Tag Archives: epic

Hell of the South 2014

2014 Hell of the South Pro-1-2 podium. Left to right - Brian Toone (Friends of the Great Smokies), David Novak (Kelly Benefits), Tanner Hurst (Cumberland University Cycling Team)2014 Hell of the South Pro-1-2 podium. Left to right – Brian Toone (Friends of the Great Smokies), David Novak (Kelly Benefits), Tanner Hurst (Cumberland University Cycling Team)

As if this race could not get any more epic, throw in three hours of light to moderate rain with temps in the mid 40s degF, lots of mud and gravel, and there you go – even more epic. Now if we would only do an extra lap or two, you’d probably have one of the closest races to the Hell of the North (Paris-Roubaix) that you can get this side of the Atlantic Ocean. Think about it, the race is a balancing act between the wind, the echelons, the potholes, the gravel, the hills, and the many twists and turns of the course. The only thing missing is the cobblestones and the 150 mile race distance.

After the race - my Martindale 6.0 wheels were the perfect wheel choice for this race. Excellent in the cross-winds, headwinds, and tailwinds. Plus, they roll really well and no joke these wheels are probably the reason me and Patrick were able to bridge to the break and also how I was able to catch David Novak late in the race.After the race – my Martindale 6.0 wheels were the perfect wheel choice for this race. Excellent in the cross-winds, headwinds, and tailwinds. Plus, they roll really well and no joke these wheels are probably the reason me and Patrick were able to bridge to the break and also how I was able to catch David Novak late in the race.

Before the start of the 2014 Hell of the South - pro-1-2 field, cold and wet!Before the start of the 2014 Hell of the South – pro-1-2 field, cold and wet! But not dirty yet. Photo credit: John Dershem

The Extended Summary
I started at the back, missed the 5-man move after the gravel, attacked on the hill a couple miles later, made it about halfway to the break before Patrick Walle (I AM Racing) bridged up to me. Together we finished the bridge up to the break to make it a break of seven. We completely buried it to make it up to the leaders, but it still took us 10 minutes (4.5 miles at the speeds we were going). This was all about 10 miles or so into a 70 mile race, so we ended up rotating well for the next 50 miles before the attacks started.

Eventual winner David Novak (Kelly Benefits) rolled away with Ryan Shean (Texas Roadhouse). Tanner Hurst (Cumberland Cycling) and I bridged up to those to make it a lead group of 4. We rolled it hard but the 3 behind us caught back up again. A mile or two later, David attacked again. I figured we would roll together back up to him, but after I finished my pull no-one else came around so I drilled it hard and chased David for the next couple miles (seemed like an eternity). I recovered on his wheel for half a mile before the two of us started working. We killed it and had 30 seconds on what was now a chase group of just three. With 2 miles to go, we started to slow down trying to figure out the sprint. I ended up on the front going very slow waiting for him to attack. But when David attacked with 400 meters to go, he caught me by surprise even though I was trying to anticipate it – and I couldn’t grab his wheel fast enough or bridge back up to him.

Tanner took the sprint behind for 3rd with Ryan and Patrick in 4th and 5th. Kudos to Justin Lowe (Low Country Cycling) and David Carpenter (VW Volkswagen) who both rode a strong race but got caught out by the attacks late in the race. What an epic race! With the cold rain in the 40s degF, mud, and gravel it had everything you could dream for in a spring classic!

The Details
I decided to drive up this morning to the 9:50AM race start in Lewisburg, TN since this is within about a two hour drive of Birmingham. By the time I had made it north of the city, it was raining again. This was a bit problematic given that I had not left myself a lot of leeway for making it to the race on time. I got lots of practice negotiating a good line trying to find the strips of pavement where the water wasn’t pooled. I also nearly ran out of gas b/c I was heading into a strong headwind which blew my calculations for making it to the cheap gas. I arrived with 0 miles to empty.

The temp was dropping along the drive and continued to drop after I arrived. So I opted for a warm-up consisting of sitting in the car and blasting the heat instead of rolling around in the rain. I didn’t roll to the start line until nearly start time so I started at the very back. I remembered last year that it was crazy moving around in the pack and dodging potholes so I stayed at the very back of the group and gave myself some room to dodge the rain-filled bottomless abyss potholes. Still, I knew that I needed to move to the front at some point and waited for the race to string out and gradually work my way up. It didn’t happen though until the gravel where I moved up a bunch of spots and then continued to move up after the gravel.

