1st place overall! Thomas Turner dropped me about halfway up the first climb, but I ended up catching him again just before the start of the final descent (35 miles later) before he dropped me again on the descent. He had a good 20 second lead by the bottom of the descent, but I was able to catch him again on the steep rollers back on the road. I attacked on the last steep hill, got a small separation, and then drilled it as hard as I could on the final drag back to the winery. It was just enough so that I could make it through the winery and still hold onto win!
Annotated heartrate/elevation/speed plot (click to enlarge)
Heartrate zone/time/avg speed summary
Strava course segment comparison
The heartrate/elevation/speed data above pretty much tells the race, but here is how the race played out with as many details as I can remember. It was cold at the start with temps hovering around freezing and expected to stay there all day. By the top of the first climb, there was fresh snow (just light dusting) on the dirt road with some ice and slush in some of the ditches alongside the road. One glimpse towards the top of Springer Mountain, and you could see all the trees dusted with snow and shining bright white. At about that same time, it started to snow again — just some light flakes but enough to make it epic.
But back to the start — the opening cyclocross course was more difficult this year with some slick sections that seemed to slow everybody down. Some mud and a little bit of ruts made the opening cyclocross course tricky, only Thomas Turner (Jamis) was able to ride the run-up, but even then his rear wheel was slipping so he wasn’t able to get away from the rest of us who were running. Leaving the winery, we were straight into a stiff headwind and I was able to chase onto a group of about 15-20 riders including: Thomas, Garth Prosser, Gerry Pflug (racing singlespeed this year), Michael Simonson, Jerry DuFour, James Monk, and maybe 10 other guys. I looked back just before we made the left turn off of Hightower about 3 miles into the race, and there was a second larger group of maybe 20-30 riders only a few seconds back. Once we made that left, though, Thomas drilled it and I knew that there was no worry about the second group catching back up to ours. Thomas stayed on the front the entire time with Michael, Garth, and I taking turns trying to hold his wheel through the steep rollers.
Pretty soon there was just five of us left at the front: Thomas, Garth, Michael Simonson, Jerry Dufour (from Birmingham!), and me. This probably would have been the Top 5 for the race, but Jerry double flatted. Thomas set a brutal pace whittling the group down to just me, Jerry, and Michael. Then about halfway up the climb, Thomas hit one of the steep sections hard, and in short succession Jerry, Michael, and I all came off. This made for a lonely race because we didn’t come off at the same time (maybe spaced a couple minutes apart?). I quickly lost sight of Thomas, and he had 3 minutes by the top of the climb (time split from the aid station volunteers).
Snow, ice, and mud across the top of Springer Mountain made for a tentative descent — even though the descent itself was mostly dry. I started to feel better by the Cooper Gap climb and settled into a good rhythm on the climb, which basically consisted of hard tempo on the flatter sections and then standing up and drilling the steep sections. Fortunately, it was smooth enough that I could lock out the front suspension and torque on the bars pretty good to aid the standing up sections. The farther I got up the climb, the more I was realizing that there wasn’t anybody catching me. So this gave me a lot of motivation to push it hard to the top of the climb. Going through the aid station, I drilled it again through the rollers and still felt good through the next rollers, where I have felt pretty bad in previous years.
Then at the bottom of the first steep step of the descent (see heartrate/elevation plot), I flew into the next steep climb and could see Thomas about 3/4 of the way up it — maybe less than a minute ahead!!! I drilled it up this climb and nearly blew myself up in the process as my legs were screaming by the top. Fortunately, there was a long downhill before the next steep roller, and I settled into a more reasonable rhythm on this second climb and caught Thomas at the very top. Even on his cross bike (with me on my mountain bike), he dropped me on the long descent and had a good 15-20 second lead by the time we hit the pavement. I was able to catch him again on one of the last rollers before the sharp turn, narrow road, and steep paved climb. I attacked on the steep climb knowing that I would need a good lead going into the winery if I was to have any shot at winning. I got a little bit of separation, but he was still right there (only a few seconds back) as I turned onto Hightower.
I had been psyching myself up to try and ride the final run-up, but there was a car that got in my way driving slowly down to the run-up so I didn’t have any momentum and decided to just run up it. By the top, Thomas still hadn’t reached the bottom so I felt much better about my chances to hold on. Still, I kept expecting him to come flying by at any moment so I didn’t let up until all the way up the final steep grassy climb across the ditch and then onto the pavement for the last tenth of a mile to the line! So happy to win Southern Cross … that also makes for a nice odd mathematical progression of 5th in 2011, 3rd in 2012, and 1st in 2013!