Weapon of Choice for the Assault
My observations on equipment, since you all know that is my real passion, not this actual riding stuff:
- Lightweight, carbon aero wheels with tubular tires are an excellent choice for a 73 mile solo effort on a rolling course with a head wind.
- A 28 tooth sprocket and a compact crank are worth every penny when climbing 27 miles with long stretches at 9% or steeper.
- Dura-Ace 7900 gruppo shifts crisply even while climbing.
- Ergo shaped carbon bars can cure shoulder tightness and hand numbness on a long ride, especially when climbing.
- A tricked out 15 pound bike with carbon aero wheels and tubular tires is definitely the weapon of choice for a plump, aging cyclist wishing to climb 12,000 feet during a challenge century.
My observations on Mt. Mitchell participants and my Cleveland based ride mates:
- A tricked out 15 pound bike with carbon aero wheels and tubular tires may elicit derisive comments from your peers (old guys who aren’t as fast as they used to be) when you line up in the front row of the last wave of a competitive event – most frequently – “With that bike shouldn’t you be in the first wave?” My answer: “The bike should be in the first wave, but I am right where I my three dollar legs need me to be. Without the bike, I would in the back with the hairy legged 12:00 hour riders with streamers on their MTB bar ends.”
- When, at breakfast, friends put into your head the idea of a barely glued replacement tubular rolling off of the rim in the corners after a flat, it is hard not to think about exactly that for the next 99 miles after your tubular tire flats at mile three.
- Even friends laugh and accelerate away leaving you to die a slow solo riding death for the next 70 miles when your high tech, ultra geeky aero carbon tubular goes flat three miles into the ride.
- Derision turns to grudging respect when nobody can stay on your wheel as you solo through the back of the field to make up the 10 minutes you lost changing your flat. (It was the slow end of the field.)
- Temporary salvation sometimes comes in the form of a racer chick. Racer chick # 1 overslept and needed to catch her team up front. I grabbed her wheel, held on for dear life, and let her pull me through 20 fast miles. She dropped me on the first real hill and I was back to soloing in the wind. Racer chick # 2 rode tempo for me all the way up the route 80 climb as she tried to catch her riding mates who had ridden past the Marion rest stop as she stopped for water.
Perfect Weather - 65 degrees and Sunny
Competitive placement at Mt. Mitchell pretty much depends on two things 1) How fast is the paceline you grab in the first three miles rides to Marion and how far you stretch yourself to stay with them; and 2) What you have left for the 27 mile climb to the top from Marion after pushing yourself to stay with the pace group that was too fast for your level of fitness. Above all else, make sure you beat at least 500 people to the top of the Blue Ridge Parkway or you will not make the cutoff and will be sent back down without summiting. Check out my other post Assault on Mt. Mitchell – Race Description for the full description.
My story comes down to this: I flatted three miles into the ride, the entire field and ALL the pacelines, fast and slow, left me 10 minutes behind while I changed my tire. I spent the rest of the day playing catch up, worrying whether I would make the cut off at the Blue Ridge Parkway and hoping my barely glued tubular would not roll off my rim in the corners (Thanks for putting that thought in my head Craig and Jon).
Flat? I don't think so
For about an hour, I worked hard to stay on the wheel of Racer Chick #1. Other than that my legs were feeling a bit tight and I kind of loafed along through the wind and hills, stopping every 20 miles or so to put more air in my tire which had a leaky valve, to refill my water bottles and to munch on Uncrustables, an empanada like pre-made hyper-processed peanut butter sandwich. The good news was I was passing people constantly as I worked my way through the field. Maybe I still could make the 750 person cut off at the Blue Ridge Parkway. Net result – 5 hours to Marion, Rider 700 across the timing mats. If I could keep this up, I would make the cutoff.
27 plus miles and 6000 feet up Mt. Mitchell
Common wisdom says Marion is the half-way point of the race. The “average” time is double the “average” time to Marion. This was looking like a long day. But here is where the 28 tooth cog, 15 pound bike, and many hill repeats came into play. I climbed to the summit in only 3:17:21 ride time. Even on the steepest portions of the descent, I was able to maintain cadence of at least 70 RPM and on the less steep sections, I was riding a Lance like 95 RPM. This saved my knees and legs and allowed me to climb the best that I have ever climbed — almost 1900 vertical feet per hour. If I was given correct information, I entered the Parkway as rider 620 – 80 places higher when I turned onto the climb.
The finishers complete the course in 5:15 to 5:30. 8:00 hours usually put you in the top third of the field and 9:30 puts you in the top half of the field. I finished in a hair over 8:00 hours ride time. My “official” elapsed time was around 9:13:00. If I am not mistaken, Jim was just under 8:00 hours elapsed time, Jon was at around 7:06 and Craig was a speedy 6:45. Jim and Jon, feeling badly about ditching me at mile three dutifully waited for me at the finish line and cheered me across the line.
In all, a good day.