Posts tagged ‘mtb’
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:
Day 1 – Birmingham, AL to Wichita Falls, TX (800 miles)
Day 2 – Wichita Falls, TX to Salida, CO (600 miles)
Day 3 – Salida, CO to Leadville, CO (60 miles)
The highlight of the first day was driving I-20 through East Texas where Kristine and I first met 11 years ago. 9 years of marriage and 2 kids later, we stopped at the same Dairy Queen where we used to hang out together. We ended up at 1:30AM in Wichita Falls at a Holiday Inn called “Holiday Inn – Wichita Falls (At The Falls!)” including the exclamation point.
The second day had lots of highlights, including a rural rest area at the foot of a volcano outside of Raton, New Mexico. But the main highlight of the day for me was when Kristine dropped me off in Raton, and I rode the Old Raton Pass into Colorado on a 30 mile ride to Trinidad, Colorado.
I had used topocreator and initially was going to try to ride alongside the railroad up and over the pass, but then I found a dirt road leaving Raton called Old Raton Pass. This road climbs from within Raton up past a start on top of a hill overlooking a city all the way up to the old “Port of Welcome” for New Mexico. Along the way, there is this sign:
I was really curious, so I went around the corner and found a burnt (maybe from a forest fire) informational sign talking about the KT boundary, which relates to the layers of the earth before and after an asteroid impact millions of years ago. I continued climbing until I came to the abandoned New Mexico welcome center – and the mother of all barricades (for motorcycles, atvs, etc…) complete with a trashed ATV perhaps as a warning and also a full-blown moat. I knew that it probably was supposed to keep out bikes too, but I needed to get across the border to Kristine in Colorado.
After the moat and a long gradual descent, there was a long gradual climb up to the pass with old stonework from the original road. Shortly after the top on some rolling double track, there was a barbed wire gate with the barbed wire attached to a thick stick held in place by two metal rings. The ring at the top was held top by a latch mechanism. I figured out how to open (and close) the gate continued on about a quarter mile to a fork in the trail with two gates – both the same type of barbed wired gate. Once through this gate, the trail really started to descend.
The double track was perfectly smooth, and I had just started to pick up the pace when I came across a few cows grazing next to the road. They didn’t seem to think twice about me so I kept on going and that’s when I entered into the middle of an elk herd. That is quite an experience. Elk were diving for cover around every corner. At one point there was elk running alongside and in front of me. There was elk of all sizes, too. I would guesstimate that there were maybe 50 elk in the herd. I only saw one bull with a full rack of antlers. It was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time to be so close to these large animals scattering every which way.
After the elk, it was pretty much a straight shot down and out of the area, a thick metal gate to climb up and over, a railroad tunnel, another gate to crawl under and finally out onto the interstate. Yes, I ended up riding on I-25 north for a few miles, but per the picture below, I was allowed to be there. Plus, the interstate was really deserted – maybe 20 cars and 5 tractor trailers passed me during the few miles I was on the interstate.
The final stretch into Trinidad was amazing with the sunset sky and layers upon layers of HUGE mountains glowing orange … my camera phone picture doesn’t even pick up all the high mountains in the distance.
I met up with Kristine where we ate at a fancy Italian restaurant complete with some really amazing singing waiters and waitresses. I got a video I’ll try to remember to upload when we get back to Birmingham.
Day 3 (today) was check-in day at Leadville. They have a really well run organization and we breezed through the long lines thanks to all the great volunteers. After picking up everything we went to the gym for the motivational and informational meeting. It was inspiring – highlighted by the Wounded Warriors and the Ride 2 Recovery – veterans and active military wounded in action who will be racing Leadville tomorrow. Also, Lance Armstrong made a surprise visit to encourage and motivate us (plus, I think he may be racing tomorrow?)
It was a great meeting, but towards the end it did get a little long. After the meeting was the highlight of my day – Kristine went for a run and I went for a ride on the opening 20 miles of the course including the powerline descent. Powerline wasn’t bad at all if you take it slow – but I can see how people could get hurt because the trail itself keeps begging you to let off the brakes and fly. I went down it slow and nearly fell once so I’m going to have to be careful tomorrow if I’m with people who are trying to bomb the descent.
