video below has the last part of the chase led by Team Lupus heading into the two back-to-back climbs (White’s Gap and Cottaquilla west to east). It also has the switchback descent. David Carpenter was taken out by a dog somewhere in the runout after all the switchbacks. You can see from my video how high the speed was through there! This is all late in the video … the descent starts at 15:00 (15 minutes) into the video and finishes at 18 minutes.
This next video shows the formation of our breaks – including the series of attacks that led up to the formation of our nine-man break.
This final video shows the last 30 minutes of the race – including a 52 mph descent and then a bunch of attacks and then me getting dropped with about a mile or so to go.
Lots and lots and lots of data
Here’s the data from all the races — starting with the Sunny King criterium.
Sunny King Pro/1 NCC Criterium 21st place Note that there are only 59 laps, because the field got lapped. The break did 60 laps. Lap Time AvgPow MaxPow HR RPM MPH 1 1:40 320 938 148 86 25.4 2 1:28 315 888 167 84 28.3 3 1:28 282 822 169 83 29.0 4 1:30 289 864 166 83 27.7 5 1:28 288 813 169 82 28.2 6 1:30 270 1021 171 85 27.7 7 1:25 284 886 170 86 28.7 8 1:26 285 978 172 82 28.7 9 1:26 301 913 175 81 28.6 10 1:28 302 846 178 88 28.0 11 1:27 292 859 176 85 28.3 12 1:26 301 948 176 86 28.9 13 1:28 281 768 173 83 28.2 14 1:27 294 923 175 81 28.4 15 1:30 262 842 177 79 27.8 16 1:40 225 829 166 83 24.9 17 1:33 252 876 168 78 26.9 18 1:26 285 771 174 81 29.0 19 1:29 318 653 177 87 28.0 20 1:27 260 870 175 84 27.9 21 1:32 250 783 171 82 26.9 22 1:33 263 812 164 78 27.0 23 1:30 300 972 170 81 28.0 24 1:28 303 947 174 82 28.5 25 1:28 270 947 170 78 28.3 26 1:32 342 787 177 82 27.1 27 1:38 195 768 174 80 25.4 28 1:40 234 692 159 80 25.1 29 1:37 286 914 160 78 25.7 30 1:38 261 833 170 82 25.9 31 1:35 226 800 164 80 26.3 32 1:33 268 855 163 82 26.6 33 1:31 269 897 168 82 27.4 34 1:33 246 806 168 81 26.6 35 1:32 265 856 167 83 27.1 36 1:39 184 674 156 78 25.0 37 1:34 271 929 159 83 26.3 38 1:31 288 734 167 82 27.6 39 1:30 256 966 168 79 27.3 40 1:38 244 785 158 83 25.2 41 1:30 253 899 163 84 27.8 42 1:28 264 893 167 85 28.1 43 1:28 266 851 169 81 28.2 44 1:31 274 927 168 81 27.4 45 1:29 260 850 168 83 27.8 46 1:29 290 793 170 79 28.0 47 1:28 274 869 173 79 28.5 48 1:29 289 812 173 80 28.2 49 1:30 269 870 173 80 27.4 50 1:29 269 934 170 80 27.8 51 1:31 259 834 171 77 27.3 52 1:27 306 790 170 80 28.5 53 1:26 272 797 173 78 28.6 54 1:27 307 939 174 81 28.4 55 1:25 299 856 178 80 29.0 56 1:25 311 782 178 79 29.1 57 1:25 298 790 179 77 28.9 58 1:26 303 803 180 76 28.9 59 1:26 343 741 181 77 28.6
Sunny King heartrate summary – lower than previous years – probably b/c of the cool temps
2013 foothills road race heartrate summary
On the grand scheme of riding and racing, the road race was kinda short (less than three hours) so I wanted to get some extra climbing in, and when I told Mark Fisher about my plan to go climb the Bain’s Gap cat 2 climbs, he was all-in. So after enjoing the nice post-ride pasta meal, we drove off down the Cheaha Challenge route about 15 miles, parked and did a crazy adventure ride through a bomb range (now open to the public as part of a national wildlife refuge) up steep 20+% gravel roads. Ironically, the closest climbs by comparison in terms of steepness and looseness are in the bayou of Louisiana/Mississippin on the rouge roubaix course — although those climbs are shorter. The gallery of pics below is from that ride with Mark:
Friday night crit – 6th in a race that ended in a field sprint
Saturday morning road race – 7th in a race that ended in a field sprint
Saturday afternoon time trial – 32nd in a time trial that ended with a sprint
Sunday morning circuit race – 6th in a race that ended in a field sprint
Stage race overall – 18th place (one spot out of the money)
I’m happy to have made top 10 in all of the races – excellent practice/preparation for all the positioning that is going to happen in the upcoming Sunny King and Athens Twilight pro crits. It looks like WordPress is starting to overlay ads on top of each of the videos … click the “youtube” icon on each video to watch a version of the video without an ad.
