As alluded to in my friend Dr. Pain’s blog posting, the weather for the 2015 Southern Cross race was moist to say the least. Two of my Georgia racer friends, Brian Rogers and Craig Bailey, possess tribal knowledge of the Dahlonega area. They decided to stay home.
I’d worn blinders for several days leading up to the race, and recited phrases to myself like “la la la, it won’t be that bad, la la la”. Convincing one’s self everything will be OK, and dragging your body to the start line is part of the challenge.
On the Start Line
Were 166 racers spread across many categories. Originally 325 racers were scheduled to appear, but because the race had been rescheduled due to snowfall, high winds and other bollocks, many folks simply couldn’t make it. A promoter’s nightmare.
I (JOM) made the rounds with my Go-Pro camera, and most everyone seemed to be in pretty good spirits despite the steadily falling rain. Word around the traps was the first three miles of gravel were very slick and greasy, or “peanut butter” as the locals call it. Following that, the rest of the course wasn’t too much of a worry…
The Neutral Start
The lead vehicle bolted from the start line. The pace dictated by said vehicle was perfect, provided you were warmed up. I was not. Rather, I’d been socializing and fiddling with cameras. Still, I was in a good position, towards the front, despite the fact my legs and ticker were displeased about the speed of proceedings.
To avoid being caked in mud, the lead vehicle wisely turned off before the first of many mud roads. The short paved climb that precedes the first sector of dirt and gravel was ridden at a rapid pace. I didn’t look behind me, but I’m certain the group had split to pieces. By the time that climb was crested, I had settled into my own rhythm, and avoided going out too hard, too early. In other words, I’d “sat up”, riding about 50 metres behind the front group.
I’m not the best climber or the fastest guy around, but I know how to pace myself for an event like this. It would probably help if I lived in the mountains, dropped 10lbs of weight, and avoided eating late at night.
Peanut Butter and Jelly
FYI, Jelly = Jello in Australia. So, before I first lobbed into the US of A, I envisaged people walking around with wobbly, jello sandwiches. Weird. The internet was in its infancy then, so I couldn’t Google stuff like that. But, I digress…
I’m not a fan of Peanut Butter aka Georgia Red Clay in its semi-liquid form. As I would later discover, this stuff gets into everything, along with particles of Iron Pyrite, otherwise known as Fool’s Gold. The fake gold coats shifter hoods and gloves, which resemble a cheap ensemble of crap you’d buy from the Home Shopping Network.
The promoter’s description of the first dirt and gravel road would prove to be accurate. It was peanut butter of the pre-stirred kind. A thick, sticky mess with ruts worn by passing vehicles, and narrow tyre tracks of those racers ahead of me. My tyre choice was near perfect (1.8″ wide), although a little more width would have been optimal. I plowed through each patch of red clay mess, keeping a very relaxed grip on the handlebars, allowing the bike to float and squirm its way along.
Houston, we have a Problem(s)
Braking problems were to be expected in these conditions, but having ridden a wet edition of Hilly Billy Roubaix in 2014, I wasn’t concerned. That was until one of my fellow Gainesvilleites, Dr. Pain, sped past me on a short descent. His brakes worked, mine not so much. There was no grab / bite in my brakes, rather the pads wiped the rotors clean but barely scrubbed any speed in the process. Consequently, I found myself dragging my brakes hard (a no no) at this early juncture. I figured my pads needed a little more glazing before they woke up, so I didn’t worry about it too much.
Now joined by Dr. Pain and a few other riders, I continued tapping out my tempo on the slopes of Springer Mountain. It was on one of the steeper grades that I first experienced chain suck, which royally sucks.
Chain suck usually happens when mud and such clogs the chain, preventing the chain from freely dropping away from the small chainring as it should. Rather, the chain continues to wrap itself around the chainring, jamming the drivetrain. My chain was new, and well soaked in lubrication before the race start. Nothing copes well in wet Georgia clay.