Well, today’s mountain bike ride definitely fit the bill for a “cycling adventure”. Highlights included riding in and behind a thunderstorm, riding through a pilgrimage of devout Catholics, stumbling upon a small forest fire, discovering another Strava Cat 2 climb for Alabama, lots of mud, lots of flying ants, and lots of yellow jackets. Here are annotated topocreator maps of my route.
We had some thunderstorms roll through Birmingham this morning, so it was lots of rain on the long ride out to Double Oak and eventually over to Signal Mountain. Most of the thunder/lightning activity stayed just to the east of my location, but it was still disconcerting to be on the edge of a thunderstorm while climbing over the highest ridges in the area. Apparently, lightning from the storm had struck the top of Signal Mountain as I would later discover a small forest fire near the top.
Before climbing Signal Mountain, I had to first climb up and over the Double Oak ridges taking me down into Bear Creek Valley. As I rode north on Co Rd 43 through Bear Creek, I noticed hundreds of cars parked alongside the road. This was really unusual, but it got even stranger as I started reading the license plates which were from all over the country. I eventually made it through the cars to this field and found out by asking someone walking back that some devout catholics believe Mary appears in this field every year near the Fourth of July.
Continuing on Co Rd 43, I eventually made it to this barn which used to have a cool concrete statue of cyclists resting on the ground with their bikes propped up behind them, and turned onto the street/driveway (Moss Rock Trail) that leads straight down to Bear Creek itself and the low point for the start of the Cat 2 climb up Signal Mountain. I turned around at the bridge and began the climb by heading back out to Co Rd 43 and turning left to go back all the way through the pilgrimage area until I reached Season Rd, which is the start of the steep part of the climb.
I’m pretty sure this will be the only time I ever do the climb. It is a good climb through a beautiful area, but the majority of it is on private hunting grounds (hence the name “Season Rd”). I reckoned that on a rainy Monday morning in the middle of summer everything should be deserted, which it was. But this is property that should generally be avoided. At the top of the climb is a single radio tower, which is ironic given that the name of the mountain is Signal Mountain.
The climb starts out steady and steep for the first mile before leveling out when you cross over from the back side of the ridge to the front side of the ridge. The view along the front side of the ridge is absolutely amazing – overlooking the valley over 1000 ft below and the adjacent ridge of Double Oak at nearly 1000 ft above the valley floor as well. After about a half mile, the climb bends around the side of the mountain again and really kicks up in elevation. It was just past this bend where I saw the forest fire. Also, I had to run the last bit because I got off-balance in the wrong gear, and it was too steep to remount – but theoretically the entire climb is rideable without stopping.
After I made it down the mountain, I rode back to the pilgrimage area and reported the fire to a Shelby County police officer who was helping with crowd control. He thanked me and called it in on his radio. Then it was time for me to head back up and over Double Oak ridge … the mountain was swarming with yellow jackets and flying ants. Because of the earlier rain, I had to run several sections and with every footfall there would be a yellow jacket rooting around in the rocks and mud. I was super careful, but it wasn’t until I was actually riding on a slight downhill at about 15mph when a yellow jacket, bee, or wasp came from in front of me and collided directly with my head. The sting was immediate – I couldn’t tell a difference between the “thud” of the bee hitting me and its sting. One day later as I finish off this post, the entire righthand side of my face is swollen along with both sides of my neck.
To view the ride interactively on Strava, click this link: http://app.strava.com/rides/12387038
Finally, here are all the pics that I took during the ride:
Great race today at the Barn Burner just outside of Flagstaff, AZ. This was by far the hardest race I have ever done – 104 miles of double track forest roads – some very bumpy, some very sandy, some very crazy, all of it a whole lot of fun! I was happy to finish 4th overall, but sad to lose my Garmin Edge 800 with approx. 25,000 miles on it.
Race Details – the dust bowl
It was a Le Mans start, which means you ran to your bikes mounted on bikestands or being held by your support crew. I opted to have Kristine hold my bike so I wouldn’t have to try and extract it from all the bikes jammed together on the bike racks. I ran kinda slowly because I don’t run well and because the terrain had some lava rocks and there were tons of people jostling together. I met Kristine behind the bikestand area, mounted my Garmin and took off running through the grass to get back to the dirt road. By this point dust was everywhere, and I was easily 100-200 riders back.
The first mile of the race was on some dusty, sandy rutted roads so it was really hard to see a good line and you didn’t want to get caught in the deep sand so I could only pass a few people here and there – but as soon as we turned onto the main forest road, the terrain tilted upwards on a long false flat. I passed probably 100 riders through here. At the beginning it was streams of riders that I was passing, but then it has started to break up into small groups – so I started to catch and pass these groups.
Lost water bottle
Right before the lefthand turn onto the next rutted sandy section, I latched onto the back of a fairly large group of maybe 10 riders. It was here that I realized that mountain bike racing requires a lot of trust/faith in the rider immediately in front of you. You are trusting that they are going to take a good line and not crash. This section of the course really emphasized that trust because there was so much dust you couldn’t see the ground in front of you – you could only barely see the wheel of the rider in front of you. It was at this point that I lost a bottle when the road unexpectedly dropped a good 2-3 feet into a rounded rut/hole. I wasn’t expecting it so my weight was forward and I ended up coming out of the hole doing a front wheelie. Luckily the ground was smooth long enough that I could get the rear wheel back down without flipping over the handlebars. Hitting the hole popped out my water bottle so I did the entire first lap on one bottle.
Not too long after the front wheelie, the group I was in came out onto another stretch of road which was much harder packed. I went to the front and tried to rally the troops, but I ended up dropping that group and catching one or two more groups until I finally latched onto the back of the lead group. I knew I had reached the front group because there was no more dust in front of this group. This was towards the top of the long gradual descent before the first climb. This part of the course was super fast, and we were absolutely flying single file trusting the rider in front of you to take a good line. For about five minutes, this was my favorite part of the race, but then I felt something hit my knee. I thought it was my only water bottle popping out of the cage so as we are motoring along I’m looking down and doing a double-take to see if it’s my water bottle. It wasn’t, so I continued staring hard at the wheel in front of me following his line. Then I glanced at my handlebars and noticed my Garmin was gone!!! I debated for another 10-15 seconds about turning around or keeping on going. I realized the Garmin was worth too much to just abandon – so I turned around and rode backwards on the course. It had been a couple minutes of fast riding since I had felt something hit my knee (which I assume now must have been my Garmin), so I had to ride back a long ways but I never did see it. It is quite an understatement to say that my motivation was completely gone by this point in the race. I was about to attack the Strava KOM challenge segment hard, and now I not only wasn’t going to be able to do that – I had lost my great position at the front of the race and given the leaders a good 5 minute head start.
The Strava climb (1st climb)
Frustrated at not finding my Garmin, I went flying up the climb that started shortly after the stretch of trail where I couldn’t find my Garmin. It was the more technical of the two climbs on the course, but I didn’t care – I just flew past everyone no matter what line I had to take. By the top of the climb, the race was all blown apart and people were by themselves and no longer in groups.
The rocky technical descent
After the top of the climb, there was a short rolling section followed by the longer, rockier, and more technical of the two major descents. It started out super fast on a mostly clean but a few high speed rocky sections that you could roll over, but then there was a hard left turn on loose dirt that required clipping out for balance that immediately led into some nasty rocky sections that you just had to blow threw as there wasn’t much of a clean line. I went really slow through here on the first lap – getting passed by two riders, the second of which came by probably 10 mph faster just riding over all the big rocks I was trying to avoid. So that is when I learned that you can do that – just bomb over rocks at 30mph – the bike and wheels can handle it these days!
Once I reached the bottom, I continued passing riders all the way to the start of the second climb – the longer, steeper, and less technical stair stepper. In fact, I almost ran right into the back of a small group of three because I had been so intent on catching them that I wasn’t looking for turn signs. I caught them right at the turn and had to slam on the brakes skidding for some distance before stopping just shy of ramming into the last rider. I immediately passed them and continued passing riders all the way up the long climb.