It wasn’t far enough, though, and a strong move of 5 riders – David Novak (Kelly Benefits), Tanner Hurst (Cumberland University), David Carpenter (Village VW), Ryan Shean (Texas Roadhouse), and Justin Lowe (Low Country). This represented several of the larger teams so I knew it had potential. I was too far back to attack until the long hill on Rock Springs Rd where our group strung out. It was into a stiff headwind so I figured I would either drag the group back up or maybe get a second break going. I didn’t imagine getting away solo. Still, I was committed to so I drilled it up the steep part of the hill hoping to close as much of the gap as possible to the lead group before the rolling downhill.

I reckon I had made it halfway there with still 10-15 seconds of a gap left when I started to lose ground. Fortunately, I looked back and saw that Patrick Walle (I AM Racing) had also gotten away from the group. I eased up a bit so that we could combine forces and together we drilled it to try to catch the leading group of 5. Looking at my heartrate data, it looks like the total bridge effort only took 10 minutes with an average speed of 26.2 mph, but it seemed like an absolute eternity.

By the time we finished bridging up the leaders, we got a time split from the moto ref of 1 minute to the field. I knew we had a strong group, but I wasn’t sure we could hold that for the next 60 miles. Apparently everyone else thought the same because we continued to drill it and rotate well in the strong cross winds. It was difficult to echelon in the wind because you couldn’t just choose a position on the road – you had to scan ahead for potholes and then pick your position based on the least flat-inducing path. Soon our lead had ballooned to 3 minutes before the gravel on the second lap.

Our group split up again in the gravel, and I wasn’t sure if this was an attack from the front so I bridged across to David Novak and David Carpenter. We came back together on the other side of the gravel and continued to rotate. A few miles later we had a time split of two minutes having lost a minute to the lead group through the gravel section and the twisty descent leading into it. We started pushing the pace again, but our next time split was 1:45 and I thought “uh-oh”. This was right before the long tailwind section leading into the feedzone. We killed it through there and then across the interstate our lead was back up to 2.5 minutes.

I was expecting an attack in the gravel, but it didn’t materialize there. Instead, it was on the hill at the turn onto Rock Springs Rd where David Novak picked up the pace taking Ryan Shean with him. I saw it immediately and killed it across the top and then Tanner finished the rest of the bridge up to them. I encouraged everyone to drill it since we were down to just four riders and we did. Ryan was struggling a bit but the three of us worked hard to stay in front of the chasing three. Shortly after the second Duck River crossing (one of the most biodiverse rivers in the country!), they caught back up to us. There was some hesitation because what to do you do in that situation. Oh, hi, we weren’t really trying to get away from you, just having a good stroll off the front here ;-)

The hesitation didn’t last long, though, as David attacked again. I chased first and then when I went to pull off, nobody came around and there was a tiny gap so I drilled it as hard as I could on a downhill … thank you Martindale 6.0s oh my goodness it felt like a hurricane was pushing me forward down the hill. At the chicane at the bottom I literally thought “if the tires hold on the wet pavement, that’s great … if they don’t hold, oh well this is racing”. I had closed the gap quite a bit and David was right there maybe 2 or 3 seconds in front of me for the next hill, but he started pulling away again. I knew that my best shot was to catch him before the top of the long hill where I saw the deer last year (I thought about that deer every lap). I think David eased up after the left turn because I then closed the gap pretty quickly.

He wanted me to pull, but I was unable to pull. He graciously pulled for the next half mile while I recovered. This took us to the gradual downhill across the busy road before the feedzone. I took over there and killed it hoping that our gap would stick. We entered a good rotation through the feedzone, but then after the left turn with 2.5 miles to the finish we started to cat/mouse. My legs were not exactly feeling it for the sprint so I was hoping he would do more work but we had gotten a time split of 30 seconds to the chasers which was more than enough time to roll slowly to the finish. David knew it, too, and he kept me in the front. We started our sprint from 17mph when David attacked hard. He told me after the race that he was spinning out on the wet roads when he attacked. I don’t doubt it because even though I was trying to anticipate it, he still attacked with enough force to easily open the gap. We were still way out from the finish (maybe 400 meters) so I was hoping he would fade and I drilled it until about 50 meters to go when he was already posting up ahead of me. C’est la vie!

I am so happy to have finished on the podium two years in a row – 3rd last year, 2nd this year, maybe next year will be my year!

