Monthly Archives: May 2013

SRS Kickoff Weekend – Albany

Memorial Day today
Kinda puts bike racing in perspective – so many people have given their lives so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have here in America. Thank you all present, past, and future soldiers!

Quick summary
Yesterday, I ended up 9th in the road race after having finished 15th in the criterium on Saturday in a really strong pro/1/2 field. Would have liked to finish a few spots higher, but it was still a great start to the inaugural SRS series, with five races in five southeastern states spread out over five months. In the criterium, I missed the six-man move and ended up ninth in the field sprint to take 15th in the race. Then in the road race, I was aggressive to get KOM points managing two third place finishes in the sprints to get some early points in that competition. I fought hard to stay towards the front and ended up 9th in the race fading at the end having started my sprint too early.

Finish videos

The detailed adventure
The last time I raced in Albany was 2009, and I knew I wanted to bring my family back down with me some day. This year it was just me and my wife making the trip, but next year I definitely want to bring the kids with us to experience the River Walk, Riverquarium, and other fun stuff to do right there on the crit course. Even the drive down was awesome – I65 to Montgomery to AL-110 to US82 – awesome rural roads with long distances between the towns so you can make some pretty good time while enjoying scenic rural southeast Alabama and southwest Georgia.

Roadside market on the scenic rural driveRoadside market on the scenic rural drive between Birmingham and Alabama

We drove down Saturday morning with the relatively short drive (4 hours) putting us into Albany well in advance of the criterium. I spent a good two hours rolling around easy underneath the huge oak trees draped with Spanish moss getting my legs ready for the intense 75 minutes of racing. This was my first hot race of the year as we’ve had quite the extended cold, rainy snap hanging around the southeast for the early part of the season. This race was HOT, and as I was sitting on the start line excited to race the strong, large field I my heartrate was hovering around 120!

I started out towards the back and raced somewhat conservatively trying to stay towards the front but not trying to get in every move. There were a number of good looking breaks, but fortunately the field came back together. The break of six that eventually formed got away about midway through the race. Then about 10 minutes later, a large chase group formed that I also missed. I attacked a couple times to try to bridge across or at least get a chase going, but each attack got brought back and the overall pace in the field was high enough that we caught the chase group and made it to within about 10 seconds of the front group. But then towards the end (see the video of the last eight laps below), we had some slow-downs in the field and the break’s lead went out again to about 20 seconds by the end. Shawn Gravois took a flyer from the lead group with three to go, got caught, and then went again with two to go holding it to the end for the win. Andy Crater won the sprint behind for 2nd followed by Oleg Tanovitchi taking third. I fought hard to stay towards the front, but ended up sliding a bit too far back and spending a bit too much time out in the wind so I could only manage 9th in the field sprint, 15th for the race.

For the Sunday road race, I had planned on attacking literally from the gun but before I could even attack Finishstrong had already set itself up at the front. I figured they were trying to setup Crater for the KOM but as it turns out they were trying to set up a different rider for the KOM. Still I followed their train to a third place finish on the first two KOM sprints. Finishstrong controlled everything in the race for the first two laps as they brought back attack after attack. I stayed very close to the front to go for the KOM sprints and also to make sure they didn’t try to slip anyone into a break. On the third lap, Brendan Sullivan (Lupus Cycling) got into a strong three-man move that swallowed up the KOM points. Shortly after the KOM, we caught the group of three and started setting up for the finish.

I had slid farther back than I wanted to, but then there was a crash in the middle of the field that unfortunately took out Michael McBrien (Bikes plus racing). In the crash chaos, I ended up sliding up a few spots and then continued to move up for the next several miles until we made the left turn with 2.5 miles to the finish. I was able to ride all the way up to back of the High Country Devo team sitting right behind their sprinter. They had a great train going, but it wasn’t quite fast enough to stem the surge from the field that sent me maybe 15-20 riders back from the front. When the big surge went up the lefthand side of the road, I swung out even farther to the left and was able to start my sprint with a clear line to the finish. It was at this exact moment when I went left that there was a bad crash on the right taking down Birmingham rider Payne Griffin. I was thankful not to go down, but I had started my sprint too early and even with a clean shot at the line I faded back to 9th by the finish. You can see the crash and the last 2.5 miles of the race in the two videos below:

Not quite the results I was looking for, but I was very happy to race against some of the strongest riders in the southeast and am very excited for the rest of the series! Here’s all my data from the races …

Albany criterium - annotated heartrate plot (click to enlarge)Albany criterium – annotated heartrate plot (click to enlarge)

Criterium heartrate zone summary - note the high average speedCriterium heartrate zone summary – note the high average speed

SRS - albany criterium
Pro/1/2 - 15th place
Lap	Time	AvgPow	MaxPow	HR	RPM	MPH
1	1:38	295	871	151	86	24.9
2	1:26	221	752	164	82	28.6
3	1:24	301	833	163	90	28.9
4	1:24	224	884	168	83	29.2
5	1:27	234	768	168	83	28.2
6	1:24	260	848	165	85	29.5
7	1:26	187	694	164	82	28.5
8	1:30	223	790	159	83	28
9	1:25	248	583	166	85	28.7
10	1:22	264	762	167	80	29.5
11	1:27	238	770	165	82	28.9
12	1:27	255	579	163	88	28.4
13	1:28	246	608	165	82	28.8
14	1:27	252	822	164	81	28.6
15	1:29	225	629	163	86	27.8
16	1:26	270	700	164	85	29.1
17	1:22	294	704	173	85	30.5
18	1:28	324	1084	176	83	28.9
19	1:27	233	546	173	83	28.5
20	1:30	272	616	166	83	28.2
21	1:25	352	927	175	81	29.7
22	1:27	255	786	182	79	28.8
23	1:30	245	858	167	81	28.4
24	1:26	410	879	183	81	29.5
25	1:24	230	731	182	80	29.5
26	1:28	272	949	172	79	28.6
27	1:29	274	834	172	79	27.8
28	1:23	336	877	179	81	29.3
29	1:28	312	996	184	84	28.1
30	1:29	264	597	185	81	27.6
31	1:32	204	636	172	78	26.7
32	1:27	246	745	171	79	28.1
33	1:27	253	863	169	81	28.3
34	1:25	266	691	179	80	28.9
35	1:21	282	867	180	77	29.5
36	1:27	233	593	177	74	27.6
37	1:31	292	1044	170	76	26.9
38	1:27	301	985	179	79	27.7
39	1:32	258	610	179	84	26.8
40	1:31	228	728	170	77	27.1
41	1:26	227	739	173	77	28.7
42	1:24	319	689	174	83	29.4
43	1:30	285	833	176	81	27.5
44	1:31	282	817	179	75	27.4
45	1:27	286	749	180	78	28.3
46	1:26	225	573	179	79	28.2
47	1:29	303	707	173	81	27.8
48	1:30	303	756	181	82	27.4
49	1:27	310	872	183	82	28.1
50	1:26	302	886	183	84	28
51	1:18	409	1016	192	82	30.5

Leesburg road race - annotated heartrate plot (click to enlarge)Leesburg road race – annotated heartrate plot (click to enlarge)

Road race heartrate zone summary - note the amount of time spent in Zones 2 and 3Road race heartrate zone summary – note the amount of time spent in Zones 2 and 3

Skyway Epic 2013

2013-podium-sm2013 Skyway Epic – Men’s open podium – Me, Kyle Taylor, Jamie Alexander (L-R)

Epic. This year’s race was highlighted by the most epic course of the season and an epic battle for the win between me and Kyle Taylor. I ended up on the losing end of that battle, but I’m still really happy with the race. I gave it everything I had attacking Kyle eight times on the forest road and double-track knowing that he was going to ride the singletrack much faster than me. You can see the entire race (including the epic climbing) in the annotated heartrate plot below.

Annotated heartrate plot ... epic ... (click to enlarge)Annotated heartrate plot … epic … (click to enlarge)

How awesome is the course? Let’s start with the starting area — a giant boat launch area with room for maybe 25 or more riders on the front row! After a short mad dash up the hill, you enter the sylaward trail system which is very fast singletrack with hardly any roots (woo-hoo!) I entered the singletrack fifth. Kyle got the hole shot and was gone. Behind him two other riders quickly separated themselves from the next group — which consisted of Jayfer Bezier, me, Jamie, and Will Fyfe in that order. Jayfer was riding the singletrack at just the right speed – so I was content to follow him … until Mike Lackey tacked onto our group. I knew he was fast in the single track, so I was nervous that people were going to start trying to pass so at the next opportunity I went ahead and passed Jayfer so I could attack the uphills faster even if I wasn’t taking the corners or downhills quite as fast as him.

I led through the singletrack for the next few miles and we eventually caught one of the riders who had been ahead. When we finally made it through all the singletrack, we started to paceline it and got distracted missing the turn onto the new double-track that Brent had cut this week. Kyle had also missed the turn. We had ridden the singletrack much faster than expected so we made it to the tricky turn before the volunteers.

This cost Kyle more than the rest of us because the lead he had built in the singletrack was gone. Brent got us straightened out though and our group of about eight riders entered the double-track together with me in second position behind Jamie. I was nervous about the new doubletrack, but in the end was able to ride everything including the epic eight foot high entrance ramp which descended down into a huge mud puddle (hidden from view on the other side). In fact this double track was one of my favorite parts of the course because it was completely rideable and yet super challenging with some muddy steep gradients.

After crossing the creek, we climbed a steep hill and this is where Jamie, Kyle, and I separated ourselves from the rest of the group. The top of this hill dumped us out onto the forest road where the three of us pace-lined it and were gone. I was a bit uncertain at this point about strategy because I had been planning for a long chase thinking that at least one or two people would have a huge lead coming out of the singletrack and doubletrack. Jamie came off our group towards the bottom of the Cat 2 climb up to the Skyway. Kyle and I settled into a hard steady tempo, and I debated about attacking once or twice but I remembered how absolutely spent I was last year after attacking at the bottom of the climb to get the KOM. Kyle, too, was wanting to pace for the long race so we decided to split the KOM money but sprint for it anyway — the best of both worlds, neither of us has to blow up going for the KOM from the bottom of the climb — and yet we still had the competitive aspect of sprinting for it to see who could be the KOM. It was really foggy by this point as we had basically climbed from the valley right up into the cloud layer. It turns out that we started sprinting at about 500 meters (1/2 K) from the line which is a long way on a rocky climb, and then we both thought when the 200 meter marker appeared out of the mist that we were at the finish. Quickly realizing our mistake, Kyle attacked again and I couldn’t quite catch him before he reached Anna with the $100 bill at the top.

