Posts tagged ‘epic’
I have been wanting to write this race report from the moment the race was over, but it has been a crazy busy week at work. I am finally caught up enough that I can sit down to reflect on what for sure was the most epic Rouge Roubaix ever.
Rouge Roubaix is epic every year, but this year’s edition was off-the-charts epic. Let me set the scene. Tucked in the elbow of Louisiana wedged between the Mississippi River and the Mississippi state line is West Feliciana parish — with St Francisville nestled on the edge of the Tunica Hills on the eastern bank of the Mississippi.
The area is so rural that many of the roads, especially the ones through the hills, are unpaved. With this race taking place during the spring classics season on a number of dirt/gravel sectors and a start location only 30 minutes away from Baton Rouge, the name of the race “Rouge Roubaix” is perfect.
This year’s race featured four sectors. The first section was a new addition this year because one of the paved roads normally on the course was closed with a washed out bridge from the heavy rains that have been plaguing the south for most of January and February. So add an extra rugged dirt gravel road, combined with three other dirt/gravel sections that were in rougher than normal shape, along with a really stacked field with four previous winners, the Kona mountain bike / cyclocross team, and you have the makings of an epic race. How epic? By the end of the race, the wheel trucks were patching and replacing tubes on already flatted wheels so they would be ready to hand out to the next rider who flatted.
I also got a chance to race with my FGS Cycling teammate Kurt Page for the first time. He got caught up in a nasty early crash, but still managed to finish the 105 mile race — with blood streaming down from his leg and hip — in 17th place! He Jens Voigted the heck out of that race!!!
With the new dirt road coming early in the race, and a narrow rough road leading up to it, we flew through the neutral section at close to 25mph average. Once we made the left turn signaling the end of the neutral section, our speed skyrocketed to close to 40mph with a number of attacks. Shortly after making the next left, two guys rolled off the front and had a very small lead. But they didn’t get very far b/c our field was riding hard jockeying for position leading into the first gravel section. At the beginning of this video, I move up following a Giant rider on the outside but I was still a good 10-15 riders back by the time we hit the climb and sharp turn onto gravel. Things started out ok, but then I got stuck in some deep gravel going off to the side. This happened a couple more times, and I was really starting to lose positions when my friend Jesse Gaudet passed me. I hopped on his wheel, knowing that he knows these roads better than anyone else and just simply followed him whichever lines he took.
By the end of the gravel section we had picked up one more rider from ahead of us, and Christian Parrett (5 Hour Energy) had caught up to us. Almost immediately, Christian flatted so it was back down to three of us chasing the leaders. Just before entering the second gravel section, a small group of three or four guys caught up to us. Then our group kept swelling because we kept on picking up guys who had flatted out of the lead group. All of this is in the second video. The lead group had shrunk to just 4 by the end of the second gravel section. Meanwhile, our group kept swelling with people catching up from flatting. Just Mike Olheiser (Cashcall), Oscar Clark (Hincapie Devo), Ty Magner (Hincapie Devo), and one other rider were all that was left in the lead group. Our chase group worked really well together with me, three riders from the Kona team, Jason Sager (Jamis), Johnny Brizzard, and a few other riders working together. We were flying and caught up to the lead four about 10-15 miles later. This is the third video.
Almost immediately, I got into a break with one of the Kona riders and Corey Ray from Herring Gas. Then after a few minutes, Oscar Clark, and a Giant rider (Russ Walker?) bridged up to us. This got our group really moving and we extended our lead to maybe 45 seconds. Somebody was chasing behind us, though, because we got caught with about six miles to go until the third dirt section, Blockhouse Hill. This is the fourth video.
Oscar Clark attacked a few miles later (about a mile or so before the hill) and easily rode away to take the KOM. I was near the front, but unfortunately started drifting back through the mixed gravel, paved section. This was a big mistake b/c I needed to be much farther up at the base of Blockhouse. The riders in front of me were not going nearly as fast as the leaders, and it was difficult to pass. I passed a few people, but the leaders were gone. To make matters worse, I really goofed up the sand pit at the bottom of the first hill after the summit. Not only was I not able to ride it, I didn’t remount cleanly and had to stop one more time. By this point, the race for first was over for me. This is all on the fifth video.