Friday night crit
New, fast course this year with a new combination of roads in the downtown part of Brookhaven. I brought my family this year, so after we finished the drive from Birmingham I left them at the hotel and biked over to registration so that they didn’t have to get to the race start quite so early. I was riding through downtown admiring everything before the race got crazy when a pickup truck passed me and clipped me with his rear view mirror. Other than a sore back (I was very lucky that his mirror collapsed immediately and it was tall enough to clear my handlebars), I was OK. What a crazy start to the weekend.
After a quick stop by registration, I continued my long warm-up by heading over south of town through the old antebellum homes underneath huge oak? trees. It was a nice relaxing way to warm-up for what was a pretty intense race. ThinkFinance was the primary instigator constantly sending riders off the front. I tried to get in a few of the moves and attacked once or twice myself (Kristine got this great picture of me attacking to bridge up to one of the ThinkFinance riders) but with many highly motivated racers competing in a timed stage race, everything was getting brought back together. Along the way I managed to lose a very close finish for a $50 prime sprint at the halfway point of the race.
With about 6 laps to go I was still pretty close to the front of the race, and I managed to find myself on the wheel of Michael McBrien (Bikes Plus Racing) a super strong sprinter from Pensacola – who himself was glued to the wheel of Mat Davis (Team La’Sport) another strong sprinter. I’m thinking “this is perfect!” – but then on the second to last lap I got pinched between two riders heading into turn 1, hit the brakes briefly, and lost several positions by the end of turn 1. I tried to work my way around again, but I had lost the good wheels and ended up starting the sprint from about 8th spot and finishing in 6th.
Colton Jarisch (ThinkFinance) took the sprint, followed by Michael McBrien (Bikes Plus), and then Mat Davis (Team LaS’port). The three of them were pretty much a photo finish for the first three spots. A few meters behind was Bryant Funston (Marx and Bensdorf), Woody Boudreaux (Herring Gas), and then me (Friends of the Great Smokies).
Saturday morning road race
This year’s race started out a bit slower than last year with me not attacking from the start line. It took less than a mile though before riders started launching off the front … Scott Kuppersmith (Absolute Racing) and Marx and Bensdorf had some initial solo attacks, but then it was a ThinkFinance rider and a Marx and Bensdorf rider (Brett Shanaman?) who finally broke the elastic sticking a two man move that got quite a bit of time on the field (maybe a minute or more?). Herring Gas and Team La’sport settled into a steady mode of chasing with a few attacks interspersed, but it took about 25 miles of the 27.5 mile lap before the two-man break was reeled back in.
