Archive for February, 2012
Wrapping up a wonderful weekend of riding, racing, and climbing in the beautiful North Georgia mountains outside of Dahlonega that included the Southern Cross Ultracross race, I headed out for one last ride right after the nice breakfast provided by the awesome folks at the Hiker Hostel. My daughter’s church choir program was at 5PM back in Birmingham, and I really wanted to be back in time for it – so my original plan of 85 miles and 11-12,000 feet of climbing got scaled back to 65 miles and 9,000 feet of climbing.
Having thrown out my original route plan, I decided on a modified route that included 4 major climbs (Cat 2 or higher) and a few smaller climbs (Cat 3 or lower). I climbed Woody Gap from the R&R ranch and then proceeded backwards on the Six Gap century course climbing over Wolf Pen, then heading out to Jack’s Gap and taking the 180 spur all the way to the top of Brasstown, turning around at the top and reversing my course but this time heading up Neel’s Gap on US129. The final climb of the day back to the Hiker Hostel had the steepest gradients with a crazy steep driveway access road that climbs up and over a couple mini-ridges before turning into a dirt power-line trail with gradients well over the 30% that ended up getting recorded on my iBike.
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
Video of a very tired me crossing the line after more than 40 miles on a solo break (Video taken by Russell Fulmer’s wife – thank you!)
What a great way to start off the racing season – with our team taking 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th. I won on a long solo break after my initial break companion, Joe from Florence, came off the pace on the hill before the transition back to smooth pavement. We already had a somewhat sizable gap so I couldn’t just sit up and wait – instead I really didn’t have any choice but to put my head down and ride as hard as I could for the next 2 hours. My teammate Justin Bynum put in a late move and got away with and then outsprinted a Velocity rider for 2nd. My teammates Pat and Chris Allison took the top two spots in the field sprint for 4th and 5th. What a great start to the season!
Here are my iBike stats from the race -
---------Selection Stats--------- Dist: 48.51 mi (2:05:38) Energy: 2338.3 kJ Cals Burn: 2235.5 kcal Climbing: 1708 ft Braking: -2.9 kJ (-0.1%) Min Avg Max Power 0 310.2 681 W Aero 0 253.9 774 W Rolling 0 42.4 61 W Gravity -645 3.0 479 W Speed 0.0 23.2 33.6 mi/h Wind 0.0 23.1 37.9 mi/h Elev 671 770 856 ft Slope -11.2 0.04 8.8 % Caden 0 75.5 107 rpm HR 99 165.4 185 bpm NP:332W IF:1.11 TSS:257 VI:1.07 CdA: 0.342 m^2; Crr: 0.0055 168 lbs (includes bike, clothes, equipment); 2/19/2012 2:32 PM 45 degF; 1015 mbar
Here is my Powertap data (yes I had both my iBike and my powertap for this race) including the new personal power records for the entire range from 20 minutes to 2 hours!
Interesting “Y” shape on my pedal force / pedal velocity graph. I’m used to the spike in the middle, but not the strong underlying portion – I guess the darker CP curve section is b/c of the steadiness of the flats/downhills and the vertical portion is attacking the hills
I arrived really early so I could do some of my favorite climbs in the area, including the 231 climb which is just awesome after/during rain b/c there are waterfalls pouring off of every cliff … the panorama below doesn’t even include the ones you can see as you are climbing – I hiked off the road to a kudzu cliff (that’s the way kudzu looks in the winter) to get the picture of this large waterfall.
Finally, here is a topocreator map of the entire race plus my warm-up climbs up 231/Blount Mountain and the always steep Chandler Mountain climb.
I might use “epic” a few times in this post… Today was epic x3, starting with my commute into work climbing up South Cove Dr inspired by the Dirty Dozen film I watched last night describing an annual ride that goes up Pittsburgh’s toughest climbs. Then after finishing teaching, I headed back home climbing up and over Little Valley Mountain hitting 60mph on the S Cove Dr descent. Afterwards, I hopped in the car to drive 43 miles out to Lake Howard in Sylacauga to pre-ride part of the Skyway Epic course. Traffic was already pretty bad on 280 and it took over an hour to get there and get ready to ride.
I headed out about 1:30 hoping that I had enough daylight to ride the course. 4 hours 15 minutes later, I just barely had enough light left finishing about 20 minutes after sunset. Along the way, I encountered just about every possible terrain you could imagine for a mountain bike race course – flowing singletrack, a few roots/rocks in singletrack, a grassy dam, various levels of bumpiness on gravel/dirt forest service roads and rural roads, steep rocky fire roads, huge mud puddles at the bottom of each hill across the top of the ridge line, fast steep relatively smooth descents, fast loose rocks … basically everything you could imagine in a non-technical epic mountain bike race.
COURSE ANALYSIS FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN RACING
THE SKYWAY EPIC ON MAY 20TH
- The singletrack portion that I rode is fast and smooth … only a few rocks and roots … much, much less than the Bump trail at Oak Mountain. I only had enough daylight to ride the opening singletrack section, but there is quite a bit more singletrack that will be included for the finish of the race … has anyone rode that portion and comment on whether it is more technical or about the same as the opening singletrack?