Still, I knew we were doing well, and you never know how many people ahead might flat. A few of us merged together and chased all the way through the next long paved section, but it was kind of half-hearted. When we made the left onto the final dirt section (Tunica Hills), last year’s winner Adam Koble rode away from us. Jonathan Brown (Hot tubes) and I hit the next climb together – that lasted for about 30 seconds before the gradient was too steep and the gravel too loose to ride. We weren’t alone pushing our bikes – up ahead I could see Adam pushing his, Jason Waddell (Tulsa Tough) remarked on the irony of us being in the middle of a road race, walking our bikes up a hill. Jason Sager caught back up to us and made it the farthest of any of us, but eventually he too hit a loose spot of gravel and had to start walking. Across the top, we coalesced into one group again, but only for a couple minutes when Jason Waddell flatted. A few minutes later, I flatted.
I pulled out my tube and got the wheel off my bike and started to change the tire when Jason came by saying that the wheel truck was just behind. So I started stuffing everything back into my jersey just as the wheel truck caught up to me. About a minute after flatting, I was up and rolling again with a new wheel. Our exact same group merged together again. This section of the race goes from good pavement to mixed gravel, rough road several times so it was hard to get in a really good rotation rhythm. It seemed like people were really tired, and eventually a couple more riders joined our group. A few miles later, Jason Waddell and the Elbowz rider attacked our group. I was just coming off my pull at the front, but still I chased hard and almost caught up to them before blowing up. The rest of the group caught back up to me and I was pretty miserable that two more places just went up the road. By the end, four of us were sprinting for 10th place. The Kona rider led out the sprint with me on his wheel. I feel like I was boxed in a bit and could only come around the Kona rider after the other two riders had come around me. So I got third in that sprint to take 12th. But then there was a strange protest about motorpacing from early on in the race that led to two riders ahead of me being relegated to the back of our group. This bumped me up a couple spots to 10th.
This final video below shows us entering the final dirt section, all the way through my flat, subsequent chase, regrouping and working together on the pavement for a bit. But my battery died before the end.
Overall, it was an epic day, I had a blast, great training, fun times suffering with fellow bike racers, already looking forward to next year. Disappointed a bit at where I finished especially since I feel like if I had been a little bit farther up going into Blockhouse, I could have made it through that section with the leaders. Won’t make the same mistake again next year, and I’m already looking forward to it!
Here is all the data from my race.
Annotated heartrate zone summary
And lastly, here are some photos I took during the weekend.
This adventure started out on Christmas day when we began our annual trek north to Wisconsin to visit Kristine’s family and enjoy the winter wonderland of the northwoods of Wisconsin. For the past two years, I have left our house in the morning and biked north towards Wisconsin. About six hours later, Kristine has picked me up somewhere north of Cullman, and then we have finished the rest of the 18 hour drive overnight to arrive in Shell Lake by the next morning.
This year, there was a major storm system moving in from the Gulf of Mexico promising lots of rain for Alabama and a huge blizzard for Indiana. We were racing this storm. Everything looked perfect for us to stick to our plan since the system wasn’t supposed to be arriving until later in the evening — at which point we would have already made it to Chicago. My ride started out great with over 3 hours of overcast skies and upper 30s lower 40s temp. Then shortly after discovering the Emerald Lakes climbs and making it to the bottom of Skyball Mountain, it started to pour down rain and thunderstorm. My Garmin cut off unexpectedly as my power meter died and the Garmin struggled to find a signal. I lost all of the data except for the first 15 miles of the ride. Sounds crazy, but I’m pretty sure that the source of the problem is when the power meter starts to give off goofy power meter readings, which confuses the Garmin and then causes it to crash. This has happened several times — all related to goofy (or missing) power meter readings. I’m pretty sure about that since I rode a long time in the rain yesterday but turned off the power meter on the Garmin, and the Garmin had no problems recording the entire 8 hour ride – so it’s not a problem with the Garmin and the rain. It’s a problem with bogus (or missing) power meter signal while the Garmin still is looking for a power meter.
Anyway, back to the ride at Christmas, I ended up riding the rest of the way to Cullman (about 2 hours) including the climb up Skyball Mountain in the pouring down rain and temp in the upper 30s. I was freezing, but I rode really, really hard to stay warm. Then in the process of coordinating the pick-up with Kristine at First Baptist Church Cullman (heavily damaged by April 27th tornado) well short (30 miles) of our original pick-up spot, I stopped and waited for Kristine. It only took her a few minutes because she had earlier started to back track on the route. Those few minutes were enough to make me so cold that I couldn’t stop shivering until I had dried off, changed clothes, heater blasting in the car, and driving up to the original gas station in Falkville where we were supposed to meet.