The Data
2014 Hell of the South annotated heartrate data (click to enlarge)2014 Hell of the South annotated heartrate data (click to enlarge)

2014 hell of the south heartrate summary2014 Hell of the South heartrate summary

Rouge Roubaix 2014

2014 Rouge Roubaix Pro/1/2 podium - Stefan Rothe (Elbowz), Heath Blackgrove (Boneshaker), Logan Hutchings (Boneshaker), left to right.2014 Rouge Roubaix Pro/1/2 podium – Stefan Rothe (Elbowz), Heath Blackgrove (Boneshaker), Logan Hutchings (Boneshaker), left to right. Wow! Strong podium!

One of these years I’m going to make it onto that podium, but even though it wasn’t this year I’m certainly happy to have raced well against such a strong field. Boneshaker brought a strong team, and it showed with four out of the seven riders in the final selection from their team. Elbowz brought a large, strong team leading to Stefan Rothe’s podium finish. Incycle Predator had a small, but strong, team with powerhouse riders Mike Olheiser, Emile Abraham, Calixto Bello, and Jonathan Atkins. Mike and Calixto made the final break but were outnumbered four against two by Boneshaker. Finish Strong brought a large team and controlled the race all the way to the second gravel section.

The race – start to first gravel

Brian Arne from Finish Strong took off early on a solo move eventually extending his lead to four minutes by the start of the first gravel section at about Mile 25 of the race. The rest of the field entered the first gravel together at a brisk but not insane pace. The conditions for the first gravel section were different than any other year I’ve raced here. The washboard and deep gravel typical of Woodstock Rd were replaced by mostly hard-packed dirt, a bit of gravel, and lots of potholes. This meant that if you could avoid the potholes, you could go really fast. It also meant that if you didn’t see a pothole in time, you either jumped it or hit it. Jumping was an option in some places, but in other places that would just land you in one of several more potholes all in a line. I had wanted to be at the front before the gravel, but when that didn’t work out I drifted to the back and kept as much of a line of sight as possible in front of me.

Ahead of me was a bit of chaos. With the fast conditions interspersed with some massive potholes, the group would be flying along when all of a sudden the front of the group would slow down causing those behind to slam on their brakes. On a downhill leading into a rough section, one guy in front of me locked up his rear brake and slid his rear tire all the way down to the bottom of the hill but managed to keep the bike upright and not run into the people in front of him. A few minutes later one of the most epic wrecks I’ve ever seen happened on a corner leading to a massive mud puddle taking up half the road. We were warned about it ahead of time, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the large group from producing a large crash at this bottleneck. I was far enough back to have time to slow down but I arrived at the wreck maybe a few seconds after the wreck with the following visual image:

One rider’s bike is still up in the air (must have been the last person making his way into the crash). Many riders are on the ground, but some are already trying to untangle bikes. The giant mud puddle is on the left side but the path on the right is completely blocked with wreckage. Some riders are in the bushes on the right trying to get around. Others are riding through the mud puddle or trying (unsuccessfully to ride around it on the left). I end up riding through the puddle on the right-hand side close to the wreckage. I nearly didn’t make it which would not have been good for my speedplay cleats having to unclip and put a foot down in the mud. I squeezed through, though, and was actually one of the first few caught up in the wreck to make it through and start chasing.

The lead riders were not too far ahead, maybe 20 seconds, but their group was smaller and hammering the last section. I helped our small chase group of maybe three or four riders, but I was holding back a bit gambling that we were going to catch the group which traditionally slows way down after the first gravel section. I didn’t want to waste too much energy in the process of chasing back on. Still, when we made it to the road, they had extended their lead a bit but we could still see them. As we continued chasing more people joined our group from behind so that by the time we finally caught back onto the group of 30 or so riders that had made it through the wreck unscathed, our group had probably swelled to 15-20 riders.

The long road section between the first gravel and second gravel

About 50 riders or so had merged, and our pace was slow. Periodic attacks livened the pace briefly, but for the most part nobody was actively chasing because Finish Strong went to the front to cover any chase moves. I stayed mostly at the back trying to conserve energy. When we were a few miles out from the second gravel, I started a long, patient attempt to move up the lefthand side to the front. I made it to within three riders of the front with less than a mile to go. But then I got boxed in when more riders came up the left and right and the middle slowed down. By the time all was said and done, I made the turn at the Ft Adams store in about 20th position. I ended up riding through the giant puddle with no ill consequences but then hit some large potholes and lost a lot of positions.

