Quick summary – 1st place in a time of 31 hours and 48 minutes. I was hoping to break the record, but ended up about an hour and a half short of the record times of Chris MacDonald and Tinker Juarez who both had nearly identical times a year apart (2005 and 2006). Sleep issues late in the race were my downfall. I simply could not stay awake well enough to remember to pedal at the bottom of downhills. I’d concentrate just hard enough to make it down a hill safely, relax a bit and slow to a near stop. Just before losing enough momentum to fall over, I’d wake up and start pedaling again. This only happened a few times, but it gives you an idea of how much I was struggling with staying awake. Even so, I had a blast and learned a lot of important lessons during my first ultra-endurance race. My crew consisted of my wife Kristine and father-in-law Dale, who both had to endure sleep deprivation but without the physical exercise that helps keep you awake. They also had to endure me being very grumpy if they didn’t have exactly what I needed at the exact moment I needed. They did really, really well and as my friend Chris Shelton told me before the race – the hardest part of these ultra-endurance races is being a member of the crew. After having started at 8PM on Friday night with what I now realize was a completely unrealistic goal of being the first person to ever finish on Saturday, I rolled into the finish at the Colonnade at 3:48AM Sunday morning. I was discouraged after the finish thinking how much I was struggling with sleep after just 32 hours of racing — but then Kristine pointed out that I had been up since 6 Friday morning, biked to work, taught two classes, biked home, and then started getting ready for the race Friday afternoon with no naps. Altogether, I had been up for over 45 hours straight without sleep. That is really at the human limit of sleeplessness (I think!).
The maps and data
Even though this ride was only in two states, it did cross about half of each state twice. Along the way, I went through 16 different counties, hitting five counties twice for a grand total of 21 county line traversals (that’s a lot of sprint lines ;-))
ALABAMA counties outbound: Jefferson, St Clair, Calhoun, Cherokee, Dekalb. GEORGIA counties: Chattooga, Walker, Gordon, Murray, Gilmer, Gordon (again), Floyd, Polk. ALABAMA counties inbound: Cleburne, Calhoun (again), Clay, Cleburne (again), Talladega, St Clair (again), Shelby, Jefferson (again)
Annotated iBike data for the entire 500 mile route. You can see the trends of decreasing power and heartrate. You can also see exactly where I started to struggle with sleep b/c I basically stopped pedaling all the time creating a wall of cadence lines where it would drop to zero and then back up to a slow cadence.
I’ll save all the details for another post, but I wanted to get a somewhat quick post out here with the annotated data with a quick summary. I’ll leave the details and lessons learned for a post later this week as I work on piecing everything together. Thanks y’all for the support. Special thanks to Heather Hagan, Pat Casey, and Chris Shelton who all came out to see me off at the start. Also, huge thanks to Kristine and my father-in-law Dale who crewed for me and endured the same sleeplessness that I endured!
Life has been busy and is about to get busier, but I’ve had some pretty crazy adventures I wanted to blog about. These are ordered below based on when they happened, so you can jump to any specific one with these links:
My all-time favorite cycling movie out of the two that I’ve seen is American Flyers. In the opening scene, the lead actor is racing a barge along the Mississippi River. Then he rides into his building and onto the elevator. I do the latter every day on my commute to work, but I’ve never gotten to race a barge on the Mississippi until my Rouge Roubaix pre-ride this year. The race itself was epic as always – read my race report, but man sometimes I think the pre-rides are more adventurous than the races themselves … see Hell of the South exception, though.
Racing a barge on the Mississippi River – I just “American Flyered” my ride.
One of the ironic things about the Rouge Roubaix race is how close the course is to the Mississippi River, but you can never see the river from any spot on the course unless it is in severe flood stage (see pic below)
Google street-view of the turn onto 2nd gravel. The Mississippi River was at flood stage when the streetview car drove by. During the race, you cannot normally see the river. For my pre-ride I parked at the store annotated in the picture.
This was my fifth year racing Rouge Roubaix, but I had never gone out of my way to see the river because my time spent there is usually so short. I wanted to include a trip out to the river in my pre-ride this year. I ended up picking a route onto Cat Island that veered off of the race course shortly after the third gravel section (Tunica Hills). My route plan was about 50 miles, which I thought would give me plenty of time to just cruise through the second and third gravel section. After a late start on the 7 hour drive from Birmingham plus a bit of a challenge figuring out where to park and not upset the locals (turns out I could have parked pretty much anywhere), I only had less than 3 hours of daylight left. Not exactly a lot of time to ride the 2nd and 3rd gravel sections plus the 2nd gravel section again on the return route.
I was enjoying a nice easy pre-ride, but as my brain ticked away at timing calculations I realized that there was no way I was going to finish before sunset. I picked up the pace and realized that I was probably going to be making it to the turn-around point of my ride sometime near sunset. Stubbornly, I decided that seeing the river this year was worth riding in the dark with no light. The next challenge was finding a way to the river. I knew that the road I picked out onto Cat Island swung close to the river, but not until pretty far into the island. The road kept getting muddier from rain and floods (pic below was from the early part of the road where it was still easily rideable … imagine entire short sections of road covered in thick mud), so I decided when I caught a glimpse of the river behind a gate with a short dirt road leading right up to the edge that I had found my entry spot.
Right after carefully climbing the fence and setting my bike over on the other side, a barge started to pass by on the river. That is when I knew I had to get a pic of the barge. Unsure whether I was going to stumble into a herd of bulls or cows, I took off like a rabbit down the double track to get to the river’s edge and get a pic. The pic at the top is what I was able to get. So in some sense the barge won because it made it past my access spot to the river, but in another sense I won because it was still close enough for me to get a pic!
As you can see from the lighting in the picture, it was near sunset by the time I had finally seen the river. I was taking a slightly different route back to skip the Tunica Hills dirt section, but I still had over 25 miles left to get back to my car parked at Fort Adams. Plus, the very last part of the ride would be the reverse direction of the 2nd gravel section (i.e., backwards down Blockhouse Hill).
