Unless I misremembered, prior editions of this event went off at 9:00 a.m. so I planned on getting up by 5:30 a.m. to drive to Harrisonburg. Late last night I checked the website and discovered we had an 8:00 a.m. rollout. Crap! That meant a 4:20 a.m. wake-up alarm. But I did it.
I arrived for check-in and saw Robert Hess, of the Prostate Cancer Awareness Project. I had enough time to get ready but I didn’t have time to waste. At check-in there were heaters running as it was pretty chilly.
Before the race a number of riders’ names were read out as “call ups.” Not sure what more was going to happen. I heard my name – either as a donor or survivor, or both. At this event, cancer survivors do get front row privileges and I used mine, up front with Joe Dombrowski of Team Sky and Ben King of Team Garmin-Sharp.
We rolled out through Harrisonburg with a police escort. Ben King was at the front and I was not by his side but in the second or third row. Joe Dombrowski took a spot much farther back.
We rolled out in one massive group and I maintained this for the first nine miles. As we rode further I became less comfortable in the group as I spotted some questionable riding. I decided I’d rather not be part of this massive peleton as we rolled fast to the first timed climb. I found a pull off spot and let the group roll on.
Once there was a break in the group I jumped back onto the road – by myself. Of course, there were riders all over the place. As I came to the timed climb on US 33 I had just been passed by three riders although two may have been together and one was a wheel sucker.
At first I thought they were going too fast for me to join them then realized I should. Once I latched on I realized that we were going at a pedestrian pace. A couple of guys went by like they were “racing.” I decided not to race anyone, at least not yet, and just stayed with them. I thought they may be going at a reasonable pace.
On the climb I stayed with them wheel for wheel. We passed many riders and I thought I was saving myself and doing much better than prior years. I had decided if I stayed with them to the finish I would not to try and race them to the line as they had been doing all the work but as we approached the summit they did not pick up the pace one bit as the grade flattened out. So I went.
My time on the climb was 35:31 – about the same as two years ago and one minute slower than last year. I know I could have gone much harder on the bottom portion but don’t regret not doing it. Maybe next time I find faster guys to hang with.
It was a gorgeous day. My phone didn’t want to take pictures because it was full. So I didn’t stop on the descent down US 33. But it was beautiful. The vistas on this side (West Virginia) are especially stunning.
At the second rest stop, and the base of the climb up Reddish Knob, I started seeing familiar faces. Mariette Vanderzon. Dee Reeb. Allon Shiff. Rich McAfee. And I saw the drink of San Pellegrino, the one climb that kicked my butt this year.
And today’s climb would come close. Mariette caught me. She is a strong rider but not feeling so well. Although she eventually pulled away, she was always about 50-75 yards ahead of me. The climb has extended sections (2-3 miles) of 10-12% grade. This is really hard.
I rode my new bike which is not set up for climbing big long mountains. Without the right gearing, I would say this was the second hardest climb of the season for me – behind San Pellegrino.
After the rest stop at Mile 59 (or so) I headed out on my own. And saw no one – up ahead or behind. When I came to the gravel section I stopped and talked to six Mennonite children. I explained to them my great-great-great-grandmother was Mary Wenger – the same name they had. They seemed excited by this.
Once back on the road I was “caught” by a rider. I had actually spent five minutes with the kids and saw the rider coming so waited for him. He was a first-timer and was not up to my pace. I slowed. When he cramped and walked I soft-pedaled and waited. We enjoyed each others’ company and rode together to the end.
Arriving back I was welcomed by Erin Bishop and met with Robert Hess again. A quick bite to eat and some chocolate milk, and I was headed home — needed to get to bed early after that 4:20 a.m. start.