During this amazing awesome time of warming up, I tethered Kristine’s laptop to her phone and uploaded the ride to Strava discovering that all but the first 15 miles were lost. Initially, I was pretty upset — but then a few minutes later I resolved to do the ride again as an out/back ride from my house. The thought of that adventure was exciting enough to quash the sick feeling in my stomach of losing about 60 miles of data from an epic ride with new climbs and probably a few KOMs.
Yesterday was the culmination, two and a half weeks after the original ride, of that excitement/anticipation. The weather forecast called for fog in the morning and slight chance of rain in the afternoon. Instead, it stayed heavy wet fog all day (misty light rain) and then rained hard by the end of the ride after sunset. Fortunately, I turned off my power meter on my Garmin so that the same problem wouldn’t happen again with the Garmin unexpectedly powering off and losing ride data. But that means I only have power meter data for the first hour or so of the ride, and the latter part of that data is bogus as the power meter starting giving off much too high power readings for the effort I was putting out. That is when I decided to turn the power meter off. Unfortunately, I had to keep a ziplock bag over the Garmin for most of the ride, which kills the total elevation gain as the Garmin is slower in responding to elevation change — which doesn’t make too much of a difference when you are crawling up a climb, but it does affect how it reads the descents … meaning that smaller hills get flattened because the Garmin never records the negative change before you’ve already started up (or completely finished) the next hill.
There were two key things that I was anticipating on this ride: 1) the adventure of an out/back ride from Birmingham up and over Skyball 2) The emerald lakes climbs which I feel could be the steepest paved climbs in Alabama. The top video on this post is from that “steepest climb” on the return portion of the trip after climbing Skyball, changing a flat tire, and lots of other adventures about 95 miles into my ride. The next video below is the climb up the same ridge line near Emerald Lakes, but from the opposite side on the way out to Skyball. It also has some extended 20-25+% sections, but is more of a stair-stepper than the backside climb. Both videos are long, but if you click the “watch on youtube” button then you can click on the video bookmarks in the description to jump directly to interesting spots.
The driest part of the ride was climbing up Skyball on the way out as the clouds had lifted a bit, but by the time I had turned around in the valley on the other side to climb back up, it had started to rain again. Here’s a short video heading down towards the Warrior river with a view of the skyball ridgeline.
After climbing Skyball, I passed a hunter hunting from the roadside (I don’t think you’re supposed to do that). I also got a flat tire climbing back up Skyball Mountain, so I changed it at the top right next to the Tour de Cullman Skyball KOM finish line. The video below is me narrating the last part of the climb back up Skyball telling about my favorite Tour de Cullman finish (2011) and also discovering that I had a flat tire. Also, the two pictures are from the flat tire change.
I spent a lot of time on changing the flat tire making sure I cleaned out all the debris that accumulated in the tire because I still had almost 70 miles left to get home. Fortunately, the single tire change held all the way home (although it had developed another slow leak so I had to change it again last night after I got home). I stopped at Locust Fork to refuel, and got two 20 oz Pepsi’s and one 32 oz gatorade for a total of $3.50. That was a LOT of liquid sugar for not too much money! I ended up with the nutritional equivalent of a perfect tweet – consuming that plus 7 powergels plus 3 cliff bars for a total of about 2300 calories during the ride arriving home without bonking and having eaten everything I had taken with me.
Shortly after the Locust Fork stop, I turned around on AL-79 to head down to the Warrior River bridge to see if the climb from there to the top of Tucker Mountain would cross the Cat 3 threshold (it did). I also went hard to try to get the Tucker Mountain KOM (I did – but just barely – taking it from somebody named “No One” who had ridden from Huntsville to Birmingham … that ride was only 111 miles compared to my 135 mile out/back ride).
By the time I made it back down into more familiar territory, it was past sunset and pretty dark given the rain. I did get a couple more videos below that are somewhat interesting (tornado damage from a tornado on January 23rd, 2012. And also a video starting the climb back up red mountain (including near miss with car towards the beginning). The audio is really muddled on these because I think water got in the microphone port. After climbing Red Mountain, I put my blinky lights on and rode the rest of the way home in the dark, climbing up to the top of Vestavia Dr just as started to rain pretty hard. The last 6 miles or so were in pretty heavy rain as documented by the last video (iphone)
We are in cold, snowy Wisconsin after twenty hours of driving. The temperature fell from 50s degF in Alabama when we left to -2 degF by the time we arrived in Shell Lake. But the coldest I felt all day was at the end of my six hour ride to Cullman where Kristine was picking me up on our way to Wisconsin. It had started to rain hard at the bottom of Skyball Mountain and never let up in the final 26 miles of the nearly 100 mile route I took from my house to downtown Cullman. When Kristine met me, I was shivering uncontrollably and huddled behind a pillar to block the wind, which had fortunately been mostly a tailwind while I was still riding but immediately sent my core body temp plummeting as soon as I stopped riding.
