Hell of the South 2013 Pro/1/2 podium – Me, AJ Meyer, Tommy Schubert. Photo credit – Tim Hall – I love that he got the Berlin Community Fire Department sign in the photo. You can see the registration tables in the background. Bike wheels on the inside … perfect for this race.
An epic race deserves an epic race report … so here is the quick summary for those who don’t have time to read the novella that follows. I managed to snag a podium spot (3rd place) from a rather large 10 man break that formed as the result of three smaller groups merging near the end of the race. At the beginning of the last lap, I rolled off the front with Tommy Schubert (Cumberland Univeristy Cycling Team) and Brian Baker (Texas Roadhouse). We didn’t attack, per se, but when the field didn’t respond and our gap grew to a few seconds, we put the hammer down and got out of sight fairly quickly. We joined a solo rider, David Worth (Cumberland Transit/Swiftwick), who had already rolled off the front a few miles before us. We worked well together, but AJ Meyer (Village Volkswagon) was able to bridge up to us, pulling Tommy’s CU Cycling teammate Ryan Sullivan with him. Ryan put in an immediate attack, which I thought I had bridged up to but in fact had pulled the rest of the break with me. This new larger group of 6 riders rolled OK but with so many people it was hard to get everyone to commit. Eventually, my teammate, Jeff McGrane bridged up with Dirk Polhman (Texas Roadhouse) and two other riders making for a break of 10. This group had no cohesion, but there were several attacks that kept the pace high enough to keep us from getting caught by the field. In the closing miles, Jeff drove the pace so that I could just sit in the group and position myself for the finishing sprint. I positioned myself well, but the sprint opened up at 500 meters to go — much farther out than I had expected so I misjudged when to try to come around the people in front of me. I started my sprint so far out that the people who came around me as I slowed down ALSO went too far out. So I was in good position to recover for a few seconds and come around them again just before the line to take third. That doesn’t happen very often in a sprint … an epic sprint for an epic race. AJ timed his sprint perfectly for the win.
The details – Friday preride
I was excited about this race the moment I saw where it was on the calendar, and that I would be able to race it. I have never ridden that far south in Tennessee before, but I have driven that stretch of I-65 between Nashville and Birmingham probably 50 times and have always been fascinated with the topography and ruralness of the area. A couple years ago, Kristine and I were driving up to Franklin to see a concert with our cousins when the interstate was blocked by a wreck. With traffic at a complete standstill, we made a u-turn and headed back to the previous exit. I dropped a pin onto the next exit north hoping it would be past the accident, set the Garmin on bicycling directions, handed the Garmin to Kristine and we proceeded to rally car drive through the hills south of Lewisburg. The hills were incredible, the roads were tiny, and the views amazing. That experience made me want to ride in that part of TN even more, but the opportunity never came — until I saw that the 3rd annual Hell of the South would be held there.
This past week was spring break for Samford University, so theoretically I should have had a nice restful week with lots of riding. Instead, I spent the week working well over 40 hours on a couple side projects, in addition to several long, fun rides out to Double Oak mountain on some gravel roads to make sure that my wheel/tire setup would be able to survive the Hell of the South. Friday morning arrived with a cold rain here in Birmingham. Analise’s teacher had asked for parent volunteers to help with video book reviews her class was doing, so I hopped on my mountain bike and zipped over there in the rain to surprise Analise and help with the videos. I zipped back home, but then realized my wallet was still in Kristine’s purse so we decided to have an impromptu lunch date at Taziki’s on my way out of town so she could give me back my wallet.
After lunch I headed north up Hwy 31 stopping by Brick Alley to drop off my Reynolds race wheel for Craig to true for my next non-roubaix style race and also stopped by Starbucks to grab a coffee for the road. It rained pretty much all the way up to Huntsville, but then stopped. By the time I made it up to Lewisburg, TN the streets were dry and it was considerably warmer (over 50 degF) than the cold 45 deg rain I left in Birmingham. I drove right to the middle of town, parked in the city hall parking lot next to the square, and then set out to explore the hills where Kristine and I had rally car drove, and also to do a pre-ride of the course which is a little farther north in the Duck River valley.
