Leesville Gap Road Race Report
I arrived a little over an hour before the race started. It was just enough time to register, procrastinate, swap out my cassette on to my race wheel, make a couple of trips to the bathroom, and hop on my bike approximately 3 minutes before the race started. It turned out, a lack of a warm up was not detrimental to my race. I did have time for a brief race strategy discussion with one of my friends. It went like this: (Pinky:) What do you think we should do this race? (Brain:) The same thing we do every time we race with the semi-pros – try to stay on their wheels.
From the start line, it was a neutral roll out through Williams. The pace was very slow and I was wondering just how long the neutral part was. At around mile 7, the group slowed to a stop for no apparent reason. I can only say this about what happened next: It was the first sprint of the day. Yes, a sprint to rip my jersey and bibs, find a spot approximately 2 feet away from someone else, and take care of some things before everyone started riding again.
Within a couple of miles, the “poor” pavement started as promised in the race flyer.. Immediately, I could see how this was going to go. The road was out to get us. It was going to take us down one by one. The first victim was one of the 3’s. She was off her bike trying to get to the side of the road before we even really got started. I swerved to the right and narrowly avoided her. The next victim was my spare water bottle which was totally full with cytomax. Oops! Along with committing a serious party foul (luckily, I was near the back of the group),
this was not going to help my hydration.
The poor pavement stretched on for miles and miles. It was like patchwork on old, abused roads. Actually, I don’t even know if it really qualified as a road. It was the worst pavement you’ve ever been on, but 100 times worse and continuous over miles and miles. There was no smooth line to be had. Only the line with the shallowest holes. This went on and on with the added bonus of a couple of masters men who couldn’t seem to get the out of the way! While I had some misgivings about the dirt sections before the race started, this race gave me a little perspective. It turns out that when the pavement is awful, dirt is actually a welcomed respite from the bouncing and vibrating. I drifted around a bit in the dirt/gravel, but kept pedaling. When in doubt, throttle out?
Finally, we started the climb. No, the pavement did not improve. The main group was a little ahead and the remaining women split apart. I passed a couple of people and it started getting harder and harder to breathe. My legs were totally unaware of my lungs and kept turning the pedals independent of my brain and lungs. I kept a group in sight for most of the climb, but I didn’t realize when I was nearing the top and should have pushed harder. On the descent, I went as fast as I could considering that it was seriously bumpy and my arms were vibrating out of their sockets. I wanted to go fast to get it over with, but I also knew that I didn’t want to hit an awful pothole at speed and lose a tire. My vision was crisscrossed and blurred and my brain was scrambled. Finally, another woman caught up to me and all I heard was “sit” so I grabbed onto her wheel.
It is hard to draft/work together when the road is total crap with interspersed dirt/gravel sections. The problem is that one has to be close to take advantage of the draft, but it’s really dangerous to be so close when the leader is zig-zagging all over the place dodging potholes and shrapnel. It was so bad that my chain was involuntarily slipping off of my big ring and onto the small – even after I made sure to keep it in a good gear in the rear. Fun. Times. We tried to work together but the chain slipping slowed me down too much. Finally, it fell off all together to the inside so I had to stop to fix it.
Two other girls whizzed by as I was stopped. There were additional victims littering the side of the road waiting for a support vehicle. I hopped back on my bike and started pedaling only to notice that my right brake lever seemed to be at a much more aggressive tilt than I remembered. Damn! I stopped again and took a look. My whole handlebar wasn’t moving… Nothing was moving but it definitely was more forward. I paused to ask another victim of the road if it looked alright. His only useful information was that the bumpy part was over. I soft-pedaled while I contemplated what to do…. Was my bike safe to ride? Probably but I wasn’t sure. Do I stop? Or go? Does the sufferfest continue or does the road win?
Another girl came up and I decided to go. Turns out, it was someone I knew. Yippee! We started working together. I only had a little sports drink left at this point but I could finally relax enough to eat. So around mile 20-25, I pulled out a cliff bar, took a bite, and the cliff bar promptly became another victim of the road. We passed people right and left on the side of the road fixing tires and trying flag us down for spare tubes. There were more bumpy sections and the road was wearing me down. Somewhere around miles 30-35, I started wondering if I should just let the road win because I was feeling quite jiggled around and annoyed that I had lost so much time. Plus, I think I was on the verge of bonking.
I was really almost out of liquids so I had some GU which was the next closest thing. I tried to pull through but mostly I just sat behind my friend who seemed psyched not to be by herself. The good thing about said friend is that she is a flatlander. And not just any flatlander, but a Davis flatlander. She was a powerhouse into the wind on the flat sections. When the second (smaller) climb came, I was excited because I was going to earn my keep by towing her up the hill. I motored along only to realize at the top that my pace had exceeded hers by a little too much to be helpful to her. Oops! The downhill was fun and smooth (finally!) but not long enough. Could we really be done with the crappy pavement? It seemed too good to be true.
On the next short hill, I realized we were coming up on the feed zone. This was not a moment too soon. I had a couple of more swallows of sports drink left and it was quite warm outside. I refilled and I have to say that I have never had water as good as the water in that feed zone. Delicious! I pulled out a nature valley bar and tried to muster up the saliva to get some of it down . No luck, so I had to use my delicious water to rinse and encourage the dry crumbs down my throat. The next 20 miles were mostly flat and would have been… less than ideal if I had been by myself. The food and water were exactly what I had needed. I came back to life and starting doing a lot more work.
Finally, we had 10 miles to go. This race was one of attrition. All I wanted to do was finish. My butt hurt and my neck and back were not enjoying being all lopsided with my special re-arranged handlebars. Not to mention all of the new rattling noises my bike was now making. I was feeling good though and started to get my “we’re close to the finish” rush. Ticking off the last few miles, we picked up the pace a little. We seemed to be on a never ending long straight flat road. I saw 60 miles on my Garmin before I saw any signs of a finish line. I had a momentary conversation in my head that went like this: WTF? Where is the finish line? This is a 60 mile race. Right? Did I read the flyer correctly? Where is the damn finish line? Why can’t I see it? No really, WHERE is the finish????
Three miles later, I saw 1K to go. Our rotations was really getting dialed and I happened to be in front. What to do? Just keep going…. She pulled through and was ahead when we came up on the next sign: 200 to go. Based on her flatlander abilities, I was sure she had a better sprint. I jumped, nonetheless, like I was sprinting for 1st (not 20th or whatever we were) and did not stop until I crossed the line. While I would like to say that my fabulous sprint came together in the last 20 meters, she never went so I was just practicing by myself.
As I crossed the line, I did not care how many people had finished in front of me. I was just happy to outsmart the road. It tried to demoralize me, but with a little luck (no flat tires!) and some perseverance, my bike and I made it (in one piece!). Williams continued to deliver the deliciousness with post-race watermelon. I described the race to my non-cyclist friends who were baffled as to why I would even attempt such a feat. As I compared notes with cyclist friends, we complained about the pain, the suffering, and the awful (+ or -) road. But, the things is, we’ll probably be back next year.