Towards the start of the second lap, I got into one promising looking move, but then I ended up struggling a bit with some of the counter attacks and the cross-winds — hoping that none of those attacks would stick b/c there was no way I was going to be able to bridge across. Fortunately, everything was coming back together. By about midway through the third lap, it was pretty clear that nothing was going to get away. Again, I found myself in great position heading into the final sprint again on Michael and Mat’s wheel. But about 3K before the sprint started in earnest there was a surge and in the reshuffle I slid a few spots back. I started the sprint this time from maybe 10th wheel, but as it was a long sprint I was able to pass a few of the guys who were fading to end up in 7th.
Colton took the field sprint for his second win in a row. Michael was moving up fast but then as the sprint shifted over, Michael ended up off the left side of the road on the gravel (you can see that on my video). Blair Krogh (4D Fitness) flew up the right-hand side to take 2nd with Mat in 3rd. I was on Bryant’s wheel as we were passing everybody, but he made it around Andrew Hammond (Herring Gas) and Woody (Herring) to take fourth whereas I didn’t quite make it around either of them … if only the line had been 5 meters farther down the road … so I ended up 7th.
Saturday afternoon time trial adventure
As much as I love racing, and as much as I dread time trials – this was probably still one of the highlight from the weekend. And it has been for the past three years — from three years ago when Justin Bynum, Pat Allison, and I all did ghetto skinsuits (wear the bibb shorts over the jersey) to last year’s Strava climbing challenge where I did maybe 100-150 repeats on a tiny 30 foot hill to eek every ounce of elevation gain out of my 2.5 hour warm-up ride to this year’s adventure of riding to the start and back from the hotel on some cool backroads watching a beautiful sunset while my wife and kids went roller skating at the Brookhaven skating rink. The time trial always seems to pull through in the fun factor even if my legs cannot seem to pull through to not absolutely kill my standing in the overall. This year, I even had help from the awesome guys at 4D fitness (Blair Krogh, William Jones, Daniel Wisner, Dustin Drewes) with Dustin loaning me his disc wheel to replace my Reynolds with a broken spoke (I forgot to mention that in my write-up about the road race — I broke a spoke in my rear wheel in the road race, either just riding around or during the sprint).
Even with the disc wheel, tt bars, and a full-fledged skinsuit from FGS cycling, I couldn’t crack the top 30. The annotated heartrate data below pretty much tells the story:
Saturday time trial – annotated heartrate plot (click to enlarge)
Saturday time trial – heartrate zone summary.
Colton crushed the time trial to take his third win in a row, but behind him the times were pretty close leading to a somewhat tight GC battle for 2nd-10th spots.
Sunday morning circuit race
The one potential benefit of a lousy time trial is the chance for more freedom in the circuit race. Unfortunately, there were a lot of riders close in the overall so ThinkFinance needed to watch pretty much everyone. When Kenny Bellau (Herring Gas) geared up to attack into the headwind on the backside of the course on the first lap, I was already right behind him so I went with him to test the waters. We never got more than a few seconds before being reeled back in. This played out a few more times before it became clear by the end of the first lap that ThinkFinance was going to ride the front of the race at a fast pace to discourage attacks and then if anybody got away, just continue to average about 26-27mph until the break was reeled back in. This was a very effective strategy. When I went to position myself for the bonus sprint at the end of the third lap, I realized that there was no way to get around the ThinkFinance train. With all of the fighting for position happening behind the train, I realized that joining the ThinkFinance train and helping to work would be more effective than all the jostling/fighting for position behind. On the fourth lap, I worked my way up the left side waited for an opening and then surged the remaining few spots to pull alongside the ThinkFinance team leader, Colton Jarisch, who was riding behind the rest of his team plus Stephen Mire from Team LaS’port who was employing the same strategy to help keep his teammate Mat Davis second in the overall. I asked Colton if I could help work in his train – he said “sure” and let me in front of him. One of the smoothest trains I’ve been in, we rotated well for the remainder of the fourth lap and then all the way through the rough road on the fifth lap. Then, the pace wasn’t quite fast enough and several riders drilled it up the sides causing quite the reshuffling. I ended up a few spots behind the train, but it did make for some great video of the lead-up to the final sprint as I watched Mat and Colton positioning themselves a few riders ahead of me. I ended up on Mat’s wheel for a while trying to move back up. Then I made a big mistake of trying to come around Mat when it seemed like he was too far back. Mat went on to finish 2nd behind Colton (who completed a clean sweep of all the races), whereas I ended up 6th so I would have been better off just staying on Mat’s wheel. Andrew Hammond (Herring Gas) had a strong sprint to take 3rd – good view of the sprint in the video below.
