Tuesday, June 26, 2012

American Ultra Cross #3, The Hilly Billy Roubaix

I race bikes because it's a fun thing for me to do.  I enjoy most races I do, but occasionally I'll do a race that is head-over-heals better than comparable races.  The Hilly Billy Roubaix was one of those excellent races this past weekend.  It had everything needed to make it great: a hard course, perfect course markings, nicely stocked aid stations, a killer post race party with food and beer, and basically I could tell the event was planned very well overall. 

The race itself was composed of gravel roads, a few dirt double track trails and some nicely paved roads.  There is a lot of steep hill climbing on the 72 mile course, over 7000 feet of it.  The interesting mix of riding surfaces, steep climbing and fast gravel descents is what makes this race so hard and what makes choosing the right bike for the job so important at this race.  Using a cross bike on the fast road sections and for all the climbing makes a lot of sense, but using a mtb to make the descending less tricky and to guarantee fewer mechanical issues is a wise decision also.

I was torn during the week leading into the HBR about what bike I should use: my Salsa Vaya Ti or my Salsa Mamasita 29er.  Ultimately, I decided on using my Mamasita because it was more comfortable for me to ride.  The majority of all my riding is done on a MTB and after doing a few comparison rides the week before the race, I could tell my body just felt more at home on a bike with a flat bar over a bike with a road bar set-up.  Since the top three riders finished on mountain bikes this year, I'd say it was the right choice.

My Mamasita "Hybrid" 29er.

Salsa Vaya Ti
While not completely set on which bike to ride until the day before the race, I was 100% sure of my wheel and tire choice.  On a rough and fast course like the HBR, there is no better set-up than a pair of Stan's Notubes Wheels to prevent getting flats.  I used a pair of Notubes Crest wheels mounted up with a pair of Clement  700x40 tires with just enough tread to give me some traction if I needed it.  I ran my pressure at 45psi front and 50psi rear and had absolutely no issues all day.  Hearing about the flat tire horrors that many riders had after the race confirmed that using a high volume tubeless tire/wheel was the way to go for the HBR.

After the fast descent from the park where the HBR starts and eventually finishes, the race almost immediately turns to gravel and starts climbing.  The first couple of gravel climbs and descents of the day split things up early and created the winning separation of riders.  My pace was just off the pace of the fastest group of about 7 climbers initially and I ended-up in a chase group with about 6 other riders.  With a hard effort going through the most technical section of the course, Little Indian Creek Road, I was able to bridge the gap to the lead group with a couple other riders.  From that point, which was only about 14 miles into the race, it became a race of attrition.

It seemed as if after every hard climb or fast and gravel covered descent, another rider would disappear from the lead group.  Eventually, by around mile 30 or so, the lead group was down to 4 riders: Garth Prosser, Adam Driscoll, Todd Latocha and me.  On the climbs between check point 2 and 3, there were times where I felt like I might be the next rider to fall from the lead pack.  I was starting to experience leg cramps  and was having difficultly matching the pace being set by the others when climbing.  I almost never have cramps during a race and I was kind of confused why it was happening to me at this race.  I was eating, drinking and doing things like usual, but my legs were not cooperating with what I needed them to do.  Eventually, I found that if I climbed in a harder gear rather than spinning up the climb in an easier gear my legs did not cramp.  So, for the remainder of the race, I rode the climbs like a single speed racer and muscled up them rather than trying to conserve energy by spinning. 

Going into checkpoint three there is a series of steep gravel climbs.  Garth was able to get a nice gap on the rest of our group on the last steep climb going into the checkpoint.  I didn't think too much about it when Garth got away because I figured he was trying to get into the checkpoint first to re-hydrate and get some food.  Instead, Garth completely blew by the checkpoint and continued riding hard.  With a hard and hot 14 miles to the finish, I thought that was a big mistake.  Unlike Garth, I took my time at the checkpoint, eating a banana and getting some water.  Todd also left the checkpoint before me and suddenly I was forced to put the hammer down alone to try and catch the two riders ahead of me.

I could see Todd in front of me, but was having trouble actually catching him.  Garth was nowhere in sight and I figured he was gone if he didn't have a severe melt down in the last few miles.  I eventually did catch Todd a few miles from the finish and on the long climb leading back to Mylan Park I was able to get away from him.  Garth held onto the lead until the end of the race with his courageous move, I finished next and Todd grabbed the third position.  It was an awesome end to such a hard and exciting day of racing.  Congrats to Garth for scoring the overall win and thanks to JR Petsko and his army of volunteers for putting together a fantastic day of racing.

Happy Trails........   Gerry

Photo Credit: Race Shot and Podium - Fred Jordan.

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