Sunday, January 24, 2010

Southern Cross Again

This past weekend I made it down to Georgia for Southern Cross. It got snowed out two weeks ago but this time the radar was looking clear. Last year was the first year for the race and it had been run out of Mulberry Gap near Ellijay and had only been about 35 miles long. This year it was being run out of the same start-finish venue as Fool's Gold, near Dahlonega, and was about 50 miles. The format was pretty much the same as last year though, and the course was a good one. The first cyclocross section led into a long climb of about eight miles that flattened out a bit before a steep descent, then about seven miles of pavement, then a second long climb and descent, back to the venue for the second cyclocross section and the finish.

I was not taking this race very seriously. It's January. Big things loom on the far horizons. The short days and icy cold of the past weeks had led to uninspired cycling and unrideable trails. I was looking forward to it though-- something to jolt me out of my doldrums. A hard ride, good friends, epic weather, some painful fun with a beer at the end. What the hell else would I ever race a bike for?

Foggy. A dash of mud.
photos by Eddie

The morning was mild but foggy, the ground damp and muddy but no rain on the horizon. The first pass through the cyclocross course was fine but I had some issues in the very beginning and did not get a strong start. The course headed out onto the gravel road and the road got steep almost immediately. On a really muddy stretch I finally got a gap on a woman I'd been passing back and forth with. The muddier, looser sections definitely favored people with a mountain bike background, and many others were faltering. I hit the gas a little to open up the gap, not wanting to let her follow my lines on the first big descent. And when the gravel pointed down I used all the speed I had to leave her behind. At the bottom of the hill was a sharp right onto pavement, and I turned into a headwind across the farm fields. I couldn't find anyone to work with in this section, so I tried to get aero and just grind out the miles.

All alone and riding into a headwind...

The course soon returned to the woods, soon turned back into gravel, and followed along a river. Still there were no racers for a paceline to share the work. I was caught from behind by a man drafting a woman who maneuvered so I couldn't hop on with them. I thought it was a pretty weird move for a race like this. It didn't really matter since even without an assist I was riding stronger than the woman could on the steep parts. I still thought they might catch me from behind again at some point so I kept my speed up in the hopes of holding on to third place. I always want to ride a strong race but I also want to ride a good race. Style points count.

The second climb got steep. The fog closed in again, and the mud slowed the pace down. I'd burned a lot of energy on the road fighting the headwinds and was dehydrated and underfueled after losing a bottle early on in the race. Finally rolled into the second aid station, grabbed two fresh bottles, and headed out with new speed. I still thought I might get caught from behind. The second long descent back to the race venue came, and I hung it out there even more than I had on the first one. Railing muddy turns and hopping potholes in the drops, sketchy but fun. Funneled in through the course marking tape for the second part of the cyclocross course. It began with a giant run-up, which was long but not all that horrible. I looked down from the top and still didn't see anyone down below me, meaning I probably had at least a five minute cushion to the finish. I relaxed a bit, then a bit more when I saw the cross course next contained a quarter mile of flowy singletrack.

Refocusing from the long stare of gravel to the close attention of singletrack was a fantastic relief. A palate cleanser. An attitude adjuster. I carved down the trail happy. Then back to the camp for some traditional cyclocross barriers and stair steps, and I rolled across the finish line in third place. Five bowls of chili, three pieces of cornbread, and a couple beers later I was recovered.

I feel pretty satisfied. I wasn't taking this race too seriously and was coming off almost three weeks of very little bike time. Feeling pressure for the entire race made me push myself good and hard on that last climb. Every muscle was working at the outer limits of its ability, heart and lungs at full throttle. Bumping up against anaerobic just to the point of drool, but still just focused enough to stay out of the ditch. Mentally plotting out the final miles of the course, how to save what little I had left for when it needed to be spent. Calculating the mathematics of effort. Standing in the pedals to coax just one more pedal stroke out, over and over and over. It had been a while since I'd been all the way to that edge. I'd had the flu at Shenandoah 100 and had a fractured rib at Swank 65. FM24 and Pisgah 99 had both just been slow and long (very long). I had to think all the way back to Leadville for the last time I'd pushed that far out. It felt like visiting an old friend. I love that feeling. That is why I race.

The post-race was as good as the race. Eddie and Nam had found an awesome rental log cabin near the race venue and we had packed ten people in it. A four-star spot made even better by good friends old and new, a nice post-race glow, a hot tub, giant plates of pasta, and especially by the mini-keg of homebrewed toasted-coconut porter stowed in the fridge.

Southern Cross was an awesome mid-winter shindig and totally worthwhile. Just like last year it was a fantastic party, a kick-ass race, and a reminder of how much fun riding a bike can be. This has set the tone for the year, and I'm excited for 2010.

1 comment:

  1. Love the positivity girl! Excited to see you next week.