Here’s all the data from my races, including the lap power data from Friday’s crit.
Friday night criterium 6th place, 1/2/3 Lap Time AvgPow MaxPow HR RPM MPH 1 1:37 316 790 157 90 26.4 2 1:33 259 941 166 82 27.2 3 1:28 324 971 171 87 28.6 4 1:27 322 808 177 90 28.8 5 1:31 257 854 175 83 27.9 6 1:31 328 745 169 86 28 7 1:30 272 972 177 85 28.4 8 1:28 266 643 172 84 28.9 9 1:34 308 983 169 82 27.4 10 1:30 280 978 177 85 28.2 11 1:30 355 920 180 85 28.5 12 1:37 251 981 173 80 26.1 13 1:30 271 773 175 84 28.3 14 1:29 282 901 171 83 28.6 15 1:34 246 755 170 83 27.3 16 1:28 271 590 171 85 29 17 1:28 271 689 174 85 29.2 18 1:25 393 1061 170 85 29.9 ($50 prime sprint) 19 1:34 270 719 179 86 27.3 20 1:33 267 742 170 85 27.5 21 1:33 242 797 167 83 27.1 22 1:31 262 838 166 81 28.2 23 1:27 318 907 171 87 29.4 24 1:33 275 652 178 82 27.4 25 1:33 242 837 169 82 27.5 26 1:30 349 669 176 88 28.4 27 1:31 302 713 180 86 27.7 28 1:31 256 615 177 85 27.6 29 1:32 247 628 169 87 27.7 30 1:32 270 834 164 86 27.4 31 1:32 280 822 168 84 28.1 32 1:34 262 769 174 81 26.7 33 1:33 282 754 174 86 27.7 34 1:32 285 815 171 85 27.6 35 1:33 249 680 173 86 27.6 36 1:30 279 702 175 85 28.4 37 1:32 288 821 172 87 27.5 38 1:29 288 959 180 83 28.4 39 1:23 382 915 186 83 30.7
Friday night criterium – heartrate zone summary
Friday night criterium – heartrate plot (click to enlarge)
Saturday morning road race – heartrate zone summary
Saturday morning road race – annotated heartrate plot (click to enlarge)
Saturday time trial – heartrate zone summary.
Saturday time trial – annotated heartrate plot (click to enlarge)
Sunday morning circuit race – annotated heartrate plot (click to enlarge)
Amazing race on Saturday – great job Chain Busters Racing! I ended up winning my very first 12 hour mountain bike race … barely! Tyler Murch nearly closed down a 30 minute gap that I had at the start of my next-to-last lap. But it was dark and pouring down rain for those final two laps, and the trail became pretty much an ice rink for the front tire that I had on (Specialized Renegade 1.95″). He knocked off 17 minutes from my lead on the next to last lap and then another 12 minutes on the final lap … leaving me with an advantage of just 51 seconds by the end of the race. I could see his lights behind me as I crossed the bridge into the iron works area. Fortunately, I had enough energy left to kill it up the final climb and down to the finish. A 12 hour race decided by less than a minute!
Strava screenshot showing epic “suffer score”. My previous high suffer score was from a 249 mile, 20 hour, 42K feet of climbing road ride, and it was only HALF of this suffer score! (click to enlarge)
Heartrate zone summary – note the calories burned. I think this might be a little high, Strava only calculated 6700 calories burned. Let’s split the difference and call it 7250 – that’s a lot of oatmeal!