The fast descent that gradually became slower
At the top of the long climb was a super fast steep descent. I didn’t have my Garmin, but it felt like I hit 50mph on this descent on the first lap. There was one clear, clean line between loose gravel/dirt and larger rocks on either side of the foot-wide line, but the line was clear, non-washboardy, and had no rocks in it — on the first lap! I almost wrecked here on the second lap because I tried to take it at the same speed as the first lap, but 1100 riders doing that descent on the first lap had loosened up soil on the clean line and created a bit of washboarding so that it no longer felt safe to go really fast. So each lap of the race, this descent got a bit sketchier and slower for me.
After the steep, sketchy part was a harder packed fast double track that went next to some sort of campground before turning onto the original national forest service road leading back up to the two-way Barn Burner entrance road. I flew through this part catching one or two more riders, and I heard someone yell out “ninth” as I made the turn in towards the barn.
The pit crew
At the end of each lap, you have to dismount your bike and run through the barn. Below is a video of me coming through the barn at the end of my second lap. You can see Analise waving the chain lube that I desperately needed because of all the dust/dirt on the course. My pit crew was just like a Nascar pit crew! Josiah would hold my bike, while Analise would hand me bars/gels/chain lub and Kristine would refill my bottles with gatorade. I would stand there eating and drinking whatever I could get down before Kristine finished with the gatorade. It was so awesome – less than 30 seconds to have two new bottles, a lubed chain, more gels/powerbars, and then off again.
The second, third and fourth laps
On the second lap, I was caught by a rider wearing a green Trek kit and the two of us worked together catching another rider to form a group of three. We worked well together all the way until the second climb where I rode away catching and passing a few more people on the climb finishing the lap in 5th place.
I rode the first half of the third lap alone eventually catching Derek Wilkerson who was in 4th place at the time. We worked well together catching and dropping the third place rider. Derek was a far better descender than me and had to wait for me after the descents. At the end of the third lap, I stopped with my pit crew to refill bottles and gels while Derek had enough to keep going.
I was so tired I figured I would never see him again, but a relay rider came flying by on the long gradual false flat leaving the barn. I hopped on his wheel and dug deep to stay there and soon we had caught up to Derek who tagged onto us making a small group of three. I was digging way too deep, so when we turned onto the dusty long descent I decided to back off and do my best to pace myself to hold onto a top 5 finish. I cramped on the Strava climb, stopped, went easier until I got caught by another relay rider towards the top. I was able to stick with him until the descent, but then he dropped me hard on the descent. I was caught by one more team rider on the section leading into the second climb, and he really lifted my pace again – but he flatted shortly before the start of the climb.
I went up the final climb knowing that I would need to go slow to keep from cramping again, but I continued to pass lapped riders many of whom were walking there bikes up the steep sections of the climb. I was able to solider on in a very easy gear to make it up the climb – but there were definitely sections I was wondering if I was going to have to get off and walk. I kept thinking that at any moment whoever was in 5th place would come cruising by. It didn’t happen though, and I made it up to the top, down the sketchy descent, and then turned on the gas one final time to make it to the finish line. It turns out that I was over 12 minutes ahead of 5th place so I could have taken the finish a little bit easier.
At the finish (as you may be able to tell from the picture at the top), I was exhausted. It took a while to be able to get out more than one or two coherent sentences in a row. I sat on the gatorade jug for quite a while drinking chocolate milk and cokes.
Two final videos before all the pictures – the first is of my finish. Look at Josiah cheering me at the top of the video near the far track, Analise near the turn, and then Kristine filming the video. It was awesome to come through there and see my family cheering me on. Also, there was a cool dirt bike track next to the barn so that the kids could spend the hour and a half between laps riding up and down the jumps and around the berms. Analise is tackling one of the jumps in the second video.
