This year the race course was being run backwards, down hills we normally climb but also up hills we normally descend. The only hill that stayed true to form was the infamous Hill of Truth. This year not only did we climb the entire front side but the race started us off climbing half way up the backside. The race also was started in the wet grassy field next to the road where we usually start the race. The two new combinations really did a good job of scattering out the field before entering the tight wooded singletrack. As usual Brad lead us out will a blistering pace followed by myself in 2nd, Andy in 3rd & Anthony 4th.
While Brad was out murdering the field I got dressed in what I thought might be necessary and proceeded to do laps around the two mini lakes just in front of our EZ-UP city.
Brad came in in 54 minutes putting us in 2nd place, the fastest lap our team saw and the only lap GRT would see in under an hour. Every lap the course got slicker and muddier slowing the pace and increasing the effort to stay upright on your bike.
Looking at Brad as he handed off the card to me I knew I was in for a real treat.
This photo is a bit deceiving as Brad was a little muddier than he appears, but this was the cleanest lap he saw for the next 12 hours.
As I entered the course I knew right away I was going to be doing some hike-a-bike. I rode a good portion of the first climb but spun out as the ground gave way beneath me forcing me to walk. Once in the woods I found myself descending with better traction that I anticipated. As the course wore on and my confidence grew I began increasing my pace a little at a time. I was surprised at how well my tires were gripping the turns and roots as I tried my best to flow through the woods. Some of the shorter climbs I found myself cleaning, not with ease but better than I would have expected considering the disaster underneath my tires. As the course turned upward I started making small talk with the guy behind me who had been trailing me for some time. He asked me what category I was riding in and I reluctantly told him the truth, he said he was the same. Ah crap, I asked him if he was part of the Union College team that was trailing us in 3rd and he confirmed my fears. I then told him that my offer to let him pass voluntarily had just expired and he would have to work for it. We both had a laugh but mine was filled with regret because now it was all on me to keep us in 2nd with 3rd hot on my tail. If I tried too hard my efforts might get me in trouble with a crash considering the slick conditions. I decided to increase my pace but remain smooth and stable. As we drew closer to the hill of truth, (the biggest climb on the course) I actually put a decent size gap on him and started up the HOT riding further up it than I would for the rest of the day. I reached the point of the climb where I knew pedaling was just wasting energy and walking was the best idea. I was also heating up and needed to remove some gear and use my water bottle to clear out some of the mud from my drivetrain. The HOT is located in a powerline clearing with a clear view of a majority of the hill and all the riders climbing in front of you. This view was an advantage to the 3rd place rider who I had put a gap on. As he entered the clearing he could see me walking and shedding layers at the same time and he must have decided to cash in on his energy bank and continue pedaling in an effort to catch me. He did indeed close some of the gap but not enough to catch me and I had a feeling he might have just burned a bit too much go-go juice as the climbing was not over. I reached the summit hopped on my bike and took off in an effort to reopen the gap that had just closed a bit. After I entered the woods I never saw the 3rd place man again until he rolled into the pits several almost a full minute behind me. I successfully increased our time and we were able to put more and more time on them as the day wore on.
After every lap I hit the bike wash station to shed some unwanted weight in the form of mud, grass and leaves that had made they're home in my drivetrain. Then I proceeded to use the ECO's outside shower to wash myself off. There was no way Melinda would let me anywhere near a chair or the inside of our camper covered in mud.
Throughout the entire race Melinda took care of the entire team cooking beef stew for lunch and some amazing fajitas for dinner. She also kept us moving when it was our turn to ride and where we stood in the standings. Had it not been for her I don't know what we would have done. She definitely earned a place as a member of GRT that day. Even when the topic of pulling the plug early came up she scolded us for even thinking about quiting.
All day we kept thinking the rain was done with us and at one point the sun even came out but it didn't last for more than thirty minutes and more rain soon followed. Everyone's laps times got slower and slower as the race continued and the conditions got worse. Just riding on level ground required more effort than it should have. I only rode 3 laps during the course of 12 hours but the energy I spent was compared to 6 laps. Now as I look back on it the rain probably kept the course from turning into a complete nightmare. Once the sun comes out and the mud begins to dry it will turn into a peanut butter like consistency sticking to everything insight making your bike weight twice it's normal weight. Luckily for us the rain continued until 9 or 9:30 that evening.
One of the things I like about this race is the music that is played in the pits, it gets you pumped as you wait for your teammate to come in. Melinda got a picture of Anthony, Andy & I dancing to the funky beats while I waited on Brad. It kept us energized and excited about going out into the cold, dark & nasty funk.
Andy used some left over Miller High Life boxes to add a little flair to his helmet creating his version of a time trial helmet. I'm not sure if it helped his time or not but it sure looked cool.
Anthony also tried to cut down on his time by sliding down the last hill versus riding down, he said he crashed and continued down in an uncontrolled slide but I think he did it on purpose.
Earlier I told you Alan our mechanic/cheerleader had pulled the plug and gone home early. Once he got home he got online to watch us in real time as the promoter were posting our lap times and placing on the website. He and Melinda were in constant contact via text message as we closed the gap on 1st place. We were down 16 minutes most of the day but as the sun went down we started gaining on them. Right before Brad went out on his last lap we were only 6 minutes behind 1st and gaining. We didn't know it at the time but Brad passed 1st place and managed to lap 3rd putting us in the lead. I went out on my last lap thinking we were still in 2nd safely ahead of 3rd. I'm glad I didn't know of our lead because that would have made me even more nervous. Halfway through the course my front tire slide off the trail sending me into the ditch. I grabbed as much brake as possible and managed to run it out. I had gotten a little careless as I could see headlights behind me. While I was climbing back out of the ditch my pursuer passed me but I saw he was on a singlespeed letting me know he was not one of my competitors. I continued on finishing my slowest lap of the race as every climb I cleaned on my previous laps were too slick and I was quickly running out of gas. Once I entered the pits Andy took off and Melinda handed me a beer and informed me that we were in the lead. There were only 10 minutes left before cut off so as long as 2nd place didn't make in prior to the canon blast we had won.
Anthony had hiked up the hill before Andy with a cell phone so we could let him know if 2nd came in before cut off. The plan was for Andy to ride to the top of the first climb and wait to hear if they went out for another lap. If they did he would continue on in order to secure our win, if not he would turn around and come home. 2nd place missed the cut off by several minutes allowing Andy to come back and securing our win in the Sport class at the 2009 12 Hours of the Hill of Truth!
Melinda snapped my picture at the finish with my Dale Jr. coozie, hey somebody had to put the #88 in victory lane this year.
In the past any of our podium spots have only earned us swag in the form of socks, clothing or other goods donated by the local bike shops. This year was different, we had never been in 1st place and 1st prize was a check. It wasn't huge but it did cover our entry fee which was very nice. I would like to say our win was a huge battle among many teams fighting hard for the win but it wasn't. The rain scared alot of teams off making this one of the lowest turnouts in the race's history. Had it been dry we may not have fared so well but I don't doubt for a minute that we earned every bit of 1st place. This race was one of the hardest and nastiest I've ever competed in and we stuck it out for the entire 12 hours while others stayed home on the couch where it was nice and dry and the beers were not covered in mud.
Think that's all I got, ha not hardly. I'll post more stories and pics up tomorrow and who knows what else for the rest of the week. There was alot more to the weekend than just a measly 12 hour muddy race.