Saturday, September 28, 2013

Hellhole Gravel Grind Stage Race: Stage 1

The good thing about today's stage was that the course was so flat that there was no need to tape an elevation profile to the top tube.  The bad thing about today's stage was that the course was so flat there was no need to tape an elevation profile to the top tube.

We all started from the Witherbee Ranger Station in Francis Marion State Forest in one mass start.  The opening pace was hard as the lead group of riders try to reduce their numbers.  With no climbs or no major technical sections to split the field, this was going to be a drafting race.

I hung on as long as I could, but found myself drifting away from the lead group.  I ended up in a fast chase group of about 5 riders.  Then 4.  Then 3.  The 3 of us would pace-line to the finish.

I had the .GPX course loaded into my Garmin 810 so I was notified of corners before we got to them.  Even so, the course was well marked.  Although I had to wonder why some of these roads were even built.  They seemed to exist only to take you to another road that only existed to take you to another road... Never really passing any meainingful landmarks and precious few residences.

I will say that the gravel road surface was mostly a pleasure to ride on.  For the most part it was well-packed double track.  There were a few sections of overgrown, really rough sections but these were short.

Our 3 man pace-line worked pretty well together.  It didn't take long to determine who the strongest rider was.  He was in the open class, not the 40+ class so I wouldn't have to try to outsprint him at the finish if we stayed together.  He seems happy to take the longest pulls at the front.  Dutifully pointing out the numerous potholes and other obstacles we had to ride around.

It was pretty intense riding for me.  I had to hang close to the wheel in front of me to get maximum benefit of the draft just to be able to hang on, but this made it impossible to see the terrain immediately in front of me in time to react to it.  I ended up nailing quite a few potholes but never flatted.  My ribs and shoulder didn't really appreciate it though.

When it's my turn at the front I watch my Watts to maintain a nice steady pace.  I watch the timer to be sure I'm doing my part to keep the pace line rolling, but not so long that I end up getting shelled off the back to no-ones benefit.

Every now and then we catch a solo rider that's been shelled from a group.  The further we go into the race the more frequently we catch riders.  Most don't even try to hang on to our pace line.  None succeed for very long.

With 5 miles to go, the young rider in our group asks if we want to drill it or if we think it would be advisable for him go it alone.  I told him he was the strongest of the group and now would be the time to go if he was gonna go.  So he takes off.  Now it's me and another Masters 40+ rider.  I can pretty much draft behind one if his calves, so I know I can't take him in a sprint.  I decide to up the pace and see how he's feeling, though he hasn't shown any signs of weakness so far.

In the last 5 miles we caught a lot of riders.  Two of which were in our class, one of which had a fully functional seatpost.  In the last 3 miles I really upped the pace.  I didn't look back.  Just kept pushing the pedals over like in the time trial.  When I got to the road where the ITT finished yesterday I knew exactly how far I had to go to the finish so I drilled it.

Unfortunately, I was mostly just doing a really good lead out.  When we got to the final road crossing (a 55mph hwy) we had to check-up to verify there was no traffic.  From there it was a short sprint to the line which I lost, but felt good about my effort.  It ended up being the sprint for 3rd place in Masters 40+, so I would be 4th.  Perhaps placing me 3rd in GC as the 2nd place rider today did not race the prologue yesterday and no one seems really sure how the bonus time works.

This had to be one of the fastest gravel grind races of forever.  My time for the 63+ miles was 3:09.  Tomorrow will be a similar stage that will determine the overall winner.  Hopefully I've regained endurance enough to keep the same pace.  If so, I think I have a shot at the overall podium.  Whatever happens, it's great to be back on the bike and feeling good.

See you on the trails!

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