Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Six for Six

HA!  You guys thought I would be writing up the 24 Hours of Georgia Mountain Bike Race!  Nope!  I'm so far behind that you get a re-cap of what I wrote back in September and just now got around to publishing!

The Six Gap Century!

For the sixth year in a row, I headed up to Dahlonega Georgia to ride some of my favorite roads.  The thing about having a nasty long ride with loads of steep mountain roads at the end of the season is that it gives me an excuse to ride more.

"I have to go out and ride or Six Gap is going to be more of a suffer-fest than normal!", I'll say.

"Aawww...he just HAS to go out and ride.  Poooor baby." Brenna must be thinking.

It's true though, Six Gap is always painful.  It's always hard.

And it's fun.  

I've ridden this course in pouring rain more than once, searing 90+ degree heat that brought me to my knees in a 7+ hour dehydrated disaster, and then there are years like this year.  Perfect in almost every way.

It was a fun weekend.  I went up to the ride Saturday morning after spending Friday night camping with 200 noisy marshmallow and soda powered Cub Scouts.  We didn't get away until 11am since I was attending a flag football game where Bryce made a couple of good plays and the team won for the first time this season.

I love the drama of football even if it's little kids.  The joy on their faces when they won after a late game "pick-six" interception was contagious.

Brian Toone and I were going to carpool up to the ride and he was going to race the Saturday Pro-Am Criterium around downtown Dahlonega.  This was the first year they have organized the Criterium races, and it was a big success from what I could tell.  Normally, I will get up to town to register, get all the race numbers for the Sunday morning Six Gap ride, and then go watch College Football at the lake house, but this time there was racing to watch too, so we hung out.  I did get to watch the Clemson v FSU game thanks to a massive screen TV in the commons for the North Georgia College just off the downtown race course.  We hung out there and drank coffee until it was time for Brian to start his warmup and I went up to catch the Women's race before the Men's Pro-Am.

I feel like I'm a pretty strong rider until I watch these people race.  It's amazing how fast and strong they are.  They are just a different breed.  It's fantastic to see...

Brian's race started at 8:30pm and went well for him.  He won a couple of Primes, which are cash or prize awards given out during a race for being the first to cross the line on a designated lap, but there was a real powerhouse rider that ended up lapping the field for the overall win.  That kid is going to be a decent pro rider someday if he keeps that up.

We got back to the lake house at around 11:30pm, and were back in the car at 5:30am.  We didn't even get to catch up with Blake or Jess since we were there such a short time.  Thanks for the beds guys!

The ride started in mid 50 degree dry weather with the promise of a sunny mid 70's day.  The thousands of riders lined up excited for the effort and challenge...and some not so excited but resigned to completing the difficult task for whatever motivation they had.

Events like this are interesting because it brings out everyone from all walks of life.  People trying to get in shape, Ultra-fit bike racers, People with a dream to be able to complete a distance like this just one time in their lives, People who know they can ride it but want to do better than last time.  There is the social rider that will take 10 hours to finish, and the suffer enthusiasts that want to go as fast as they can the whole time.  It's a great mix.

I had a goal of getting the 104 miles and 11,000 feet of climbing done in 6.5 hours of saddle time or better, so I probably fall into the suffer-enthusiast category mentioned above.  I'm not really fast but I can keep it going for a fair distance.

Brian ready to roll out...

Brian and I shook hands, wished each other luck, and went our separate ways.  In other words he went and lined up with the horses up front that expected to complete the course in less than 6 hours total...including any stops at the aid stations.  An impressive goal no matter who you are.

The mass of riders began the slow roll-out after the gun went off and threaded its way past the local shops and off into the back roads of northern Georgia.  I love sights and sounds of the ride, of any ride for that matter, with the bright jerseys flying by and the click and buzz of the bicycles.

At least I love that stuff at the beginning of the ride.  Later on, when the world is filled with sore muscles and aching joints, I'm less inclined to say I love much of anything except getting off the bike.

