Somehow, I have fallen in love with dirt road racing. I am guessing that it comes from where and how I grew up outside of Morgantown, WV. In my youth, I spent hours from the time I got off the school bus until the time it was dark, riding my motorcycle up and down the local dirt roads. Being from West Virginia, dirt roads are something we have a lot of and I have definitely grown to really appreciate them. That is how the Hilly Billy Roubaix was born. Last year, Jason Mahokey from XXC Magazine, suggested to some folks that were kicking around the idea of start a national series of dirt road events, that my Hilly Billy Roubaix would be perfect for the newly forming American UltraCross Series. As they say, the rest is history.
Southern Cross in Dahlonega, Georgia was host to round #1 of the series for 2012 and I was very excited to make the trip down to take part in the event. My Dynamic Physical Therapy Cycling powered by Pathfinder teammates Mike Vanderberg, Jeff Gernert and James Braswell were also up for the trip down. They are also big fans of the new “UltraCx” style of racing.
The trip started on a Thursday morning. We wanted to knock out the 9 and a half hour drive in one day so we could spend Friday riding around parts of the race course, checking out the local flavor as well as recovering from the drive down before racing. The trip down was surprisingly quick and uneventful. That is a great thing! We rolled into our home for the next few days, the Hiker Hostel, around 8 at night. The Hiker Hostel is unlike any place I’ve stayed before. It is a residence owned by Josh and Leigh, who have made their home a haven for cyclists to train during the winter months, hikers of the Appalachian Trail, as well as folks just looking to get away in beautiful Northern Georgia. The place was great and the breakfast they served us each morning was fantastic. Josh and Leigh must be Saints (that is their last name, lol!) because they welcome dirt cyclists, stinky hikers and even well behaved pets into their home (all for the small price of $17 per person, per night!).
On Friday, we awoke to the best oatmeal I have ever eaten, scrambled eggs, coffee and orange juice to start our adventure for the day. We began by heading to the start of the Southern Cross course and riding the first climb, which was about 10 miles of the course. As we rolled out of the parking lot, Vberg decided to air it out over a downhill section. It didn’t go so well and “ass over tea kettle” was the result. Literally 30 yards in to our pre-ride, Mike almost ended his whole weekend. Dang yo! Luckily, somehow he and his bike were OK. The rest of the ride was uneventful as we enjoyed the dirt roads that Georgia had to offer. We joked amongst ourselves that the roads down there were in so much better shape then what we were used to in WV. After our ride, we went to dinner in Dahlonega and then back to the hostel as we had 50 miles of racing to do the next day.
Race day! Once again, the morning started with French toast, scrambled eggs and that killer oatmeal with all the goodies that the hostel prepared for all 13 guests staying there. Great way to start a long day of racing, thanks again Josh and Leigh. After packing it in, which we all know I do well, it was off to the winery that was the host location for the race. We rolled into the venue in the pimped out Pathfinder van (thanks Pathfinder of WV for use of the sweet ride) and people must have wondered, “Who are those pros?”, lol. Look fast if you can’t be fast, right? We parked in style as James found us a spot beside the port-a-johns, nice work sir. High visibility, right? As we filed out of the van, Ben Hay,Stephanie Swan and Adam Newman pulled in beside us and then Jay Downs and Ted McPherson beside them. It almost seemed just like being at home racing.
As race time approached, we all nervously lined up. At the start I was shell shocked at how many folks I knew taking part in an event so far from our normal area. That was a clear sign to me that West Pennsylginia is the heart and soul of the dirt road racing movement. As we started the pace was pretty hot for a 50 mile race but and I was not interested in blowing up in the first 10 miles so I took it a bit easy. Little did I know that up front Vberg was up to his old tricks. This time it took him a little longer, around 300 yards before he, once again, was over the bars. He didn’t make it out of the winery! This time he wanted to hop a tree crossing. But he picked himself up, was fine then started his journey to a great performance. I found a pace up the first climb that was manageable for me as the climb was around 10 miles long. As a big guy, climbing is for sure my weakness. I will say however, the back roads that were used for the course were not as steep as what I am used to and more gradual which helped a bit. The first climb topped out on Springer Mountain. If you have never heard of it, it is the southern starting point of the Appalachian Trial which made it even a bit more interesting to me.
