06 January, 2008

Snake Creek Gap #1

The race season has begun. Well, not really, but because old man winter has re-established his semiannual claim on the trails of Ohio, I drive south the first Saturday of January, February and March to compete in northern Georgia's premier early season race series; The Snake Creek Gap 6 Mountain Time Trial. Chip and I raced two of them last year, and hope to do all three this year. For all intents and purposes I peaked during the February race last year, and the rest of my season got muddled with work and paying bills, and went down hill from there. Hoping to make this year a bit different.

The plan: Do all three races, single speed, and do some riding the days before or after if possible to take advantage of the trail systems nearby and the mild winter. Treat the races like 3.5-4 hour training rides, and motivation to continue to ride outdated exercise bikes in hotel "fitness centers," preparing for this years NUE series starting in mid April.

What actually happened (or has happened thus far): Chip, John, Chris and I met up at the Days Inn in Dalton. Chip and John enjoyed the 12 hour trip down, joined by Chip's wife Amy and her Cleveland Rollergirl counterpart, Spicer. Chris and I took the scenic (read only) route from Brevard, NC to Dalton, GA. (Route 64 to....??uh 74, and then down GA411). All in All a 5 hour jaunt that didn't look nearly that far on the map. If you find yourself on this stretch of road be sure to stop at the Ocoee Dam Deli. The cinnamon sugar sprinkled sweet potato fries will let you forgive their over use of the obvious menu pun (Dam Soup, Dam Starters, Dam Sandwiches, Dam Drinks etc).

We settled in a little close for comfort; 3 to a room, bikes, kits, tools, supplements, work stands, and iPODs everywhere. Chris and I had just come off our 12 degree nights, shivering from the early morning hours as we struggled to stay in our bags for the 13th hour of "sleep," yet I was unable to procure private sleeping arrangements. Move over Davis, and what was that you said about confusing me with you wife? Better hope she never hears that.
Early Saturday morning we downed some Waffle House, drank coffee and wondered about the waitress....the "y'all aren't from around here" kinda gal. Drove over to the parking lot and met up with some other Ohioans. Wilhelm, Carson and his girlfriend Lauren all made it down to this months edition. Word has obviously spread. Here's Chip loading his Dieringer onto the trailer as Wilhelm looks on, other Spin folk visible standing around as usual.
After two hours of gawking at the array of bikes and racers we loaded onto the bus. I've seen a lot of footage of the bus ride from Pakistan along the Kangamangus highway into the Tibetan side of the Himalayans. Those drivers don't have shit on the volunteer bus driver for Snake Creek. This woman took an old school bus, perhaps designed with lightweight children in mind, filled it +6 with bikers and gear and water, and proceeded to climb up the mountain road, crested the top and pointed for the valley. Halfway down the hill, breaks burning, we hear a buzzer go off in the front cab, and the woman yelling, "Hold on," and then towards the cars in front of us, "Get out of the way." I'm glad she didn't actually wait for them to answer, but simply went left of center twisting down the mountain and passed a string of traffic. A string of traffic that, it should be noted, was shuttling $100,000 worth of 70
75 aluminum, carbon fiber, and at least 24.5 lbs. of steel dear to my heart.
We reached the upper parking lot, milled around a bit. I had decided to touch every adjustment and air pressure on my fork the previous night, and pre race jitters manifested themselves as a constant compressing and recompressing my fork. Last year the racers were sent off at 1:00 intervals in groups of two or three. This years crowd changed that. The line moved a lot faster and the timers were a little more "deliberate" with their instructions as they tried to get groups of 5 out every 30 seconds. Chip and I managed to take off together. Chip's stupid grin in this picture makes me think he left the starting line knowing something that I didn't; that his 34 miles and nearly 7,000 ft of climbing was to hold a perfect day of riding.
And it was. What that kid pulled off this early in the season was truly incredible. More of that later. There are unfortunately very few (no) race pics. Spicer was able to grab this beaut. The 35 degree morning had quickly turned into a low 50s day, and after the first 1,000ft of climbing, I de-hatted mid cadence and re helmeted. The resulting hairstyle is worth noting, and sure to catch on. I can also be seen trying to remove my team tourniquet's, er...armwarmers....an impossible feat which I had to abandon by the end of this parking lot.
This was the half way point. I had let Chip get about a minute on me. I think he just got lonely, and I eventually closed it during the longest downhill, and we road together for a bit along a rolling grassy fire road and into a gravel road climb. His 32 x 18 climbed faster than my 32 x20 and I lost him on this road, but nearly caught him by the top. The flat, last few sections of fast rock free singletrack allowed his gearing to pull away again, and into the rocky hell that always seems to get me, no matter how good I feel going in. I started cramping pretty bad as I walked "the wall" as I've now heard a few other racers call it. From there, the last few miles of technitrack felt like a controlled fall from rock to rock. I pushed the singlespeed downhill as fast as I could, spinning 120 RPM if needed to put a little more energy in. I railed the gravel fireroad, nearly died on the new single track they cut to connect to the road, and then actually passed a geared rider on the long road downhill to the finish line.

Exhausted, we just kind of hung around the parking lot. Somewhere along the course Chip developed scoliosis for this shot, and in the next I decided that 3.5 hours just wasn't enough time spent in that chamois.

Results: John Davis, racing the 34 mile "money class" (open class), made a large improvement on his best time from last year, finishing 7th of 11, with a time of 3:34:13. The addition of this money class brought some fast guys out of the woodwork, and John is psyched to pick up some time over the next two races.

Chris Steffens, took a break from his grad school endeavours, raced the 34 mile, men under 35 category and ended up 17 of 27 with a time of 4:50:57.

The singlespeed half of the group had a great day, finishing First and Second (out of 24) in the 34 mile men's singlespeed category. Chip with a time of 3:23:52 and me with a time of 3:29:12. These were both faster than our best times from last year (with gears!!), and Chip's time is the fastest SS time recorded in the young history of the category at Snake Creek (by a very important 2 seconds)

Looking forward to February. Thanks to Spin Bike Shop/RR Donnelley and the rest of our sponsors. And special thanks to the girls for taking all the pictures, enduring all the bike talk, and being out numbered in the hotel room.

GPS links here. Don't know what happened to the last 2 miles or so???

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