Sorry if I get any of this recap wrong, my brain is still a little bit hazy from the race …
My fastest speed for the race on a mostly single track course (two short sections of double-track) was just under 25mph in the dash for the hole shot leading into a steep, tricky opening singletrack climb. I didn’t get the hole shot, but I believe I was 4th wheel going into the single track. Two guys had some separation immediately on the single track and were pretty much gone. David Darden (Smith/Lock) was next, followed by me, and then Chad Hungerford.
David was going just a tad slower than I wanted on the climb, so Chad and I worked our way around. I was slowing up Chad though, so I let him by, but then it kicked up again and I thought about passing him back, but I told him I didn’t want to pass him if there was anything technical coming up … he said he didn’t know — it was his first time riding the course. It was also my first time, so I decided just to sit his wheel as long as I could, which wasn’t very long because he dropped me on the downhill before the sharp right onto the short steep climb up to the pine forest screamer.
When I saw the steep double-track climb, I let out a little “whoop” b/c I knew I could make up time that I would lose on the leaders in the fast single track sections. Sure enough, I immediately passed a couple guys that I had let by after I had let Chad by. At the top of the double track is a long, straight gradual slightly rolling downhill through a pine forest. I switched into my largest gear and ramped it up as fast as I could to put as much time as possible into everyone else. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to catch the original two guys and it didn’t put me far enough ahead in the next singletrack to stay in front of the people who I had passed. So I had to stop a couple times and let people by.
Here I am 15 minutes into the race, and I had already gone through the whole range of emotions dealing with the uncertainty of racing my mtb on an unfamiliar trail — nervousness about how technical/tight the turns would be, seeing the steep initial climb and being able to keep up with the better skilled riders, elation at having a steep double track section and a super fast non-technical singletrack through a pine forest, to my then-current state of “oh crap, there goes the race” as people kept passing me and riding away from me.
It was in this panicked state of death grip on the handlebars, sprinting after every turn to try to close the gap that had opened up to the person who had just passed me that I began to relax and switched into a different mode of thinking “you don’t have to keep up with the leaders, just relax and outlast them, hold onto the handlebars lightly, take a deep breath, and drill the next hill that you see”. Sure enough, eventually after what seemed like an eternity of tight turns a few tiny creek crossings, the trail started to kick back up. This was by FAR my second favorite section of the trail (the first being the pine forest screamer). Ironically, it was also on the same ridge but going in the opposite direction towards the pine forest screamer. After you climb back up the ridge, you have a small rock garden section (basically just one ledge drop-off) down a FAST downhill with only one turn where you had to brake into a rooty downhill that was also fast when dry because the few roots on it you could hit mostly squarely without braking … in the rain, this section was torture because the mud was super slick.
I made up some more time on the leaders all the way through the end of the course, and I think I crossed the line after the first lap in first position from the solo riders with one team and Scott Staubach (solo singlespeed) still out in front. Towards the end of the second lap, I must have been completely out in front of everyone — because there was nobody on the trails in front of me for the next 10 miles or so (well into the third lap). Shortly after passing the last rider in front of me, I saw two deer on the side of the trail. They bolted parallel to the trail and then jumped across the trail not too far in front of me.
After my third lap, I made my first stop – I had finally run out of gatorade. At this point I was lapping riders and when you are always coming up on riders – eventually you forget that you are leading the race. During the fourth lap, I had noticed a rider with a low number (indicating solo rider) on the trail behind me – but with the trail weaving in and out and doubling back on itself, I didn’t realize that they were actually really far behind me. Since I hadn’t seen any riders behind me and couldn’t remember passing this guy, I was thinking that he must be closing on me. This lit the fire under me again and I hit it as hard as possible for the end of the fourth lap. I was very relieved to find out by the end of my fifth lap that I was nine minutes ahead. At this point, I backed off the pace quite a bit and made sure to eat and drink as frequently as possible on the course. This was challenging though so I found two good spots on the course and made sure to eat and drink a lot through there.