I found a fast group and with their help flew through the first 20 miles, and the climb up Neels Gap came and went relatively easily.  The sun was out and the arm warmers came off quickly.  I stopped at the top for some food which wasn't really the plan, but as I had reached the top, an impatient 18-wheeler had passed me.  I knew I could descend the gap at 40+ and the truck would do it at less than half that speed, but I would never find a gap long enough to pass it without killing myself.  Waiting at the top for a few minutes was the prudent move to keep the downhill I had earned fun...and fast.

I was riding pretty well and made good time through the next two mountains.  The twisting descent down Unicoi was as wonderful as ever and passing cars on a bicycle is fun every time.

The 4th mountain was the toughest challenge.  Hogpen Gap.  7 miles of sheer nasty steep.  This is the place where you begin to see people walking the bikes and "delivering the mail".

(i.e. weaving back and forth across the road from "mailbox to mailbox".)

I know my ride is going to go well or completely fall apart on that climb.  Things went well.  I got up the climb in 43 minutes.  Note: Brian rode it in 32 minutes and yet didn't finish 1st on the climb...only 2nd.  Sheesh...

Holy cow some people can go uphill fast.  My combined Wolfpen gap and Hogpen gap times netted me 154th place out of 1000 riders, so I'll count my performance as a pretty good effort but nothing spectacular.
Looking down Unicoi Gap

I took off down Hogpen knowing that the ride was shaping up to be one of my faster times.  I began to have thoughts of finishing in 6 hours or 6:15.  I passed several people on my descent.  It is so much fun to go 50+ on a bicycle.  I was a little more reserved with the other riders and still managed 51 miles an hour on the long steep section.  I hit 57 mph a few weeks earlier and decided then an there to never ride that fast on that road again.  There is only so much the poor brakes on a bicycle can do if you miss a turn at speeds like that.  It's funny how I can be confident and in complete control to make any and all the turns on that descent at 51 but just 6 mph faster makes the safety factor evaporate.

I topped Wolfpen gap, the long winding set of switchback roads feeling tired, but I still had gas in the tank.  I had been making sure to stuff food in my mouth whenever I thought about it and to drink as much as possible on this ride.  Normally, I start to feel a little gross after 80 miles, but since I had been eating already, it seemed like I had unlocked something.  I was actually hungry and could process the food rather than having my body in complete revolt over it.  I need to remember that in the future...

I had one more climb and the rolling hills back to the highschool from that point, and I really started to turn on the effort since I knew the ride was in the bag.  Woody gap flew by and the final 15 mile stretch lay out in front.  I kept the pace as high as I could get the body to go after 85 miles.  I began to cramp up on the last 7 miles and couldn't get out of the saddle to power up hills.  I was working with a strong rider and whenever the road pitched uphill we would stand to power over the rise.  My quads would immediately lock into knots like someone hit me in the legs with a hammer.

I had the energy to push harder, but the body was beginning to fail me.  I had to sit and down shift to get over the small steep hills.  I watched as the potential goal for 6 hours ticked by and I couldn't go any faster.

6:15 passed by as well, but I did accomplish the fastest time I have done on the longer course version of Six gap.  I left everything I had on the course.  I couldn't have gone faster with what the day gave me, so I am happy.  I was laid out on the pavement by the car and queazy with the effort for a few minutes, but the feeling didn't last too long.  Brian rolled up (well rested looking) and we headed over to get some post ride food.

I asked how he did and he said he finished first.  In my semi-functioning brain I thought he meant first up Hogpen Gap, but realized he meant the whole thing.

He had finished the ride with another rider in first place.  5 hours 7 minutes.  I'm simply amazed at how fast that is.

In summary, the ride was great and we all had a good time.  I can't ask for much more than that.  I'm not sure if I'll ride it again.  Which is always the case after riding that course.  We will see come July or so if I feel like riding all out for a few months to get ready.

Have a great week everyone.

No comments: