The old starting location was at a camp ground at the base of the first big climb on the course. It was a nice starting location because after completing the first 50 mile loop racers went back through the camp ground and could restock on supplies. There were also showers available at the camp to use after the race for cleaning-up. Having showers available after a long race is a huge bonus in my book. The starting location was moved to Montaluce Winery, which is not too far from the original race start at the camp ground. Don’t get me wrong; the winery is nice and all, but I thought it might be a little too nice for a large group of mountain bikers to converge upon for a race. Typically, a camp ground will show less use (abuse) from a large group of outdoor oriented people being there, but I didn’t think this would be the case for a place as nice as Montaluce, especially with a beautiful swimming pool on stand-by for 300 dirty riders to return from their day in the woods.
I am not the race promoter, though, so I didn’t lose any sleep over what the end result of the race would be for the winery. I had enough to worry about with 100 miles of mountain bike racing ahead anyway. For me, it’s not the race itself that requires the majority of the planning, but more the logistics of traveling, booking hotel rooms and just making sure everything I use for the race is ready. Once the starting gun goes off, everything else just seems to fall into place. This is probably because of the pre-planning I do before the event.
So, when I think about the weather in Georgia in August, I imagine hot and humid conditions. When I did this race a couple of years ago, however, I was actually surprised to find that while it was hot, it wasn’t much different than doing a race around where I live in Western PA during the hot summer months. I was hoping for a similar experience this year, but I knew this probably wasn’t likely with the weather forecast calling for a high of 91 degrees and a high amount humidity. I was also hoping that the race would not become a mud fest like it was last year when a ton of rain fell the night before and at the start of the race. Again, with a forecast showing a 30% chance of rain, I couldn’t count out the possibility of gettin wet and muddy.
The race started with a neutral start in the winery on paved roads for about 4 miles or so, before we reached the gravel roads and the pace car pulled off the road to officially start the racing. Things were fast right away, especially for me being on a single speed and trying to keep up with the geared riders on the front of the pack. After being on the gravel for a short distance, we reached the first big climb of the race by the old starting location. I noticed pretty quickly that I felt a lot better getting a warm-up in before hitting the big climb this year compared to past years when we started at the base of this climb.
Things immediately started splitting apart in the race almost as soon as we started climbing. A group of about 5 riders got a gap on the rest of the field and everything behind that lead group was splinting apart fast too. I was maybe like 20 bike lengths off the lead group, but knew that I should be in the lead group because I was feeling good, so I did a huge effort to join the breakaway. After riding with the lead group for a mile or so, I decided to ride off the front and see if I could sneak away to win the KOM prize. I stayed off the front for about another mile, but was soon caught by this fast group of geared riders. I guess my decision to go for the KOM was made a little too early on the climb. I then had to go into recovery mode for a bit after that effort and lost contact with the fastest three riders, but was able to continue climbing very well.
At the top of the mountain, the terrain is mostly rolling with some longer flat sections mixed in also. With my light gearing, I struggled to keep up with the geared riders for a bit, but eventually decided to ride my own race. I went into the single track feeling good and just kept my pace as fast as I could with the gear I had. I knew that I was somewhere in the top fifteen riders overall or so, but had no idea where any of the other single speed racers were behind me. So, I kept my pace high and tried to chase down the geared riders in front of me.
Throughout the race I would catch a geared racer here and there, but it wasn’t until the second time up the biggest climb on the course that I noticed how well I was actually riding. Going up that climb I probably caught about 8 riders and by the top of the climb, I was told by a checkpoint volunteer that I was in fifth overall and only 2 minutes behind fourth place. I was excited to hear about how well I was doing and used this information to keep me motivated during the second lap. At this time I was focused on going fast, but at the same time was smiling ear to ear as I enjoyed the sweet single track on the course. The dry course made the trails fast and fun.
About part way into the second lap, however, the trail conditions quickly changed from being just about perfect to a sea of slippery blood red mud when a heavy down pour of rain fell for about an hour. To make matters worse, I was having issues with my rear wheel and wondered if it would hold together for the rest of the race. A few weeks before the race I broke a couple of spokes on the same wheel. I thought that I did a good job fixing the wheel because it held-up well on the technical trails of the Wilderness 101 and at the Pierre’s Hole Races, so I did not hesitate using it at this race. But, I guess the long, rocky descents on the Bull Mountain descent on this course was too much for the wheel to handle. After the descent off this trail, I went into the checkpoint/aid station and asked for a spoke wrench to attempt a quick repair of my wheel, but none were available.
When I started having my wheel trouble, I had moved into fourth place overall and was told by other riders that third place was less than two minutes ahead. I wanted so much to stay on the gas to move into third overall, but I knew doing so might cause my wheel to completely fall apart. It was already rubbing on my frame and shimming all over the place when I descended at high speed. So, I made the decision to back off the pace that I was riding to minimize further damage and to at least finish the race. Even though I was not real happy about the mud I was riding in at this time, I think it was the only thing that allowed for me to stay in the position I was in overall because it was slowing down the speed of everyone else. During my time on the slick muddy trails, I did get caught by one of the geared guys I had passed earlier, Drew Edsall, and I was starting to wonder if other riders were closing in on me, too.
I did manage to limp into the finish with my damaged wheel, which I think speaks volumes about how strong the Stan’s Notubes Wheels are. I don’t think another brand of rim would have held up as well as this one did with the amount of damage it had. Surprisingly, even my tubeless tire set-up didn’t start leaking air either because of the damage. By the end of the 100 mile race, I held on to 5th place overall and managed to finish as the winner of the single speed class.
After the race, I cleaned myself up with a hose near the swimming pool area, ate some post-race grub provided by the race organizers and then sat in the beautiful swimming pool with a bunch of friendly racing folks, sharing stories of our adventures on the mountain. It definitely was a fun day of racing and I thank my friends Eddie and Namrita O’Dea for doing the hard work of organizing this top notch event. I can’t wait to do it again next year.
Happy Trails.... Gerry