Sunset happened before I even made it off Cat Island. By the time I made it out to LA-66, the main road to Angola Prison, it was dark and dangerous (from traffic). I spent most of the 5 mile stretch of road looking backwards ascertaining whether an approaching car was slowing down and/or moving over to pass me. Only twice did it look questionable and both of those happened to be near sections of the road where there was a shoulder so I moved over into the shoulder. When I finally made the turn off LA-66 onto Pinckneyville Rd, I was super relieved even though it was now way past sunset and very difficult to see. Pinckneyville Rd is an interesting chip/seal road that has some really nice sections interspersed with short rough “repaved” or “washed out” sections.
Ironically, the darker it got, the faster I went as I desperately tried to cover as much ground as possible while still able to see the rough sections with just enough time to grab the brakes and roll over them at a non-pinch flat inducing pace. When I made the turn onto the Blockhouse section, I had to rely entirely on the GPS and the fact that I could see a house up on the left to know that I had reached the turn! It was so dark that I could barely see the turn and could not even see the cattle guard. I was wondering if I had made a wrong turn when all of a sudden I bounced across the cattle guard … “yep, I’m good, this is the way”.
The Blockhouse gravel was in great condition, and I knew this from riding it on the way out at the start of my ride. Also, it was a brighter, lighter color because of the sand mixed in with the gravel. This meant that this section was a bit easier than Picneyville Rd to ride in the dark. I could see two things – black and slightly less black which I knew was the gravel road split into a double track. I tried to stay to the left side of the road hoping that I was judging the right spot to end up in the lefthand track. I stopped at one point to try to take a picture of the conditions. These are three pics that I got:
Top – Blockhouse in the dark (with flash). Middle – My iBike and Garmin on Blockhouse (with flash). Bottom – the road ahead without flash, not even enough light to make ANYTHING out. Although this is partially because my Nokia Lumia 1020 with great low light photography doesn't always auto-detect its settings correctly. If I had manually set the exposure to a couple seconds, you would have been able to see the blurry outline of the road.
By the bottom of the Blockhouse Hill, the road turns from gravel to a partial pavement – which was in really bad shape. Fortunately, this was in a small community that had street lights spaced just far enough apart that I could safely make out all the potholes and slowly ride through. They were having a big party at one of the houses, and some of the kids shouted “hey biker dude” or something like that as I biked by. Epic. Adventure. Life.
Map showing my commute from Hoover, AL to Blairsville, GA in the North Georgia mountains. Click twice to enlarge and see all the annotations. The solid red line is an approximation of my route – the dashed red line at the end is the part that I didn’t finish due to being way slower than expected. These maps are on the wall in our basement next to where I do all my work from home. I get to see some of my favorite places in the country in a raised relief map, including the highest points in AL, GA, TN, SC, and NC!
Kristine bought a groupon for three nights at the Paradise Hills cabins just outside of Blairsville, GA almost a year ago. The plan was for the two of us to go up there sometime in January or February for me to do some pre-riding of the Southern Cross course. Well, life happened and we couldn’t schedule it, so we switched to a back-up plan of going over spring break and taking the whole family. With the Heart of the South 500 mile race coming up, I decided to ride what I thought would be 300 miles from Birmingham to the cabin as a “test ride”. The route looks like it would have been about 285 miles, but I called Kristine in East Elijay and got her to meet me in Blue Ridge, GA when I realized how far behind schedule I was. The plan was then for her to follow me the last 32 miles in order for her to practice her role as support crew chief for the 500 mile race. But when we met each other at the Arby’s in Blue Ridge, there was a much more traffic than I expected. Blue Ridge was hopping. The traffic combined with me feeling tired and the kids trying to stay up until I made it to the cabin made me decide to end the ride early, hop in the car, and drive the last bit with Kristine back to the cabin. The kids were still awake and I got to see them to bed, which was definitely worth cutting the ride short, seeing how excited they were to show me things in the cabin.
That is how the ride ended, but the adventure started about 18 hours earlier at 1:30AM after having gone to bed at 10:30PM the night before. I set my alarm for 3 hours after going to bed hoping to hit two of the magic 90 minute sleep cycles, which seems to fit well with my own personal sleep pattern. By leaving this early, I was hoping to make it to Blairsville before sunset or at least before the kids went to bed. Another benefit of leaving this early is that I would be able to make it through all of Birmingham and surrounding communities long before most people had even gotten out of bed.
I started out doing essentially my normal commute route, which includes the Vesclub climb (at just over 700 vertical feet diff, one of the biggest climbs in Birmingham) so that I could compare it to later climbs on the route. Doing that climb meant I would also be in good position to blast down Hwy 31, continue through Homewood, and climb over Red Mountain on the Red Mountain Expressway without any traffic on the roads. I had two Axiom 200 watt lights, one mounted to the handlebars, and the other mounted on my helmet. I barely needed them riding through Birmingham, but once I made it out towards Trussville/Leeds on Floyd Bradford and Blackjack, lights were essential. The helmet light is great for scaring dogs – perfect for the route I had picked through dog-infested Annie Lee and Blackjack road. Simply put the helmet on highest setting, turn and stare at a dog, and it will stop dead in its tracks completely blinded by the light. As soon as you stop looking, it will normally start chasing again, but it is still better than nothing.
Hwy 11 through Springville was awesome given that there was no traffic – so awesome that as I was flying along the valley I missed the turn to take Washington Valley road towards Walker Gap. I backtracked at the next major road to get over to Walker Gap because there was no way I was not going to do that climb. On top of Walker, traffic started to pick up a bit as the farmers and really far-out commuters had to start driving at about 5AM. I flew down the waterfall descent and when I made the turn in the valley to head over to Chandler Mountain, this was by far the coldest part of my ride. The temp bottomed out around 27 degF but felt much colder given that I was dressed for the entire day with highs expected in the 50s. As it turns out, I was way overdressed for most of the ride given that temps peaked in the mid 60s. At this point of the ride, I was freezing.
80 miles into the ride, I stopped for the first time in Gadsden and ate a full breakfast at McDonald’s. The police officer in line in front of me asked me where I was heading, and later a couple other guys who had eaten breakfast also wondered where I was heading. You could tell with all the equipment I was trying to recharge and all the food crammed into my backpack that I was heading a long distance. It was cold when I went into the McDonalds and already getting pretty hot by the time I left.
