Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Dish Best Served Cold.

Of course, I speak of revenge.  While not one of the most attractive of sentiments, it is usually interesting.  A scorned lover, a grudge among regional enemies, or even among players on the world stage.  This, however, had more to do with me vs. a ride that got my goat three years ago.

In 2007, following a bit of rehab from a cracked collarbone and scapula, I signed up for the Tour de Gaps on a whim.  The next morning, I drove up to Mt. Airy, signed in at Westwood Park and had what was easily my worst day on a bike ever.  Intending to the full 82-mile route, I cramped out after the second (of four) big climbs around mile 40 and limped home in 5:15.17 with somewhere around 65 miles in the legs.  Defeated.

This year, I've raced a good bit more, trained harder, eaten more effectively and frankly tried to add a little anger to my rides. That's not to say I mashed pedals the whole way, but it can be said that I was determined.  On to the ride...

Leaving Westwood Park with this group is always a shock to the system as the pace is rather quick.  The group rocketed through Mt. Airy's suburbs and was shortly heading north toward the Blue Ridge.  Around mile 12, we encountered a steep hill on Pedigo Ridge that put some separation into the group.  I saw Brian Porter in the group ahead and made sure to make this selection.  Within minutes, we arrived at the base of the first gap (Squirrel Spur) at mile 18.  I held up briefly to try and regroup with Barry and Mitch, but the pace of the group drew me forward shortly thereafter. 

Descending Squirrel Spur is just a blast.  The pace up hadn't been so scorching as to wipe everyone out, so the descent was pretty aggressive and fast.  The fella in front of me nearly kissed some guardrail as he overshot the first hard right after a 50mph straight.  A nervous laugh and exchange of glances and the meteoric return to the humid valley continued...

The rollers between the gaps are the real devils in this ride.  Friends Mission Rd. and Old Schoolhouse Rd. are probably the most famous offenders.  I slid into a small group of 5 (Diana Conn, Brian Porter, two other dudes, and me) to cover the wretched ground between gaps 1 and 2.  We eventually caught the first group on the road, containing none other than Joe Hutchins.  Good times.  This group then dwindled to just three of us (Dianna, Joe, me) by the top of the second gap, with Brian Porter rejoining us on the descent.  Four guys were up the road ahead of us, and probably not coming back

Two down, two to go.  It was at this point three years ago that I began to question my ability to finish the ride.  It was clear I wasn't going to climb all four gap roads, but even my arrival back to the start/finish was in doubt!  This year, things were looking much better.  After the second gap descent, we had to face Old Schoolhouse Road.  Wow.  Pure misery.  The best part?  There is a cameraman right there, perfectly placed to catch you dismount and roll into the ditch in full body cramps.

Onward to Orchard Gap and now we were only three - Joe, Diana, me.  Diana's husband Jeremy was cruising up the road in 2nd place, so we made it our unspoken goal to get her as close to his finishing time as possible.  She was already the only female rider in sight, so her Queen of the Mountain status was cemented. The Orchard Gap climb is probably the easiest of the four, and after a quick swap of bottles at the top, we rocketed back down once again.  Here I saw Mitch cruising up solo, so I gave him a big shout and I'm pretty sure he heard me.

By this time, the excitement was building.  One gap to go, three of us sitting in the top 10, and legs are tired but holding up.  There is a good bit of road between the third and fourth gaps, and during this time Diana's right-hand shifter started acting up.  She had the cable replaced a week ago, and wondered if something was amiss following the repair work.  Hmmm.  After a robust *smack* the shifter started working again.

At the base of Piper's Gap, we agreed to regroup at the bottom if separation occurred on the climb.  Once off Piper's, there is about 15 miles of road to the finish, and a group is much faster over those rolling roads than a solo rider.  I hit the top first, followed closely by Joe.  Diana later told us that in trying to catch up to us on the desecent, she passed a car!  That's awesome.  Again I saw Porter rolling up and Mitch 'all over his machine'.

The road back in was just joyful.  Finally I was going to make it, with a solid time, top 10 placing, and no real cramps.  Well, I spoke too soon.  On the LAST hill, where we made contact with Barry, I finally began to feel the cramps creeping into the hammys and quads.  No way.  No way was this going to stop the ride or slow us down.  Less than 5 miles to go and feeling a second (sixth?) wind, fighting off the urge to focus on the cramps or the pessimism they bring.  Time to stomp it.

Joe and I crank it up just as Diana's shifter finally gives up the ghost.  She tucked in behind Barry while Joe and I pushed ahead.  Shockingly, we see the 4th place guy about 100m ahead.  We're within a 1/2 mile of the finish.  Nearly 82 miles and here were are sprinting for 4th.  Unfortunately, Mr. 4th had some gas left and once he detected us sneaking up, he fired up the afterburners and got us.  I nearly caught him at the finish chute, but: 1) it was too dangerous to sprint through there, and 2) it wasn't worth it.

Overall, 5th place.  Granted, some of the previous winners were not there and that helps the placing but I will take it.  They say revenge is a dish best served cold, but I'll take mine on an August afternoon, at about 88 degrees with some pretty heavy humidity.  Huge thanks to Diana, Porter, and Joe for all the help on the ride.  That was a blast!  Until next year...


Post a Comment