My day started out early leaving my house shortly after 7AM to put in my Strava Shoot-out KOM effort on Vestavia Dr. After a long week of riding and only one day of rest, I didn’t know how it would go, but I ended up setting a new power record in the process of setting the KOM. I held just under 360 watts for the 11.5 minute climb (see graph below).
The ride highlight for me, though, was discovering a super steep climb (possibly the steepest in Alabama) back in the Emerald Lakes neighborhood. It’s one of the only times I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make it up a climb due to the severity of the gradient. Unfortunately, the GPS data from my Garmin was erased in the monsoon thunderstorm that hit at the bottom of Skyball mountain. The first video below documents one of the steep sections of the Emerald lake backside climb. The second video documents the status of my Garmin after it had unexpectedly powered down. I was able to power it back up, but the GPS data was gone for a majority of the ride.
Despite the GPS fail and the hypothermia at the end, it was still a great ride, and I’m super motivated to repeat the first part of the ride out to Skyball and back as soon as we make it back to Alabama so I can get the data on the Emerald Lakes backside climb. The kids were already skiing around the house this afternoon after we got a little bit of sleep, and they have a 1K kids ski race tomorrow in Spooner. Should be fun!
This week’s Strava shoot-out climb is Belmont Rd over in Irondale. I was working on the computer this morning when Kristine mentioned that the high was going to be close to 70 today. After having frost in our yard and on our neighbhor’s roofs this morning, I immediately thought “updraft!!!” So I finished what I was working on, and got ready for a long ride. I started out on a somewhat direct route out to Belmont and sure enough there was a massive tailwind on the climb.
After dropping my stuff off behind the Overton Rd Church, I set out to tackle the climb. I had taken off my jersey since it was getting hot and I had all my stuff in my jersey pockets, and I still had my vest on. Made it simpler to dump stuff rather than having to empty all my pockets. So here I am heading up towards Belmont with a sleeveless vest on December 19th in nearly 70 degF sunshine — gotta love Alabama! I hit the lap button on Overton so it would hopefully auto-lap at just the right spot on my way back, turned around at the utility shed and then hit it hard to get some momentum going into the turn. But it was a bit too much momentum for the super sharp turn. I entered the turn at 25mph went straight across the road, slammed on the brakes as I’m about to enter the gutter and then straightening up and accelerating back out of the gutter up the 12% gradient. This led to a nice 646 watt power surge in the little chainring. It was good to be in the little chainring, though, for the opening part of the climb which stays consistently well above 10%.
Coming across the top, I shifted into the big chainring and then down into the 11 trying to grind a big gear while tucked in as aero position as possible for the 35mph downhill to the interstate bridge. I still had a lot of momentum entering the bridge thinking that I would try to stay in the big chainring the rest of the way up – but then by the end of the bridge, I was already struggling in my 21 in the back with my cadence rapidly decreasing down below 70rpm, so I dumped it back down into the little chainring and decided to go little chainring the rest of the way up the climb. There was a brief headwind section after the bridge, which was the first time I had thought about the wind since the climb began, so in my head I was thinking “oh no, where is my tailwind” – this was quite a bit demotivating but I was already committed, so the next thought was how hard can I push this gear? Then, not 50 meters later, the wind switched direction again, and it was the tailwind I was expecting (and which had been there the entire time except for that one stretch right after the bridge) so this gave me extra motivation to stand up again, mash the pedals really hard and be as un-aerodynamic as necessary to get as much power into the pedals to make it up to the top as quickly as possible.
By the end, my lap timer had 4:45, but I wasn’t sure where the auto lap had kicked in. I was thinking it might have been after the turn at the start of the climb, but in fact it had auto lapped back on Overton right before the turn. So my actual strava segment time was 4:44. And I still had nearly six hours left of riding to wait to find out if I had gotten the KOM! It was a couple watts short of a power record, though, so really it was the tailwind that got me up the climb fast enough to beat Mark’s time of 4:52, which had blown away my previous KOM time by 20 seconds!