Once over the top, I found myself in a pack of around 10 riders and looked forward to the miles of descending that laid ahead to give my legs a needed rest. I consider myself an OK bike handler so I was shocked when I was dropped like a stone on the way down. My back got pretty tight from the long climb up and it really affected me on the way down. At the bottom of the mountain, the course took a right hand turn onto some much welcomed black top, which I knew would give my back a little break. Unfortunately for me, I was alone on the road section and couldn’t hide from the wind or get a few pulls but I motored along the best I could.
Besides my lower back, I was feeling pretty good as I approached the base of the second extremely long climb back up Springer Mountain, this time from the northern side. Again it was 10 miles to the top but from the Northern side it was an even more gradual grade. I was feeling it as I headed up. Mile after mile, I was able to pull back all the folks that dropped me on the first decent plus some. Here in, lies my biggest weakness as a bike racer, when I feel good I get dumb. I pulled a group of riders, as large as 10 folks, almost the entire way up the second half of the climb. I should have got off the front a bit and let someone else set the pace but I didn’t. I was climbing well and was afraid that if someone else was taking control of the pace it would slow me down. Once to the top, I dropped all the riders that were with me and I kept pushing.
Around mile 40, the muscles in my lower back finally decided they almost had enough of the race. As I started down the long 5 mile descent, my back gave up on me. I dropped off the mountain at what felt like an OK pace, but it hurt. A few riders passed me on the way down. My strong points where turning into my weakness with my back locked up. As I tried to just deal with it Gernert went by me. I knew the last 5 miles of the race were paved it would be a huge advantage to have a teammate headed in. I sucked it up the best I could, Jeff slowed a bit and when we reach the road, we were together. As they say, we were crushing the souls around us as Jeff, and his huge power, on the paved rolling roads pulled us along. I did what I could taking my turn, feeling good at times and feeling like crap at times, funny how you can feel so many different ways in minutes. My Cannondale SuperX is one hell of a bike, as it flies on the dirt roads and then doesn’t skip a beat on the paved roads; it feels like the fastest of road bikes.
As we headed back into the winery Jeff and I were all over the beer hand ups of Miller High Life on the run up section. As anyone who races knows, once you know you are about to finish, you get a nice warm feeling inside. Yea, that’s not always a good thing, lol. So as not to make Vberg feel alone, I too had to crash within the boundaries of the winery. Tired and back tight I gave a poor attempt at crossing a silly little stream. It was nothing, but just my luck the race PR guy was there and got a photo of me laying it down and posted it directly to races Facebook, lol!
As I picked my pride and myself off the ground Jeff and I finished 53rd and 54th out of 300 racers. It was the first time I have ever been in the situation of having a teammate with me at a finish of a race. What a difference that made, thanks Jeff, it was Awesome to finish like that, kick ass and taking names! Vberg, despite trying to hurt himself, finished an impressive 33rd overall in his first race as a Dynamic Physical Therapy Cycling powered by Pathfinder team member. James Braswell finished in a very respectable 75th after a limited amount of early season riding and looks to ramp it up later this summer at the Hilly Billy, 3 Peaks and Iron Cross (which make up the other American Ultra Cross events) that he is planning on attending. I was super pleased with my race, even with the back issues and I don’t think it affected my result much, if any.
After a few beers and great food at the winery, it was time for awards for the race and for the series. I was in charge of series awards so I had to put on the race director hat for a few minutes but I was more than happy to. Big shout out to Brian Rogers, Gerry Pflug, Roger Masse and Stephanie Swan for walking away as the first ever American UltraCross Series Champions! (See Steph’s post race Cycling Dirt Interview).
In the end we made it home safely and uneventful from our trip to the south. Southern Cross is a quality event, thanks Eddie and Namrita, we are coming back in 2013 for sure! Also, a big shout out to Dynamic Physical Therapy, Pathfinder, Kenda Tires, Cannondale, Swiftwick, Performance Coaching Services, Camelbak, Raw Revolution as well as the rest of our team’s sponsors for all their support!