Sunday, February 26, 2012

Southern Cross 2012 Race Report

Another edition of Southern Cross is in the books. Here is the rundown of how my race went.

This race was the final race of the American Ultra Cross Series with double points up for grabs to those who completed the other gravel endurance races around the country. This coupled with the quick growing reputation of the race brought forth close to 300 riders this year along with 27 people in the Singlespeed class. Compare this to last year with 200 riders and 20 SSers and there was bound to be some stiff competition. I have had some good long rides this winter so had some pretty good fitness going on for February and hoped to lay down another solid race.  The course is as brutal as it is beautiful, packing 6500 feet of climbing into around 50 miles through the North Georgia countryside.

Bike setup: Since so many  people asked about it before the race maybe someone will find this useful for next year. I rode my On One Scandal with a rigid fork and 32/16 gear with 29er wheels. This was around 58 gear inches and worked fine. I used a 17 cog last year and didn't notice much difference this go 'round. Tires were Bontrager all around, with a tubeless 29-1 front and 29-3 rear. They were total overkill this year and perfect last year...more on that below. I have Shimano 785 discs and they rocked on the downhills.

The weekend got off to a pleasant start with the rarity of a traffic free downtown Atlanta and we made it to the Days Inn in Dahlonega which was a great place to stay. When I reserved the room online I put a request in the Comment box politely asking (and half joking) for a room with a nice view. Sure enough, we had a room that overlooked the very mountains which we would be racing in the morning.

Due to the cold temps, registration was moved to Montaluce Winery where the racers received a warm welcome.

Southern Hospitality
Before the race start I spent most of my time fretting over how cold I was willing to be on the course so I didn't carry too much. It was maybe 38 degrees at the start and sunny with a mild wind. I rolled away from the Element with bare legs, confident that it would warm up nicely. I left a pile of gear in the car that would have been super useful to have later in the day including a windproof base layer, a 3 oz. windshirt, knee warmers, and knee length ski socks.

I tried to line up closer to the front this year and still somehow ended up with the other stragglers in the back of the pack waiting to herd ourselves through the timing mat used for scoring this year. I never heard anyone actually start the race but from the looks of things it was time to make tracks. I think someone might have wrecked crossing the timing mat slowing down the proceedings but soon enough we were ripping through the cross course in Montaluce Winery where I got to witness some very awkward riding and dismounts. Maybe some people picked this as their first cross race. Not a bad idea...every one they do afterwards will seem downright pleasant in comparison.

I was fairly close to Sam Porter and Wael Amara as we began the first run up on the way out of the winery. Sam immediately put about 75 feet on me and inspired me to actually run it. I got halfway up and made an executive decision to walk the rest and save some gas for the rest of the course. Once on the road I settled in with some guys on cross bikes and made great time to the base of the first climb of the day, up Winding Stair. I passed George somewhere along the road and had an urge to poke him in the ribs. After considering the magnitude of the pileup this would cause I did the adult thing and kept to myself in my little paceline.

The pace lifted further as we started the ten mile climb up Springer Mountain. I tried to unblur my vision to take some stock of what was happening. I was right with Sam and Boris with all sorts of madness and dropped bottles happening every time the group hit any sort of downgrade. I felt good up the climb and figured I might as well put down some power while I could. The climb continued to steepen and I began watching groups form up the road. I could pick out the labored cadence of some singlespeed guys a hundred yards up ahead. Sam begin to bridge up to them and I hung back with Boris and kept them within sight most of the climb up to the first aid station. Mile eleven of this course has a sickeningly steep climb that my gear mandated I walk. I had a nice hike by myself until it dawned on me that it was now shallow enough to ride again so I hopped back on and made some places up.

I skipped the first aid station and headed left on the course for five miles of rollers into a 20 mph wind encouraged by the promise of the downhill to come soon. It was shadier in this section of the course and the temperature dropped some, making me suddenly very aware I was beginning to get quit cold and had no extra clothes. Gulp. I upped my pace to warm up some and found myself in the company of Old Faithful Hardwick and fourteen year old beast in the making Jerry Dufour.

Namrita made mention before the race that some of the downhills had been graded. I had no idea what this constituted as I had never seen a gravel road graded before this race. I just figured they would be like last year and fairly gnarly still but this was obviously all in my head as I hit the High House mountain descent around twenty miles in. The roads were incredibly smooth and very fast especially for those on cross bikes. Last year I felt I had a huge advantage with my mountain bike tires on the downhills but this year was the other way around! I froze my ass off on the downhill and made the right turn onto a fast highway section.

