Monday, August 30, 2010

How I Won River Gorge

Yes, fawning worshipers, I have returned. Max Watzz to the rescue.

I'm here today to tell you about my bone-crushing victory at the River Gorge Omnium this past weekend in Chattanooga. I was -- as you have no doubt come to expect -- spectacular. My performance was such that grown men openly wept, marveling at my unbridled power, fearful that the earth itself might give way beneath the thrust of my massive loins. Women alongside the course were seen striking their husbands with their fists, berating them for not being me ... and some of these women were married to that guy in the Old Spice commercials -- a notorious polygamist. The horse that the Old Spice guy was riding was up there watching me race, and it immediately flung itself off the nearest cliff in shameful realization that my legs are stronger than his could ever possibly hope to become.

I was transcendent. I was mythic. I was ... well, I was damned fast.

But enough about me ... let's talk about me. I was --

-- Click --

Oh, gosh. Did I just hang up on Max? Oops.

Hi, folks! It's RandoBoy, again, here to tell you what really happened.

The short story is that Max did kind of win his time trial -- although just for our age group. He was second in the Cat 5s, but that made him the fastest old fart ... oh, sorry, 40+ cyclist. We got a gold medal ... well, a gold-colored medal. Suitable for hanging. Not suitable or deserving of the above brouhaha.

That's not to say that it wasn't fun, of course. RandoGirl and I had a great time, enjoyed some lovely cycling in beautiful country, and got to see a lot of my racing friends.

Tennessee River from top of Raccoon Mountain

We drove down to Chattanooga Friday night, hoping to get to the check-in event at the Terminal Brewhouse. The menu mentioned homemade root beer, and I wanted to meet Saul Raisin. Unfortunately, traffic and construction slowed us down, so we instead went straight to the hotel and got a good night's sleep. I then went over to the ride start in the morning to check in and get my numbers.

RandoGirl planned to do a group ride with the Chattanooga Bicycle Club down in Chickamauga, GA, while I did my road race. We got dressed and got our bikes ready, and then I took my bike out to ride the mile to the race start. As I headed out of the parking lot of the hotel, however, I feathered the rear brake -- and it immediately locked up.

"This ain't right," I said, as I checked it out. Sure enough, the cable was seizing in the housing, and no amount of working it or dripping chain lube into it would get it moving smoothly. Time was running down, and I realized that there was no way I could fix it myself in time for the race.

My sad saggy cable

Since I was not willing to do a mountainous road race without a rear brake, I returned to the hotel and looked up the hours for local bike shops. Suck Creek Cycles, whom I had seen for years at the start of the 3-State 3-Mountain century, was the clear winner: They opened at 8:30 am, and were less than 10 miles away by bike.

Despite having to remember not to try to use my rear brake, I had a very nice ride over to the store. I skirted the edge of Lookout Mountain, went through downtown, and then rode over the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge. Suck Creek Cycles quickly identified and repaired the issue, even putting some "anti-seize" in the housing to help avoid recurrence. I was rolling back towards the hotel with everything in proper shape before 9 am.

Now, a bicycle racer would have done the smart thing at this time and rested his legs at the hotel for the remainder of the morning. Obviously, that is not what I did, since I'm more of a bicycle rider than a bicycle racer. Instead, I went back out and rode the race course at a nice easy pace. The Pro/1/2 guys passed me going up one climb, and I saw a few other racers out there, but mostly I just enjoyed the scenery and the excellent weather.

I skipped the final 3.5-mile climb up Raccoon Mountain and headed more or less straight to the hotel, returning just after 11 am to get cleaned up and wait for RandoGirl to return. Once she had showered and dressed, we checked out of the hotel, grabbed some lunch, and drove to the park.

If you're ever in Chattanooga, I recommend that you bike up to the Raccoon Mountain visitor's center and check it out. It's really impressive the way that they pump water up from the river to a big lake on top of the mountain, and then let it out to generate electricity in times of high demand.

They also have some really scary dead and stuffed wildlife.

"Get your own tree, butt-head!"

After seeing the sights, we drove down to the finish area for the time trial. We set up chairs and our cooler, and then I got dressed and ready to race. It was nice hanging out, talking with some of the other racers, and enjoying the breeze coming up from the valley, and RandoGirl had a front-row seat.

About 45 minutes before my start time, I went out to ride around and warm up. This is always kind of tricky, and a lot of riders put their bikes on stationary trainers for this. I get bored on a trainer, however, so I ride the road and try to combine some fast spinning with a few short hard efforts. To do this on Saturday, I kept having to go around the parking area by one of the overlooks, and then roll back down the mountain about half a mile so I could pump my way back up. My legs felt good, though, by the time I got to the starting line just before 4 pm.

At each of the time trials that I did this year, they sent us off at 30-second intervals. At the start line, one race official holds your bike so you can clip in to your pedals and roll out fast, while another official counts down the seconds. Then the clock beeps and you start pedaling like crazy, working as hard as you can.

The race course was actually downhill overall, with the first mile or so pretty level. Then we had this lump of a climb, which I went into with as much gear as I could push. Eventually, sucking air like a ramjet, I got over the top and started down a long gradual descent. I shifted up into as much gear as I had and spun like crazy to get some speed. Meanwhile, I tucked down as low as I could, trying to minimize the wind drag of my body.

Coming out of the trees like this, you're flying at 45 mph or so when the wind hits you cross-wise and your bike jerks a bit. It takes every bit of calm skill that you can muster to stay down, keep your hands away from the brakes, and try to keep the bike heading fast towards the end.

After this section, the course went over the largest rock fill dam ever built by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The wind was pushing me around, trying to throw me into the rocks and down the cliff of the dam. I stayed low and worked hard, and then the wind was in my face as I came around. Finally, I took the hard right turn into another fast descent, followed by one more half mile of level ground before crossing the finish line ... totally spent.

It took me nine minutes and 10 seconds to go 4.1 miles. The winner was just over eight seconds faster.

As I mentioned above, they broke us out by age groups. Since the winner was a young whippersnapper (38 -- just a kid), I got a gold medal.

Since this was the last race of the season, the best part was the knowledge that at least I don't have to do this again. At least, not for a few months.

PS: No horses were harmed in the making of this blog.

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