Spring bike racing is a season of rough roads and miserable weather. At least that is the desire. Hell of the South provides the European classics theme via under funded rural county roads of middle Tennessee. According to Google maps, Berlin TN doesn’t exist. The local fire department that hosts this race would disagree. Directors had determined that the women’s race would roll at 7:30 AM CST. My wife, Shannon, her two teammates, and myself left Chattanooga at 4:30 AM EST. When we arrived the race volunteers had a fire built, breakfast cooking, and plenty of lights to guide us while doing race prep in the dark. They did a great job putting the race on.
The weather was forecasted to be quit epic. Rain and cold. I was mentally preparing myself to ride in rain and 38 degrees. Hey!, the pro’s do it (Milan-San Remo 2013). Fortunately, it was much nicer. We ended up racing in 45-55 F temps, and at the end my arm and leg warmers were a little too much. If you read my “Stay Warm” post, you would know that I was happy to have been too warm rather than too cold.
This race is truly growing on me. Saturday would be my second attempt at completion. Last year as a cat 3, I raced the 1/2/3 event. I held on for dear life and finally succumbed to a pinch flat bent rim combo on the second lap. If the flat had not taken me out, the efforts to stay in contention probably would have.
Of course, this year I’m a cat 2. No hiding behind any excuses of being combined with a more challenging field. Its man up go time.
A study of the course showed a major hill occurring 1.5 miles before the revered gravel section at mile 9.5. One doesn’t desire to find themselves at the back of the pack going into such a pivotal point in the race. Through the gravel a break could go, the field could split, major pile ups, and many other race ending events could occur. Within only a matter of miles, the first attacks came. They were testing attacks. My goal was to be in the top 10 to 15 through the first of the three laps. Last year the race was splintered to say the least. Getting yourself into a good group at the front could led to a great result. That’s where I planned to be, in the front.
Below is a video from Brian Toone‘s YouTube channel. It catches the race on the last up hill before hitting the gravel for the first time. Note the plethora of values provided on the “dashboard”. This data allows the viewer to see into what a rider is putting out in an effort like this one. The video continues after the gravel to portray the continued attacks.
Note that yours truly (#44) is provided the opportunity to give some major love to our sponsors by being at the front.
At 30 seconds into the film, Toone surges up the left side of the peloton. Its apparent he knows where he wants to be. A Strava watcher would notice that he previewed the course the day before. I was close to the front and simply felt the urge to drive it. If I stay in front then I hit the graveled turn at my pace, my speed, my line. Further this is taking the offensive position. I enjoy racing that way. I could wait on someone else to put me in the pain cave, or take myself there on my own accord.
Per Mr. Toone’s Union City race recap, his threshold HR is 181. The efforts leading into and then on the gravel pushed him to and beyond his threshold. I was diffidently in mine. I imagine everyone was! By having the numbers shown, it pleased me to know that I was not the only one feeling the intensity. That first 30″ on the gravel I maintained ~600 watts to the top of the hill where Matt Russell countered. It was a glorious feeling to be at the front as opposed to getting my tongue caught in my spokes like last year.
First Lap: To my recollection, from the first time through the gravel to the second gravel run there was not a lot to talk about. It was a continuum of attacks attempting to create the break. The break that was going to happen. The future knowing of when and where is the part that still eludes me. A note here is that the entirety of the first lap was attacks attempting to form a break. For the first hour everyone is fresh. This makes it difficult to get away no matter how strong you are. You have to be involved in the moves, but realize that the winning move will most likely come when the field doesn’t chase you. Duh! How do you keep them from chasing you? When they are too tired to care to chase you! Further if your break is too big, too many guys will want to be a part of it. The string of dudes trying to make the jump will create a pathway of drafts for everyone to chase it down. These individual, dual, or triple guy surges equate to the field chasing a strong large break down.
Second Lap: From my perspective the second lap was not much different from the first. Soon I had the Aerosmith song “Same Old Song & Dance” in my head. Not bad riding music. At around 1:40 and over half way through the first lap, I succumbed to cramping in my left calf. My involvement in the front end of the field was starting to take its toll. Rounding off the second lap, a Cumberland Transit/FS Cycling rider went on a flyer. The field didn’t respond. This was roughly 2:00 hours into the contest. Two thirds of the race had been completed. No response. Hmm, one would think there are some clues here. They were freaking tired! I know I was. I had spend the past 20 minutes working through a cramp whilst responding to every new surge that would take my drafting wheel away from me.
Third Lap: At the bottom I have my power file for the entire race. Something sticks out in my file after the 2 hour mark. Yep, that is a solo effort. It stands out so strong because it is steady and smooth in comparison to being in the field. I have a zoom in shot of the file and course to the right. Across the flat sections that begin each lap, Toone (FoTGS), Tommy Schubert (Cumberland), and Brain Baker (Texas Roadhouse) create a chase for David Worth (CT/FS cycling) who had solo attacked and is up the road.
So, a solo rider gets off ending the second lap. Three chasers get off the front starting the third lap. This is it! These are the moves that are going to stick. The field is dead. They are tired of the endless attacks, and they are letting this stuff go. I’m going to bridge! One of the first two bleeps of the pink lines in the graph are my first moves to get away from the field. Then steady effort. I look back to see if I’m getting away or being chased. The third major effort is my realization that they are letting me go. So I punch it again and set off to track down opportunity. Pretty soon I can see them! At around 3:30 in this video I was starting to close in. I was pushing it, my heart rate was getting high, but if I made it… it would be glorious! Then I noticed the gap was staying the same. They are just right there, but I’m not closing. The power is starting to get a little lower. I look back and can’t see the field. I can see them, but can’t finish the close. I am in dreaded no man’s land, and running out of juice. You can see the slow degradation of my power in the chart. I make it over the toughest climb before the gravel alone. I notice that someone is chasing me over the top. I give the kids in the road a high five around the bend, and wait for the chasers. A.J. Meyer (Village Volkswagen) and Ryan Sullivan (Cumberland) caught me over the second of three climbs before the gravel. A.J. was doing most of the effort, and I was giving it everything to hang on their wheel. It didn’t last long. I fell off, and eventually cascaded back to the main group. I thought to myself, “This 1/2 stuff is hard!”
A final chase group started to release itself from the field. This occurred somewhere around the 2 1/2 hour mark. I call this the separation between those who still have something in the tank and those who don’t. I saw the same thing occur at the Brooks road race. I was experiencing cramps throughout my legs from my earlier efforts. I didn’t have it. The first group up the road now consisted of about 10 guys. The chase was around 7. The field or grupetto only contained the remains of the brutal event. I think there was 13 of us. At the end I knew I didn’t want to be in front of anyone in case my legs locked and I couldn’t get out of the way. I timed my “sprint” around being on one extreme side or the other. Russell was in our group and I knew he would take the sprint. So, I went the other way and stayed out of trouble. I sprinted in my saddle with the majority of my leg muscles in cramp. I took forth.
Finale: I came in 21st of some 55 starters. I am proud of the result. I finished, and that is better than last year. I saw the move and made my attempt to get into it. Would it have been better to wait for help? Absolutely. Did I put in too many digs before THE MOVE? Sure. By looking at the preregistration did I pick the people to watch? Yes, when I saw the pre-reg I thought, “Toone and A.J. will be good, also have to watch those Cumberland guys.” They took the top three spots. Am I learning? Yes.