Sunday, March 9, 2014
Tom Dula's Revenge
I did show up prepared for battle, none-the-less. I had a brand new Grava bike, weighing in under 17lbs. with American Classic Argent wheels and 25c Clement Strada tires. I had the profile of the course taped to my top tube with all of the unpaved sections highlighted. I did a proper warm-up, knowing that I would really need to push my limits to stay with the lead group at the start.
The race started promptly at 10:00am from the Leatherwoods Mountain Resort under cool, windy conditions but sunny skies. As expected, the lead group formed rapidly after the neutral roll out. The peloton would stay together until the first uphill pave section where gaps started to open up. I jumped across all the gaps and came across the end of sector 1 still in the lead group. More of the same came at the next sector. Again, I bridge all the gaps and emerge with the lead group at the end of the 2nd sector.
I'm not a big rider - I don't generate a lot of power. I am more of an endurance racer with pretty fair power to weight ratio. It's not of much use on the recurring surges that keep happening in between the climbs. It becomes harder and harder for me to close the gaps. I know that the longer I stay with the pack, the better my result will be. My goal is to hang on through 1/2 way.
After sector three, I am still hanging in the somewhat reduced peloton. I start to think I can hang on until the finish. But after several surges between sector 3 and 4, I know that I am riding on borrowed time unless the peloton slows on the longer, uphill sector 4.
I am gapped.
But not by a lot. I try hard to catch back on. To no avail. Following sector 4 is some fast paved riding. As a solo rider, I have no chance of keeping pace with a motivated group of riders. Still, I enjoy riding my pace. I keep the hammer down and the peloton in sight for the next 4 or 5 miles. I never would regain contact.
I did catch one other racer who dropped out of the lead group. We worked together through sectors 5 and 6 and the steep pave climb and descent leading to the final 4 miles of unpaved climbing. We were still together at the first stream crossing. The water was concerningly deep to ride, with some pretty large rocks under the water, but I had no intention of hiking. I clear it, but I don't think my riding partner did. I never looked back, but I didn't hear from him again.
The course gets increasingly rough, though not very steep yet. Two more stream crossings follow. Neither as deep or wide as the first one. But now the course turns increasingly uphill. I struggle to find a rideable path through the soft muddy sections, the washed-out ruts and the loose gravelly sections. It's a challenge, but it's all rideable.
Soon the 2km to go sign appears, which would normally mean the race is almost over. However, at slightly-faster-than-walking pace there was still plenty of technical climbing to do. The course does become a bit less technical near the top, but remains steep.
With 1 km to go, I have 2 riders in sight. It doesn't look like there will be time to catch them, but with 200M to go they are noticeably closer. I use what energy I have left to try to "sprint" out the final distance. But there is nothing extra left. I roll across the line with a time of 2:32 - nearly 30 minutes faster than my time from last year, but only 1 position better (6th this year). A testimony to the increased competition level this year.
It was another hard fought day where I was really looking for a top 5 finish. Still, I was pleased with my effort and look forward to the next 2 events in "Le Series Trois Roubaix": Love Valley and Boone-Roubaix in the next few weeks.
See you on the trails!