Making it to the top of the Cat 2 climb, you might think the next part would be easy – but I’d say the most epic part of the course is the skyway itself … epic ruts, epic puddles, and epic views (not today, though) with epic rollers some of which make it all the way into the Cat 4 climb category on Strava. Bike racing is such an interesting combination of camraderie, strategy, passion, endurance, skill, and strength – and that really played out in this race. Kyle and I worked together throughout the skyway with Kyle pushing the pace on the descents (faster than I would normally take them) and me pushing the pace on the rollers.

Both of us wanted to win the race, though, so Kyle tried to dislodge me on the long descent, and then I ended up attacking him eight times on the forest service road and double-track – but I couldn’t shake him. He probably would have distanced himself from me earlier in the double-track except for an epic crash. He had pulled ahead of me and was heading fast down the double track when he came to one of the large puddles — catching his wheel on a rut he wiped out landing in the puddle sending water/mud high into the air. I had a front row seat to watch it – epic. I made it through the puddle opting to ride through on the left since he had wiped out in the middle.

Across the first dam, I attacked again and tried to shake him on the next steep hill, but it just wasn’t happening. I let him by right at the entrance to the singletrack knowing that the game was over, and all I could do was ride fast hoping to hold on for second. I’m glad I did because Jamie was approaching fast and ended up finishing less than a minute after me.

hrsummHeartrate zone summary.

Epic race. Epic course
The photo below is taken from just south of Birmingham on one of my training rides last Sunday. Click to enlarge – you can see the annotated ridges with Skyway rising high above the surrounding valley. There is over 6000 feet of climbing in the race with over 1200 of that coming on the main climb from the valley to the top of the Skyway – one of about a dozen Cat 2 climbs in the entire state of Alabama. The Skyway ridge line is a single ridge line rising high and then dropping down into valleys on either side of it. And it is very long – snaking its way from just southeast of Sylacauga all the way up to Mt Cheaha – the highest point in Alabama. You can see how prominence of the ridge line in both the photo and the topocreator map below it.

annotated-mountains-ridgesAnnotated view of the Skyway epic ridge line (click to enlarge)

The course traverses about 12.5 miles (25 miles roundtrip) of this long ridge line. The jeep road is rocky and rutted in spots (particuarly the descents and climbs) so you have to pick your line carefully – even at high speeds on the descent. It was great following Kyle on the descents because I could follow his line and watch how he handled tricky sections. Even with the rocks and the ruts, the skyway is fast and relentless – constantly rolling so that it is hard to settle into a good rhythm. At the bottom of each roller is a large mud puddle (width of the road) so that you have to snake around on the outside. There is just enough room to make it around if you brush into the bushes right next to the puddle … unless you end up trying to go on the wrong side. On one of the puddles on the way back, it looked like the line was on the left so I headed left and then realized that the puddle extended all the way out to the edge of the road so I had to ride through it — and it was DEEP! I had enough momentum to clear it, though, and catch back up to Kyle who had seen my mistake and taken the correct side.

With good tires and good brakes you can hit nearly 40 mph on the long descent back down from the skyway. The rollers across the valley are also steep so you can pick up some good speed to carry you into the next hill as long as you pick the right line heading around the corners. We only had one oncoming car the entire race and it was easily passed.

Finally, there is the Sylaward singletrack itself. I think Brent has described it as some of the most “grin-inducing” singletrack in the south … and even as someone who is not a big fan of singletrack, I would totally agree. I could go much faster on the singletrack then I normally would risk because the turns are banked and the penalty for failure is not severe (i.e., no huge drop-offs along the side). Part of the reason is that there is a good bit of climbing on the singletrack … there is some contour following (which usually means there is a drop-off to your left or right depending on the direction of the trail), but a contour bend around a ridge is usually followed by a drop-off from the ridge or climb back up the other side of the ridge – meaning that there is a place for me to make up time that I lose when delicately handling the bend around the ridge.

Really finally, the topography of the area is epic. I already described it, but here is some maps I made including a zoomed in view of the singletrack and doubletrack, a map of the entire course, and a zoomed out map showing the course and the ridge line extending all the way up to Cheaha. There is lots of good potential to make this a 100 mile race over to Adam’s Gap and back. I’m planning on doing a 120+ mile ride of an out/back to cheaha some time later in the summer. Will report on some course options then! Already looking forward to next year!!!

Skyway Epic singletrack annotated - click to enlargeSkyway Epic singletrack annotated – click to enlarge

Skyway Epic course and ridge line annotated all the way to Mt Cheaha (click to enlarge)Skyway Epic course and ridge line annotated all the way to Mt Cheaha (click to enlarge)