Sunday, July 11, 2010

Going in hot (too hot in fact)

Another great weekend of riding here in the upstate. It started with a ride from Tigerville, over Callahan Mountain, up the watershed, along Mine Mountain and then up a dirt road past Pearson's Falls. That road brings you out right at the Bakery in Saluda. From there we went out Holbert Cove Road and circled around to climb the switchbacks on Green River Cove Road.

It was a great ride with a bunch of good guys. Four of my Greenville Spinners Racing team-mates met up with a half dozen or so guys from the Cyclists Against Cancer team (formerly Myers Center). With these guys it is always a hammerfest.

I felt pretty good going into the day - managed to stay in the top third or so for Callahan Mt and the first part of the watershed. Kirk and Randy and one of the CAC riders (Joe) were riding really strong on those climbs and pulled a pretty big gap on me.

At the right turn for the second part of the watershed climb, Kirk, Randy and I waited for our team-mate Abhay before we set off in chase of the CAC guys. They blew past us as we circled around for Abhay.

Kirk set a blistering pace up the road. Even on the steepest section, I was working my tail off just to stay on the wheels of those guys. Eventually, he pulled off the front and I expected him to tag right on to the back. Unfortunately, Randy kept up that blistering pace and Kirk didn't have anything left to grab our wheels.

After a little while, Abhay had enough and pulled out of the line. I grabbed onto Randy's wheel and he kept up the pace. With Kirk's blistering leadout and Randy's diesel motoring up the climb, we had the other guys in sight. I recognized the signs of fatigue in Randy, so I pulled up next to him to take the lead.

We weren't that far away and I love a good chase, but unfortunately at the state line, I was still about 8 bike lengths back from that group. A little more distance, or maybe if I would have sprinted I could have caught them, but alas, I didn't quite make it. It was a blast hanging on Kirk's then Randy's wheel before making the final bid.

I stopped at the state line to wait for those three while the others kept on rolling. We set off in chase, but didn't catch them until after we made the turn onto Mine Mountain road. We all played racer along Mine Mountain, but when the time came to make the turn, they turned right to climb the grade, we turned left to climb the dirt road.

Once at the Bakery, we convinced them to follow us along on the Holbert Cove / Green River Cove Road ride - it would add about 20 miles to the ride.

The last time I rode this section of roads, they had just re-done the chip/seal paving on Holbert cove road. As we made our way along it this time, the amount of gravel was significantly reduced. I was pleased as this is a really fun road with some hard rollers that are almost real hills (relative to the effort you have to exert to get up them).

Pretty early along the road, Randy set a blistering pace. At the top of one small climb, he and I were at the front, but he had about 4 bike lengths on me. As we crested the top, I saw him shift and knew he was going for the break. I briefly considered sprinting to catch him, but I had a line of riders behind me and that would defeat the purpose of Randy's break attempt. So, I actually backed off slightly and let Big Mike come up to the front. It was my job now to simply hang with these guys and respond to any attacks they might make.

Randy built a sizable gap pretty quickly and was soon out of sight with all of the twists and turns this road takes. As we road along, I remembered a pretty wicked hairpin turn right at the bottom of a pretty steep little hill. I warned those guys about it as we approached, but we still went in pretty hot.

I was behind Big Mike and Will was behind me. Scott and Joe were also riding along and I think they were behind Will. Bringing up the rear was Abhay and Allen. As we all braked for the hairpin turn, I watched Mike roll across the other lane and into the grass. I had managed to bring my speed down pretty well and was able to roll through the turn. When I looked back, I saw that both Will and Scott (and perhaps Joe) had gone across the other lane and stopped in the grass on the shoulder.

Of course, being in a racing mindset, I saw this as a great opportunity to go for a break. I went through a couple of other turns, and then I came upon another right hand hairpin. Unfortunately for me, I wasn't fully prepared for this one, and despite my best braking efforts, I couldn't get slowed down quickly. Compounding the situation was some areas of gravel that caused me to get the bike completely sideways at least once.

It was this sideways action that made me fully realize my error. It was then I knew I wasn't going to be able to make the turn. Unlike the first hairpin, I didn't see any run-off area by going straight ahead. So, I simply increased the radius of my turn while I continued to scrub as much speed as possible. I crossed over the other lane and went into the grass just past mid-way through the turn.