Quick summary – 2nd place behind Adam Gaubert from Texas although I did snag the $100 bill for the KOM at the top of one of only eleven Cat 2 climbs (currently) in Alabama. Sometimes the stats don’t do a race justice, but here they are: 60ish miles in just under 4 hours, 8 minutes. I didn’t have a wheel speed sensor so I’m guessing I must have lost satellite a few times to come up under 60 miles. It felt like 100+ miles, though.
Heartrate summary for the skyway epic
The details – what an amazing job Brent did start to finish with this race. The mass start was creative with all 60+ riders lined up at the end of the boat dock area giving us plenty of room to charge all the way up the entrance area to a grassy cordoned off chute which led into the single track. Adam Gaubert, Jeff Clayton, and Lennie Moon (Team Momentum) entered in the single track in that order. Behind them I believe it was David Darden (BiciCoop), maybe one or two other riders, Ed Merritt (BiciCoop), and then me (Tria Cycling p/b DonohooAuto.com and Infinty Med-i-spa). I was able to keep up no problem through the single track, but Adam and Jeff were destroying the singletrack and had quite a lead by the end.
As soon as we made it out of the singletrack onto the dam, I attacked hard to start to close the gap to the leaders. I passed Lennie and David on the climb after the dam and continued to drive it hard onto Wiregrass Rd (dirt/gravel forest road). After a mile or two, I could see the leaders up ahead and I was closing pretty fast. Once I caught onto the back of them, we entered into a pretty good 3-way rotation going into the bottom of the climb. I took a hard pull and got a gap about 1/3rd of the way up the climb so I drilled it. The climb was long, though, and once we hit the skyway portion of the climb, the road was much rougher and I had problems finding a good line so Adam was closing in on me. Thankfully, the climb leveled out a bit and got smoother shortly before the top so I was able to lock out the front suspension, stand up and give it one more burst to reach the KOM first and grab the $100 bill.
The effort for the KOM really cost me, though, as I was cooked. I stopped to stuff the $100 deep down in my jersey pocket, and Adam flew by me while I was stopped. I got started again and went through the most challenging part of the course at maybe twice the speed that I had gone when I pre-rode the course in February. But Adam continued to put time on me all the way to the turnaround. It looked like he was 30 seconds or so ahead of me by the turnaround. I still had a bottle and a half of gatorade so I just stopped briefly to grab the proof necklace before setting off in pursuit of Adam. I was hoping that I could catch him on the climb so I could follow his line through all the rough sections – but it wasn’t to be. It was awesome as all the outbound racers were shouting encouragement and giving me time splits to Adam. It started out as 30 second time splits, but eventually it went up into the minute or 2 minute range. I believe he had 3 minutes by the bottom of the
descent back down the KOM climb.
I think I kept the gap there until close to the end where he still had 3 minutes at the last aid station. I stopped there to get some cold coke, banana, and water. This was a very important stop because I really couldn’t figure out how to eat or drink during the singletrack sections so I did that last 10 miles with only one or two sips of water. It was in this last singletrack section that Jeff Clayton (Georgia Neurological Institute) came flying up to me out of nowhere. I immediately let him by thinking that I could hop on his wheel and follow his lines. This lasted for LESS THAN 5 SECONDS as I lost it on the very first turn crashing hard. My bars were stuck on the wrong side of the top tube and it took a few seconds to yank them back across the top tube (I’m glad I went with aluminum instead of carbon fiber).
I had already resigned myself to riding as hard as possible to try to finish on the last step of the podium when on the next hill I started to come up on Jeff pretty fast … my first thought was that he must have popped himself trying to distance me, but then I realized that he had a completely flat rear tire. I came around him thinking that he would have no problem stopping to change the tire and then catching back up to me again. So I could never really let up off the pace … but as it turns out, Jeff couldn’t get the tire to hold air so he had to ride in the last several miles on the flat – and yet he still held on for third!
Kristine snagged a few videos … one of me coming out of the final singletrack and another of me finishing a minute or two later and one of Josiah asking if I was in this race … good stuff!
