October 20, 2018
Last week, despite 33 odd years of racing I learned something new. It appears you actually can teach an old Dogg new tricks by simply observing how a race evolves. My lesson began early into the 63-mile race when suddenly and inexplicably I found myself in the winning break of about six guys including one 61 year old. How did this happen? Did I mention I’m over 63 years of age?
It had been a long, hard season of exhausting races including the 125-mile Middle Georgia Epic, DK 200 and Crusher in the Tushar, and just playing around in Colorado above 10,000 feet. Did I mention I’m from Florida?
In addition, most of this year I have been severely abused by my esteemed but unforgiving teammates on many “training” rides that turn into impromptu “Worlds Tallest Leprechaun” contests. I purposely chose this 63-mile race (eschewing the more manly 100 miler) to avoid the agony of every freaking ride being a freaking death march.
In short, I was pooped.
The ride started mellow enough with a field of about 75 men and 20 women (No age groups). This was a lot bigger race than the first one in 2016 for both distances – but the temperature was nice, the gravel roads smooth, the rain light and the competitors very agreeable. The promoters were saint-like.
After a short roll out we were turned loose into another adventure into the amazing Alabama state forests. Slowly the dirt-flecked gaggle picked up speed over the next hilly few miles. To ensure a safe and clear horizon, I stayed in the first few rows zigging and zagging, track to track, and mostly keeping away from wind and wacky riders. As usual, the boldly upright mountain bikers seemed to cherish the front. As usual, I gratefully accepted their generosity.
The relentless little hills turned into relentless bigger hills and people began burning off the back. After five miles a group of 20 riders congealed and the pace picked up a bit. Soon a pattern emerged. The pack would bunch up and spread out at hill’s bottom then slowly stretch out up to the crest. On the descents, some yahoo would often turn it loose in an attempt to break things up. It didn’t work very well because the gravel was well maintained with few hazards. The pack’s combined mass quickly globbed back on near the bottom.
I began to hope that since we were only doing 63 miles it might turn into a more civilized “gran fondo” and the pace would be more enjoyable. Bathing in this optimistically stupid fantasy I didn’t notice we were suddenly struggling up an extra punchy hill while I was doing some filming at the very back. Suddenly, seven guys were out of the saddle and opening a huge gap. The rest were lethargic so I wove through the field, put my head down then fired off my limited edition turbo engines.
It was now or never.
Two hills and one mile later, I bridged up and lurched back onto the “players” stuffing my left lung back into my spasming chest cavity. Looking backward there was nobody in sight. “OK dumbass” I thought. “Don’t linger in the caboose bar car again and don’t film during attacks. JOM wants good race video, not blurry asses up the road! These guys were officially racing now.
The die was cast. Just before the 10-mile service stop (nobody stopped) one more guy managed to rejoin us. Don’t have your name but good job dude!
For the next few miles, I wasn’t feeling stellar but managed to hold on to four strong youngsters and one super strong 61 year old master, Scott Ewing from Shalimar Florida. Also working hard were Todd Sellers from Columbus Georgia, Pete Edmondson from Palmetto Georgia and another whose name I could never seem to hear because of wind noise and hypoxia. I took a few pathetic pulls but then started to sit on more and more.
I was worn out and needed to go into survival mode. Apologies to my new buddies, I decided to just stick with them as long as possible but this precluded me helping much. I made sure everybody knew I had no interest in a podium and would help when I could. “Just call me Moto-1 and ignore me please,” I said. If this was a “road race” everyone would curse, spit and demand I drop off the back.
But gravel racers are much nicer by definition and they encouraged me to just sit on.
And then the mechanicals and navigation errors began. Also, the hills got bigger.
At about the mile 40 rest stop (again, nobody stopped) we were down to five. Perhaps some should have sat on a bit more. Their choice. I have no shame if it gets me back and out of the rain faster. The rain became a downpour from time to time but not too bad although my nice white jersey is now permanently pumpkin. One of our group (forgot your name sorry) suddenly clipped out and began spinning his tire… probably in an effort to coax sealant into a leaky tire.
“Should we wait?” said Pete looking under his armpit. It wasn’t up to me. We kept going. A few miles later Scott, who had no GPS but pulled like an animal all day, overshot a turn down a very steep, off camber, sketchy hill. He later said he forgot to downshift before stopping to turn around. Hard to make a 180 on a 15% slippery hill in the eleven tooth cog. The rest of us made the turn and kept going. Again, not my choice.
Then there were three. Todd, Pete and this really old guy.
For a while it looked like the top three places were sewn up but there were still 15 – 20 miles remaining. I could see Scott chasing about one-half kilometer back but not closing very fast. I vowed to myself to avoid the podium if this order held. These guys deserved some honor. Many roadies wouldn’t have given honor a thought. Gravel cyclists are better than that. Have I mentioned that yet?
But it all played out completely different in the end.
Eventually, the chasing Scott joined with leaky guy. They worked hard and heroically managed to ride back on. Sixty one year old Scott recovered quickly, went back to the front and resumed taking hard pulls. What a beast!
But the beast should have brought a GPS because once again he charged past a turn and was forced to chase solo again. He got back on but the strongest 100 milers began catching us and made for a confusing mix.
At some point along here, the foursome began to attack each other in pairs. Scott and Leaky Guy would jump up a hill and force Pete and Todd to chase. Then Pete and Todd would have a go back at them the next hill. The multiple hills and relentless attacks kept taking me off the back like a human yo-yo but somehow I kept clawing back on. I don’t recall why I bothered except that it started raining again and mud was invading my intimate zones uncomfortably.
I began to see a pattern. I noticed If I conserved a little up the long hills (like I had a choice) a gap would open up but I could marshal enough energy to sprint back on just over the top. None of the four seemed to attack much on the downhill. It only gave an advantage to the drafters as they all appeared to be too blown from the uphill bit. This pattern helped me immensely.
With just a couple of miles left I finally “spat the dummy” as JOM would say, and rode a more comfortable pace to the finish chatting with a nice gent from the 100-mile race. He’d crashed spectacularly at this year’s Georgia Epic 150 and I got it on film. He was fine. We had a good laugh. As usual, I forgot his name. Sorry. Did I mention…
So looking at the results it appears Todd beat Peet by one second although you have to consider the casual if not dubious “finish” line. I’d have to vote 61 year old Scott as the biggest hero by taking third approximately 6 minutes back. Not sure what happened to Leaky Guy but he must have been fourth while the Dogg rolled in 5th. 🙂
What the old Dogg learned:
How to ride like a human yo-yo and still survive.
There is nothing wrong with clinging like a beggar weed if the guys don’t object and you don’t take advantage.
I still love suffering in the woods.
Kudos to Colt, Mark and all y’all who made all this possible. I so wish I could have stayed for the festivities. Maybe next year.