By the top of Blockhouse Hill, Brian’s lead was down to 1 minute, but it was enough for him to stay away for the KOM at the top of the climb. Meanwhile down at the bottom of the climb people were taking all kinds of risks given the road conditions leading into Blockhouse. I was more conservative and continued to slide back. There was one rider I came on who had crashed and was laying on the ground. Knowing that the medical truck was just behind me, I continued on. I paid for my conservativeness as I had to pass tons of people on the climb itself and yet this still only got me into the first chase group. I helped drive this group and at first it looked like we would catch the lead group. They were only 30 seconds ahead of us! But the lead group was smaller and stronger than our chase group which spelled doom for our group which at first worked really well together, but then as more people caught onto our group people stopped working.

The third gravel section

By the time we turned onto LA-66 with about four miles to the next gravel section, there were only a few of us still working at the front including Mark Hyatt (UHC), Derek Wilkerson (Elbowz), Caleb Fuchs (ThinkFinance), John Stowe (Cherry St. Cycles), and maybe one or two other people. I continued working knowing that the chase was somewhat futile at this point, but wanting to make sure that I was at the very front heading into the third gravel section. I led the turn and wanted to lead into the gravel, but Mark came around me. I got on his wheel, though, and hit the gravel in second position. By the top, there was just three of us left – me, Mark, and Derek.

I knew that this was our chance to get away from the large group and form a cohesive, strong chase. I drilled it as hard as possible and led through most of the gravel. By the time we hit the road, we started to chase really well and entered a good rotation. Up ahead we could occasionally see riders coming off the lead group. This was motivating for the three of us chasing and I kept telling Derek and Mark and that the lead group might be playing games, and we might be able to capitalize on that to catch them. Unfortunately, the gap was just too large at this point and by the end of the race they had put six minutes into us!

By the time we approached the low-water bridge and Mahoney Hill, our chase group had solidified at 5 riders with us having picked up two more riders from the lead group that we were able to keep up with our pace. One of those riders, Colin Strickland (Elbowz), attacked and I went with him. Parker Kyzer (Finish Strong) was able to bring the two of us back. Mark (UHC) put in an attack at one point. Then, to start out the sprint for 8th place, Colin attacked again. Mark covered the move with me on his wheel. The two of us led side-by-side up the climbing to the finish line. When we reached about 150 meters to go, I gave it everything I had. I assumed that I would get passed by several people, but only Mark was able to come around right at the line to take 8th with me in 9th place. Great race, grand adventure (including the pre-ride which I will save for another post).

Annotated heartrate data
Annotated heartrate and power data - iBike plot (click to enlarge)Annotated heartrate and power data – iBike plot (click to enlarge)

Speed comparison
This was by far my fastest Rouge Roubaix ever. See the table below for a comparison to previous years:

Year Avg Speed Distance Time Place
2014 23.8mph 101.8 mi 4:15:53 9th
2013 22.4mph 105.1 mi 4:41:34 10th
2012 23.4mph 105.1 mi 4:30:02 4th
2011 22.0mph 105.1 mi 4:47:11 9th
2010 21.7mph 101.8 mi 4:41:59 18th

Update – based on Ed’s comment I wanted to check the 1st place finishing times. I don’t have the distances for years prior to 2010, so assuming they used the long course (105.1) I’ve calculated the average speeds in the list below:

2014 – 1st place – Heath Blackgrove 4:09:57 – 101.8mi @ 24.4mph
2013 – 1st place – Ty Magner 4:23:50 – 105.1mi @ 23.9mph
2012 – 1st place – Adam Koble 4:29:09 – 105.1mi @ 23.4mph
2011 – 1st place – Greg Krause 4:35:00 – 105.1mi @ 22.9mph
2010 – 1st place – Mat Davis 4:29:27 – 101.8mi @ 22.7mph
2009 – 1st place – Christian Helming 4:26:30 – 105.1mi (?) @ 23.7mph
2008 – 1st place – Aaron Boyleston 4:25:53 – 105.1mi (?) @ 23.7mph
2007 – 1st place – Mike Olheiser 4:21:09 – 105.1mi (?) @ 24.1mph
2006 – 1st place – Mike Olheiser 4:31:25 – 105.1mi (?) @ 23.2mph
2005 – 1st place – Jason Snow 4:22:50 – 105.1mi (?) @ 24.0mph
2004 – 1st place – Brice Jones 4:23:56 – 105.1mi (?) @ 23.9mph
2003 – Results link broken
2002 – 1st place – Stephen Viquerie 5:02:00 – 105.1mi (?) @ 20.9mph
2001 – Results link broken
2000 – Results link broken
1999 – Results link broken