The rest of the ride was fun, although a bit flatter in sections than I would normally like. A couple “adventure” notes include nasty traffic in Trussville which I avoided by riding through “cut kudzu” off the side of the road … check out this zoomed in satellite pic of my route … also, I created a new segment on Mountain View Rd heading back towards Margaret – a really long gradual climb. It was quite enjoyable b/c of the ruralness of the area despite me occasionally thinking “uggh, this is killing my total elevation gain”. This really nice Chinese family (mom, dad, 18 month old toddler) gave me some water at their restaurant in Margaret, which is a really cool rural community. I had been out of water for several miles so that was super nice. On the way back up Smyer and then Vestavia Dr, I ran into three other cyclists – Clint climbing Smyer and then Dusty and his daughter climbing Vestavia Dr. When I finally made it home, I met Kristine and the kids as they were heading out of the neighborhood for dinner before my brother’s Christmas special (see video at the end and pic of program). I had just enough time to get home, wash up a bit, upload the ride to strava, and then head back out with my lights on to get over to the church for dinner (steak!!!) and then the program. It was an all-round epic awesome day!
View of the Belmont water tower – note the tailwind via the huge flag (it takes a bit of wind to get that moving at all) and also note that this is 150 feet up the Grants Mill climb so the Belmont climb starts out a bit lower from where this pic was taken. (click to zoom out and enlarge)
Lots of videos from the ride below … click the “watch on youtube” link to use the bookmarks (on the longer videos) to jump to interesting parts of the video.
176 miles and just under 20,000 feet of climbing on a cold, foggy, sometimes rainy beautiful October day in the mountains of upstate South Carolina and western North Carolina. My one goal for the ride was to get the Sassafras KOM on the Cat 1 climb from the Eastatoe Valley, but I ended up setting a few other KOMs along the way! Climbing up through the cloud layer and then riding above the clouds up on the Blue Ridge parkway was definitely the highlight of the ride. Ironically, turning around a few miles later and descending back through the cloud layer nearly crashing a few times and absolutely freezing in the mist was the low point of the ride. I’ve included a few of my favorite photos and videos below and then a detailed write-up – and then the rest of the photos, videos, and Garmin screenshots at the end of the post.
We left Birmingham right after Josiah’s baseball game so we could try to make it up to Talladega before the end of the big nascar race and the ensuing traffic nightmare – but we were also hoping to see if we could catch a glimpse of the cars high on the track visible from I20 as we drove past. We ended up arriving about 5 minutes after the end of the race, which we listened to on the radio so we were hoping to see smoke from the big crash on the last lap but we missed that too. Still, it was cool to see all the campers and all the people in the grandstands.
The rest of the drive up to South Carolina was relatively uneventful, and we arrived at the Fieldstone Farm Bed and Breakfast just outside of Seneca shortly before 10PM eastern. After an early breakfast the next morning, I was off on what I was hoping to be a 10 hour adventure (it turned out to be closer to 11 hours). It was cold, overcast, and windy on the way over to Clemson – but the clouds didn’t look thick enough for rain (I was wrong about that, too). Riding through campus, I ran into a guy with a backpack riding a nice Trek while I was taking a picture of Tillman Hall – we chatted for a minute or two and then I headed north out of Clemson up past the mountain bike trails of Issaqueena Forest towards my first goal of the day – the Sassafras Mountain KOM from the Eastatoe Valley.
I decided to target 275 watts for the climb, but my legs were feeling great so I ended up averaging close to 300 watts on the climb up to Beasley Gap. After the long downhill before the start of the final steep Cat 2 portion of the climb, I had dropped down below 280 watts. The Sassafras climb is super steep in parts with downhills in between – there is only one short section with a steady easy gradient. Everything else is either straight up or straight down. I was surprised at how quickly I made it up the last steep section to the short downhill before the final kick up to the top. Then after pushing my bike under the gate, I was able to blow through the last slippery wet steep leafy section with no problem. I ended up getting the KOM by 20 minutes.
The very top of Sassafras (elevation 3559ft) was at the bottom of the cloud layer so there was a light mist, and the air temp had dropped into the upper 30s. I wanted to get a short video at the top, but was having problems with my iPhone crashing so it took a few minutes to get the video. I was freezing by the time I was ready to head back down. Fortunately, I was out of the rain mist pretty quickly and was able to bomb most of the descent. By the time I hit the Chimneytop Gap descent, the roads were completely dry and I let it rip down the mountain pedaling hard at the top and never hitting my brakes. I ended up maxing out at 59.5 mph, but it felt much faster than S Cove because the distance traveled at that speed was far greater (close to a mile!)
Once I made it back to US178, I started the climb up into North Carolina that crosses the Eastern Continental Divide. As I got close to the divide I noticed that I was approaching the cloud layer again. Once I hit the cloud layer this time, it was a much heavier rain mist. This continued all the way across the top and then all the way down the long gradual descent to Rosman, NC. By the time I made it to Rosman, I was absolutely freezing. I had no rain booties on so my feet were freezing with the wind, rain, and cold. I spent a long time inside the gas station warming up – drinking a large cup of coffee and refilling my bottles with gatorade. I also got a couple plastic grocery bags I could use as rain/wind booties inside my shoes. They worked perfectly.
