Friend and BSM cycling elder, Sam Klontz and I headed east to the big mountains of northeastern West Virginia over Memorial Day weekend for one of the toughest road races in the US, the Tour of Tucker County. This race is exactly why I sat on my cat 2 upgrade, for the last thing I needed was a cat 1 ripping my legs off, the hills were plenty. Yes, I sandbagged. The race course promised a 53 mile route with two 1500+’ foot climbs and a massive 2000′ climb with the finish line at the top. You started in a valley and did two challenging circuits that covered the 1500 feet in two chunks, the final part at a brutal 2 miles of 8% grade. After the climb there was a beautiful stretch or ridge lines that one could not enjoy due to the Delaware sized potholes with healthy amounts of gravel. We then had a wickedly fast descent back into the valley, only to have to repeat the loop before the final slog up the mountain.
The race start was a nervous one. I knew the day would be one of pain, and a major issue was that I didn’t know many of the riders, making it tough to know who to mark and stick with on the climbs. Luckily Gabe from Columbus was there and I knew he could climb. The moment we started the first part of the 1500′ climb, we dropped the hammer. We whittled the group down to about 25 (from the original 52) after the first loop. The second time up the loop, Gabe, myself, and a random fast dude let it rip and broke away. We had a few guys join us at the top of the climb and our group managed to hold off the peloton for the rest of the race. However, what we didn’t know was that there was no peloton. Our pace broke up the remaining riders and our group was the race. I sized up the group and I had a bad feeling. I was with a bunch of mountain goats, the eventual winner being about 140 pounds soaking wet. It’s a rare moment when I feel fat. When we hit the final 2000′ climb, I knew I was in trouble. I had a feeling it would take about 30 minutes and we had rode really hard up to that point. You could ride that race ignoring reality or conservatively knowing your fate. I went with option A and it hadn’t hurt me until the first 10 minutes of the 12-15% grade. I love cycling, and I never want to quit a ride, no matter what the weather. However, going up a mountain in the middle of nowhere in West Virginia at 5 mph with people all around you, from other races, walking their bikes (it’s a race, the horror!), abandonment becomes the best idea since Anthony Weiner signed up for Twitter. I could barely move the pedals and halfway up the first stretch, I cracked a bit and watched as 3 of our group continued on, 0.5 mph faster than me. Finally the grade eased up a bit and I sped up to a more respectable 12 mph. This lasted about a km, and then a 7-8% grade greeted me and wouldn’t leave till I hit the finish line.
I crossed the finish line in 5th place, never happier to be off my bike. I really wanted to podium, but given the terrain, I was happy with 5th place. Here’s the garmin data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/88826334 It’s been about 2.5 months of pretty consistent spring road racing and this was a nice capstone, if you will, for the spring season. As it gets warmer, the races are mainly criteriums, short loop races that are faster but a fraction of time (40 mins vs. 2.5 hours) of road races. Since completion of this race, I realize the benefits of a race that is so stupidly difficult. You get a new threshold for pain. I’ve done some old favorite hill climbs since the Tour of Tucker County and I realize that as much as they hurt, they could always be worse.