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Rockabilly Omnium 2013

Pro/1/2 omnium - me, Nathan Brown, and Johnny BrownPro/1/2 omnium – me, Nathan Brown, and Johnny Brown

Quick summary
The road race was cancelled for tornado warnings halfway through the race. My teammate John Hart and I had both made it into the break of the day – the only team with two riders in the break. For the time trial, I was desperately trying not to get passed by Paul Tower (Donohoo-Infinity Racing), my 30 second man and I ended up just missing a power record for 11 minutes by 4 watts – although the previous record was on a long KOM climb where you can use much more of your upper body. For the criterium, I ended up winning the field sprint to take 3rd in the race with Nate Brown (Bontrager) and Bryant Funston (Marx and Bensdorf) already having lapped the field. This was enough points, however, to move me up to 3rd in the omnium behind Nate and his brother Johnny.

The details
A very strong field lined up in the rain at the start of the road race. I drove up from Birmingham before the start and had just enough time to pin my numbers on in heavy rain and roll to the staging area. It was a very nice drive through rural northwest Alabama, northeast Mississippi, and southwest Tennessee.

The race started out neutral down the longest downhill of the day in a cold steady rain. The attacks started immediately after the neutral. I was towards the front and covered the first one or two. My teammates took turns covering the next set of attacks. Several moves got quite the gap on the field, but each one had one or more teams missing (but never ours!) – and it was amazing how fast the breaks got brought back in response to counter attacks from the field. After the first lap of constant attacks, a group got established when I covered a move by Johnny Brown (Hot Tubes) and Andrew Hammond (Herring Gas). I think there was one other rider with us initially bc I remember there being four of us in the initial rotation.

Then a few more riders bridged up to us – including my teammate John who got the free ride across covering an attack by Anders Swanson. We settled into a very good rotation immediately, but our gap to the field stayed not more than 20 seconds or so. You can see in the heartrate data how hard we were pushing it throughout the entire lap. Several times I thought we were going to get brought back, but then whoever was chasing must have given up bc our gap ballooned up pretty quickly to maybe a minute by the start of the third lap.

The rain had stopped by the start of the third lap, but you could see a wall of clouds approaching. Even before it hit, the wind had picked up substantially and our group was able to echelon and extend our lead as the weather really started to go downhill. Still, it caught me by surprise when they stopped our race – not much anyone could do about it bc the police wanted us off the course with the approaching storm having the potential to drop a tornado. We huddled under a covered entrance to the school at the staging area – probably 30 or more of us crammed in there to keep warm. Crazy for the first day of June! Disappointing to miss out on some good omnium points, but sometimes that’s just the luck of the draw with bike racing.

The sun came out in the afternoon for the TT. I’m always looking to explore new roads (one of the reasons I ride) so I decided to ride over to the start. Fun ride through some neighborhoods, followed by warmup on the tarmac track around the football field. I had 15 minutes until my start when I decided there was enough time to ride to the bottom of the downhill on the road race and turn around come back up it to match a strava segment. About halfway down the hill, I felt the rear wheel was squishy and sure enough I had a flat. I thought there was enough air to make it back, so I turned around and booked it back up the hill with it eventually going completely flat about a tenth of a mile before the parking lot.

I borrowed a teammates wheel and headed to the start where I only had to wait a coupled minutes before it was my time to go. I kept a close eye on my power meter trying to keep the average power around 365 – a bit unrealistic for that distance, but still I ended up with 352 watts for 11 minutes, 6 seconds – 4 watts shy of an all-time power record for that length of time.

Critical power curve with TT overlayCritical power curve with TT overlay

I think it’s somewhat comical that a power record for me doesn’t even get me a top 10 in the time trial – testament to how strong the field is and also how amazingly un-aerodynamic I am on the bike. So no points for me in the TT, but my teammates John Hart, Kurt Page, and Jeff McGrane all rocked it with John taking a close 2nd behind Nate Brown (Bontrager), Kurt in 4th (first cat 2), and Jeff in 9th.

Sunday’s criterium
No rain on the radar, but the day started out with a light rain mist from low hanging clouds. I started my warmup with 80 PSI rear tire and 70 PSI front tire in anticipation of the streets staying slick until our race. About an hour before our race, though, the sun was out and not hiding again before the start of our race so shortly before the start of our race I pumped up the tires to 95 psi back and 90 psi front – still a little low just in case it did start to rain. I enjoyed my warm-up through the hilly neighborhood on the north side of the course – seeing an albino squirrel running across a yard chasing another squirrel and I also stumbled across storm damage from Saturday’s storm and saw the Hillbilly outdoor stage and mural (see pic gallery at the bottom)

By the start of our race, it was hot, and there was attacks from the beginning. The speed stayed so high with some tricky corners that gaps started to open up. I chased around a few gaps and eventually found myself on Nate Brown’s wheel going into the backside hill. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize he was about to attack b/c as the group bunched up I went to the left whereas he shot off to the right. I was blocked in and missed the perfect opportunity to get away. I tried to bridge anyway attacking a few seconds later, but the closest I could pull the gap back to was about 4 seconds. With no one to help in the chase, I sat up after three laps off the front and waited for the field to catch me hoping that somebody else would be able to drill back the break. The video below shows Nate’s attack to bridge up to Bryant – and then me attacking to try to bridge up to them for several laps.

It didn’t happen so I spent the rest of the race trying to help my teammates cover moves to get a chase group started. Jeff, John, and Kurt all got away at some point – but there was always one or two strong riders left in the field who would bring back the move. I tried to get away twice – once to get a prime and another time with Anders Swanson (Litespeed BMW) late in the race. Again, though, somebody was always able to bring it back. Fortunately, I had plenty of time to recover and position for the final sprint with Nate Brown having lapped the field and drilling it at the front leading out his brother Johnny.

Having attacked on the backside hill to get the prime, I knew that was where I wanted to attack for the final sprint. I pulled out of line towards the bottom of the downhill and attacked hard up the left to make sure I had a lot of speed heading into the corners — almost too much speed — I was on the brakes hard through half the final turn but still carried 30mph out of the turn and then ramped it up again trying to hold on, but half expecting a surge to come around before the line. Apparently, I had enough of a gap though to hold on to take the field sprint for 3rd place in the race. That was good enough to bump me up to 3rd in the omnium since the crit was weighted more than the time trial.

Huge shout-out to Adam Morris, Cat 3 rider for Absolute Racing, who took 2nd in the road race and then won the time trial and looked to be heading for a win in the criterium when a rider went down in front of him in the last corner. In addition to his great results, Adam gets the good samaritan award for the weekend as he helped me jump my car after I left my windshield wipers on with the keys in the ignition during the race. 100% absent-minded professor.

Here’s the rest of my data from the weekend – starting with the criterium:

Rockabilly criterium annotated heartrate power data (click to enlarge)Rockabilly criterium annotated heartrate power data (click to enlarge)

Rockabilly criterium heartrate zone summaryRockabilly criterium heartrate zone summary

Rockabilly time trial heartrate power data (click to enlarge)Rockabilly time trial heartrate power data (click to enlarge)

Rockabilly time trial heartrate zone summaryRockabilly time trial heartrate zone summary

Rockabilly road race annotated heartrate power data (click to enlarge)Rockabilly road race annotated heartrate power data (click to enlarge)

Rockabilly road race heartrate zone summaryRockabilly road race heartrate zone summary

Pro/1/2 criterium podium - me, Nathan Brown, and Bryant FunstonPro/1/2 criterium podium – me, Nathan Brown, and Bryant Funston

Finally, here’s a gallery of all the pictures I took over the weekend – in reverse chronological order.

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)