I did the very first new road for me about 82 or 83 miles into the ride climbing up onto Lookout Mountain via a rough chip/seal road called “Scenic Dr”. I followed this road all the way along the north edge of Lookout Mountain with two KOM goals in mind – Keener Gap and Flanders Gap. I didn’t know if these were already segments or not, but I was hoping Strava would auto-detect both as Cat 4 climbs. Both of these climbs are from the narrow US Hwy 11 valley floor back up to the Lookout Mountain ridge line. So to get to both of them, I had to first descend off the mountain to each of them.
Keener was paved and had some beautiful rock formations, one house, and a couple of dogs. I went down the descent way too fast for them to bother with me, but on the way back up as I was trying to put in an exactly threshold effort (not too hard, but not too easy either) here they come out of the house in the middle of the one switchback. Fortunately, they were friendly dogs and let me scoot on by. At the top of Keener Gap, I turned left to continue on Scenic Dr, which abruptly turns from chip/seal to dirt and gravel. The climb still continued on for another half mile or so. I really started to get excited about the ride as I was flying up the gravel road laughing giddily at how I’m trying to KOM a climb with miles and miles ahead of gravel in the middle of what I thought at the time would be a 300 mile ride. The road stayed Alabama dirt/gravel (graded and fast) for the next 5 miles to Flanders Gap. I flew down the gravel descent partly because it was really steep and I couldn’t go much slower and partly because it was easy to see good lines. At the bottom, the dirt gravel gave way to some other kind of large gravel that was not easy to ride. I slowed way down to make sure I didn’t pinch flat. I turned around at the train tracks (low spot in the valley) and headed back up to go for the KOM. I drilled it hard and the climb reminded me a lot of the Blockhouse Hill climb in the Rouge Roubaix race.
Unfortunately, neither climb auto-detected even though they were both well within Cat 4 range. I went back and created the segments and after waiting a few days, it looks like only one other person has done the paved Keener Gap climb, and nobody else has done the Flanders Gap climb. I turned around at the top of Flanders and headed back down it again so that I could take Hwy 11 across the valley to Collinsville. I wanted to do the climb out of Collinsville because on the map it had a lot of switchbacks (somewhat rare for Alabama). I was completely surprised by what I saw when I approached the climb from the streets in downtown. The climb was a powerline cut! The paved road switchbacked across the cut 4 or 5 times, putting the grade at a fairly consistent 10% and closer to 15% in the switchbacks.
At this point I needed to cut across Lookout Mountain and down the other side to head into Georgia. If I headed any farther north on Lookout Mountain, I would have gotten back into some really cool roads I’ve ridden before – but the eastern crossing of Georgia becomes problematic as there aren’t as many roads that head across the many ridges that run north and south through that part of Georgia. So unfortunately I had to just barely brush by one of Alabama’s Hidden treasure – Little River Canyon. I ended up doing a super fun descent from a firetower down to the entrance to the canyon – a national monument called Canyon Mouth.
I took a short break here before heading on some really awesome valley roads (Co Rd 58 and Co Rd 41) northeast through Cherokee County. Somewhere through here I crossed over into Georgia and continued on a northeastern track eventually reaching Summerville, Georgia. After a quick lunch at Subway, I headed back out towards the Narrows Picnic Rd (Hammond Gap) knowing that this would be dirt – Google street view car turned around exactly at the transition to dirt. It turns out that this was the roughest road of the route. I didn’t have any problems on the climb, but on the long descent I had to go slow or run the very likely possibility of pinch flatting AND cutting my tires. We’re talking ruts and large granite rocks sticking out of the ground.
Up to this point in the ride I had felt great, but after going so slow for so long and letting my heartrate dip too low, I suddenly realized that I was tired. Looking back at my heartrate data, I never did get my heartrate back up to what it was before that descent. The route between the bottom of the descent to Dalton started to pick up some heavy traffic including after school traffic, so even though it was some beautiful scenery – being tired and dealing with a lot of cars doesn’t make for a fun ride. One highlight was a smaller road just before the start of the Pinhotti climb. That climb was very steep and VERY busy with traffic. Fortunately, there was a nice clean shoulder to ride to the top. I debated about just heading on down the mountain, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to climb all the way up to the towers. This dirt climb is the final descent on the Snake Creek Gap mountain bike time trial course. It was a blast to climb (and clear!) on the road bike, and not too bad coming down either.
Dalton was a traffic disaster as I hit it during rush hour. Even with a stop for dinner at Arby’s, traffic was still bad at about 6PM as I made my way over to Fort Mountain on GA-52. What a nasty road. Drivers were all pretty courteous, no honking or throwing things, but they passed you close, definitely not 3 feet. As soon as I left the town of Chatsworth, the traffic immediately disappeared. The climb up Fort Mountain was beautiful and mostly deserted. There were a few fast motorcycles, but you could hear them coming from a long ways away. I stopped and chatted briefly with three of the riders I caught up to at the overlook near the top. I did the climb pretty slowly, but was surprised that at 215 miles into the ride not to be struggling with cramps or any other problems.
I was hoping for a long 35+mph downhill for miles and miles, but instead the descent was very punchy with half-mile climbs and only lasted a few miles. After bottoming out, the road started climbing again. The sun had set a while ago so I put my lights back on and called Kristine to let her know I was running way behind schedule. This takes us back to the beginning of the post where she met me in Blue Ridge and instead of following me for the last 32 miles, I decided to just call it a day and ride in the car back to our cabin for the next few days. 253 miles instead of 285, but I got everything I needed to get out of the ride in terms of prep for the 500 mile race, and I also had quite the adventure!
After this ride, I took Tuesday off and then had two more fun adventure rides Wednesday and Thursday. Here are a few pictures from those adventures.