Somewhere towards the middle of the 7th or 8th lap, I started to wonder how I would hold up mentally for 12 hours on the mountain bike. I’ve ridden much longer (20 hours) on the road bike before, but the level of constant concentration on the mountain bike is quite a bit higher than the level of concentration required to ride a road bike — although I do tend to pick out road routes with a high amount of cornering, descending, climbing, and general insanity. Even so, I got to the point where I was having some mental difficulties navigating the bike correctly. I would start drifting to one side of the trail and found it unexpectedly difficult to will the bike back into the middle of the trail. That’s when it started to sprinkle. I think the few sprinkles towards the middle of the 8th lap and then the light rain at the end of the 9th lap were good wake-up calls for me. The sudden shot of adrenaline motivated me to push the pace as hard as possible to try to extend my gap. This renewed drive to ride fast again turned out to be more important than I realized because during the Lap 10 downpour, I completely burned through my rear brakes. Fearing burning through my front brakes as well, I decided to ride really slow to avoid having to brake at all.
Towards the beginning of the second climb, I ran into Brent Marshall again and asked him if he had any brake pads I could borrow back at the start/finish. He told me exactly where to find them, and recommended I get Jason Barksdale to throw them on there for me. I took off again with a bit more abandon because I felt a bit safer using the front brake knowing that if I did burn through it I would have new brake pads for the rear for the next lap. It turns out that I had been pulling so hard on the brakes to try to get anything out of the rear pads that I had pushed the pistons in so far that the new pads wouldn’t fit into the holders. Jason worked hard and then Craig joined in, too, and they eventually got them in far enough but with the brake pads rubbing pretty hard on the rotors. That was fine, though, because with the conditions the pads would wear down shortly into the lap to stop rubbing. In fact, they only made it half a lap before being completely gone again. So I was back to just my front brake for the second half of the 11th lap. Being cautious again with the front brake, I started to get passed by a few riders. It was hard to tell whether it was riders I had already lapped or team riders or what … Scott Staubach caught and passed me during this lap (solo singlespeed) and this gave me some renewed motivation to try to hold off whoever else might be charging up behind me.
Kristine had made it back to the course by the end of my 11th lap. She helped a panicky me (b/c I knew that whoever was behind me would be making up gobs of time with how slow I was riding) get started on the final lap. I had really been hoping that I would still have enough of a time gap not to have to do one more lap in those conditions — but it was pretty clear that I had enough time to do one more lap and whoever was behind me could probably do another lap as well.
Even though I knew I needed to pick up the pace, there was nothing I could do on the final lap except hit every uphill and straight section as hard as possible and then ice skate through the mud everywhere else. It was interesting how several sections of the course still seemed sticky even with the conditions, but other sections of the course were super slick. It was hard to tell entering a corner whether it was going to be slick or sticky so I ended up guessing. I had a few close calls with the front wheel sliding, which on a road bike would spell instant doom but on these wider tire mountain bikes the wheel can grab again. This happened a few times and rattled my confidence so I kept getting slower and slower. I still was passing some lapped riders, but eventually I got caught and passed by one of the team riders.
Towards the middle of the lap, I caught up to Jonathan Soto (one of my students at Samford who graduated a couple years ago), and that was super important because it was encouraging to ride together for a while and chat instead of being alone in the dark wondering if the race would ever end. I ended up riding away on the second main climb on the course just a few miles from the end. I pushed it hard through that section b/c the course was relatively straight — but then you had the rock ledge and the long downhill to the tri-county marker. I started out super slow b/c there were some slick muddy turns, but eventually I started to get more confidence … too much confidence b/c I got up to 16mph in one of the turns, and it was slick, and even though the trail turned left my bike went straight off the trail down the side until stopped by a rock or a stick and I went superman style over the bars. A quick assessment of everything and short hike back up to the trail and I was on my way. If my lights had come loose, I would have lost the race b/c it would have taken me a while to get them tight again. Instead I was able to ride again immediately with the only consequence to my bike that I was stuck in the little chainring for a bit. I eventually did get it to shift up to the big chainring after bearing all my weight down on the left shifter.