The hills outside of Lewisburg are amazing … some super steep climbs on really rural country roads with only a few farm houses scattered across huge areas. I saw two separate wedding parties taking pictures on the front steps of huge farmhouses … on a FRIDAY afternoon! It was quite picturesque. I wanted to ride super easy to rest my legs, but it was hard not to get excited just riding someplace new in such a beautiful area. This was the first climb – 22.4% max gradient up Collins Hollow road –
Then after three good climbs and a very cool switchback descent that I really wanted to turn around at the bottom and climb back the other way (but didn’t), I headed north to join the course a few miles in on New Cut road … along the way I got this gem of a video (caution: profanity) … it is kinda funny b/c when I was planning out my route I saw the massive junkyard in the satellite view and wondered if there would be any junkyard dogs. I didn’t anticipate a teenager hanging halfway out the window of his truck yelling “pedal m/f”
I knew that the course would be rough, but I had been on rough roads for a while by the time I joined up with the course so the only difference I saw is that the course had a lot of potholes that you had to constantly be on the lookout for. Perhaps the most exciting thing about the course for me was the two interstate crossings … I’ll always be able to remember this ride and the race whenever we drive under the two bridges … and the two crossings of the Duck River — one of the most biodiverse rivers in the country (I remember reading this National Geographic article back in 2010. So whenever we cross the Duck River on the interstate, I always remind Kristine and the kids that it is one of the most biodiverse rivers in the country. Now I will also be able to point out the two bridge crossings for the Hell of the South race course on our drives from Birmingham up to Nashville, Indiana, or Wisconsin.
I cannot remember a single car once I hit the course. There were definitely some cars on the surrounding roads near Lewisburg, but once I picked up the course route I kept wondering where all the cars were! I do not think I got passed by ANY cars on the 23 mile course … that’s how rural the area is. I stumbled upon a herd of deer IN the road and managed to get my camera out to take a picture of the last one as it lept off into the woods. We are talking VERY rural … ah, now that I think about it there was one car on the 2nd Duck River crossing – but I spent something like 10 minutes there getting pictures of the bridge and riding down the access ramp to explore under the bridge. I ended up riding about 55 miles in just over 3.5 hours making it back to Lewisburg not too long after sunset, a nice leisurely exploratory recovery adventure ride.
It was nice to take in the scenery and enjoy the area on Friday – because there was no time for any of that on Saturday during the race.
The details – Hell of the South 2013
We stayed with my teammate Kurt up in Murfreesboro the night before, and he had last Sunday’s Milano San Remo on DVR so I fell asleep watching the classics riders slog it out in the miserable weather thinking that it would inspire me to face the weather in the morning for our race. But in the morning, it was chilly and dry with temps in the 40s. The start of the race was at the Berlin Community Fire Department a few miles outside of Lewisburg so we had about a 45 minute drive down to the start.
Having seen all the potholes on my pre-ride of the course the day before, I knew that I wanted to stay towards the front. I got a good start and after a mile or two decided to attack to see if people were cold enough to just let me go. That wasn’t happening, though, as the field strung out. When they caught me, there were counter attacks and the pace didn’t slow down so I quickly drifted way back in the group. By the time it bunched up again I was near the middle back of the group thinking how on earth am I going to move up. That’s when we hit the first bad section of potholes, Paul flatted, and I realized that I was in trouble so far back in the group unable to see the potholes ahead. I decided my best bet was to leave a little bit of a gap in front of me to have as best vision as possible – but then people kept passing me b/c there was a hole in front of me. So pretty soon I found myself towards the back of the group.
After we crossed the interstate and got closer to the downhill before the gravel, I started to panic a bit and moved up on the far righthand side. This worked a little and I had made about mid pack by the start of the downhill. This was still way too far back so after the downhill on the next set of rollers I moved up on the left. People were still leary about using the whole road (too narrow for a yellow line) so there was just enough room for me to squeeze by all the way to the very front. I entered the gravel in second wheel knowing that the best line was to stay completely left through the gravel. I pushed the pace hard to try to be at the front in case there was attacks, but there only ended up being one attack through the gravel and I was able to catch back up on the downhill. The gravel section was much shorter than any of the Rouge Roubaix gravel sections so I didn’t expect much would come out of the gravel (i.e., field split, break, etc…) but I had never done the race before so I wanted to be sure to be there if anything did happen.
After the gravel, you have a rolling downhill and a sharp turn taking you down to the Duck River. Since I did my pre-ride really slow with lots of breaks for pictures, I didn’t realize that once you cross the river you are starting a long climb. This proved NOT to be decisive for this year’s race, but it almost was decisive on all three laps. On this first lap, there were attacks immediately after the bridge. I covered one with Ryan and Tommy (both from CU Cycling) and we had a tiny gap, but everyone was still too fresh in the field so we were reeled in fairly quickly. Coming across the top of the long hill, we had a good break with good representation (2 CU and 2 Texas Roadhouse) but we didn’t have quite enough of a gap over the field so that on the next steep downhill, the field was able to roll back up to us before we could get a break established. [I’m omitting details from the rest of the 1st lap, let’s just say there were a ton of attacks, but they all ended up being too big so were always chased down].