As I mentioned earlier, this year’s Hell of the South was extra epic, but Mark Fisher and I tried to outdo it the next day by conquering all 11 ways up the Grant plateau plus 4 additional climbs on the way back including one of the steepest climbs in Alabama for a grand total of 15 Huntsville Cat 3 climbs. Some of the climbs are rated Cat 4 based on where the segment starts, but they all have enough vertical diff to be made into Cat 3 climbs using a slightly different starting or ending point along our route. Huntsville has the perfect topography for hard training – lots of flat roads punctuated by 2-3 mile super steep climbs. This also makes for some fun descending. Check out that amazing topography in the two maps below. Double-click (or click once to load the large image and then click again to zoom your browser into the image) to see all the details and mountain names.
11 ways up the Grant plateau plus the rest of our ride. All the climbs are numbered starting with the Green Mountain climb, then all 11 ways up Grant, followed by Blowing Cave, Tony Wilmur Trail, and finally Cecil Ashburne. Click to enlarge. After your browser downloads the image, click it again to zoom in and see the details.
I am working on a separate blog with a catalog of the 11 ways up grant plus the bonus climbs of Green, Blowing Cave, Tony Wilmur, and Cecil Ashburne, but I have a feeling it might be a while before I can finish it. So I’m just going to put in a teaser here with the Green Mountain front-side climb, the Swearengin climb, and the Blowing Cave climb (quite possibly one of the steepest paved climbs of measurable category in Alabama).
GREEN MOUNTAIN - FRONT SIDE Dist: 1.87 mi (0:14:36) Climbing: 886 ft Min Avg Max DFPM Pow 81 270.6 391 W Gravity -16 231.2 354 W Speed 5.2 7.7 13.7 mi/h Elev 578 1026 1468 ft Slope -0.4 9.04 19.2 % Caden 49 67.1 109 rpm HR 95 143.5 158 bpm NP:288W IF:0.98 TSS:24 VI:1.06 3/30/2014 8:06 AM 40 degF; 1022 mbar
SWEARENGIN CLIMB Dist: 1.61 mi (0:12:17) Climbing: 640 ft Min Avg Max DFPM Pow 19 246.9 385 W Gravity -48 201.2 372 W Speed 4.9 7.9 14.3 mi/h Wind 0.0 8.1 24.0 mi/h Elev 591 887 1244 ft Slope -1.0 7.70 19.4 % Caden 30 66.0 99 rpm HR 112 142.1 157 bpm NP:267W IF:0.91 TSS:17 VI:1.08 3/30/2014 11:41 AM 62 degF; 1020 mbar
BLOWING CAVE (COMPLETE CLIMB) Note: I was super tired and weaved up the climb. Dist: 1.73 mi (0:14:04) Climbing: 751 ft Min Avg Max DFPM Pow 0 251.5 451 W Gravity -387 202.8 417 W Speed 3.3 7.4 19.4 mi/h Wind 0.0 6.5 25.9 mi/h Elev 725 1122 1470 ft Slope -7.3 8.28 23.6 % Caden 34 60.2 112 rpm HR 120 141.2 157 bpm NP:282W IF:0.96 TSS:22 VI:1.12 3/30/2014 3:06 PM 65 degF; 1019 mbar
BLOWING CAVE - STEEP CAT 4 section only From a 2013 ride when I went straight up the climb. Dist: 0.29 mi (0:04:06) Energy: 74.7 kJ Cals Burn: 71.4 kcal Climbing: 300 ft Min Avg Max Power 187 303.6 398 W Gravity 189 284.2 372 W Speed 3.1 4.3 6.8 mi/h Wind 0.0 2.4 7.1 mi/h Elev 27 187 329 ft Slope 13.2 20.23 26.8 % HR 141 149.0 155 bpm NP:311W IF:1.05 TSS:8 VI:1.02 2/10/2013 10:03 AM 51 degF; 990 mbar
As if this race could not get any more epic, throw in three hours of light to moderate rain with temps in the mid 40s degF, lots of mud and gravel, and there you go – even more epic. Now if we would only do an extra lap or two, you’d probably have one of the closest races to the Hell of the North (Paris-Roubaix) that you can get this side of the Atlantic Ocean. Think about it, the race is a balancing act between the wind, the echelons, the potholes, the gravel, the hills, and the many twists and turns of the course. The only thing missing is the cobblestones and the 150 mile race distance.
After the race – my Martindale 6.0 wheels were the perfect wheel choice for this race. Excellent in the cross-winds, headwinds, and tailwinds. Plus, they roll really well and no joke these wheels are probably the reason me and Patrick were able to bridge to the break and also how I was able to catch David Novak late in the race.
The Extended Summary
I started at the back, missed the 5-man move after the gravel, attacked on the hill a couple miles later, made it about halfway to the break before Patrick Walle (I AM Racing) bridged up to me. Together we finished the bridge up to the break to make it a break of seven. We completely buried it to make it up to the leaders, but it still took us 10 minutes (4.5 miles at the speeds we were going). This was all about 10 miles or so into a 70 mile race, so we ended up rotating well for the next 50 miles before the attacks started.
Eventual winner David Novak (Kelly Benefits) rolled away with Ryan Shean (Texas Roadhouse). Tanner Hurst (Cumberland Cycling) and I bridged up to those to make it a lead group of 4. We rolled it hard but the 3 behind us caught back up again. A mile or two later, David attacked again. I figured we would roll together back up to him, but after I finished my pull no-one else came around so I drilled it hard and chased David for the next couple miles (seemed like an eternity). I recovered on his wheel for half a mile before the two of us started working. We killed it and had 30 seconds on what was now a chase group of just three. With 2 miles to go, we started to slow down trying to figure out the sprint. I ended up on the front going very slow waiting for him to attack. But when David attacked with 400 meters to go, he caught me by surprise even though I was trying to anticipate it – and I couldn’t grab his wheel fast enough or bridge back up to him.
Tanner took the sprint behind for 3rd with Ryan and Patrick in 4th and 5th. Kudos to Justin Lowe (Low Country Cycling) and David Carpenter (VW Volkswagen) who both rode a strong race but got caught out by the attacks late in the race. What an epic race! With the cold rain in the 40s degF, mud, and gravel it had everything you could dream for in a spring classic!
