A couple of months ago I realized I would be out of the country during this year’s Big Frog 65 and wanted a replacement race to do before I left town. After hearing so many good things about Southern Cross, I hit up Brian Parker and Kyle Butts to see if they’d be interested in making a weekend of it. After much lollygagging around, we finally all signed up and committed to the sufferfest. We found a three-bed room at the Amicalola Falls State Park Lodge and all was set for a fun weekend.
We made it out of town on Friday around 4pm and settled in for a long drive to Dawsonville, GA. I could go on and on with funny Kyle stories about the weekend, but really it just wouldn’t do it justice. Let’s just say Brian and I had some good laughs. (The best might have been seeing his hair sticking straight out in all directions when he woke up from a deep coma on Sunday morning).
Saturday morning arrived a little too soon considering it was probably 11pm or later when we made it to the lodge on Friday night. Luckily we didn’t have to be at the race site until just before 9am so it gave BP and me some time to eat breakfast while Kyle was passed out in bed. Just finding the race venue via the back roads that we decided to take was quite an adventure….we were certainly in prime crystal meth territory amongst some very shady rednecks. But all was well once we reached the well-appointed Monteluce Winery.
Since we were just hanging out at my truck not paying attention while Eddie O’Dea gave the race instructions, we had no idea that the women were starting separately (and after) the men. Since we were the last ones to line up, we naturally were at the back of the pack. Once the race started, all of the chicks moved to the front and center and effectively blocked us out, leaving us to pick our way through all of the female racers just to get back to the pack of riders that had already taken off. Me and Brian ended up being the last two male riders to get started. By the time we caught up to the racers in front of us, there was already a huge bottleneck so it didn’t matter. And by then the women racers were all over our backs anyway.
The race started with around 0.75 miles of a meandering cyclocross course that was taped off throughout the winery property. It included a few steep sections with lots of mud, a log crossing, and enough mud and tight turns to keep a lot of the CX riders hopping off their bikes while those of us on mountain bikes did pretty well. There was even a really steep section that required everyone to do a run-up to the top of the hill before hitting another brief section of taped course and eventually the pavement.
We rode pavement for a few miles until hitting the dirt roads that we would become intimately familiar with for the next 40 or so miles (give or take a brief paved section in between dirt roads). The climbing began in earnest starting around mile 5 and lasting for 10 miles, going from around 1500’ to 3400’. Then we have a few brief downhills, some pavement, and then an 8-mile climb. It was along this 8-mile climb though that we would pass some of the best riverside scenery on the entire course. Really just some beautiful land back in the forest with a raging creek/river running alongside the trail.
After finally topping out again, a sag stop was in order as I was famished. I normally don’t get so hungry during a race, but I was starving. I downed two peanut butter Ritz Bitz crackers, grabbed a gel for the road, and filled up both bottles. It was all I could do to not stay around eating more.
I thought the next section would be mostly downhill, but there was actually quite a bit of dirt road climbing. It was also on this section that I stumbled upon Kyle, who had decided at the first sag stop to forego miles 15 through 32 and make it a 35-mile ride for him. While Brian and I were trying to hustle, Kyle got to enjoy some extended breaks just sitting on rocks enjoying the view. And probably talking to everybody that rode by.
After the climbing finally relented, there was a nice long downhill on dirt roads, some a little sketchy. It was on this stretch that I was able to pass quite a few people on CX bikes since they had to be more conservative in the rough areas. Then the route turned onto pavement and we had what seemed like a million miles of false flats and real climbs before finally seeing Monteluce Winery again. By now my cyclocomputer had eclipsed 50 miles, so I was getting a little antsy about being done with this race. I was also starting to cramp up really bad in my legs.
Getting back to the winery, we had a monster run-up to end all run-ups….really steep stuff and very long. Then backtracking on the cyclocross course, which spurred me to completely stop on several occasions to try to halt my leg cramps, which were now causing my quads and hamstrings to totally lock up. A beer hand-up at a creek crossing helped get me going for the next few hundred yards, before my legs locked up once more with maybe 0.5 miles to go to the finish. It was mentally agonizing to have to stop for a total of several minutes while I was already within sight of the finish line….lot of bikers made their way past me on this section while I just stood and stretched.
All in all it was a fun race, and we certainly could not have asked for better weather. But in the end, my effort was rather poor. I was struggling on the initial long climbs and could never gain enough gap closure on the flats and downhills to make up for it. Brian finished around 30 minutes ahead of me, with me last seeing him at mile 10.5 of the race while he was busy climbing faster than I could sustain.
A couple of quick takeaways for me would be that 1) I need to spend more time training on long sustained climbs; and 2) that I need to work on my cadence. For the first one, I’m not sure where around Birmingham I could find a 10-mile climb, so that might involve spending some Saturdays in northeast Alabama near Mentone. For my cadence, I am too guilty of always mashing a heavier gear at a slower cadence. It caught up to me while climbing with Brian, as I finally had to downshift and then just didn’t have enough leg energy left to spin at a higher rate to compensate. He already has probably a 30-pound weight advantage on me, so those long climbs tend to catch up to me.
I also probably should have eaten more, though with the weather being cool it wasn’t really as much of a factor as it would have been had I been sweating more. During the race, which for me was over 4.5 hours long, I only consumed two bottles of Gatorade mix, 2 bottles of Powerbar drink mix, three gels, and those two Ritz Bitz crackers. Definitely not close to enough calories to begin to replenish, so I was probably losing a lot of energy during those times I was so hungry.
Some pics are below, though I didn’t take any during the race. Strava data can be found here.