|Racers assemble for the start|
Chilly 7:00am start. Rain. 100 miles. 12,000+ feet of climbing. Super slick single track. Ultra fast descents. Did I mention 12,000+ feet of climbing? The perfect race for me.
This is my fourth Cohutta 100. My first 100 mile MTB race of the season. I've been training for the race for months and I am stoked to be on the starting grid! It's cold and rainy. Two of my favorite things for bettering my results :)
Abandoning my usual starting protocol, I slot in near the front. At 7:00 am sharp we roll off at the shout of "GO". Up the iconic Hwy 64 climb with police escort. I am just off the back of the small pack that is the lead group. Perfect for riding my pace through the single track.
Boyds gap has a sandy surface and hasn't been affected by the rain too much. There are some slick spots, but all goes well. I have begun catching riders unable to maintain the pace of the lead pack. Here and there I pick up spots. I am riding a strong pace, but it's an effort I feel that should pay off later.
We loop back to the Ocoee White Water Center, cross the bridge and onto the single track. The trail here is a bit more slick and technical. This would be my test of tire selection. I am on Kenda 24Seven Race 2.0's. Normally these would be the perfect tires for this race, but they are not designed for mud. They are sketchy, to be sure, but no worse than the others I'm racing with. In fact, I find that I am dropping others on the descents and ride past 2 racers who were unable to clear a short, steep, rooty climb.
At 16.5 miles I exit the singletrack, blow thru aid station #1 and begin the long trek of fire road that make up the majority of the Cohutta 100. It's a short distance to aid station #2. I've got my nutrition and hydration planned to where I can blow thru this station as well.
The next segment is mostly all climbing. It's not terribly steep, but seemingly endless. There are a few descents to break up the climbing, but you pay for them immediatley. It's a rhythm I do well at. Pace thru the majority of the climb (sometimes I get passed here). Push near the top. Push over the top and wind out the gears on the descent (this is where I usually make up time). Pedal the descents, stay off the brakes and roll the corners. There are slick spots to get my attention so I have to use my brakes more than normal.
I meet my wife at aid station #3, mile 36. My first stop. The stop goes as planned. I pause for a kiss and I'm rolling again. The race has been going well. My pace is strong - I'm catching riders and not getting passed. I haven't lost any time for traffic or mechanicals. It's raining lightly and I'm working hard and feeling good.
The section from aid#3 to aid #4 is harder than it looks like on the elevation profile. The climbs are not real long, but they are steep and relentless. I would be happy for these climbs later. I know I can push this section kinda hard because aid station #4 signifies the first section of the Pinhotti trail. It's relatively smooth and flowy and predominantly downhill. A good chance to recover before the long, hard climb back up the road.
And then my race comes to a grinding halt. Mile 46 on my Garmin. The crank will barely turn. I turn the bike upside down. The wheel rotates forward, but not backward. I pull it out. Brakes look good, nothing obviously wrong with the wheel and the crank spins freely with the wheel off. So I put everything back together, with the same result. I can barely turn the pedals over, but I can coast.
So I do. Back the way I came. It's disheartening to see racer after racer pass me by, but as I hike and coast the 10 miles back to the aid station where my wife is waiting for me (aid #3 becomes aid #6 on the return trip), it's encouraging to see so many riders still pushing to finish the race at what is now hour 4:00 then 5:00 - and hadn't even made it halfway yet.
The return trip takes a slightly different route which includes a mostly downhill section of Pinhotti trail. I could actually roll most of this, dismounting for every climb or long flat section. Eventually I am caught by leader of the race, Christian Tanguay. Over 5 minutes later, the second place racer goes by and asks how far ahead Christian is. Fellow North Carolina, ever increasingly speedy racer, Wes Richards, rolls by in 4th. It's great to see him doing well, but it really makes me want to be riding my bike instead of pushing it and using it as a scooter.
The chill hadn't bothered me before, but now that I am walking and coasting I am not generating the heat I was when riding. It was a welcome site to see the aid station ahead. All of the volunteers are eager to help, but I don't really know what's wrong with the bike, other than it won't free-wheel, so I just load up and hop in the nice, warm car and ride back to the Hotel. Disappointed in a DNF, greatful for a wife to pick me up, pleased with how the race was going to that point.
I awoke to a steady rain the next morning and rode over 60 hard, but gratifying miles on the trainer. I'll be ready again for the next race.
Congrats to all the finishers of a very difficult race!