40.3 miles, 4,665 feet, 19.8 average
Sunnybrook racers: Mark Detweiler, John Mullen
Mt. Davis is a fairly new road race out of Confluence, PA. This was the third year it has been run, and the second time racing it for both John and I. Confluence is about four hours away by car and with the drive we have access to some more significant climbs
What we have for you today is a lollipop style course that starts with 4 flat miles in the river valley and then takes an abrupt left turn uphill for a fairly simple cat 3 climb. The course temporarily levels out and then converts to constant rollers. This portion is a test of your ability to carry momentum from the downhills into the seemingly unending punchy uphills. After 9ish miles of the rollers and step climbs the course serves up another climb to the highest point in Pennsylvania (and the first of two feed zones).
From here you head downhill for a solid five miles before beginning the last significant climb of the course. Near the top of this climb is the second feed. Once you crest this climb you have a screamingly fast descent to close the lollipop portion of the course. From here you’re descending back down all the rollers you hit on the way out, which includes some not insignificant climbs. You finally go down that initial cat-3 climb and hit the finish after 1.5 flat miles back in the river valley.
The race this year was a game time decision for me. Luckily the weather forecast cleared up Saturday morning (with only 40-60% chance of rain for Sunday, I was in). Preparation was swapping out my carbon wheels, brake pads, and doing a bit of work to make sure the cassette on the aluminum wheels was in good climbing shape (compact up front with a 28 in the back was the order of the day). Job done, I headed off to my dad’s house to pick up my soigneur.
Upon arrival in Somerset (where we were spending the night), we decided to take a quick ride down to Confluence and make sure the course (but mostly the descent) was in good shape. Did a slow-ish drive of the front side of the course and then headed back to town for dinner and a restless nights sleep.
Found John (and some other friends from back in Eastern PA) at the start nice and early, then headed out for a quick warm-up along the river valley. John and I rode part-way up the first climb and headed back to make sure my dad had the right bottles for us in the first feed. Technically a feed isn’t necessary (my time last year was around 2:05), but having 2.5-3 bottles is a big help, so we both took advantage of having someone available.
Our field had around 40 starters and several Pittsburgh area teams were very well represented. Most notable was Nugo/Koels who had at least five riders. Fortunately this style of race isn’t easily controlled, so I doubt anyone was thinking they had a huge advantage. I recognized a rider from last year with an epic beard who I’m pretty sure podiumed in 2013. I decided right away I would mark his wheel on the first climb.
The race was basically a neutral start for the entire flat section. There was no real racing and we averaged around 20 mph. I was on the beard’s wheel at the bottom of the climb and was feeling pretty crappy considering how little effort I’d put in. The hard pace set on this ~10 minute climb put me into quite a bit of difficulty in the first five minutes, but by the second five I had my legs under me and was feeling very comfortable with the front group. Unfortunately for both him and me, the beard didn’t have the legs this year so I had to get around him and close a large gap to get to the leaders
By the time we reached the top of the initial climb the group of forty was down to five. Unfortunately this was the last I saw of John as he was one of the last discharged as we whittled the group down to five. The five of us knew a good thing when we saw it and started working together well on the rollers. I was still feeling good and did a fair amount of the uphill pace making at a speed just below my threshold, so that when the accelerations came I was able to move onto wheels. When we reached the first feed one of the group decided to sprint for the (non-existent) 4/5 KOM and this, plus the earlier climbing, distanced two of the five. The three of us settled in after a quick bite to eat and drink and were able to grow the gap on the long fast descent until no one else was within sight of us.
The other two with me were both more confident on the descents than I am (talk about setting a low bar) but I quickly figured out that if I was on the front for the descent they weren’t aggressive enough to bomb past me without a straightaway, so I could limit my losses fairly easily. Unfortunately, for most of the longer descents it seemed to rain lightly. At a few different places the road was like glass with just a fine sheen of water covering the surface. Mostly we stayed dry, but I was covered with grime by the finish.
We continued to work together and there was no real separation between us for the remainder of the race. I was feeling pretty good about my chances in a sprint since both of my companions were small climbers who I had at least 20 lbs on. This, plus the descending remaining dissuaded me from trying to gap them on the remaining uphills. I figured any effort I put into dropping wouldn’t be enough, or if it was, they’d ride back up to me during the extended descents. I expected everyone to really push on the final descent and try to gap me, but they took it easy and we all got to the final flat miles together.
We played the normal games with a slow pace on the flats, and the lack of distance to finish signs confused us all quite a bit. There was, however a 200 yards (yes yards, not meters) to go sign. One of the riders with me took that as his sign to go, so I jumped on it and was able to gap both of them and finished in 1st with about a bike length lead on 2nd. My first win of the year!
Congratulated my break companions on a race well done and circled back to the finish to wait for the rest of the group. We’d ended up with about a five minute gap on 4th place as he was stuck in no man’s land with no protection from the wind up on top of the mountains. John came in a few minutes later in 17th.
After waiting for the official results, podium, and getting hydrated we had some celebratory BBQ and got in the car for the drive home.