Leaving Rosman, I continued heading north (and up) towards the Blue Ridge parkway. The climb starts out very gradual on some really curvy fun roads on NC215 to reach Balsam Grove. After passing through Balsam Grove, I was starting to finally warm-up again because the rain mist had turned into mostly just fog climbing up through the cloud layer below the parkway. By the time I made it to the parkway, I had climbed up through the clouds and was rewarded with some spectacular views. After another 10 miles of rolling roads and climbing, I reached the high point of the parkway, which was again back in a layer of clouds. Cold and out of food, I stayed there for less than a minute before turning around to book it back to Balsam Grove as fast as possible.
Some of the best views on the way back were near the Rough Butt Bald overlook. Several mountains were peaking through the cloud layer and looked like tiny islands surrounded by a sea of white. Plus, there were some arms of the main ridge line extending down into the clouds that were lit up with the beautiful fall foliage. Leaving the parkway, I knew that the descent back down to Balsam Grove would be wet, but I didn’t realize how cold it would be. After nearly losing it in the first switchback I went really slow and my heart rate probably dipped down into the 60s or 70s which meant that my body was a frozen popsicle by the bottom.
Fortunately, I made it back to the gas station and warmed up again with hot food and more coffee. I was running really late by this point in the ride and I was starting to realize that I wasn’t going to make it back before dark — so I poured the coffee into a gatorade bottle and stuck it in my back pocket — perfect to warm up my body while I was letting it cool off enough to drink. By this point I was having lots of problems with my phone (it kept on locking up whenever I tried to do anything) so I didn’t end up getting any more pictures, so that was disappointing.
The highlight of the latter part of the ride was finding a really cool road that paralleled US64 for a while — Old Quebec Road — which came after all the switchbacks on Silverstein Road. These two roads are amazing low traffic roads. If I lived anywhere in the Cashiers/Sapphire/Rosman area, I’d spend a lot of time on those roads. With my phone not working, I was worried that Kristine would be worried — especially as I approached my original estimated return time of 6:30PM. I booked it down Whitewater, which again was somewhat disappointing because as soon as you cross back into SC the roads are so rutted and stacked up from heavy truck braking that it is pretty dangerous. It feels like the bike is going to break up underneath you.
When I finally made it to Salem, I saw a Dollar General employee outside taking a break and asked if I could borrow her phone. She kindly let me use it to call Kristine and tell her that I was about 15 miles out. It was 6:45PM with a sunset scheduled to happen at 7:07PM. I was going as fast as I could as I skirted around West Union via Burnt Mill Rd when I saw a “Road Closed Ahead” sign. I thought “you’ve got to be kidding me”. I chanced that I would still be able to get through on my bike, thinking that worst case there would be a bridge out and I would have to take my shoes off to cross a small creek. But fortunately, it was just a closed bridge that was still perfectly intact, but must have been declared unsafe for cars. Once past there it was less than 5 miles to home and I was running on a lot of adrenaline to be done as the sun had already set and it was getting quite dark. I ended up averaging well over 20mph for that last 15 miles of the ride making it back to our cabin by 7:25PM.
We piled the kids into the car as far as possible and drove to Clemson to enjoy our favorite Mexican restaurant and then 3 spoons yogurt afterwards … perfect ending to a perfect day!
I am very happy to have finished the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race today in 7 hours and 35 minutes in 39th place. I could really feel the effects of being so high up in the mountains (minimum elevation 9200′, maximum elevation 12,500′) so I had to really pace my effort throughout the day. Even so, I dug a bit too deep trying to keep up with the current world mountain bike champion, Christoph Sauser, on the way out to Columbine and ended up paying for it in the last 25 miles of the race. Still, I’m happy and hope to come back another year to try to do even better!
The detailed report
The Leadville race starts at 6:30 just after sunrise to give people as much daylight as possible to finish the race. This meant leaving our place in Silverthorne at 4:30 to drive up to Leadville and have enough time to get everything ready, have a short warm-up, and make it into the starting corral before it closes at 6:15. Everything was going pretty smoothly until with only a few minutes before the corrals were going to be closed, I realized I didn’t have my tools and extra tube. So I booked it back up to the car to get these and made it back just before the corrals were closed.
