Last year, I opened up my season with back-to-back wins at Southern Cross and the Camp Sumatanga training race the next day. This year, I’ve started off the season with a 3rd place time trial podium, 6th place at Southern Cross, and 1st place again this year at the Sumatanga Category A race. The win yesterday at Sumatanga helped ease the sting from Southern Cross where I just didn’t have it on that opening climb and watched the lead group of eight riders ride away from me less than halfway up the climb. Also easing the Southern Cross sting was the outstanding performances by Birmingham riders Chris Edmonds, Jerry Dufour (17), and Reid Richesin (15) who placed 3rd, 5th, and 12th!
SOUTHERN CROSS ULTRACX RACE #1
So let’s start with Southern Cross – amazing again this year. I could finish dead last and while disappointed would still feel like the weekend was worth it. Race promoter and ultra-endurance racer Eddie O’Dea announced before the start that it was the biggest field yet for Southern Cross, and I would go one step farther to say it was also the strongest field as evidenced by the lead group of eight still together well into the Winding Stair climb. New this year was an additional dirt climb out of the winery instead of the traditional climb out via the road. I was really happy with my start able to ride almost everything, including the log drop and the new dirt climb out of the winery. The only thing I had to run was the main run-up, which given the heavy rains from a few days before the race was too wet to ride.
Leaving the winery, the lead group consisted of Thomas Turner (Jamis), Nick Van Winkle (Litespeed-BMW), Chris Edmonds (Infinity), Mike Simonson (616 Fabrications), Jerry Dufour (Team Momentum), Tim Proctor (The Bicycle Station), Gerry Pflug (Rare Disease Cycling), Eric Murphy (UHC/706 Project), Andy Scarano (UHC/706 Project), and me (Friends of the Great Smokies Cycling). There may have been a few more riders behind me, but I was glued to the wheels in front of me and never looked back. I felt OK at this point, but we seemed to be riding really, really fast.
I wasn’t sure about the climb given that we were killing it on the rollers leading into it, but once we started I felt the pace was hard but manageable. Just before the first steep pitch I could no longer hold the pace. It happened somewhat suddenly as the lead group kept motoring and I was unable to stand up and match the pace. I had opted to take my camelbak explorer backpack to make sure I had adequate hydration and tools to combat any flats, but with the extra weight pressing down on my lower back I couldn’t stand up to get any extra torque out of the bars. If it had just been a couple riders left leaving me behind, I would have been OK mentally but as I watched them round a turn ahead of me I counted one, two, three, … eight riders! This was super de-motivating.
I continued on, but as you can see in my heartrate data below I was cracked and dropped back down into Zone 4 sub-threshold. Near the top, though, I looked back to see Gerry Pflug single-speed champ, killing it up a steep section of the climb. I knew that my best chance at getting any kind of result was to hop on when he came by. Sure enough, I dug as hard as I could when he came by with my HR skyrocketing well back into Zone 5. I stuck to his wheel like glue and then dug really deep again to try to hold on to make it to the true top of the climb. Once there, I knew I would be fine until the second climb.
I stayed tucked behind Gerry from that spot all the way until we hit the pavement at which point I took over to set the pace into the next climb. My plan was to simply hold onto Gerry’s wheel all the way up the second climb, but we caught Eric Murphy about 1/4 of the way up the climb. This climb rolls a bit and although I was content to rest, Eric wanted to push the pace a bit harder on the downhills where Gerry needed to coast (singlespeed) so we got into somewhat of a rotation. As we got farther up the climb I spent more time on the front. But as we neared the very top, Gerry came around forced to push the pace harder by his singlespeed gearing. I could barely hold on, but what really helped is that I had drank enough water that I could stand up again without all the weight from the camelbak pressing down right on my lower back.
Somewhere in the middle of the climb, Frank Marrs (Mission Source) came flying by us. No hope of our group latching onto him, and we let him ride away. Towards the top, we were starting to catch him again and then passed him when he had to stop at the aid station for water. A few minutes later, he came flying by us again. I was unable to hold his wheel and he rode away again but ended up flatting on the next fast descent. Gerry and I kept plugging along at a steady tempo and I related to him some highlights from last year’s race as we reached critical points from the previous year.
I led through the descent and onto the road with Gerry pulling up the hills on the road and me pushing the pace on the descents and flatter sections. When we finally made it back to the winery, we could see Jerry Dufour partway up the Montaluce Monster (100% grade beer run-up). This gave me some renewed hope of maybe catching one more rider to crack the top 5, but Jerry was too fast and ended up pulling away. Meanwhile when I was near the top of the run-up, I looked back and saw another racer (Brad Cobb) had already made it partway up the run-up. I was no longer even trying to catch Jerry, but I rode really hard to make sure I stayed away from Brad. It all worked out though with Jerry taking the last spot of the Open Male podium, Gerry winning the single-speed race, and me taking 6th. Brad was actually in the 40+ race where he ended up 2nd as Tim Proctor had already finished 5th overall to take the Masters 40+ race win.