I decided to drive up this morning to the 9:50AM race start in Lewisburg, TN since this is within about a two hour drive of Birmingham. By the time I had made it north of the city, it was raining again. This was a bit problematic given that I had not left myself a lot of leeway for making it to the race on time. I got lots of practice negotiating a good line trying to find the strips of pavement where the water wasn’t pooled. I also nearly ran out of gas b/c I was heading into a strong headwind which blew my calculations for making it to the cheap gas. I arrived with 0 miles to empty.
The temp was dropping along the drive and continued to drop after I arrived. So I opted for a warm-up consisting of sitting in the car and blasting the heat instead of rolling around in the rain. I didn’t roll to the start line until nearly start time so I started at the very back. I remembered last year that it was crazy moving around in the pack and dodging potholes so I stayed at the very back of the group and gave myself some room to dodge the rain-filled bottomless abyss potholes. Still, I knew that I needed to move to the front at some point and waited for the race to string out and gradually work my way up. It didn’t happen though until the gravel where I moved up a bunch of spots and then continued to move up after the gravel.
It wasn’t far enough, though, and a strong move of 5 riders – David Novak (Kelly Benefits), Tanner Hurst (Cumberland University), David Carpenter (Village VW), Ryan Shean (Texas Roadhouse), and Justin Lowe (Low Country). This represented several of the larger teams so I knew it had potential. I was too far back to attack until the long hill on Rock Springs Rd where our group strung out. It was into a stiff headwind so I figured I would either drag the group back up or maybe get a second break going. I didn’t imagine getting away solo. Still, I was committed to so I drilled it up the steep part of the hill hoping to close as much of the gap as possible to the lead group before the rolling downhill.
I reckon I had made it halfway there with still 10-15 seconds of a gap left when I started to lose ground. Fortunately, I looked back and saw that Patrick Walle (I AM Racing) had also gotten away from the group. I eased up a bit so that we could combine forces and together we drilled it to try to catch the leading group of 5. Looking at my heartrate data, it looks like the total bridge effort only took 10 minutes with an average speed of 26.2 mph, but it seemed like an absolute eternity.
By the time we finished bridging up the leaders, we got a time split from the moto ref of 1 minute to the field. I knew we had a strong group, but I wasn’t sure we could hold that for the next 60 miles. Apparently everyone else thought the same because we continued to drill it and rotate well in the strong cross winds. It was difficult to echelon in the wind because you couldn’t just choose a position on the road – you had to scan ahead for potholes and then pick your position based on the least flat-inducing path. Soon our lead had ballooned to 3 minutes before the gravel on the second lap.
Our group split up again in the gravel, and I wasn’t sure if this was an attack from the front so I bridged across to David Novak and David Carpenter. We came back together on the other side of the gravel and continued to rotate. A few miles later we had a time split of two minutes having lost a minute to the lead group through the gravel section and the twisty descent leading into it. We started pushing the pace again, but our next time split was 1:45 and I thought “uh-oh”. This was right before the long tailwind section leading into the feedzone. We killed it through there and then across the interstate our lead was back up to 2.5 minutes.
I was expecting an attack in the gravel, but it didn’t materialize there. Instead, it was on the hill at the turn onto Rock Springs Rd where David Novak picked up the pace taking Ryan Shean with him. I saw it immediately and killed it across the top and then Tanner finished the rest of the bridge up to them. I encouraged everyone to drill it since we were down to just four riders and we did. Ryan was struggling a bit but the three of us worked hard to stay in front of the chasing three. Shortly after the second Duck River crossing (one of the most biodiverse rivers in the country!), they caught back up to us. There was some hesitation because what to do you do in that situation. Oh, hi, we weren’t really trying to get away from you, just having a good stroll off the front here ;-)
The hesitation didn’t last long, though, as David attacked again. I chased first and then when I went to pull off, nobody came around and there was a tiny gap so I drilled it as hard as I could on a downhill … thank you Martindale 6.0s oh my goodness it felt like a hurricane was pushing me forward down the hill. At the chicane at the bottom I literally thought “if the tires hold on the wet pavement, that’s great … if they don’t hold, oh well this is racing”. I had closed the gap quite a bit and David was right there maybe 2 or 3 seconds in front of me for the next hill, but he started pulling away again. I knew that my best shot was to catch him before the top of the long hill where I saw the deer last year (I thought about that deer every lap). I think David eased up after the left turn because I then closed the gap pretty quickly.
He wanted me to pull, but I was unable to pull. He graciously pulled for the next half mile while I recovered. This took us to the gradual downhill across the busy road before the feedzone. I took over there and killed it hoping that our gap would stick. We entered a good rotation through the feedzone, but then after the left turn with 2.5 miles to the finish we started to cat/mouse. My legs were not exactly feeling it for the sprint so I was hoping he would do more work but we had gotten a time split of 30 seconds to the chasers which was more than enough time to roll slowly to the finish. David knew it, too, and he kept me in the front. We started our sprint from 17mph when David attacked hard. He told me after the race that he was spinning out on the wet roads when he attacked. I don’t doubt it because even though I was trying to anticipate it, he still attacked with enough force to easily open the gap. We were still way out from the finish (maybe 400 meters) so I was hoping he would fade and I drilled it until about 50 meters to go when he was already posting up ahead of me. C’est la vie!
I am so happy to have finished on the podium two years in a row – 3rd last year, 2nd this year, maybe next year will be my year!
2014 Hell of the South heartrate summary
One of these years I’m going to make it onto that podium, but even though it wasn’t this year I’m certainly happy to have raced well against such a strong field. Boneshaker brought a strong team, and it showed with four out of the seven riders in the final selection from their team. Elbowz brought a large, strong team leading to Stefan Rothe’s podium finish. Incycle Predator had a small, but strong, team with powerhouse riders Mike Olheiser, Emile Abraham, Calixto Bello, and Jonathan Atkins. Mike and Calixto made the final break but were outnumbered four against two by Boneshaker. Finish Strong brought a large team and controlled the race all the way to the second gravel section.
