Monday, January 26, 2009

This is my single speed cross bike, it is near and dear to my heart due to the fact that I helped make it with my own two grubby mitts. I have raced it a few times this Fall as well as put a bunch of miles on it riding the forest service roads around the house.

I decided that I would race it this past weekend at the Southern Cross race in Ellijay, GA. The race was patterned after the Three Peaks / Iron Cross race. Basically an endurance "cross" race of sorts. They had a single speed class and since I had the bike and had always wanted to do a race of this type I jumped at the chance.

The race was at Mulberry Gap, which is a really nice camping area complete with killer cabins. We started with a short lap around the property and then headed out on a big loop that was primarily forest service dirt roads. About 12 miles into the loop there was a nice long climb that from reports took anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half to make it to the top. Once you topped out you went along a ridge before dropping down a long fast switch back downhill. From the bottom of the hill you had just a few miles of rolling terrain and then you were back at Mulberry Gap. We did the same basic loop though with an added 200 yard "run up" that was about a 45% grade. A quick drop through the woods and then a short paved climb to the finish.

The race started and was more casual than a typical cross race, but I guess the fact that it was three hours long rather than 1 might of had something to do with that. After the quick lap around the campground we all started the big loop mostly as one big group. From here the dirt road was mostly flat to downhill until we reached a short paved stretch. I was surprised that once we hit the paved section and there were only three of us together. One guy with gears and Mark Hekman.

I tagged him as my main competition in the single speed class and knew it was going to be a fun day. Of course with me riding a 39X17 and Mark on a 39X20 we weren't going to put time into anyone riding behind us so it wasn't long until we were caught by a group of 7 or 8 others. We kinda got into a pace line though I stayed at the back spinning and hanging on and glad for the fact that we were going into a pretty good headwind. Just as we were heading off the pavement another group of 10 or so caught us but it was just before the climb started as well as being back on the dirt for good.

The first part of the climb was a pretty shallow grade and the gear I had was perfect. In pretty short order Mark, myself and the eventual overall winner were away from the group. We settled into a comfortable rhythm and worked our way towards the top. About half way up it started to get steeper and my gear started to get tougher. More out of the saddle climbing and the effort level was ramped up noticeably. Mark and I were more or less in the same boat though his slightly easier gear had him spinning in the saddle a bit more than me. A few times I thought we might of had the guy with gears in trouble but as it got steeper he was able to get in a more appropriate gear and it wasn't long until he was setting the pace.

This is where the real pain for me started, I was really having to mash my gear and spend a bunch of time out of the saddle. I also knew that we had a plenty still in front of us and it only got steeper. Mark and the other guy gaped me a bit and I tried to settle into a pace that would get me to the top and hopefully not loose much time.

The higher we went and the steeper it got the softer the road was. So not only was the grade getting to you but you were plowing a nice two inch deep rut through what had been ice and snow covered road the day before. We hit the first aid station and made a hard hairpin turn and it got really steep and muddy, which also started the get of the bike and run / walk time for me. I could see Mark in front of me also off his bike and I closed the gap up to him. We rode together for the next 20 minutes or so and were in the same predicament, grind for as long as you could then get off the bike and push. As we got nearer to the top it started to fog up a bit as well, the visibility was down to about a hundred yards. On one of the many times I was jumping back on the bike I looked back to see where Mark was and couldn't see him. Normally you would think pour it on and try to really put time into someone but I just kept plowing along.

I knew that is was unlikely that I was going to catch the leader but I also hoped that I could get a good gap on everyone behind me before we started the downhill. About a mile or two before the top of the ridge I was caught by one guy with gears. He was able to ride where I had to push, found out after the race he had a 34X28 on his cross bike. I knew he was a pro roadie so I wasn't hanging my head when he went by. I kept up the pace and was trying to stay focused until I go to start the downhill. There were a few times that I thought thank goodness we are heading down only to see the road climb in front of me again. The section along the top of the ridge went further than I expected. Just as the fog seemed to start to lift I started down the long switchback downhill.

For the next few miles it was time to let it rip. I would spin as fast as I could then hang on as I flew down the hill. I was hoping to close the gap on second place overall and about half way down I started to get sight of him in the 180 corners. Most of the road was fast and smooth but every once in a while you would hit a nasty wash board section that had you hanging on and wishing you were on a mtn. bike. By the bottom I had gotten to within about 5-10 seconds of the second place guy but he looked back and saw me coming and ramped it up on the mostly flat road back to the camp. When we would hit an uphill grade I was able to get closer but then we would go over the top and he would open it up again.

As we made the left turn back into Mulberry Gap you were face to face with the killer "runup", definitely not UCI legal. Luckily there were small steps cut into the hill and it was muddy or I am not sure we would have made it to the top. From there it was a short rip through the woods then a couple of quick dismounts and a short steep paved climb to the finish. I was happy to finish third overall and first single speed.

Fun day at the races and the promoters did a great job! Killer chili after the race, homemade cookies, good coffee, free beer and plenty of swag. I will definitely go back.

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