After the race, I talked to Jerry and Chris to find out how the race had played out up front. Jerry was the only one who could match Thomas’s pace all the way up the Winding Stair climb. But across the top, Thomas put in some surges that eventually saw Jerry falling back to the chase group behind. The chase group got smaller as people flatted or dropped off the pace eventually leaving just Nick, Chris, Mike, Tim, and Jerry in the front group. Jerry came off this group on the road section while the rest of the group went into the finish together. The only reason why we saw Jerry at all is because he missed the turn back into the winery. Fortunately, he realized his mistake quickly enough so that he didn’t lose any places because of the mistake. Chris and Nick sprinted it out for 2nd place behind Thomas who had finished about 3 minutes earlier. Last year’s ulta-cx winner Mike Simonson raced strong and ended up 4th behind Chris and Nick in the winery course.
Very proud of the Birmingham results this year – Chris Edmonds (3rd), Jerry Dufour (5th), me in 6th place, and 15 year old Reid Richensin finishing 12th. Also, Pat Casey took 2nd place in the singlespeed division, and Hardwick Gregg took 4th in the Men’s 50+. Maybe next year we can aim for a podium sweep! I’m already looking forward to it.
Having won the race last year, I was interested in a side by side comparison of all the data from last year and this year. Basically I was 4 minutes slower this year with a heartrate average of 1 bpm lower. Given that it was really cold last year, I think that probably works out to 2-3 bpm lower than last year if the temperatures had been the same both years.
|Southern Cross 2014 – lower HR average overall but 10 additional minutes in Zone 5
|Southern Cross 2013 – higher HR average with quite a bit more time spent in Zone 4
CAMP SUMATANGA TRAINING RACE
A large strong field showed up for the first GSMR training race up at Camp Sumatanga. My former team Infinity Med-i-Spa had the largest team, but there were also two strong military team riders (Kurt Page and Chris Cundiff), as well as strong teams from Huntsville, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and a number of other fast riders without teammates. I figured given the strength of the field, that the strategy was to let Infinity do as much work as possible bringing back moves. They scored a major coup though getting two teammates (Wes Douglas and Kevin Pawlik) up the road by themselves! It was still early enough in the race, though, that people from other teams in the field were motivated to chase. After about a lap, we brought them back. In the meantime, it got confusing with the Cat B field catching the A field. The combined fields rode a lap together before the officials stopped us at the start/finish to separate the fields.
Will Hibberts (Infinity) had just rolled off the front so he was given a 10 second start. A couple of us attacked immediately upon restart and killed it all the way up the hill, but it all came back together. Shortly after this, Wes (Infinity) and Pat Casey (Team Momentum) got away. I tried to attack on the backside hill to bridge up to them, but there was enough people strung behind me to keep it all together. When we crossed the start/finish with two 10 mile laps to go, I knew that we had to try to get away on the front hill or Wes and Pat would have too much of a lead to close by the end of the race. Near the top I attacked hard and only Mark Fisher (Village VW) and Jamie Alexander (Infinity) were able to go with me. Towards the end of the next-to-last lap we finished the bridge up to Wes and Pat.
I was worried that the field would catch us because our pace was not very fast at all in the merged group (everybody was trying to save up for the finish). When I looked back and could see the field not too far behind us, I figured the best bet at staying away was to shrink the size of the group. I tried attacking three or four times, but I could not get our group to shrink at all. The good news, though, was that our pace did ramp up as people also counter-attacked. Eventually, though, we came into the last couple miles as a still in tact breakaway of five. Wes attacked with 2 miles to go, I covered it and Mark led the rest of the break back up to us. Mark kept right on going hard and ended up leading all the way into the start of the sprint.
The order coming into the start of the sprint was Mark, Pat, Jamie, me, and Wes. Pat started the sprint with maybe 300 meters to go. Jamie kept his wheel and I kept Jamie’s wheel. As we got to about 200 meters, Jamie started to go around Pat to the right and I started to go around on the left. Right as both of us pulled even with Pat, he gave it one more surge! Fortunately for me that was still with 100 meters to go and he couldn’t hold that surge to the line so at the very end I was able to continue on past to take the win. Pat held on for second with Jamie in third, Wes in fourth, and Mark having led our group for the last 2 miles of the race finished fifth.
UNION GROVE TIME TRIAL
I headed up to Huntsville for a 20 mile time trial making the podium on pace for a 57 minute 40K TT, about two minutes faster than my previous best time trial. The key difference, though, is that my legs did not feel great for this race and instead I had a time trial bike, disc wheel, and aero equipment to shave two minutes off my time – even coming near the end of a 430 mile week on the bike. I’m looking forward to later time trials where my legs feel fresh, and I’m able to push the pace even faster! I paired one of my Martindale 6.0s with a Zipp disc wheel on Mike Olheiser’s old cervelo TT bike (see setup below – it was really, really fast, love those Martindale wheels!)