The race – start to first gravel
Brian Arne from Finish Strong took off early on a solo move eventually extending his lead to four minutes by the start of the first gravel section at about Mile 25 of the race. The rest of the field entered the first gravel together at a brisk but not insane pace. The conditions for the first gravel section were different than any other year I’ve raced here. The washboard and deep gravel typical of Woodstock Rd were replaced by mostly hard-packed dirt, a bit of gravel, and lots of potholes. This meant that if you could avoid the potholes, you could go really fast. It also meant that if you didn’t see a pothole in time, you either jumped it or hit it. Jumping was an option in some places, but in other places that would just land you in one of several more potholes all in a line. I had wanted to be at the front before the gravel, but when that didn’t work out I drifted to the back and kept as much of a line of sight as possible in front of me.
Ahead of me was a bit of chaos. With the fast conditions interspersed with some massive potholes, the group would be flying along when all of a sudden the front of the group would slow down causing those behind to slam on their brakes. On a downhill leading into a rough section, one guy in front of me locked up his rear brake and slid his rear tire all the way down to the bottom of the hill but managed to keep the bike upright and not run into the people in front of him. A few minutes later one of the most epic wrecks I’ve ever seen happened on a corner leading to a massive mud puddle taking up half the road. We were warned about it ahead of time, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the large group from producing a large crash at this bottleneck. I was far enough back to have time to slow down but I arrived at the wreck maybe a few seconds after the wreck with the following visual image:
One rider’s bike is still up in the air (must have been the last person making his way into the crash). Many riders are on the ground, but some are already trying to untangle bikes. The giant mud puddle is on the left side but the path on the right is completely blocked with wreckage. Some riders are in the bushes on the right trying to get around. Others are riding through the mud puddle or trying (unsuccessfully to ride around it on the left). I end up riding through the puddle on the right-hand side close to the wreckage. I nearly didn’t make it which would not have been good for my speedplay cleats having to unclip and put a foot down in the mud. I squeezed through, though, and was actually one of the first few caught up in the wreck to make it through and start chasing.
The lead riders were not too far ahead, maybe 20 seconds, but their group was smaller and hammering the last section. I helped our small chase group of maybe three or four riders, but I was holding back a bit gambling that we were going to catch the group which traditionally slows way down after the first gravel section. I didn’t want to waste too much energy in the process of chasing back on. Still, when we made it to the road, they had extended their lead a bit but we could still see them. As we continued chasing more people joined our group from behind so that by the time we finally caught back onto the group of 30 or so riders that had made it through the wreck unscathed, our group had probably swelled to 15-20 riders.
The long road section between the first gravel and second gravel
About 50 riders or so had merged, and our pace was slow. Periodic attacks livened the pace briefly, but for the most part nobody was actively chasing because Finish Strong went to the front to cover any chase moves. I stayed mostly at the back trying to conserve energy. When we were a few miles out from the second gravel, I started a long, patient attempt to move up the lefthand side to the front. I made it to within three riders of the front with less than a mile to go. But then I got boxed in when more riders came up the left and right and the middle slowed down. By the time all was said and done, I made the turn at the Ft Adams store in about 20th position. I ended up riding through the giant puddle with no ill consequences but then hit some large potholes and lost a lot of positions.
By the top of Blockhouse Hill, Brian’s lead was down to 1 minute, but it was enough for him to stay away for the KOM at the top of the climb. Meanwhile down at the bottom of the climb people were taking all kinds of risks given the road conditions leading into Blockhouse. I was more conservative and continued to slide back. There was one rider I came on who had crashed and was laying on the ground. Knowing that the medical truck was just behind me, I continued on. I paid for my conservativeness as I had to pass tons of people on the climb itself and yet this still only got me into the first chase group. I helped drive this group and at first it looked like we would catch the lead group. They were only 30 seconds ahead of us! But the lead group was smaller and stronger than our chase group which spelled doom for our group which at first worked really well together, but then as more people caught onto our group people stopped working.
The third gravel section
By the time we turned onto LA-66 with about four miles to the next gravel section, there were only a few of us still working at the front including Mark Hyatt (UHC), Derek Wilkerson (Elbowz), Caleb Fuchs (ThinkFinance), John Stowe (Cherry St. Cycles), and maybe one or two other people. I continued working knowing that the chase was somewhat futile at this point, but wanting to make sure that I was at the very front heading into the third gravel section. I led the turn and wanted to lead into the gravel, but Mark came around me. I got on his wheel, though, and hit the gravel in second position. By the top, there was just three of us left – me, Mark, and Derek.
I knew that this was our chance to get away from the large group and form a cohesive, strong chase. I drilled it as hard as possible and led through most of the gravel. By the time we hit the road, we started to chase really well and entered a good rotation. Up ahead we could occasionally see riders coming off the lead group. This was motivating for the three of us chasing and I kept telling Derek and Mark and that the lead group might be playing games, and we might be able to capitalize on that to catch them. Unfortunately, the gap was just too large at this point and by the end of the race they had put six minutes into us!
By the time we approached the low-water bridge and Mahoney Hill, our chase group had solidified at 5 riders with us having picked up two more riders from the lead group that we were able to keep up with our pace. One of those riders, Colin Strickland (Elbowz), attacked and I went with him. Parker Kyzer (Finish Strong) was able to bring the two of us back. Mark (UHC) put in an attack at one point. Then, to start out the sprint for 8th place, Colin attacked again. Mark covered the move with me on his wheel. The two of us led side-by-side up the climbing to the finish line. When we reached about 150 meters to go, I gave it everything I had. I assumed that I would get passed by several people, but only Mark was able to come around right at the line to take 8th with me in 9th place. Great race, grand adventure (including the pre-ride which I will save for another post).