The first and second time this suckage occurred, I unclipped, panic style, and ground to a rapid halt. I apologize to those on my wheel when this happened. Over the course of the race, this phenomenon happened at least 20 times, and this was despite coating the chain with lube near the top of Springer Mountain. I soon learned to backpedal the chain to free the jam, and continue sans unclip.
Top of Springer Mountain
Despite my bike issues, I was feeling OK, and didn’t need to visit the food station. However, my bike position felt off, and my right knee was feeling sore. The piece of electrical tape I always mark my seapost height was crumpled, indicating the post had slipped. Stop and fix that. Things come in threes as they say, but at least my shifting and clothing selections were perfect!
The descent down the mountain proved to be a tenuous affair. My brakes seemed to work a little better, but there still wasn’t the bite / grab I was looking for, meaning I couldn’t build any speed. The conditions were abysmal anyway, so it was a moot point. Imagine heavy fog, vision impaired by crap and falling rain. It paid to go slower.
At the bottom of the descent and the right hand turn to paved road bliss, my brakes were seriously underperforming. I barely made the turn safely, despite pulling the brake levers HARD. For now, my brake problems could be ignored as the paved road descent was long, but not technical in nature, requiring no braking.
The Final Ascent
In pleasant weather, this climb is almost lovely. Punctuated with steeper pitches here and there, one’s suffering is distracted by a river that flows alongside the road for a good portion of the climb. Even with the rough conditions of the day, the views of this part of the course were pretty nice.
As I closed on the summit, the pitches became steeper, the fog deeper. Trail runners soon came into view, contestants of an epic 68 mile trail running race taking place in the same area. Runners and cyclists uttered words of encouragement back and forth to each other in the slimy conditions. 50 something miles of cycling seems easy compared to trail running in this muck.
The Final Descent
After a brief stop at the food station for a bit of hydration, I began the descent down Coopers Gap. This is when my brake problems (mechanical brakes) could no longer be ignored. The actuation arm of the rear brake was jammed full of mud and virtually inoperable. Even if I had sorted that issue, Georgia clay had worked its way into the cable housing, through the lever?, rendering the rear brake useless. The front brake worked enough to slow me down, provided I didn’t go over 10mph. Any steep pitches, I had to walk.
I came across David Blalock on this descent. He too was walking, or sliding down slowly, Fred Flintstone style. His brake pads were completely worn down to nothing. I’m sure there were countless others experiencing brake and mechanical issues during this day. However, I doubt anyone was as PO’d or cursed as much as me.
The Winery and Home
The paved bliss of Hightower Church Road ended quickly before the final mile in the winery and the finish. I was glad to see the gentleman handing out the Terrapin beer with less than a mile to go. The beer was greatly appreciated, and helped lighten my black mood. I won’t go into details, but I walked / shuffled 90% of the entire last mile and crossed the line well over an hour off last year’s time. Sorry if I wasn’t too smiley for the race photographers.
- I didn’t crash and I didn’t hurt myself.
- I finished.
- I didn’t finish last.
- My clothing choice was perfect.
- My shifting was perfect, ditto for my choice of gears; Shimano Di2 is amazing. Everything else, not so much.
- I have some usable video from my cameras, and the cameras of Dr. Pain and K-Dogg.
- I passed the mental fortitude test. Due to my bad luck, there were moments where I seriously wanted to quit, and have a lie down in the mud. If a passing car had offered me a ride, I might have accepted.
Lisa Randall, the promoter, her team of volunteers, and the Monteluce Winery. Amazing service at the food station and post race party, I was treated like royalty. Everyone associated with the event, including my fellow bike racers, well done. It was a tough day for all concerned.
I’ll relay my equipment choices and such in a follow up article. Expect a race video soon. Thanks for reading.
P.S. Did anyone see the red Toyota Prius on the course? Kinda of amazed someone would take a Prius in conditions like that.