- The opening county roads (Wiregrass and Rocky Mt Church) are very fast in both directions. The rollers are pretty steep, but you can fly down the descents leading into the climbs to chop off some of the work you have to do on the climbs
- The “big climb” of the day is much more gradual than I expected. It does, however, go on and on forever. I rode the whole thing in my 38 (big chainring)
- There are some rather large mud puddles all across the top of the ridge line – basically every small hill that bottoms out into another small climb will have a large mud puddle. I was able to ride around most of them, but the ones I had to ride through were not that deep even though they were HUGE taking up the entire forest service road!
- The most difficult part of this entire course is the DESCENT and rollers from about mile 14 to mile 18 … I went FASTER on many sections of the climb back up (mile 36 to mile 40) than I did on the descent!!!
- The descent to the turnaround at AL-77 is very fast and fun. There are a couple of loose gravel corners mixed in with the fast corners. It is pretty easy to see the loose ones in enough time to brake.
- The entire skyway portion of the ride (mile 12 to mile 42) is rough with ruts, rocks, and sometimes water. I found a few sections where you can just bomb over the ruts, but there are definitely some sections where you need to pick and choose your line through the rocks/ruts carefully. If I were to guesstimate, I’d say that 25% of mile 12 to mile 42 is really rough, 50% is moderately rough, and maybe 25% is smooth. As I mentioned before, there are definitely some rough sections that you can still fly over, but there are also some rough sections that are kinda slow (at least for me, coming from a road racing background)
- Overall, the course is AWESOME. It is definitely EPIC. I am very tired after having ridden only the first third of the course at near race pace and not having ridden the last several miles of singletrack. This course has something for everyone, which should really even the playing field. Plus, simply finishing the race should be reward enough for anyone who enters!
Complete ride data from Strava is here: http://app.strava.com/rides/4244882.
Here is the elevation profile and topocreator map – note that my garmin was reading a couple hundred feet lower than the real elevation. Note all the hills and the long climbs. The first long climb is Alabama’s newest Cat 2 – the climb from Rocky Mt Church Rd to the first high point on the Skyway forest service road. This brings Alabama’s Cat 2 climb total up to 9.
Finally, I’ll let the pictures and garmin screenshots tell the rest of the story for the day –
Happy days are here again as I have remounted my iBike Dash with Power. Props to the good folks at iBike who repaired a broken enclosure bracket on my iBike Dash device and a broken LCD screen on my iBike Gen III device – for free, even though my Gen III was out of warranty. Those of you who know me well (or even partially well), know that I’m pretty much obsessed with topographical maps, bike riding, and analyzing bike ride data — especially climbing related data. The screenshot above is from my commute home from work.
The iBike Dash clearly has the best in-ride graphical user interface of all bike computers/GPS devices — making full use of the color iPhone touch screen (see this post for screenshots – http://toonecycling.wordpress.com/2011/04/21/equipment-update-ibike-dash-power-meter-wheels-and-tires-galore/). But the best two features of the iBike for me are the internal gyrometer for measuring slope and the iBike ride analysis software, which in my opinion, is the best graphing software for displaying power, cadence, elevation, heartrate, and slope all on one screen. The slope is obtained using an internal gyrometer, which is much more accurate than a barometric obtained gradient as the barometer can never catch up with the slope changes in a severely rolling area (such as where I live).
iBike slope graph for a particularly insane section of rollers
On my way into work today, I figured out a topic for my next journal article — developing an algorithm for analyzing ride data from any device, combined with data reported from other devices for the same segments, combined with survey-based and/or radar acquired elevation data to come up with a “best fit” elevation profile. On my way home from work, I was inspired to do a climbing route with some of the steeper climbs on Shades Mountain and Little Valley Mountain including a nearly 30% driveway off of Altaloma. Here is the topocreator map:
About the journal article I am going to write, look at the complete iBike stats below, particularly note the “Climbing” amount. The iBike only registers 4000′ of climbing, whereas the Garmin registered nearly 5700′. The zoomed in iBike graph below the stats shows why. Even with a 29% gradient climbing at least 30 feet, the barometric sensor only registered a 2 foot climb for the entire driveway since I turned around and immediately skidded my way back down the driveway across the road and into the grass on the other side (I can’t imagine the wear and tear on the brakes of whoever lives in that house). Even the iBike gyrometer couldn’t turn around fast enough from the extreme climb to the extreme descent with it only registering a 2 or 3% descent even though it should have been -29%. Interestingly, the Garmin registered 30 feet of climbing for the driveway and 25 feet of descending even though I noticed that the % gradient was pegged at +17% the whole way down the driveway. I guess the % display only updates itself at a slower rate than the internal elevation recording.