Annotated heartrate data
Annotated heartrate and power data – iBike plot (click to enlarge)
This was by far my fastest Rouge Roubaix ever. See the table below for a comparison to previous years:
Update – based on Ed’s comment I wanted to check the 1st place finishing times. I don’t have the distances for years prior to 2010, so assuming they used the long course (105.1) I’ve calculated the average speeds in the list below:
2014 – 1st place – Heath Blackgrove 4:09:57 – 101.8mi @ 24.4mph
2013 – 1st place – Ty Magner 4:23:50 – 105.1mi @ 23.9mph
2012 – 1st place – Adam Koble 4:29:09 – 105.1mi @ 23.4mph
2011 – 1st place – Greg Krause 4:35:00 – 105.1mi @ 22.9mph
2010 – 1st place – Mat Davis 4:29:27 – 101.8mi @ 22.7mph
2009 – 1st place – Christian Helming 4:26:30 – 105.1mi (?) @ 23.7mph
2008 – 1st place – Aaron Boyleston 4:25:53 – 105.1mi (?) @ 23.7mph
2007 – 1st place – Mike Olheiser 4:21:09 – 105.1mi (?) @ 24.1mph
2006 – 1st place – Mike Olheiser 4:31:25 – 105.1mi (?) @ 23.2mph
2005 – 1st place – Jason Snow 4:22:50 – 105.1mi (?) @ 24.0mph
2004 – 1st place – Brice Jones 4:23:56 – 105.1mi (?) @ 23.9mph
2003 – Results link broken
2002 – 1st place – Stephen Viquerie 5:02:00 – 105.1mi (?) @ 20.9mph
2001 – Results link broken
2000 – Results link broken
1999 – Results link broken
Last year, I opened up my season with back-to-back wins at Southern Cross and the Camp Sumatanga training race the next day. This year, I’ve started off the season with a 3rd place time trial podium, 6th place at Southern Cross, and 1st place again this year at the Sumatanga Category A race. The win yesterday at Sumatanga helped ease the sting from Southern Cross where I just didn’t have it on that opening climb and watched the lead group of eight riders ride away from me less than halfway up the climb. Also easing the Southern Cross sting was the outstanding performances by Birmingham riders Chris Edmonds, Jerry Dufour (17), and Reid Richesin (15) who placed 3rd, 5th, and 12th!
SOUTHERN CROSS ULTRACX RACE #1
So let’s start with Southern Cross – amazing again this year. I could finish dead last and while disappointed would still feel like the weekend was worth it. Race promoter and ultra-endurance racer Eddie O’Dea announced before the start that it was the biggest field yet for Southern Cross, and I would go one step farther to say it was also the strongest field as evidenced by the lead group of eight still together well into the Winding Stair climb. New this year was an additional dirt climb out of the winery instead of the traditional climb out via the road. I was really happy with my start able to ride almost everything, including the log drop and the new dirt climb out of the winery. The only thing I had to run was the main run-up, which given the heavy rains from a few days before the race was too wet to ride.
Leaving the winery, the lead group consisted of Thomas Turner (Jamis), Nick Van Winkle (Litespeed-BMW), Chris Edmonds (Infinity), Mike Simonson (616 Fabrications), Jerry Dufour (Team Momentum), Tim Proctor (The Bicycle Station), Gerry Pflug (Rare Disease Cycling), Eric Murphy (UHC/706 Project), Andy Scarano (UHC/706 Project), and me (Friends of the Great Smokies Cycling). There may have been a few more riders behind me, but I was glued to the wheels in front of me and never looked back. I felt OK at this point, but we seemed to be riding really, really fast.
I wasn’t sure about the climb given that we were killing it on the rollers leading into it, but once we started I felt the pace was hard but manageable. Just before the first steep pitch I could no longer hold the pace. It happened somewhat suddenly as the lead group kept motoring and I was unable to stand up and match the pace. I had opted to take my camelbak explorer backpack to make sure I had adequate hydration and tools to combat any flats, but with the extra weight pressing down on my lower back I couldn’t stand up to get any extra torque out of the bars. If it had just been a couple riders left leaving me behind, I would have been OK mentally but as I watched them round a turn ahead of me I counted one, two, three, … eight riders! This was super de-motivating.
I continued on, but as you can see in my heartrate data below I was cracked and dropped back down into Zone 4 sub-threshold. Near the top, though, I looked back to see Gerry Pflug single-speed champ, killing it up a steep section of the climb. I knew that my best chance at getting any kind of result was to hop on when he came by. Sure enough, I dug as hard as I could when he came by with my HR skyrocketing well back into Zone 5. I stuck to his wheel like glue and then dug really deep again to try to hold on to make it to the true top of the climb. Once there, I knew I would be fine until the second climb.
I stayed tucked behind Gerry from that spot all the way until we hit the pavement at which point I took over to set the pace into the next climb. My plan was to simply hold onto Gerry’s wheel all the way up the second climb, but we caught Eric Murphy about 1/4 of the way up the climb. This climb rolls a bit and although I was content to rest, Eric wanted to push the pace a bit harder on the downhills where Gerry needed to coast (singlespeed) so we got into somewhat of a rotation. As we got farther up the climb I spent more time on the front. But as we neared the very top, Gerry came around forced to push the pace harder by his singlespeed gearing. I could barely hold on, but what really helped is that I had drank enough water that I could stand up again without all the weight from the camelbak pressing down right on my lower back.
Somewhere in the middle of the climb, Frank Marrs (Mission Source) came flying by us. No hope of our group latching onto him, and we let him ride away. Towards the top, we were starting to catch him again and then passed him when he had to stop at the aid station for water. A few minutes later, he came flying by us again. I was unable to hold his wheel and he rode away again but ended up flatting on the next fast descent. Gerry and I kept plugging along at a steady tempo and I related to him some highlights from last year’s race as we reached critical points from the previous year.
I led through the descent and onto the road with Gerry pulling up the hills on the road and me pushing the pace on the descents and flatter sections. When we finally made it back to the winery, we could see Jerry Dufour partway up the Montaluce Monster (100% grade beer run-up). This gave me some renewed hope of maybe catching one more rider to crack the top 5, but Jerry was too fast and ended up pulling away. Meanwhile when I was near the top of the run-up, I looked back and saw another racer (Brad Cobb) had already made it partway up the run-up. I was no longer even trying to catch Jerry, but I rode really hard to make sure I stayed away from Brad. It all worked out though with Jerry taking the last spot of the Open Male podium, Gerry winning the single-speed race, and me taking 6th. Brad was actually in the 40+ race where he ended up 2nd as Tim Proctor had already finished 5th overall to take the Masters 40+ race win.
