Monday, April 11, 2011

2011 Cheaha Challenge

I feel like I barely know where to start on this one. Well, like any other "race report" I will start the day before.

Oh yeah, this is long. I tried to make it short. Oops. Hope its worth the read.


Melissa and I decided to head out to Anniston to watch the Sunny King Criterium on Saturday night. I have wanted to see this for ohhhh, about 10 years now. Anniston was where I first started riding and learning to wrench and I have many good memories of the area. 5000 people showed up to watch the pro crits and for good reason. They are fun as hell to watch. Every. Time.

Birmingham was represented with riders in almost all the races with some good finishes and an equal amount of suffering and tales of tough luck and missed chances. The Pro Men's race was nuts. These guys have insane bike handling skills to match their horsepower. Bunnyhop over a curb in the middle of a turn doing 35 miles per hour? Yep, dude nailed it and fell back in the group smooth as can be. Skills.

Three hours of sleep blah, blah, blah on the 2011 Cheaha Challenge.


I will skip all the extraneous bullshit but I do have to mention that I saw one of the coolest sunrises ever on the way out to Piedmont, AL at 5:30 A.M. The sun was HUGE, so cool. After the ride I was so shelled I didn't think it would be worth writing about but I have now changed my mind. I think mileage will be the easiest way to break up this ride to write about so here it is, all 102 miles, 8,000 feet of climbing, and insane downhills attempted on a 1985 Trek 500 fixie in its unedited glory.

Mile 1-24
The beginning of the ride saw us (Boris, Lee, and myself) late to the start line for no good reason. Everyone else was too responsible and punctual...we did nothing wrong but had to line up with the riders doing the shorter rides of the day. As Sweet Home Alabama crackled over the geriatric PA system, 500 riders began the awkward clip in, hurry up and wait dance. We rolled out of town and settled into the third big group out on the road which also happened to be the most disorganized (I am guessing here, it could have been worse if we had set up some sort of makeshift slalom course but I digress...) group of them all. As we slowed down and sped up I was thinking it seemed odd such a big group was spending so much time at 18 mph. Hey, I figured, great for energy conservation. Lee was already gone from sight. He also chose a single gear (2 to 1 maybe) which was much more climbing friendly than mine (40/15 no coasting allowed). From his account after the race, the spinny gear sucked on the flats. Duh. Mine sucked on the climbs. Duh. I ended up doing most of the ride with Boris who was on his Fisher MTB. I was chatting up a rider with a Faster Moustache jersey as we turned off the main road and began the climbing.

Mile 25-51
The bulk of the climbing on the out and back course is contained in this section. I breathed a sigh of relief as our group began to blow apart with the sudden increase in elevation. This section was referred to as Cheaha Roubaix by the race announcer when we began the ride.

SIDE NOTE: This is not a race, it is a timed ride. You pay, you ride, nobody gets prizes.

Cheaha Roubaix included about 10 miles of broken, Federal pound you in the ass pavement. Just the recipe for those bored by too many miles of flat and smooth pavement. The first big climb of the day loomed in front of us at mile 33 up to Horseblock Mountain and Aid 3. I began to realize what the rest of the day would be like on this portion of the ride. Climbing was an exercise in full body strain as I approached 30 rpm on the 12-14% sections and the downhills were even more intimidating...I usually avoid downills like this on a fixed gear because I feel completely out of control. I was enjoying the ride and it was exactly 2:45 in when we saw the lead group making their way back on the course. Minutes later I saw Travis, who did quite well, hauling the mail a few miles from the turnaround at Adams Gap, Mile 51. A female rider asked me how long left until halfway on the climb to Adam's Gap and was not amused by my reply of ,"forty thousand vertical feet."

Mile 52-78
I was expecting Tyree to be at the halfway point with dogs, beer, and the Cahaba Cycles van. Um. Nope. We refilled bottles as my beer dreams were washed away and continued on the road back to Piedmont. I saw Lee making his way up Adams Gap on his SS Felt cross bike and hoped he would catch us on the way back. Apparently, he flatted soon after this, had to walk back up the climb, waited an hour for a tube, AND FINISHED. Props, glad he will be my PMBAR partner. These miles were the hardest of the ride for me. The rollers on the way back can only be described as brutal. I was having to use a technique I began to describe in my head as the Flail Leg to navigate the downhills. If I resisted the pedals I felt like I was wasting energy but if I tried to pedal faster I was totally out of control so I settled on basically letting the bike spin my legs for me as I fought to hang on.

During this section we were beginning to see the riders who still have not made it to the halfway point and were in various levels of distress. This ranged from a few guys I saw sitting on the side of the road in the shade to one lady walking beside her bike up a long climb. It was getting hotter now that it was closer to noon and I was amused by the sheer amount of salt built on my jersey. The climbs are steeper on the return section but I was feeling good until we got to the twelve percent behemoth headed back up to Aid 3 at Mile 75 or so. I remember looking down at my computer with four hours and sixteen minutes on the clock as I began grinding up what was easily the hardest thing I have ever been up on a bike. I would close my now sweat filled eyes for fifteen seconds and then open them for two to make sure I was still on a road. I didn't have a body part that was happy during this...climb. It seems so unimaginative to call it only a climb but either way, I was soon at the top and sticking to my goal of not walking anything. My brain was conflicted as I smelled the hot dogs and kraut at the aid station. They smelled delicious but I knew better. The volunteers got to eat their hot dogs while my taint was treated to another helping of the Cheaha Roubaix.

Mile 79-102
Armed with what ended up being way too little water, we breezed on through Aid Station 2. The next few miles were some of the best of the ride. A gradual downhill combined with smooth pavement and shade trees brought my mind back to a happy place for a few minutes. The final 20 miles were flat, hot, and full of flying bugs. A paceline caught us which I promptly hopped on to. All was well until Mr Green Jersey (not a sprint reference- he was wearing one) decided a 30 mph pull would be fun. Not cool. Boris and I were yet again alone. As his water ran out and a beetle got trapped in his jersey, Boris' interest in my conversation topics began to wane. The last ten miles gave me time to think about how weak my knees felt. It was pitiful. Six hours after our journey began, we rolled back through an anticlimactic finish. I missed my six hours goal by about four minutes but my thoughts had already turned to food. I climbed stairs for pizza and pasta. No Coca Cola...meh.

I finished. I was in a good place for the whole ride and had fun BUT I would NEVER do this again. Not on a fixed gear with barely operable brakes. Next time I will borrow a Madone or something else all light and carbony to ride. Killer weekend. Good job NEABC, the three hundred(!) volunteers, and all the bike shops that supported the ride.

What a freakin' blast for an organized century... Not that there is anything wrong with paying to ride an organized century.

1 comment:

  1. This ride report literally brought tears to my eyes. Damn. I am starry-eyed by you guys and what you can do on bikes with no gears...and no coasting. I've been talking about you and Lee in all my Spin classes this week. You guys are inspiring and so humble. Way to represent, John. Kudos.