On the second lap at the exact same spot shortly after the gravel and almost immediately after crossing the Duck River bridge, I got into a good move with Tommy again, and a Texas Roadhouse rider, and one other rider. We got into a good rhythm and our gap grew, but it never got far enough to get out of sight. So coming across the top of the long gradual rolling hill (maybe 3 or 4 miles later?) we were reeled in. There were a bunch more attacks that ensued and my teammates Jeff and Kurt were in several moves, but everything was getting brought back. Towards the end of that second lap, David Worth (Columbia Transit / Swiftwick) launched a solo move that nobody responded to. He quickly got a good gap as the field was tired of chasing everything down. As we started the third lap (last lap), I was towards the middle of the group when I saw a Texas Roadhouse rider roll of the front. My teammate Kurt had just been on the front and was coming back from covering a small chase group. So I went across to him just to make sure that we didn’t have to chase it down later. As soon as we started rolling, Tommy from CU cycling came roling up to us. It turns out that we had a good gap by this point as the pace and the group had gone down just as we had picked up our pace. Here’s a video of how our 3-man chase group was formed. David was so far up the road by this point that you can’t even see him in the video. You can hear me say about 1’40” into the video “we’ve got the teams and the gap, let’s go”
It took us about 8 or 9 miles to catch David … on the hill leading up to the switchback downhill before the gravel. I led through the downhill, and that was really fun although it did end up splitting our four man group in half. We made it through the gravel section and then settled into a good rhythm. Unfortunately, by the time we made it to the last part of the climb, we could see some cars and riders behind us. I thought it was the main group, but apparently it was just AJ Meyer (Village Volkswagon) and Tommy’s teammate Ryan bridging across to us. Ryan, knowing how strong AJ is, was getting the free ride across since he had a teammate in our break already. AJ finished the bridge right before the last finishing part of the climb. Ryan launched on an attack, and I killed it to bridge back up to him thinking how this was it … it’s either bridge up to him now or the race is over … so I’m drilling it up the hill closing in on Ryan thinking “sweet, we’re gonna two-man team time trial this thing to the end” when I look back and everybody in the break was still there!!! Here’s a video of Ryan’s attack, my chase, my realization that everybody was still there, and then me asking (begging) Ryan to work with us.
The smooth machine, which was our four-man break, was now a less than smooth six-man break. We still basically worked together for a while, but people would skip pulls every now and then — understandable given the composition of the break. This could have spelled doom for our break, but fortunately a small four-man group had gotten away from the field, including my teammate Jeff McGrane along for the free ride, Dirk Polhman (Texas Roadhouse), Andy Reardon (Cumberland Transit / Swiftwick), and Austin Ulich (Prima Tappa). Still we had enough of a gap as a six-man break that it took a while for the 4-man chase to catch up with us. Once the groups merged, I again thought our break was doomed b/c our pace slowed to a crawl. I attacked once (or twice), my teammate Jeff attacked a couple times and covered a couple other moves, some other people attacked too — and this was enough to keep us rolling along ahead of the field. Eventually we got close enough to the finish that it became apparent we were going to stay away. About 2.5 miles from the end I was marking Ryan when he put in a hard attack, I covered it fine but failed to pull through knowing how far we had left. Looking back, I regret not working with Ryan to try to stay away — my instinct was that there were too many people who would be able to close the gap and then I would be too cooked to try to do anything in the end and Jeff who had been doing a lot of work keeping the break moving and covering moves would also be too tired. So I hedged my bets hoping that Ryan would continue to pull hard for a while longer or if that didn’t happen then regroup to go with the next attack a bit closer to the finish. Ryan wisely sat up instead of pulling me to the finish, and that was pretty much the last attack because Jeff came back to the front of the group and set a high enough pace to discourage any attacks.
This gave me plenty of time to maneuver into position marking Ryan again. Unfortunately, my camera battery died at about this point with maybe 1-1.5 miles left in the race. I was in what turned out to be pretty good position maybe (6th or 7th wheel) going into the sprint b/c people started the sprint from so far out. I think the first person to open up their sprint was maybe 500-600 meters from the line. The entire group strung out, and I ended up on Tommy’s wheel when there was a bit of hesitation after the first guy was caught. I opened up my sprint, but immediately saw that it was way too far out, so I swung back into line behind the people who counterattacked my jump … since we were still 300 meters from the line, there was just enough room for me to come around some people as they started to fade to end up with a third place finish. AJ had taken the win and when I rolled up to him, he stopped and pretty much laid down on the ground – having bridged up to our group and then taken the sprint. Tommy was just in front of me for second.
Here is the last 19 minutes of the race … including Ryan’s attack with 2.5 miles to go at 14’40” seconds into the video … I think the camera battery dies with about 1 mile left in the race.
Finally, here is all my data from the race:
Hell of the South Pro/1/2 - 3rd place Dist: 70.48 mi (2:57:25) Energy: 2729.2 kJ Min Avg Max DFPM Pow 0 256.4 1025 W Speed 8.6 23.8 41.0 mi/h Wind 0.0 20.7 45.9 mi/h Slope -13.2 -0.01 14.7 % Caden 30 81.7 117 rpm HR 123 162.5 188 bpm NP:297W IF:1.01 TSS:299 VI:0.98 3/23/2013 9:32 AM 48 degF; 991 mbar
Heartrate zone summary