The consequences of the ever increasing cold in my quads and knees began to make themselves known. High cadence riding was out of the question which sucked since I couldn't latch on to any of the many geared folks passing me by. I tried but my legs simply weren't able to do it in their current state of frigid misery so I coasted down the road and enjoyed the scenery.

The second big climb of the race has a much more gradual slope than the first and covers about seven miles on the way to the second stop at the aid station. This is a great climb with heavy tree cover and a huge mountain stream off to the right. At this point my legs felt completely numb, wooden, and pedaling this gear over another mountain was not on their agenda of ways to spend the rest of the day. After considering a nice dip to finish myself off in the icy river, I stood up and began to look for some carrots to pick off on the climb to motivate me. I began to pass some people and warmed up enough to feel human again. I caught up to Lennie Moon in almost the same place as last year and we both acknowledged our lackluster current states then headed on up the hill on and off til close to mile 37 maybe where Lennie pulled off with some sort of mechanical. Hope ya got out fine, buddy.

I hadn't seen another singlespeeder for close to 20 miles at this point and had no idea what place I was in, not that I could do anything about it if a challenger to my placing made themselves present. I talked with a few guys before we got to the downhill who remembered all our Bici kits from last years race which brought a glimmer of happiness to my race.

The Sassafrass Mountain descent was my favorite part of the race. I knew I had all the big climbs done and the terrain was much more to my liking than the first downhill with some sketchier gravel and awesome turns provided there wasn't a car headed around them. I don't know what the deal was but there was way more oncoming traffic this year and I kept the reigns in a bit remembering a guy that got killed by a car in the Tour Divide race two years ago on a gravel road...gotta go to work Monday, easy does it.

The last seven miles back to the winery are rolling paved roads and I yet again got passed by dozens of riders. My legs were even colder than before and any fast pedaling that had been left in them was long gone. I laughed to myself at the prospect of what would happen if another single geared rider caught me along through here. My curiosity was satisfied soon enough. Jimmy Prentice rolled up on me tucked in safely between three geared riders. Jimmy talked with me for a minute and seemed to be waiting on me to join their group and also confused why I was pedaling so slow on the road. I was very ready to be done now and began to kept thinking every one that was coming up on me was in my class. I figured Max and Brent would be along soon enough to further worsen my condition.

I was so zoned out on the road I missed the sharp right to Montaluce and had to do a full on panic stop which totally made the day of the chick working the corner screaming at me. I approached the second run up of the day (not counting my nature up Winding Stair) and saw some people next to a van with a sign reading "Free Beer".

"Now you look like someone that will take a beer right now," said an enthusiastic volunteer with a can of Milwaukee's Best in his hand.

 For not the first time in my life, I willingly accepted the can of Beast and began up the hill. An odd competition played itself out here. A guy on a geared bike broke into a full out sprint to pass me on the run up as I was drinking my beer but he ran out of gas halfway up and I caught up to him. He frantically tried to get on his bike and continue his show of dominance. He was foiled by the gear combo he didn't realize he was in and more awkwardness ensued. I don't know. I just don't know why any of that happened.

Credit to Theresa
I came through an anticlimactic finish very happy to be done and ready to begin a search for some warm clothing. I was glad to only finish a few minutes slower than last year at 3:45 and 8th Place Singlespeed despite my feelings of death and despair throughout some parts of the race. Strava stuff HERE. I screwed up big time on the clothing part this weekend and paid the price with the deadest feeling legs I have ever had in a race. Won't do that again. Everything else went great and I had an awesome time with Melissa in Dahlonega with the exception of the worst Mexican eatery I have ever been to. It was some sort of crazy redneck karaoke joint with a menu in pictures with minimal words. We had a pitcher of beer and made a beeline for Pueblos which is the place to go if you want some Mexican food in the town. Trust me.

The Bici team had a good showing all around and everyone on our team took a beer up to the delight of the volunteers. I'll let everyone else recant their own stories so no spoilers will be given here. Proud to race with you guys, good job!

Once again, Nam and Eddie put on a great race. I might even come back for more punishment next year.


  1. nice report John. clothing was a tough call, sunny but super chilly wind up high.
    after you didn't poke me i actually tried to stay with you for a bit. same gearing/different world.

  2. Whaddaya mean by different world, George? Assuming the world of hamster wheel spinning...

  3. That's a bummer about the clothing choice, but still that's a great finish given the dead legs brought on by the cold. Great write-up.

  4. simply that i rocked the same gear but not quite so well. of course, i aint no max diaz thats for sure. 42/17? BOOM!