Normally held on Mother’s Day weekend, for the fourth annual edition of ToQC we experimented with an early season classic. This created the first de facto Gainesville HTFU Festival on the weekend of January 22nd, 2017. The annual Battle of Olustee road ride was set for the following day. Who would do the double?
Gilchrist and Levy counties each have quilt shops and quilt museums, so it is obviously “quilt country.” But they also have a great network of low traffic limerock roads. The ride consists of two separate stages: the North loop of 62 miles (46 limerock) and the South loop of 44 miles (27 limerock). Riders rolled out of Trenton on the north loop first, returned to parking area for a lunch stop, then rode the south loop. Only one traffic signal appears over the 106 mile route – in the first 400 meters of stage two.
Stage 1 started with 20(ish) riders rolling out in good conditions – slightly cool and overcast. With the weather looking good the real question would be road conditions. Sector one provided a clue for the rest of the day as the group rolled easily north on hard packed limerock.
Still, the real test would come on the two notorious sand sectors, each of which had blown apart fields in past years. The first comes near the end of sector three and this 500 meter section of deep sand caused real carnage in 2016 – only 6 riders made it through to form a lead group and were not seen again until afterwards in Trenton. This year favorable conditions prevailed and while very hard going, this sector remained rideable. A gap back to four riders off the back was allowed to close in a nice gesture of solidarity.
So what would the second known sand pit of doom hold? As it turned out, a strategically called nature break (all Gainesville locals can guess who was responsible) effectively neutralized this section which had exploded the lead group in 2015.
However, soon after, the group would hit “4 Mile Road” which features a number of rolling hills punctuated by long sections of watt-sucking sugar sand.
A hard tempo pace was set by 4-5 riders and as the group eventually reached the pavement once more, they looked back to see only nine survivors and nobody else in sight. The selection had been made for the morning stage and the leaders would finish those 62 miles in a time of 3:05.
After a hard ride over the final 20 miles into Trenton, the group sat down for a 45 minute lunch. As several riders tucked into their meal and downed the traditional beer, others who had been drilling it on the front all morning appeared in street clothes, their day over (most Gainesville locals can guess who these riders are). Various excuses were uttered, of course.
Shortly after noon, a group of eight set out to cover the flat roads of Stage 2. The landscape south of Trenton consists of many more open farm fields – and at this time of year most had been plowed but not planted.
Couple this with a heavy SxSW wind – it was very heavy all afternoon – and conditions were quite tough with many miles of echelon riding taking their toll. The blowing dust became thick enough at one point that when a gap formed the leaders vanished up the road in a vast brown cloud. Solidarity of suffering reigned once more and the group rode in together albeit with a considerably lower average speed than the morning stage.
So, who among the finishers would show up in the morning for the Battle of Olustee? The weather forecast looked ominous…
Big Head Todd for this story, and for organizing the 2017 Tour of the Quilt Country
Rusty and Dr. Pain of Gravel Cyclist for providing all of the video footage and still images.
Coming soon is the 2017 Tour of the Quilt Country Ride video. Watch this space!