Because I got into the Leadville race through a qualifying race (the Barn Burner), I was able to start in the first corral. Still, once the race started there were a lot of people jockeying for position. I entered the first dirt road somewhere in the top 100 or so. By the time we made it to the double track, people were already starting to pop from their early effort on the way out of town. I had to sprint around these gaps to make it back up to the leading pack. One other person doing the same thing was Garth Prosser (Specialized), who I had raced with at the Southern Cross race in February. We chatted briefly before the start of the first climb – a nice 2.5 mile climb with some pretty steep sections. Eventually we ended up getting separated with me following a couple faster wheels and Garth making a much wiser decision to keep a nice steady tempo. I wouldn’t see Garth again until 78 miles later as I was pretty much crawling up the top part of powerline when I looked back to see Garth riding up it smooth and steady – eventually putting more than 4 minutes into my time by the finish.
By the top of the St Kevin’s climb, I got a time split of “5 minutes” to the leaders. I flew down the road descent to the valley below the Sugarloaf Pass climb catching a group of about 10 riders. They weren’t climbing as fast as I wanted, and I could see another group up the road so I left them crossing the gap solo to a faster group that helped push me up the last rocky double track part of the climb before the Powerline descent. Once we made it to the Powerline descent, I moved to the back of this group so I wouldn’t get in the way and started down the descent. Most of the riders from the group that I had left behind caught and passed me on the descent.
Once we were back out on the road, I joined a small group and went to the front to try to get a rotation going. This ended up with only one other rider coming with me. A mile or two later, the rest of the group decided to pick up its pace and reeled us back in. At this point we got into a pretty good rotation and started to catch some riders coming off the front groups. I was just following wheels in the pack when we started up a rough paved climb. After we had ridden a mile, we see a large group coming back down the other way! It had most (but not all) of the leaders, including world champion Christoph Sauser. Our group turned around and merged with their group making a group of more than 50 riders as we headed towards Twin Lakes.
I made the mistake of being too far back in this large group as gaps started to open up. Fortunately, there were other strong riders in the back and we worked together to bridge across the gaps to the group as it whittled down to maybe 20 riders. By the bottom of the dirt climb before the singletrack, we caught some of the riders who had not missed the turn. Sauser went to the front and lifted the pace immediately separating himself from the group. I lifted my own pace and bridged across to him as we tackled the first part of the climb. I didn’t know that it was going to be as big a climb as it was so I thought I could maintain the pace. But as the climb kept going, I realized I had to back off or I was going to be deep in both oxygen and energy debt. By the top of the climb I was in a good group of maybe 10 riders that drilled the singletrack. I was happy to be able to keep up with them.
Coming out of the singletrack, there was some rolling double track and some hills that led to me and one other rider, Justin Lindine (Medline Bicycles), entering the Twin Lakes feed station at mile 40. I stopped for the first time, got two new bottles, powergels, and a cliff bar from Kristine before taking off again up the Columbine Climb. I was not feeling great for the Columbine climb so I settled into a slow rhythm. Even though my time up Columbine was pretty slow, I was very happy that I was able to ride the entire climb including the super steep sections in the middle and towards the top. I kept expecting to see the leaders coming back down, but it wasn’t until the steep sections near the top that the lead 3 including Jeremiah Bishop and Christoph Sauser came flying down the other way. Next up was Tinker Juarez and one other rider. I was counting the riders as they came down and think I was somewhere in the top 30 by the turnaround – where I grabbed some pretzels and potato chips.
I thought I was doing fine on the long steep descent back down to Twin Lakes until Pua Mata (Sho-air) came flying by me easily 15mph faster than I was going. This actually helped me because it inspired me to try to go faster. I let go of the brakes and took off! It was a really fun descent – especially with all the riders doing the climb. Several called out “Go Brian” … thanks to all of you because that really motivated me to pick up the pace after Twin Lakes where I grabbed another bottle from Kristine and another cliff bar. I caught and passed Pua telling her what a great descender she is. Earlier I had passed Rebecca Rusch (Specialized) shortly after the feedzone (she had passed me while I was getting a bottle from Kristine). It was really windy so I thought about slowing down to work with Pua, but then I felt that wouldn’t be fair to Rebecca so I drilled it and set my sights on a rider just ahead of me thinking that if I could just dig deep enough to catch him, then we could work together. The rider I found out later was Peter Smith.
