I strapped on the ol' spandex kit again this morning to race on a course that is not only well known in these parts, but also known to those who are familiar with the domestic racing scene of the mid 1970s and '80s and/or filmophiles familiar with cycling movies.
Today was the Superior Morgul Classic road race, which gets its name from the famous Morgul-Bismarck loop used in the Red Zinger and Coors International Bicycling Classics (and raced on by cycling legends such as Greg LeMond, Bernard Hinault, Davis Phinney, Bobby Julich and Andy Hampsten) and used in making the movie "American Flyers" starring Kevin Costner.
The loop is just a little over 13 miles in length and has about 750 feet of elevation gain per lap. A good portion of that elevation gain is achieved during a specific stretch known as "The Wall," a 1-mile long incline that steadily gets steeper as it goes, culminating at 12% grade at the top (which is where the finish line is.) My category had to do 3 laps, but because of the subtleties of the race and where the start was, we had to climb the wall 4 times. (I'm not complaining... the Pro racers had to climb it 7 times.)
Anywho, at 8:04a my category (and another one) rolled out of the staging area for the neutral start and made our to the base of The Wall (where racing could actually begin.) As in other races, I kept myself in the front half of the field, improved position when the opportunity presented itself, and tucked in behind others to draft and save energy. The first climb up The Wall went well (given the 100+ cyclists trying to make their way up it,) and I was comfortably in the front half of the pack as we summited and made our way to a set of long rollers. The rollers were followed by a nice 1.5 mile gradual descent allowing for some recovery, and then some gentle climbing into a slight headwind... I was nicely ensconced at this point. After some twists and turns, it was a short climb up "The Hump" and then a quick descent before we reached The Wall again. And through this all, I was in good shape... I felt pretty good during the climbs, and wasn't getting caught out in the wind.
Upon completing Lap 1 (and the second ascent of The Wall) I was still in the lead pack (which thinned out a little bit by this point) but not close to being in the lead. Which I was fine with since there was still about 26 more miles to go. As we reached the first roller after The Wall, I was befallen by some misfortune as I went to shift from my big chainring to little chainring (i.e. the big gear to the little gear in the front) and the chain didn't latch onto the little chainring and ended up on no chainring at all... leaving me spinning my pedals. I can usually shift the chain back onto a chainring and keep going, but that tactic didn't work for me this time, so I had to get myself to the side of the road, unclip my shoes, come to a complete stop, and put the chain back on manually. All the while, the lead pack is continuing up the road.
I was devastated. For a split second, I considered turning my bike around and riding back to the Finish Line to meet up with Peggy, Chloe and my parents and calling it a day. But after saying a few choice words and getting the chain back on, I re-saddled-up and began to see if I could chase down the lead pack. After getting up to speed, I was able to link up with 2 other cyclists who likewise were trying to latch back on. We worked well together, but were spending a heck of lot of energy doing so. Eventually, we did latch on. Unfortunately, it took us nearly half a lap to do so (with little to no recovery) and did so just before we made the the turn to climb The Hump. I was able to hang on for the first half of the climb, but then popped. The pack road away again.
Dejected, I decided to turn the rest of the race basically into a hard training ride. I finished off The Hump and put in a moderate/hard effort to get up The Wall, and made my way through the rollers riding at a solid up-tempo place. It was then that I rejoined a group of about 5 other cyclists going in a paceline, and adjusted my mindset: this is now my race... beat these guys.
We picked up a couple other racers as we went along, with me deliberately staying in the back of this group conserving energy and looking to see who is riding well and who is laboring a bit. As we hit The Hump, me and another race picked up our pace just a little and ended up passing the group. We rode alone for a bit, but were eventually caught by the others during the brief descent after The Hump. I again sat in for a bit to recover before The Wall begins to really kick up. With about a half-mile to go, I again made my move, gradually increasing my pace to see if anyone could go with me. One or two initially did, so I continued to increase my pace to put pressure on.
Thankfully, I was able to ride away from them, but still decided to push hard until the line. In the course of doing so, I stood up out of the saddle to get some more power, and my right quad seized up from a cramp. My right leg briefly locked in an extended position and I nearly tumbled, but I was able to sit back down and finish the effort sitting, relying on my hamstrings and calves to get me across the line. I crossed the line, and quickly found Peggy, Chloe and my parents, dismounted, and began to stretch my leg. I took a couple of moments to compose myself and catch my breath, and then celebrated my finishing with my fan club.... thanks guys!
Final numbers: 53rd place out of 97 finishers; 42.5 miles in 2:04:30; average speed of 20.4 mph, top speed of 49.1 mph.