Dist: 34.55 mi (2:27:57) Energy: 1631.9 kJ Cals Burn: 1560.1 kcal Climbing: 3997 ft Braking: -270.5 kJ (-16.6%) Min Avg Max Power 0 183.8 717 W Aero 0 102.7 2471 W Rolling 0 25.6 101 W Gravity -3620 -11.0 548 W Speed 0.0 14.0 56.3 mi/h Wind 0.0 15.3 49.0 mi/h Elev 188 477 851 ft Slope -20.2 -0.24 29.2 % Caden 0 73.9 118 rpm HR 66 123.1 164 bpm NP:216W IF:0.72 TSS:128 VI:1.18 CdA: 0.342 m^2; Crr: 0.0055 168 lbs; 2/10/2012 11:28 AM 56 degF; 1013 mbar
Zoomed in S Cove Dr descent (56mph) plus Altaloma driveway climb (29%) – click to enlarge. Demonstrates fundamental problem with barometric pressure sensors for altitude measurements in constantly changing terrain.
Altaloma driveway climb
Altaloma driveway climb
Renfroe climb – S Cove descent – Altaloma driveway climb (click to enlarge)
I forgot to post the maps I made for the weekend of riding … if you are curious about the topography of the entire area, then download the super hires ultra resolution (20MB) map of my Cheaha ride (the last map).
Read my ride recaps and see the photos I took for each day here –
Day 1 – 72.1 miles – commute into work and ride from samford to pell city
Day 2 – 81.1 miles – exploring the oxford – anniston – jacksonville ridge line
Day 3 – 141.6 miles – riding from oxford back home to hoover via mt cheaha
Oxford to Hoover via Mount Cheaha – mountains of eastern alabama annotated Or click here to download the super hi-res 20MB version of this map.
While Kristine finished up her work yesterday at Fort McClellan, I biked home to Birmingham from our hotel in Oxford by way of Mount Cheaha. I climbed Cheaha three different ways — including a new Cat 2 climb starting at the low point on the Adam’s Gap side and climbing all the way to the lookout tower inside the state park. This brings Alabama’s Cat 2 climb total to 8 — including the two new climbs I discovered in my ride on Saturday. The eight climbs are labeled on the map below.
I am sure there are more out there to be found … I know that climbing Moorman Mountain from the west would also be a Cat 2 (I climbed it from Bain’s Gap on the east) — so if there is anybody adventurous out there who wants to get to it before me – have at it!
I left Oxford shortly after 7AM in a fog, very light rain mist all the way through Friendship Rd, up to AL-281 and the first ascent of Cheaha from AL-49. Everything went smoothly until my first descent from the lookout tower. I had been climbing for 7 miles in heavy fog – and since it is all uphill, I hadn’t touched my brakes AT ALL and forgotten about how much water would have accumulated on the rims. As I headed into the first switchback and applied the brakes, absolutely nothing happened except for an instant realization that there was no hope of making the turn so I simply straightened up and looked for an escape route that didn’t involve running into a cabin or cliff. Fortunately, the brakes dried off fast enough that even before I left the road, they had started to grab and I only ended up a few feet off the road next to a cabin.
This first bit of excitement on the ride led to the next bit of excitement less than a mile later. I continued down out of the park and turned right onto AL-281 to descend down the Adam’s Gap side of the mountain. I had only made it half a mile or so and had just reached max speed when I heard the sudden “psssssssss” of a tire puncture. I didn’t panic, but I knew I would be in big trouble if the air leaked out before I could slow down. The roads were wet so I couldn’t exactly slam on the brakes either. I just pressed as hard as I felt comfortable pressing on the brakes and slowed down to a stop. Fortunately, the puncture wasn’t a complete blow-out so I still had air left in the tire to keep the tire from rolling off. At this point, I’m only 29 miles or so with well over 100 miles left to ride so I took my time and made darn sure that whatever had caused the puncture wasn’t still in the tire. In fact, I think I spent more time running my finger around the tire and digging out a couple tiny pieces of glass than I actually spent changing and reinflating the tube. It was well worth the effort, though, as I was able to use my pump and CO2 cartridge to fill the tire up to maybe 80 psi and complete the rest of the ride with no more flats. It might have just been coincidence, but I’m thinking that I may have picked up the glass when I went off the road in the switchback previously.
After changing the tire, I finished the rest of the descent and after reaching 45 mph with no thumping or any other signs of a bad tire change, I felt pretty confident that all was good. I attacked the Adam’s Gap climb hard so I could get the KOM on it … my legs were definitely feeling the 400 miles that were already in them for the week up to that point — including the hard climbing ride from Saturday, but I was able to get the KOM. Adam’s Gap ends at the transition to a gravel “scenic road” that if you followed long enough would take you all the way over to Bull Gap and Brent’s new skyway epic course. Turning around, I snapped a few pics and then headed back up Cheaha also pushing it hard to try to get the KOM on this side. By this time, the fog had lifted significantly so that only the very top of the climb was still foggy/wet. At the top, I turned around and headed back down the Adam’s Gap side, but this time I turned at the road to Camp Mac and headed down to Lake Chinnabee to do the climb one last time stopping to take pictures of the mountain from Cheaha Lake (over 1000 ft below the summit).
At the top this time, all was sunny and beautiful so I snapped this panorama of the view from the Cheaha restaurant (which is about 250 ft below the true summit)
From there all the way back home was an awesome ride, which I could spend hours describing — but instead I’m going to just let the pictures tell the rest of the adventure.