|This start/finish line scare me ... in an exciting kind of way.|
Race morning was crisp and cool. As riders milled around awaiting the 8 am start, I nervously looked around for my competition. With no racers' list, I had no idea who was going to show up. Trish "soft-core" Stevenson faced that she was toeing the line and Kim Schifino, currently sitting 1 point behind me, would be here as well. I saw plenty of women, but none that I recognized.
|Seeing smiling Shanna, I knew I was indeed in Pisgah!|
The course was going clockwise this year, opposite of last year. When the gun went off, there was no need to go anerobic, as we had a police escort all the way up Hwy 276. It was a nice start to what was eventually going to be hammerfest. Once we turned off onto the Fish Hatchery road, the race really began. My legs were quite happy climbing up to Gloucester Gap, but so were everyone else's. Immediately 3 women passed me at warp speed. I had to let them go, knowing that I could not sustain that kind of pace. I eventually caught up to two of them just as we crested the climb.
The descent off Gloucester was tricky technical as it was riddled with stutter bumps. Bottles were being "yard saled" right and left. Fortunately, mine stayed put. I passed one woman as we crested the climb and another on the descent, but then got passed back by one. I knew then that this was not going to be an easy race.
Towards the end of this descent, I spotted Mr. I-9 himself, Jacob. After reading about his bad luck at ORAMM (not carrying enough tubes/CO2/hand pump), I figured he had ample supply this race, and passed right by him. After the race, I talked to him about his bad luck. And no, he did not learn his lesson. It took about 70 racers passing him before he was able to fix the flat. Whoops! Being an I-9 sponsored rider now, I hope that did not hurt my relationship. It shouldn't; Dicky "dicked" him at ORAMM and is still on good terms.
The three of us along with a handful of guys eventually regrouped on the 10 mile climb up Hwy 215. Within the first two miles of this climb, the pack broke apart as the road kicked up. One woman pulled away from me. This was Trish but I had no idea at the time that it was her. I could tell by her posture and cadence that she was uber strong. I tried to pick up my pace to match hers but just did not have enough umphh. I had to let her go, hoping that my happy legs would come back.
I was riding a friend's Cannondale Super X with a 46/36 front and 11/28 cassette. I am by nature a spinner and the 36/28 was making my legs feel like concrete blocks. About 1/2 way up the climb I was sitting in 3rd place as I was able to drop the fourth place woman. I had no idea where 1st was and could only hope that she would crack at some point.
I was able to pull a good group of guys up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. This race is not only about fitness, but about tactics as well. More of a road race than MTB race, you need to be able to find a group that you can hang with, sit in the draft, take pulls, and thereby conserve energy. The wind is your enemy and if you get caught on the BRP all by your lonesome (happened to me last year), you will eventually wilt. Unless you are Jens Voight or Sam Koerber.
I did not stop at the first aid station as I was lucky enough to be in a good group on this 24 mile stretch. By no means was it easy-peasy, but it did allow me to recover from the climb. I still had to get on the gas ... on the descents! In some of the steepest parts, the guys were coasting and pulling away from me, even though I was spinning my hardest gear at 120 rpm+!
|Descending the BRP. Photo credit Brad O Allen|
I popped off their wheels a couple times on the steeper descents and had to reel them back in on the climbs. On one of the last climbs, my right hamstring decided my effort was a bit too much and began to cramp. I let off the gas, grannied down, and it went away pretty quickly. Assessing my nutrition, I realized I was not drinking enough. So over the next 15 minutes I killed a bottle.
Just before the last aid station at the intersection of the BRP and FS 5000, there is a 6-7 mile descent with just a couple of short ups. It was here that I started shivering. As much as I like carving the turns, I was ready to done with this section and eagerly looking forward to the Yellow Gap climb. However, I still had to descend FS 5000.
I was able to catch up with the 1st place woman, Jane (who was now 2nd as Trish had passed her on the BRP). I had to stop at the final aid station for a bottle swap; she did not. I was still cold, but now that I had spotted a "carrot," I forgot about my goosebumps. FS 5000 is mostly down, with a few false flats. It was so bumpy that my eyeballs were bouncing around in my skull, making it difficult for me to see the roadbed. After a couple squirrely moments, I had to slow down in order to focus.
Finally I was on the short bit of pavement that led down to North Mills River campground. And then the Yellow Gap climb began. Yes!! After flushing the lactic out of my legs in the beginning mile, I was able to ramp it up and make short work of this 3 mile climb. I spied Jane and reeled her in. I felt like I was flying up this climb. And sooner than realized, I was at the top; now to make short work of FS 1206, an 11 mile stretch of rolling gravel.
Halfway through, I spotted a figure in a ProGold jersey. Could it be 1st place? I kicked it up a notch and slowly rode up to this elusive racer. As I pulled alongside and made eye contact, I suddenly realized that who I had been chasing for 57 miles was THE Trish Stevenson ... of TransRockies, GDR, NUE fame. She is one of a handful of talented ladies who I have looked up to for years and sought guidance when I first got into endurance racing.
|Photo Credit Brad O Allen|
I spoke to her briefly as I passed and then raced like a "scalded dog," hoping she would not hang onto my wheel, as she has a big engine. I was afraid to look back, but after a few minutes took a glance and saw her in the distance. I did not let up, but hunkered down and treated the last 12 miles like a TT.
On the final gravel climb up FS 477, I was fortunate to hook up with Ian, who was smelling the barn. He pulled, I pushed, and together we made short work of this 2 mile climb. We were able to enjoy the last descent and "whoo-hoo'd" most of the way.
I rolled under the finish line in a time of 4:36. Although this was the "easiest" of Eric Weaver's events, it was the hardest win of the season for me. The last time I "chased" this long was the 2007 Cohutta 100 where I chased Danielle for 99 miles and ended up coming in second by a wheel.
Once again, I must commend all the volunteer efforts as this race was well organized. NASCAR style aid stations are what I like and that is what I received!
4 down, 1 to go. It will be my first Double Dare. I wonder what the evil mastermind has in store for us fools. All I know is that the mental game will be as hard as the physical one. Bring it, Mr. Weaver! For I have the baddest adventure racer/mountain biker east of the Mississippi as my partner. And she loves to suffer!