Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Hellhole Gravel Stage Race

my race number
The race was in the Francis Marion State Forest in Cordesville, SC and consisted of a prologue on Friday night and two 65 mile stages taking place on Saturday and Sunday.  This was my first time racing a stage race of any kind.  I knew going into it that it would be fast since it was flat.  My buddy Kelly and I drove down early Friday to give us time to get to the KOA and not rush to ge to the Prologue.

"Camping" at KOA
The Prologue was a 6 mile course that we were sent off in thirty second increments.  Nothing exciting happened except I was hoping the guy behind me wouldn't catch me and pass me.  He caught me, but I kicked it the last few hundred yards to keep from getting passed.  I will say that had the legs on fire from pushing the red line for the seventeen minutes it took.

prologue warm-up joke

Stage One was going to be a combined start of those of us racing the two stages and those racing the one day and those racing for 35 miles.  It was a mass start and had no clue who was racing the what distance.  I jumped into a nice pace line, but with this being gravel roads
there were potholes that you needed to watch for also.  Three miles into the race I paid for attaching a third bottle holder on my seatpost.  I hit a pothole and it turned the third bottle holder into a bottle launcher instead.  I had to change my game plan now from going all 65 miles without stopping to hitting the only aid station at mile 27.  I rotated to the back of the pace line a few miles later and drilled another decent pothole that sent another bottle launching into the brush on the side of the road, so I had to stop and find it.  I squeezed the metal bottle cages tighter to prevent this from happening again and it worked.  Now, I had to give chase to this group of 10-12 racers that dropped me.  I kept pushing my pace, but couldn't catch back on.  I came across a couple riders ahead and they jumped on my wheel to work together and then we gathered a couple others.  We were coming up to the aid station and I let them know I was stopping and asked what they were doing.  The response from all but one of them was, "going right."  That was not good since right meant they were the 35 mile racers, so I took off on my own.  For the rest of this stage I was on my own except for about 5 miles where I worked with another racer.  With about 9 miles to go one of my bottle cages on the bike worked a screw out, so I was stopping again to take the cage off to put in my jersey pocket.  Lesson learned, check bottle cages for day 2 and put the third one in my jersey pocket.  I crossed the line in a timeof 3:28 that I was not happy with, but could have been worse.

Photo taken by Brian Fancher
Stage Two I was hoping to be a better day than the previous.  We were warned that after 5 miles of gravel road we would be dumped into 3-4 miles of singletrack.  My goal was to be as close to the front as possible going into the singletrack to help my buddy Kelly out who was sitting 3rd in the GC.  When the race started I was about halfway in the pack on the left side of the road when I made the jump to the right and pushed hard to the front.  I know two jumped on my wheel and Kelly was sitting 4th behind me.  We pulled ahead of the group on the right and Kelly and two others went around us on the left.  They missed the right turn into the woods and I started yelling as loud as possible to try and get Kelly's attention.  The motorcycle guy gave chase to them, and I went into the woods.  I was at least 20 back going into the woods now when I heard Kelly letting me know he was behind me, so I moved out of the way, so he could chase the leaders down.  About another mile or so I caught a branch between the wheel and derailleur, so I stopped to remove it and lost the lead group again.  I kept having shifting issues on the singletrack, so when we finally dumped out on the road I stopped to look at it and bend the derailleur in just a little which seemed to improve the shifting. Positive was I never lost a bottle on the singletrack.   Here I am again 10 miles into the race and the lead group was over a quarter mile up the road.  Nothing I could do to catch them, but watch them slowly pull away.  I was again in no man's land for the next 30 miles until a group of 5 racers caught up to me.  I jumped in with them taking pulls and my average speed was increasing since joining the group.  With about 15 miles to go I saw a racer pushing his bike and knew him from previous races, so I started yelling at him for what he needed.  I stopped to give him a CO2 and the inflator.  We were off and Brian is a strong rider and in exchange for my stopping he pulled me the next 5 miles until he had to adjust his seatpost that had been slipping all day and I went on.  I got within eyesight of that group, but couldn't close the gap.  Today's stage I crossed the line in 3:38.

This race was awesome and well run by the promoters and as flat as it was I am looking forward to returning next year to have a better go at it.  I ended up finishing 10th in my age group over the course of the three days.

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