I don’t know why I never thought of making one of these before for the Southern Cross race course, but the topography is really cool and it certainly shows in the maps below … enjoy! Also, I noticed while doing the maps that the course enters 4 different counties. With a slight route change, it could be a five county race!
Wow, what another great trip up to Dahlonega for the Southern Cross bike race, and the trip is not even over yet! On Friday, I biked into work, taught class, biked home and put my road bike directly into the already packed car for a 4 hour drive to the beautiful mountains of North Georgia. I arrived at the Hiker Hostel with just enough time to get in a short road ride. It was really windy, but I thoroughly enjoyed a nice relaxing ride climbing Woody Gap from two different starting points. I finished about 20 minutes after sunset so it was pretty dark by the end. I’m going to save the pictures and videos for that ride for another post (although there is one video at the end showing how windy it was on friday night after I finished the ride and made it back to the hiker hostel)
But first, here is a race report from today’s race where I was very happy to finish third knocking more than 4 minutes off of my time from last year even though most of the times that I saw seemed to be a bit slower than last year due to the incredible winds up on the mountains today. The big difference for me was that I raced a much better mountain bike than last year, an aluminum StumpJumper Comp 29 with lockout suspension. Before the report, check out this video of people finishing up their 50 mile race on the close to max 100% gradient (45 degrees) run-up through the Monte Luce winery.
By this point in the race, I was so tired that I had to turn this entire run-up into a series of switchbacks. How did I get there? By way of an awesome combination of cyclocross course, paved roads, lots and lots of forest service roads, and even a tiny bit of single-track at the end. Here’s how the race played out:
The opening 1.6 mile cyclocross course
Timing chips were used this year to help with scoring and timing. While a good idea in principle, it had one slightly negative consequence – rather than starting in a wide open grassy field, we had to start on a narrow road so that the entire 300 person field could cross the timing strip. I didn’t cut my warm-up ride off soon enough, so I ended up starting on the 4th or 5th row after a very kind Joseph Dabbs let me squeeze into the spot in front of him even though people were already stacked maybe 20 rows deep? The course was nearly identical to the one from last year, and my big 2″ mountain bike tires floated over the deep grass allowing me to pass a bunch of people through the opening grassy section. Before the first run-up, a tree had fallen across the trail so this was a new obstacle for this year requiring dismount. The guy in front of me tried not to dismount and promptly endo-ed over the tree. Ouch. This year I had more confidence to ride the run-up and was able to shoot up the first 40% gradient out of the ditch and then ride the remaining 20% gradient. Of course I’m not sure how much time it saved as there were a couple guys who chose to run it and passed me as I was riding. That is definitely a first for me – I’ve never been passed by someone running while I was riding. As soon as we made it to the pavement, I locked out the front fork and flew out of the winery catching and passing everyone with Thomas Turner and Stephen Hyde in my sight just up the road (maybe 15-20 seconds?). Here is a map of the opening cyclocross section:
The chase group
It was a crazy head/sidewind, though, and it was an awfully big group (maybe close to 15 riders) so I opted to settle into the chase group rather than trying to bridge. The group worked well together although I ended up throwing my chain over the top of the front chainring and dropped to the back of the group as I tried to get it back on and back up into the big chainring. By the time I made it back up to the front of the group, we had just turned onto the first gravel road. Right away, one of the strong Specialized riders flatted (Garth) – the first of four flats for him for his rather unlucky day. Thomas and Stephen were still just ahead of us and still in sight, but we never could get into a cohesive chase once we hit the gravel. There were several surges and we would lose riders out the back who would then catch back up and not want to work for fear of getting shelled again.
Springer Mountain – the first climb
As the road got steeper, I realized that the chase group was pretty much done and began to settle into about as fast a pace as I wanted to go up the climb. Fortunately, there were two other riders who wanted to go slightly faster so this helped push me to dig deeper and work with them up the climb. The two riders were Nicholas Nichols and Charlie Storm. We traded pace a bit, but as it got steeper towards the top Charlie took over all of the pace-making with me hanging on … barely. Nicholas came off somewhere in the middle. Once we made it to the top, I came to the front and rallied the pace again through the long headwind section and into the first downhill. This downhill was super, super fast and fun last year. It was fun this year, too, but not fast because there was a crazy 30+mph headwind blowing back up the forest road. It was literally holding you up on the downhill – no braking required and lots of pedaling over what was a 40+mph downhill last year.