I probably only lost 30 seconds to a minute because of the wreck, but I lost even more time on the next downhill which was the rooty downhill before the end of the singletrack and the start of the 3/4 mile long double track back to the finish. I was torn because I knew I was so close to being done with the muddy single track, but I also knew how slick that section was going to be in the mud. I crawled through it — toying with the idea briefly of hopping off my bike and running it — but instead opted to just ride slowly. As soon as I made it through the single track, I gave it everything I had left up the double track steep climb, down the other side, gingerly through the short section of single track to the bridge and then up the final rocky double track through the ironworks, down to the finish, across the concrete creek crossing, and then finally splashing through the real creek crossing up the bank across the line to take my first 12 hour mtb win!
Tyler Murch was next to cross the line just 51 seconds later to take 2nd place. I had seen his lights behind me as I made that lefthand turn onto the short singletrack before the bridge crossing. I didn’t know if it was Jonathan catching back up to me or someone else, and as it turns out Tyler had passed Jonathan not too far from the finish and was catching up to me rapidly. Thankfully, the end of the race from the bridge to the finish was not technical and I had enough left in the tank to hammer up it and stay away for the win. I wonder how many 12 hour races are decided by less than a minute!
As far as the course goes and a little reflection on what I like (and don’t like) about mountain biking … I really liked the first half and the last third of the course. If I do my math right, that means there was 1/6th of the course that I was not a big fan of — basically a “flowy” section of trail where the turns were too tight for me (off chamber rounding a hill instead of going over or down the hill) but if I had grippier tires and more practice I think I could grow to like that middle 6th of the course as well. As it turned out though, I had to constantly scrub speed and then reaccelerate. On Strava, the section of course that I did not like is a segment called “Never never land”.
Also, I could see improvement in my cornering confidence as the race went on … at least until it started to rain. As I got more familiar with the course, it was easier for me to identify which parts of the course I liked and could make up time. I could also identify the part of the course where I would lose time on everyone (even the people I was lapping). This helped tremendously on the mental aspect of a 12 hour race – because during that first lap I was blowing out of proportion that part of the course that I didn’t like from what it actually was (1/6th) to what it felt like — at least half of the entire course.
Also, the atmosphere from mountain bike racing is so much better than road racing from the pre-race registration to the end-of-race awards ceremony… road racing can be so serious and cliqueish! Mountain bikers seem to be much more laid back, friendly, and all around willing to work together to see everyone do their absolute best. In any case, Kenny from Chain Busters Racing did an amazing job organizing this. The BUMP organization has done a fantastic job building and maintaining the trails at Tannehill (amazing single track and carved into the side of some cool topography in a historic location … the one short section of trail i didn’t like is simply because i haven’t learned how to race it yet – would be fun just on a ride or if i was better at cornering at high speed!)
Other highlights from the race -
- following brent down the never never land section
- jason, brent, and craig helping me with my rear brakes
- hanging out / talking with people before the race and after the race
- just the beauty of the area … the fact that the appalachian mountains geographic end is inside the park
- the tri-county marker on the course
Animal highlights -
- shortly after taking the lead towards the end of the second lap – came across two deer right beside the trail – bolted forward parallel to the trail before crossing it in front of me – called it out to the rider who I had just passed to finally take the lead.
- third or fourth lap – saw a single deer standing next to the trail. Didn’t bolt until I was almost past it
- moths in the fog and light mist attracted to the headlights when the rain let up for a bit briefly somewhere in lap 11 or 12
One more gallery of pics from before the race started with my short warm-up to take pictures of the cool entrance signs: