A day to play in the dirt!
The Spaghetti 100 is an event hosted by the Capital City Cyclists of Tallahassee, Florida, benefiting several charities relating to children’s cycling. 2016 marked the 33rd running of the event (held on Saturday, October 8th), which features rides on paved and dirt / gravel surfaces. The dirt variant encompasses the beautiful canopied clay roads in the Red Hills plantation country of north Florida and southern Georgia. There also happens to be a jersey up for grabs…
Shrinkage Illness and Hurricane Duties
This year’s Dirty Spaghetti 65 mile lineup was pretty good; at least 50 showed then shoved off at 8:00am sharp. Several serious teams were noted including Tallahassee’s “Bird Legs Bikes”, Pensacola’s P.O.R.C. (Pensacola Off-Road Club) / Truly Spokin. Team Gravel Cyclist was limited to just Pfaff Daddy and K-Dogg. JOM was sick from travel to Las Vegas for Interbike and then Italy for L’Eroica while Mrs K-Dogg too was sick, possibly suffering from the same L’Eroica bug as JOM. The rest of the crew had prior commitments or were dislodged by hurricane duties.
The weather was perfect… not a hurricane in sight… 60’s Fahrenheit at the start and upper 80’s at the finish. Skies were blue. A light rain the previous night kept the dust down nicely with no mud nor standing water.
Sandpit of Doom
The pack was totally civil and polite for the first five miles as usual. Pfaff Daddy and I were allowed to cruise easy at the front perhaps because of our “media credentials” or possibly our modest Flahute reputation. But all too soon, we turned left onto the dread “Sand Pit of Doom Drive.”
About one mile later, a panicky surge of speed started by the Bird Legs riders, suddenly infected the pack as the pit loomed. Having seen this movie play out way too many times, Pfaff Daddy and I quickly squeezed to the front to avoid the coming carnage.
Soon enough we were literally knee keep in orange, fluffy sugar sand that would have put a large smile on Dr. Pain’s face (he just loves sandpits of doom). The sinuous road was a shifty wall to wall double track with a treacherous sand dune hump in the middle. Red rooster tails flew up waist high from front and rear wheels. Bikes and bodies flailed left and right, side to side, desperately seeking purchase but finding only multiple opportunities to T-Bone someone, rudely cutting off riders in the process.
I narrowly avoided the worst of it but soon found myself somewhere between track standing (track sanding?) and a desperate four-paw crawl to keep churning forward. When the sandpit ended, a nasty leg sapping hill reared up and punched you in the teeth. A gap abruptly opened and eight single file racers accelerated up and over the hill. I barely latched on to the caboose slot then looked back over my shoulder.
The Sand Pit of Doom had culled all but eight from a field of 50 in less than 60 seconds. “Well crap!” I thought. “Pfaff Daddy is a sand master… he must have been caught behind a crash?”
Turning forward to concentrate on holding onto the runaway train, I mourned the loss of my only teammate. But suddenly, Pfaff Daddy reappeared at my shoulder. “Well done!” I said, then looked back again. Still no one else in sight.
The runaway train kept rolling hard, powered, I noticed, by Jimmy Railley, a part time resident of Florida. He did a lot of work all race long… on a fat tire mountain bike about as aero as a highway billboard. Jimmy is a Flahute.
Our plan was for yours truly, the Dogg, to work for Pfaff Daddy who is well suited for this course with superior leg strength and endurance. I would try to soften up the pack by making suicide attacks on every hill on the return leg. Unfortunately, this tactic didn’t work out so well.
A few minutes later five more riders bridged across. The selection had been made. A fast but steady tempo kept the pack together for the next 30 minutes until Billy Hudgens of PORC / Truly Spoken eased up the road and vanished around a corner. We never saw him again. I inexplicably missed the move while visiting the caboose fridge. Bewilderingly, the few racers that saw the move failed to inform the rest of us until less than 10 miles to go. Jimmy still stayed on the front for miles. Now I know why. D’oh!
Once we hit the halfway point in Boston, Georgia the hills began and the Gravel Cyclist suicide plan unfolded. Every sizeable hill had a sizeable acceleration as I tried to cull the herd while teammate Pfaff Daddy sat comfortably tucked into the draft of any chasers. There is a certain giddy freedom to sacrificing your finish line glory for the satisfaction of wearing out the legs of your rivals early. The hills kept coming like a conveyor belt. Soon cyclists began falling off the back one at a time. I was dropped twice by counter attacks but clawed on for the future assistance to Puff Daddy.
We were down to seven to eight riders when we hit the next to last paved section with 10 miles to go. Nobody, except for Jimmy and a local guy, wanted to work anymore. So, I attacked one last time. It was a pathetic surge but it opened a gap. The collective apathy was evident as we quickly opened up a a sizable gap.
Unfortunately, Pfaff Daddy couldn’t chase his teammate so he languished in the pack. He later admitted his legs had lost enthusiasm anyway. With five or six miles remaining, Jimmy set the hilly pace with me and a local guy helping a bit. There was also Nic Patterson (last year’s winner) from PORC / Truly Spoken who apologized for sitting on – “because my teammate Billy is up the road in first and he’d kill me if I ruined it for him” he said.
“Huh, what?” I thought. “When did this happen? Well crap!” For a I thought my chances of scoring the coveted “World Champion of Tallahassee jersey first place were one in three at worst. Hurricane Matthew rained on our parade after all!
No rest for the Weary
So now we can cruise I thought… first place and its associated prize, “The World Champion of Tallahassee Jersey” is taken. There was no second or third place. It was at this depressing point that another racer bridged up to our tiring breakaway then danced away the next hill. Yet another bridged up a few minutes later. We didn’t let him go… probably out of spite. With three miles to go, Nic Patterson? from PORC / Truly Spoken left us to take the non-existent third place.
With one mile remaining, I queried my three companions. Were we really going to sprint for 4th place?
NFW! was the consensus.
So we rolled in easy.
Somebody sprinted anyway.
All and all it was a really fun event with wonderfully nice competitors who truly embrace the spirit of competition without getting all bent out of shape if things don’t go their way. After decades of road racing I really appreciate gravel cycling as a better way to spend time on my bike.
* Apologies for any errors or omissions in the report *