Of course, I was at a pretty good lean angle (even though I had straightened up as much as possible due to the gravel) so about as soon as I went into the grass, I went down on the low side.

Of course, the low side is generally much preferred over the high side, so I was pleased about that at least. I was also pleased that I was completely off the pavement before any part of my body or bike hit the ground. However, I saw the right shifter / brake lever jam into the ground pretty hard and the bike did actually do a 180. I had to roll my body along the ground as my right foot was still clipped in.

When I came to a stop, I took a brief moment to do the self-check - no broken bones, no head injury (didn't even hit the ground), untangled myself from the bike and stood up to assess the damage.

The chain had come off, and there was damage to the hood on the right shifter / brake lever. This caused me some concern, but the only way to check it was to ride. Of course, as I was checking out the bike, here comes the rest of the crew.

I got the chain in place and set off to keep with them. It was then I realized I sprained my left thumb. It hurt quite a bit and I couldn't shift to the big ring with my left hand. I also realized the right shifter was a little out of wack. It wasn't shifting cleanly and didn't seem to be returning all the way after I used the brake.

I played around with it for a while and it seemed to start shifting a little better. Because my hand was sore and I was unsure of the damage to the rear brake lever, I tried to stay out of the rotation and at the back. Last thing I wanted to do was to cause an accident while riding in the pack.

We continued along Green River Cove Road holding a pretty good pace. My shifting seemed to get better as I used it. Made me think that there was probably some grit down there and through the use it was getting worked out.

As we got closer to the switchbacks, Randy and Allen made a break and opened a sizable gap. Nobody responded, and I was still riding near the back. I was starting to feel better, so eventually, I managed to open a gap as well. I overtook Allen before the switchbacks, but Randy was going strong.

As we started climbing, I could see Randy as he was generally on the same switchback as I was. I worked towards reeling him in, but was watching behind.

Sure enough, Big Mike was powering up the hill like a madman! He pulled past me looking really strong and overtook Randy pretty quickly after that. Joe was coming on strong behind him, but I managed to hold him off for a little while. I can't recall now if I passed Randy before Joe passed me or not, but eventually, it was Big Mike, Joe, Me, Randy and Scott. The order after that was unknown to me. I tried to stay on Joe's wheel, but he was pumping away and I just didn't have it to stay with him.

We took a store stop and decided the best course of action would be to head back along the traditional bakery route (essentially straight down the watershed). The fun part was riding through town - the Coon Dog Day Parade was going on and we managed to ride through as part of it! Big fun!

Going down the watershed was as fun as going up it. From the state line, Randy set a hard pace and we had a short line of bikes rolling behind him. It ended in a sprint to the 'stop ahead' sign where Randy inched me out (dammit!).

We made the turn for the final descent down to Dividing Waters road. This time I took the lead and started at a reasonable pace, but gradually wound it up as we descended. As we approached the turns, Randy came flying by followed closely by Scott. Of course I took Chase! Randy and Me against one was better than any one on one!

We rolled through the turns and ended up in a 3 bike rotation. Randy took the first pull and gave a great effort. I did my best to keep up the pace and did my share of the work. As I dropped off to give the lead over to Scott, Randy said to me "let's take it all the way to the line". I wasn't sure exactly what line he was talking about, but I thought what the hell - I'm game!

When Scott took the lead, we were maybe a mile from the intersection of Callahan Mt Road - this is the line Randy was talking about. As I rode in formation behind Randy, I saw him tap his thigh. Obviously he was about to make like a rocket!

No doubt - he stood up and hammered it! Had he not warned me, I would never have been able to respond. But, because he did warn me, I was ready for it. I stayed on his wheel as we flew past Scott. After a moment, I looked back and saw Scott trying to respond, but our attack was so swift and we opened a gap so quickly, he had no chance.

I stayed behind Randy until I sensed he was starting to tire. At that point, I pulled around him and kept on the gas. As I approached the Callahan Mt road intersection, I looked back and Scott was still well behind Randy who had let up a little after I came around him.

Despite going into one corner way to hot, it was a super fun ride with some great peeps. We worked ourselves pretty hard on the climbs and on the descents. When I was loading up my bike, I pulled the hood back on my right side shifter and found a rock wedged between the brake lever and the hood!

I rode again today and the shifting was no problem - at least until the cable broke. But that is a tale for another day.

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