After the race, I talked to Jerry and Chris to find out how the race had played out up front. Jerry was the only one who could match Thomas’s pace all the way up the Winding Stair climb. But across the top, Thomas put in some surges that eventually saw Jerry falling back to the chase group behind. The chase group got smaller as people flatted or dropped off the pace eventually leaving just Nick, Chris, Mike, Tim, and Jerry in the front group. Jerry came off this group on the road section while the rest of the group went into the finish together. The only reason why we saw Jerry at all is because he missed the turn back into the winery. Fortunately, he realized his mistake quickly enough so that he didn’t lose any places because of the mistake. Chris and Nick sprinted it out for 2nd place behind Thomas who had finished about 3 minutes earlier. Last year’s ulta-cx winner Mike Simonson raced strong and ended up 4th behind Chris and Nick in the winery course.
Very proud of the Birmingham results this year – Chris Edmonds (3rd), Jerry Dufour (5th), me in 6th place, and 15 year old Reid Richensin finishing 12th. Also, Pat Casey took 2nd place in the singlespeed division, and Hardwick Gregg took 4th in the Men’s 50+. Maybe next year we can aim for a podium sweep! I’m already looking forward to it.
Having won the race last year, I was interested in a side by side comparison of all the data from last year and this year. Basically I was 4 minutes slower this year with a heartrate average of 1 bpm lower. Given that it was really cold last year, I think that probably works out to 2-3 bpm lower than last year if the temperatures had been the same both years.
|Southern Cross 2014 – lower HR average overall but 10 additional minutes in Zone 5||Southern Cross 2013 – higher HR average with quite a bit more time spent in Zone 4|
CAMP SUMATANGA TRAINING RACE
A large strong field showed up for the first GSMR training race up at Camp Sumatanga. My former team Infinity Med-i-Spa had the largest team, but there were also two strong military team riders (Kurt Page and Chris Cundiff), as well as strong teams from Huntsville, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and a number of other fast riders without teammates. I figured given the strength of the field, that the strategy was to let Infinity do as much work as possible bringing back moves. They scored a major coup though getting two teammates (Wes Douglas and Kevin Pawlik) up the road by themselves! It was still early enough in the race, though, that people from other teams in the field were motivated to chase. After about a lap, we brought them back. In the meantime, it got confusing with the Cat B field catching the A field. The combined fields rode a lap together before the officials stopped us at the start/finish to separate the fields.
Will Hibberts (Infinity) had just rolled off the front so he was given a 10 second start. A couple of us attacked immediately upon restart and killed it all the way up the hill, but it all came back together. Shortly after this, Wes (Infinity) and Pat Casey (Team Momentum) got away. I tried to attack on the backside hill to bridge up to them, but there was enough people strung behind me to keep it all together. When we crossed the start/finish with two 10 mile laps to go, I knew that we had to try to get away on the front hill or Wes and Pat would have too much of a lead to close by the end of the race. Near the top I attacked hard and only Mark Fisher (Village VW) and Jamie Alexander (Infinity) were able to go with me. Towards the end of the next-to-last lap we finished the bridge up to Wes and Pat.
I was worried that the field would catch us because our pace was not very fast at all in the merged group (everybody was trying to save up for the finish). When I looked back and could see the field not too far behind us, I figured the best bet at staying away was to shrink the size of the group. I tried attacking three or four times, but I could not get our group to shrink at all. The good news, though, was that our pace did ramp up as people also counter-attacked. Eventually, though, we came into the last couple miles as a still in tact breakaway of five. Wes attacked with 2 miles to go, I covered it and Mark led the rest of the break back up to us. Mark kept right on going hard and ended up leading all the way into the start of the sprint.
The order coming into the start of the sprint was Mark, Pat, Jamie, me, and Wes. Pat started the sprint with maybe 300 meters to go. Jamie kept his wheel and I kept Jamie’s wheel. As we got to about 200 meters, Jamie started to go around Pat to the right and I started to go around on the left. Right as both of us pulled even with Pat, he gave it one more surge! Fortunately for me that was still with 100 meters to go and he couldn’t hold that surge to the line so at the very end I was able to continue on past to take the win. Pat held on for second with Jamie in third, Wes in fourth, and Mark having led our group for the last 2 miles of the race finished fifth.
UNION GROVE TIME TRIAL
I headed up to Huntsville for a 20 mile time trial making the podium on pace for a 57 minute 40K TT, about two minutes faster than my previous best time trial. The key difference, though, is that my legs did not feel great for this race and instead I had a time trial bike, disc wheel, and aero equipment to shave two minutes off my time – even coming near the end of a 430 mile week on the bike. I’m looking forward to later time trials where my legs feel fresh, and I’m able to push the pace even faster! I paired one of my Martindale 6.0s with a Zipp disc wheel on Mike Olheiser’s old cervelo TT bike (see setup below – it was really, really fast, love those Martindale wheels!)
In this blog, I document the events of the surprise snowstorm that hit central Alabama on Tuesday, January 28th, 2014. I have selected several defining pictures to show full size here at the beginning to capture the chaos caused by the storm and its aftermath. Below the full-sized pictures, I have included small thumbnails of some of the videos I uploaded to youtube. Below the videos, I have organized a long pictoral gallery that covers the entire week. There are a ton of pictures, but I recommend that you click on the first one to open a full-size window and then click the arrows or click the picture to advance from photo to photo. If you do that, then when you make it to the end of the
Below I have created a pictoral timeline of events based on photo timestamps. I have combined what was originally two galleries into one large gallery. Click on the first picture in the gallery and you can advance through each picture at full-size with the captions displayed at the bottom.
Monday – Friday
It’s funny to look at the “referrers” section of my stats as you can trace back to links that people clicked on in various blogs and forums. I will respond simply by saying that it is definitely a balancing act to find as much time as I do to ride, but I look at that as part of the challenge as well. I do a lot of thinking while I ride, particularly about projects and life. That is valuable time. This post, though, is about maps. I’ve been doing this long before the Strava heatmaps, and I’d argue that their heatmaps are far better as interactive maps, but mine are better as static maps.
All of my riding and racing during 2013 – approx 20,500 miles in 11 states. I rode in Virginia and Pennsylvania this year for the first time in a long time. But noticeably missing are Illinois, Michigan, and Florida which somehow I missed in 2013! (click to enlarge and see additional detail)