I ended up catching Peter twice! The first time was after what they call “the wall” after the singletrack. I decided to ride it whereas I could see Peter was walking up it. So at the top I caught up to the back of him just as he was remounting and taking off. I went to catch his draft and suddenly realized that I couldn’t breathe or pedal because clearing the wall had required just about every bit of oxygen and energy I had left. So Peter easily put 10 seconds into me, which took another few miles to reel back. We started working well together to the powerline feed station where we both stopped. Kat and Katie were there and gave me a bottle of coke and some more powergels. Peter and I got back together after the feed station and worked well into a really stiff headwind all the way to the bottom of the Powerline climb.
I was not feeling well at all and after riding the first part of the climb up to the crazy steep section, I decided to get off and walk/run/crawl up the steep section instead of riding it. Meanwhile, Rebecca Rusch had been closing in on us, and she caught me shortly after I started walking. I decided to try to keep up with her running behind her while she rode, but that only lasted a couple hundred feet before I had slow down and walk. I walked, crawled the rest of the way up the climb and was completely exhausted by the top. I could never get back up to speed and spent a lonely 10 minutes or so just spinning in my granny gear. About 3/4 of the way up the rest of the climb, I looked back and saw Garth catching up to me – he saw me look and gave a friendly wave as if to say “hello again!”
Garth was the only one to catch me through that section, but then on the Sugarloaf descent Sally Bigham came flying by me, shortly followed by Jamie Mcjunkin (Marc Pro – Strava). Jamie had to stop to fix his rear derailleur halfway down the descent and I could see Sally just in front of me so I thought I would possibly catch her on the road climb back up St Kevin’s. I was catching up to her, and Jamie was catching back up to me, and then all of a sudden Sally was pulling away from both of us. Jamie and I were both cooked by this point so we chatted through the rest of the climb eventually catching one rider and getting passed by another – Trapper Steinle (Lifetime Fitness). Jamie descended much faster than me, but I caught back up to him just as we exited the dirt double track at the bottom of St Kevin’s. We worked together and were pushing the pace hard when we saw a rider catching up to us. We wanted to try and stay away so I went to the front to pull and looked back to find the other rider, Dereck Treadwell, had caught up to us. Up ahead we could see a group of about 4 riders. They looked like they were going slow, so we gave it everything to try to catch them, but in the end they still had about 30 seconds on us.
This made for a really hard and slightly disappointing finish as I was pushing it as hard as possible to try and catch this small group, but came up short. Still, just to finish was very rewarding and I’m already looking forward to come back another year to try to do better – I’ve really got to work on my descending. I was losing several minutes on the long descents and a couple minutes on the shorter ones. All those minutes add up! Part of the problem is that when I started racing mountain bikes in 1993 you couldn’t just bomb over rocks at 40mph. You had to pick and choose a good line through the rocks. With these new 29ers, you can just roll right over anything. I have to get over the fear I have of losing control and/or flatting while bouncing over rocks at 40mph.
All-in-all it was a really great day amongst the huge towering peaks of the high country of Colorado. Kristine got some good videos I’ve posted below these pictures from the race:
I’m working on a longer post with details from yesterday’s ride … but here is a quick summary:
- Wake up at 3:45AM to begin riding by 4AM … a little slow getting going and out the door by 4:10AM
- Do laps in my neighborhood for about an hour before it is light enough to head out on the open road
- South Cove laps – hit 60.5 mph on deserted descent
- Head over to Vestavia to do Skyland Repeats but chased by dog and decide to climb up Shades Crest instead
- Refuel and say hi to the family at 7:30AM with over 9,000 feet of climbing already done
- Green Valley / Bluff Park as thunderstorms build to the east … watch them head south towards Alabaster … pics later
- Notice a thunderstorm building over Birmingham, Homewood heading my way … no way to avoid … stuck in it for 10 miles on the way home … lightning everywhere … flash/crack, flash/crack
- Wait out the thunderstorm and have lunch
- Head back out in the rain towards Mountain Brook/Irondale
- Karl Daly climbs and KOM effort
- Pulled over by Irondale police officer for running a red light (in front of Sam’s Club) and then riding wrong way against traffic. Whew … bad decision but thankfully no ticket
- Home for afternoon break / food (see video below)
- Back out for more Green Valley / Bluff Park / Vestavia climbing pushing all the way until an hour past sunset (no light but safe deserted roads)
- Dinner and then only 38 miles left to hit 250 miles
- Laps in Countrywood and Dolly Ridge … Kristine rigged my helmet up with a light duct-taped to the front and back … saw drunk driver on Dolly Ridge … all the way in my lane on the wrong side of the road heading very fast … safely avoided by riding into the ditch
- Home for laps around the neighborhood with Kristine cheering me on … see pic below … rode until 11:59pm which happened to occur the final time up the hill in front of my house