High House Mountain descent
We made it through the rolling section and to the High House Mountain descent, which was the first really long descent. Charlie was flying down the mountain, and I was having trouble keeping up on some of the super tight turns. In one of these, we ended up catching a pick-up truck. Charlie was able to make it around cleanly, but I had to wait just a second or two for the road to open up to squeeze around. That meant that the rest of the descent was crazy fast as I was trying to keep Charlie in sight. I ended up catching him at the very bottom just as we were making it back out onto the short pavement section.
Hawk Mountain – climb #2
We traded pace well on the pavement and then into the next climb, which is the long, gradual climb that gets steeper as you get closer to the top. I started to struggle having to dig pretty deep to keep up with Charlie’s pulls but he still seemed content to go with my slower pace when it was my turn to pull. Once we got close to the aid station where it is really steep, I switched into just hang on mode and Charlie pulled the last 1/2 mile up the climb. He was out of water and had to stop, though. I still had half a bottle so I continued on desperately wanting/needing some gels/calories. It was really rough across the top though so it was hard to find a good time to reach into my pocket to get a gel – fortunately over the next mile or two I found two gels in my pocket and was able to get them both down before the descent. There were some pretty bad headwinds and steep climbs through this section, and I was going so slow I expected Charlie to catch and blow by me at any minute. But I found out after the race that he had gotten a flat while trying to chase back up to me. He still managed to fix the flat and finish 4th.
Sassafras Mountain descent
This descent was super steep and fast – definitely the funnest part of the course this year. There were several switchbacks that you could see through and ride a straight line going from one inside line to the next. It was awesome! I beat my time from last year on this descent by nearly a minute – which is crazy considering how crazy fast I thought the descent was trying to hold Gerry Pflug’s rear wheel last year.
Agonizing paved section back to the winery
What made this agonizing wasn’t the course or even the wind, but rather how bonked/tired I was by this point – plus, I kept looking back thinking that I would see Charlie and/or a small group closing in to take away the final spot on the podium so I couldn’t let up. I had to just keep going as hard as I could go. Fortunately, I still couldn’t see anybody when I made it to the winery for the final cyclocross section of the race
The final cyclocross section
I knew the final cyclocross section would start out with the crazy steep run-up, but it certainly seemed like it was even steeper than last year. And I mean impossibly steep like maybe 100% max gradient coming out of the ditch (45 degree angle). I don’t see how anyone could ride up it, but I know that Thomas and Zach (the guy who got 5th place) both rode up it! I not only didn’t ride up it, I didn’t even run straight up it. Instead I switchbacked the entire thing (check out this zoomed in satellite view of my run-up). Once I made it to the top of this hill and still hadn’t seen anybody I felt pretty good that I was going to hold on for third – but even then I couldn’t let up. The return course was pretty much the same as last year diving back down the hill on the other side of the grapevines and then climbing up the super steep paved road that we descended at the beginning of the race. Then it was down through the woods in a short single track section, but rather than taking us back across the bridge, this time we had to ride through two creek crossings. I made it across the first one, but I was in the wrong gear and couldn’t make it up the grassy section across the top. This turned out to be OK though b/c the next crossing was not rideable (for me) so I just ran all the way across it. And at this point I just kept on running. I didn’t even want to get back on my bike for the next steep grassy hill so I decided to run up it instead. Finally, once I made it to the very top of the grassy hill with nobody in sight behind me, I knew that I had it so I eased up and crossed the line in third … tired and very hungry!
Cold at the start – at the last minute I opted to dump the full-fingered gloves for short-fingered gloves. And this was a great decision except for one point on the first long descent where we were heading into a crazy headwind and the temperature was only in the 30s. Definitely got some cold fingers there for a few miles.
Lots of wind at the hiker hostel on the woody gap ridge line