Race Report: Assault on Mount Currahee by Craig Bailey

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A bright and brisk morning greeted me as I loaded the truck for the short trip to the foothills town of Cornelia, Georgia, which is the home base for the 2nd Annual Assault on Mount Currahee. Cornelia is a quaint little hamlet with some interesting history, which includes the retirement home of baseball legend Ty Cobb, and served as the base of operations for production of the 1956 Disney film, The Great Locomotive Chase.

The name-sake mountain with an 800’ vertical gain to be “assaulted” was made famous by Tom Hanks’ and Steven Spielberg’s television miniseries, Band of Brothers, and in the Cherokee language, the name means “stand alone”. The Assault on Mount Currahee serves as a fundraising event for the two of the Georgia Interscholastic Cycling League mountain bike teams; the Primma Tappa Composite Team from Hall County and the Habersham Central High School Team. Each of these groups provided the much-appreciated adult and student athlete volunteers, which made the event possible.

I arrived earlier than usual, as my 13 year old son, Carter, a member of the Primma Tappa Team, was to be providing the aerial drone video footage for the event and had to “scout-out” his preferred locations 😉

Check out Carter’s drone video here.

The early arrival gave me time to chat to some of the folks I hadn’t seen all winter… this was a nice change of pace for me and made for an easy going start of the day. I spent a few minutes talking tire pressure and the likes with one of my Art of Stone Gardening teammates, Mark Johnson, who would be taking on the 50-59 age group challengers.

I was a little nervous about this race as I was going to be racing in the Masters 40-49 group. This was significant because I have raced exclusively on a single-speed machine for the past 10 years. I spent Friday night cobbling together some parts supplied by my shop, Wrenched Bicycles, to convert my single-speed rig into a geared bike as the flat roads and steep climb don’t appeal to me for single-speed. As somewhat of a single-speed junkie, I haven’t seen the pointy end of a race in years, so I didn’t quite know what to expect.

Video capture from
Video capture from Carter Bailey’s video – NICE work!

As the race director Eddie Freyer started us off, I took a deep breath and reminded myself of the plan for the day… have fun, try to keep the young front runners in sight until the “big climb” at the halfway point, and hang on for dear life and hope my many miles of winter base training would serve me well!

The first miles were paved and moderate in pace. The group of approximately 60 riders stayed together going into the prominent 1.2 mile decent of 500’ at over 10% grade, which lead into the first dirt of the day. There was plenty of friendly positioning before climbs began to interject themselves into our lovely morning. After approximately 15 minutes of sustained heart rate efforts at 170 beats per minute, I looked back to see the group blown apart, reduced to 20 riders in the front. As we crossed a small but deep creek and began a sharp ascent, the leading five riders launched a blistering attack which would prove to be the winning move of the day. I maintained my effort and gradually began catching dropped riders.

Just before mile 15, we made the right hand turn onto Currahee Mountain Road, which would begin the ascent of the race’s namesake climb. This was a time to relax and settle into a rhythm. On the descent, those of us who chose to run wider tires flew down the descent to the base of the mountain like a herd of scalded cats.

Crispin DelNero and I bridged across to two riders on cross bikes, taking a short respite to recover in their draft before contributing to the workload. We may have crested the summit of Mount Currahee, but the climbing was far from over. Ahead lay rolling hardpacked roads which would lead to the same roads we took to reach the base of Mount Currahee.

After a long and gradual climb somewhere on the return leg, we briefly descended to reach an intersection devoid of markings or marshals. Thankfully, I had pre-ridden the course and missed the same turn in the dark! (a story for another time), but knew which direction to take on race day. The riders accompanying me took the wrong turn, but were within earshot to hear my yelling to get back on course. During this confusion, two riders caught and joined our group. Their edition would prove decisive later on.

This intersection would prove a deciding factor for the finishing places of many riders at the race. Later, it was determined that unknown persons had tampered with course markings; this one was a biggie!

We returned to the Nancy Lake area, which began the ascent back to Cornelia along an abandoned paved road that seemed to go on forever. On this climb, Crispin DelNero attacked to separate himself from the group. Eventually, he was reeled back in and caught near the summit by the 50+ rider accompanying us; a commendable effort by Crispin! Ultimately, the 50+ rider would take second in his age category.

AssaultonMtCurrahee2016-2After the catch of Crispin, one of the riders who joined us at the intersection utilized the low rolling resistance of his narrower tires to launch hard through the neighborhood leading to the finish area. Neither Crispin nor I responded well on our wider MTB tires and this ended up being the winning move from the group.

On the approach to town, we missed a turn and gained a few “bonus minutes” of saddle time, but agreed to roll into the finish together once we were back on course. At the finish, the chip timing said I had taken second in the Masters 40-49 age category by .006 of a second…

Overall, the day was a personal success. No crashes, I got to see the front end of a race for the first time in years, Top 10 overall and a podium finish! My son told me all about the aerial video he shot and we stopped on the way home to do some fun stuff.

It doesn’t get any better than this!

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