I woke-up at 4:15AM for the Cohutta 100 this past Saturday Morning. When I looked at the weather app on my phone, it was showing a current temperture of 49 degrees and I could hear the rain beating down on the tin roof above me. Doing an off-road race in weather like this is never a lot of fun, not to mention doing one that is a 100 miles long. The other racers staying at the cabin with me were already talking about not starting the race. I wasn't thinking these thoughts exactly, but I knew the day was going to be a long, painful one on the bike and I wasn't too excited about doing it.
At the starting area, I got my gear ready and saw a pair of rain pants in my bag that I use for warming-up at cyclocross races on cold, wet days. I've never thought about racing in these pants for a cross race, nevermind a mtb race; however, knowing I would be in wet fifty degree weather for more than 8 hours made the thought of wearing these pants seem like a good one. I wasn't even sure if these pants would hold up for 100 miles of non-stop riding in muddy conditions, but I decided to give them a go anyway. In addition to wearing my rain pants, I also wore a long sleeve base layer, my Team CF racing jersey and a Team CF warm-up jacket in an attempt to keep my core body temperature as warm as I could for what I knew would be miserable racing conditions.
I was a little reluctant to race with all these clothes, but figured I could stop and remove them at a check point if the temperature warmed-up. But, after the first couple hours of racing, I was certainly having no thoughts of removing any of my extra layers and was actually very happy with my last minute racing attire choice. As a matter of fact, there were periods of time when I was feeling a little cold even with all the clothes I was wearing. I saw other racers on the course wearing only shorts and a short sleeve jersey and I wondered how they were dealing with the cold, uncomfortable conditions.
Interestingly, my clothing choice didn't seem to be slowing me down too much. I was able to attach myself to the rear of the lead group going into the initial single track section and stayed with the majority of them until the trails came out on fireroads about 15 miles later. Things were blowing apart in the large field of racers and by the end of the first trail section, I was with only one other geared rider and sitting in about eighth place overall. During this time, I did not see any other singlespeed riders and things were looking good for me with 25 miles of the 100 miles being completed.
Many of the Cohutta fireroad ascents on the course have sections where a rider can look down on the switchback turns below to see if anyone is chasing. On one of these climbs, I saw another singlespeed racer, Mike Montalbano, chasing hard and judging from his pace I knew it wouldn't be long until he caught me. When he did catch me, just prior to checkpoint 3 at about mile 36, I knew it was time to start riding hard again.
We arrived at the checkpoint together, but I was able to leave a little quicker than Mike. He was soon back on my wheel, however, and it wasn't long before he was able to ride away from me. This occurred at about the same place where Harlan Price rode away from me at 2010 edition of the Cohutta 100 and I started to have unpleasant flashbacks of that race. Mike was climbing well and definitely riding harder than my legs were willing at this point in the race. I was comfortable with my pace, though, and could still see Mike riding up the road about 30 seconds in front of me, so I continued my steady pace. After less than fifteen minutes of riding behind Mike, I started closing the gap between us. Eventually, I caught Mike and we ended-up chatting and riding together for about five miles.
During our friendly ride together, I never forgot about the race we were doing and I decided to throw a little attack to see what response I would get. Mike didn't seem to be too interested in chasing me when I looked back, so I stayed on the gas to increase the gap between us. Shortly after getting clear from Mike, there was a super long descent down to the race turn around point. Even with all the clothing I was wearing, my body was still getting cold and I wondered how riders wearing just shorts on their legs would feel. I like being warm and seem to ride better when my leg muscles are not cold. I'm sure my race time would have been much slower if I wore less clothing and I also think my choice of clothing was one reason I seemed to be riding well in the nasty conditions.
I spent the last half of the race riding alone. I knew Mike would be chasing hard, at least this is what I imagined in my head, so I never let up on my pace until crossing the finishing line. For some reason, my body felt very good during the second part of the race and thankfully my bike cooperated with my high level of physical output. By the end of the race, I was able to finish in the first singlespeed spot and in sixth place overall. Needless to say, my body and bike were completely covered in mud at the end of the race, but I felt alright because of the warmth and protection my rain pants provided.
Happy Trails, Gerry