Friday morning, I packed up and hit the road around 7:30 for the 6.5ish hour drive to Ducktown, TN. Along the way, Zandr (from XXCMag) joined in, and we had a brief Element Convoy down I-24.
We arrived mid-afternoon, checked in, and pre-rode the first climb and a little bit of the first singletrack. I attempted to show Zandr the “Thunder Rock Express” trail, but I’m not too familiar with the trail system, so we just ended up climbing out & back on FSR45. Back in the parking lot, I saw Thom Parsons from Cyclingdirt, and he asked me a few questions about my bike (Per your requests, I refrained from using a suspension fork).
I felt just OK during the pre-ride. Definitely not bad by any stretch, but not 100% crank-ripping/ready to kill, either. I don’t think I’d fully recovered from the previous weekend’s Slobberknocker race. Nothing I could do but relax, get some dinner, and try to get a good night’s sleep.
Brief side story- The “office” for the motel in Ducktown was the gas station in the motel parking lot.
Race morning was (thankfully) not as chilly as it was last year. I was doing final packing of my jersey pockets when I realized that I’d left my giant flask full of Roctane gel back at the motel. All I had in my car was an extra Powerbar, so, trying not to panic (it was about 20min ’til start time), I started asking everyone I knew if they had extra gel. Eventually, I found Gerry Pflug, who didn’t want to share his own stash of baby wolverine blood. However, Ernesto Marenchin, who was there with him, had a couple of extra flasks of partially diluted Hammer Gel. Perfect.
I rolled back to the starting area where Thom P. found me again and asked if I’d wear a Cyclingdirt helmet cam. I figured “anything for publicity,” and accepted his offer. He turned it on immediately in order to get some starting line footage, so I lined up and asked people random questions and handed out random tidbits of advice (like “Don’t isht yourself” to Amanda Carey).
This year, the start line was moved back into the parking lot about 1/4 of a mile. Unfortunately, that meant that the race no longer started at the base of a sizable road climb, so, when the gun went off, there was about 1 minute of big-ring time before the hill. I spun as fast as I could as what seemed like most of the field went by in their 39×11. As we started up the hill, I worked my way back through some of the crowd with a pack of other singlespeeders.
Somewhere along the way, we decided that a group of singlespeeders would be known as a “party” (you know… like a “gaggle” of geese or a “herd” of cats).
Over the crest of the hill and somewhere before the turn into the trail, Brenda and Lee Simril flew past me and made it in about 10 wheels ahead of me. Dually noted. The first section of singletrack was pretty uneventful (unlike last year, when I flatted). I settled in to a group that had a nice pace going until we hit the first hill, and they started shifting. I made my way around them and kept grinding my way through the remaining singletrack.
Once I was out on the gravel, it was business time. I started swapping places with a woman in a Specialized jersey (I’d pass on the climbs, she’d pass downhill). Then, her teammate, who I’d been doing the same thing with on the trail, blew past me, and she jumped on his wheel. I caught up to them, and she said something along the lines of “you’re killing it on these hills!” I replied back that I had a disadvantage on the downhills, and that she should enjoy it while it lasts. She obliged, and took off towards the next hill with her teammate.
Suddenly, from the bottom of the next hill, I looked up, and, in the low-hanging, early morning light, saw the silhouettes of Brenda and Lee Simril at the top. I stood and cranked… it was on.
As I hammered up, I caught Specialized lady, and we split and passed Brenda. I don’t know if she saw me or if she was focused on the other woman passing on her left. The other woman and her teammate took off once again, and I knew that, at about 20 miles in, with Brenda behind and the other woman riding so aggressively in front, that the race was getting awesome.
Then, I hit Aid #2, the course turned briefly flat, and I was alone for a long time.
Mostly, anyway. I began the singlespeed shuffle with some other geared riders (some of which stayed around me until the infamous climb back up “potatopatch” several hours later). I was dying to get into my climbing rhythm again, and eventually, the forest road turned back up, and I was back in business. I caught back up to a lot of people, and hit aid #3 in what seemed like no time at all. Between there and the nasty descent down Potatopatch to Aid#4 was where I caught up to the Specialized gal on one of the steeper sections of road.
The descent down Potatopatch to Aid#4 was the only place where I feel like the rigid fork was a bad idea.
Brief Product Review Interlude: What was worse, though, was my brakes. I thought I was severely wearing through my brake pads. However, post race inspection revealed that there was plenty of pad left, but that the pads seem to not advance well, making the lever pull feel frighteningly long. SRAM XX Brakes = FAIL.
Aid #4 was located in a large switchback intersection of the road. It was leaving there that I saw Brenda rolling in towards the aid station behind me. I knew I was losing time to her on the descents (and probably holding/gaining on the climbs), so I decided that I’d ride the next loop of course (a little climbing followed by a singletrack descent on the Pinhoti trail) with my descending turned up to 11. In the flat-ish section after the Pinhoti, I kept waiting for her to catch me, but luckily, I made it through Aid#5 and back to the safety of a climb before she appeared.
The climb up Potatopatch was slightly wicked. The worst part was the horseflies. You can’t swat horseflies when you’re climbing singlespeed. That climb broke a lot of people. It was hard on the singlespeed, but the way I saw it, if you’re on your lowest gear behind me, every pedal stroke of mine is a nail in your coffin. After that, I knew that the hardest part was over, slammed some gel, and resolved myself to keep it at 11 the whole way back.
The remainder of the course was verymuch like the first part. Lots of gravel and hills, then a little singletrack.
I eventually caught up to Specialized Lady’s teammate, who exclaimed, “You just like to catch guys to make them feel like shit, don’t you?” I hate that attitude, so the nicest reply I could muster was “No, man, I’m just racing my bike. I don’t give a fuck what gender you are.”
Thom Parsons said it best in his report on the first blows of the women’s race: “I chased AC (Amanda Carey) and CS (Cheryl Sorensen) for a bit, until a couple dudes tried to horn in. I was kinda hell bent on getting good footage of the ladies because, admittedly, they tend to get the shaft coverage-wise. These dudes, however were hell bent on not getting “girled.” Do you know how much that term pisses me off? A freakin’ lot, that’s how much. Buddy, you’re not getting “girled,” you’re getting “better athleted.” Now shut up about getting “girled” already you club-cut jersey wearing clown.”
Somewhere on the final throes of singletrack, my Garmin told me that I’d already ridden 100 miles. I cursed the course designer and eventually made it to the final run down Thunder Rock Express… which I took somewhat conservatively given the terrain and unknown degree of sketchiness of my brakes.
Final finish time- 9 hours, 28 minutes, and 7th behind 6 freakishly strong women (3 from Team CF, with Cheryl winning and the 2 others who racing their first 100 following in 3rd and 5th) who gave me an honest ass-kicking. Brenda was about 15 minutes behind me, followed closely by the Specialized lady (whose name I’ll stick in here as soon as the full results are up and I know who she is).
More post-race rundown to follow. I figure you’ve read enough already.