Ahh the spring classics. Do you prefer the cobbles or the small fierce hills of the Ardennes? Maybe you, like me, are a fan of the Strade Bianche – Eroica Pro with the long stretches of gravel. If you are a fan of the sport, you have tried to imagine what it would be like to race in these monuments. Many people travel great distances to ride the courses in the days before the pro races and then stick around to cheer on their favorite riders over the same roads on a cycling holiday. I’ve always wanted to do one of those, and I’m sure I would leave with a greater appreciation of the roads and athletes.
What if getting to Europe for a cycling vacation is just outside of the 5 year plan? Well, this year the Alabama Wheelmen created a course that would allow you to have a cycling staycation and get out and test yourself against the fierce roads of Yukon TN and other local riders and racers with the added benefit of being home in time for dinner. OK, I hear you saying, how can I compare these events? True, you won’t see the name Michael Kwiatkowski painted on the roads, and Poorhouse Road won’t quite give you the same, hair standing up on your neck, as say rolling onto the lower slopes of the Cauberg. But there is no denying that the roads are heavy and unless you live very locally, you don’t ride these roads on a daily basis. Heavy Roads? Let me see if I can describe them.
The route is a lollypop. You take the same roads up as you take back and if you were in the “A” group you will have done 2 laps of the lolly hopefully before you went pop. The roads on the loop are mostly chip seal and there are many potholes to add to the risk of flats and total wheel destruction. There are 4 climbs per lap each averaging about 300ft of elevation gain at between 6 and 8.5%. Add in the ride up and back and you get 3,750 ft of climbing. Oh yeah, and one is on gravel.
The spirit of the ride was to have KOM sections where everyone could test themselves but then after the finish of each marked section the pace was supposed to drop enough so that the group could organically come back together. It was the first year and the first time to see these roads for most. And what happens when you put a bunch of bike racers on a course and bless them with great weather? They go for it. So not a whole ton of easy “organic” regrouping was to be found. I was able to drag myself back to the group 8 times, so there was some slowing. It might have helped that I was the “guy that knew the course” so I think I got a little extra consideration before the pressing on began in earnest.
This year the A group started with maybe 12 to 15 riders but ended with far fewer. The roads were beautiful and challenging and judging by the smiles in the picture above we all had a great time. As we plug back into the stationary trainers because of the deteriorating weather this week I will remember the sun on my face and the thrill of new roads. I can’t wait until I have one of these new frames with clearance for 28c tires.
Thank you James and Jacqy for your efforts and big thank you to Tellini’s for hosting us. I’m already looking forward to next year.
EDIT: In the report above I painted a pretty rosy picture and failed to mention that we had a few organizational hiccups. Some folks got turned around on the course and we didn’t have a good plan for how to handle that. I understand how that can take the fun out of an event super quick and I’m sorry for that. We also had a couple of flats and that is probably always going to happen over roads like this. Why didn’t I mention it? Partly because I had an incident free event and, well, this is my race report and I’m still buzzing from such a great day. Truly though, we have received and care about your feedback and are already intending to improve on the event for next year. Seriously, I took notes. This year was a no-frills event (I think it even said that in the flyer) but the vision moving forward looks much more like a well organized Gran Fondo. We will work on a plan to mark the course and to have a water stop/home base out on the loop. We also want to make sure we have a plan to not leave anyone out on the course stranded should a serious mechanical or medical happen. Happy to receive more feedback in comments below and feel free to volunteer to help out in next years prep work too. Sincere thanks to all who participated. We need your help to spread the word about the event. We do this for y’all and events like this will go away quickly without participation.