Internet search results for information about the Sac O Suds 50 and the surrounding area produce results about the filming of two notable movies in the area. A more important notable feature for yours truly, the Headmaster, is the abundance of high quality gravel roads waiting for the cycling adventurist. A few hundred meters over the Ocmulgee River Bridge out of Juliette, Georgia and an immediate turn to the right or left and you quickly enter the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge, and its network of gravel roads and hiking trails.
The Second Edition of the Sac O Suds 50 followed the same route as 2014 by taking the immediate left turn onto River Road out of Juliette. Monte (the promoter) piloted the lead vehicle and began the ride with a controlled start. Shortly after the turn onto River Road was the first section of gravel. Monte sped away and we (50 or so riders) were in our element.
Side note: Of the gravel events I’ve participated in, I believe this one had that largest number of ladies / women / girls and I promote the increase of their participation. Girl Power!
The roads and temperature were prime for the day and fifteen +/- riders interested in the competition side of the Sac O Suds quickly formed. While no attacks took place, individual riders would occasionally roll off the front. While JOM did tell me before the start that last year’s winner Jeff Clayton was here, I didn’t have a clue who he was. I did notice there was one dude/bloke on an MTB that looked powerful as he rolled off the front from time to time. When the race was over I learned that was Jeff. Another rider on a CX bike, (unknown to me at the time) Shey Linder, appeared to be one to watch as he rolled off the front a few times. Dr. Pain, Pfaff Daddy, JOM, and K-Dogg rolled off as well but when I that happens I get to follow wheels.
The Nitty Gritty
Prior to the turn onto the grassy jeep road at the 27 km/16.7 mi mark is a longer and steeper hill, 14.9% according to Garmin, that caused a bit of carnage. Once over the top three riders opened a gap; Jeff, Shey, and a dude/bloke in a Ridley kit making his first notable appearance on the front. They kept the pace below ballistic allowing a few of us to latch on.
All of this changed after making the turn onto the grassy jeep road at the 30.4 km/18.8 mi mark. The change from gravel to grass and jeep road to single track quickly caused gaps between riders. I, the Headmaster, was able to pass two riders and make it up to the two leaders, Jeff and Shey. Not knowing the course, I was able to focus on following Shey and not worry about looking for the hanging ribbons marking the course.
Shey was better adept on his CX bike than I was on my Monster CX bike, especially when we hit the last climb of the power line section that measured 21%, according to my Garmin. The damp Georgia red clay soil and lack of traction from my rear wheel resulted in my dismounting and a hill run up.
Hitting the pavement at the Sac O Suds, I could see Jeff and Shey working together about 1 km/.62 mi up the road. Fortunately, a burst of adrenaline kicked in and I was able to transition into chase mode with 36.3 km/22.5 mi back to the finish. I made gains into their lead on the climbs and descents, while on the brief in-between flat segments, they would seem to regain time. Jeff impressed me as a powerful rider – and after about 16 km/10 mi, Shey began to lose his wheel. Fortunately for me, I caught Shey during a moment of needed recovery, and was able to accelerate past him and continue my solo pursuit.
Somehow I was able to maintain a steady effort, but as the finish was fast approaching, Jeff seemed to be gaining time. Much to my surprise, he was within reach with less than 3 km/2 mi remaining, and I was able to latch onto his rear wheel. The finish is just over 300 m/328 yards out of the final turn. Sitting on his wheel until that turn, I jumped him as soon as we hit the straightaway. Imagine that, how often does a gravel race come down to a sprint!
The Best is Yet to Come
Unlike other cycling disciplines I’ve competed in, we, the gravel participants, gathered immediately after the finish to tell our stories and talk about what a great time we had on a top notch route. Celebrations carried over to the Juliette Trading Company for more conversations, hot dogs, and liquid refreshments.
Thanks to the organizers, volunteers, participants, and most of all my teammates – the Gravel Scene is “Simply The Best”.
Be sure to check out the 2015 Sac O Suds Race Video, featuring FIVE POV cameras!