56 miles, 6,400 feet, 17.4 mph average
Sunnybrook racers: Mark Detweiler, John Mullen
The Tour of Tucker County is considered one of the hardest road races within our general racing area. The route has a few geographical features of note; in order, they are:
Limestone Road Climb – A seven mile long climb with some spiky rollers at the top
Awesome descent – A three mile stretch of good quality road with sweeping turns
‘Small’ cat-4 climb – Interrupts an otherwise peaceful flat section of road which follows the Cheat River; feed zone is located on this climb
Sugarland Road Climb – A five mile climb with several long stretches above 10%, including a 1.1 mile stretch that averages 12%. The race finishes at the top of this climb
John and I decided to hit the 4/5 field (as opposed to the 3/4) this year due to the Mount Joy RR the day before and hopes for a strong finish. We showed up at the start location around 10:20 in the morning to get signed in and hopefully get a good warm up in. We both setup our trainers and did some easy spinning for 30-ish minutes. While doing this we saw Jay from Raw Talent Ranch and Mike (a rider both of us know from our semi-casual Monday night rides). Didn’t speak with Jay but he was registered in the Pro/1/2/3 field. Caught up a bit with Mike who is a casual racer and was trying his luck in the cat-5 field.
The race starts from the bottom of Sugarland Road due to the grade and road conditions leading to an unsafe racing environment. We joined the rest of the fields in a controlled descent to the bottom of the steep portion of the climb. From there we staged with the rest of our field (about 40 altogether) and waited about 30 minutes while the earlier starting fields got underway. This is a frustrating wait, but there doesn’t seem to be a great alternative given the controlled descent.
The race starts with a few miles of gradual descent with a few rollers mixed in. Our field wasn’t too interested in racing these miles hard as the climbing would decide the race either way. The pace picked up as we started up Limestone Road and before too long the field started coming apart. The approximately 40 starters were down to around 10 when I finally lost contact with the front group. They stayed tantalizingly close to me for 15-20 minutes, but I couldn’t bridge the gap and I finally saw them for the last time across a long bend when they were maybe 2 minutes ahead of me.
I gave up my chase and waited for some help which came in the form of a group of four riders who had also been dropped. They came up on my quickly and I had to dig to catch their wheels. A little surprising since they’d dropped before me on the climb. I joined up with them for the rollers at the top of the ridge and we worked together well through the remainder of the climb. At the top of the hill we agreed to regroup at the bottom and work at chasing down the leading group. After a fast and fun descent we did just that. Surprisingly one of the group couldn’t work well in a paceline and dropped out of the group.
The four of us took stock and agreed to put a chase together to try to catch the leaders; if we didn’t see them by the time we reached the feed zone we would start resting for the remainder of the flat section to prepare for the final, brutal climb. We rotated well, but the pace didn’t feel fast enough to catch the lead group. Thus, when we finally did reach the small climb and hadn’t yet seen the leaders none of us were too surprised.
We took our collective foot off the gas and conserved energy until the bottom of Sugarland Road. The upside of the work we put in meant no one else from our field was likely to catch us. the downside was the burnt energy for no real gain. I did my best to describe the climb to my three compatriots who hadn’t ridden it before. The bottom half is the hardest with a stretch that kicks you in the mouth and then continues to stomp at your will to ride for a long long time. It is definitely a climb where you want to go at your own pace; working to hold a wheel will end with you walking.
At the bottom of the climb I was able to put some time into my group and before long was riding on my own. I passed several riders (some walking, some cramping, some just riding extremely slowly) from the 3/4 field, but didn’t see anyone else from my field. This let me take my time for the second (easier) half of the climb as no one was close to catching me and I wasn’t about to pass anyone else. I finished a relatively easy time up the climb and crossed the line thinking I was somewhere in the 12-15 range (not knowing exactly how many were up the road from me). I ended up in 10th as the remaining lead group of 9 had all crossed the line in front of me.
Overall I finished about five minutes slower than the year before. My time on the first climb was faster than last year, despite being dropped on the climb. My time on Sugarland was significantly slower but probably isn’t a true comparison since I wasn’t racing for place for most of the climb (unlike last year when I could see the riders finishing ahead of me). I could blame it on the temperature being 10 degrees higher, or the race yesterday; bottom line I’m not climbing as well as last year.
John’s race was somewhat more eventful than mine. He dropped out of the front group a bit before me and was behind my group (not within sight) when he hit the fast descent. Unfortunately he hit a hole (that no one, not even he, saw clearly) at 40+ mph and did some damage to his front wheel, including a pinch flat. Fortunately he was able to keep the bike upright and come to a stop. He was on the side of the road for at least 10 minutes working on fixing the flat before a wheel car came by and helped him out with a neutral wheel. This probably ended up costing him at least 5-10 places since a large portion of the field was behind him and took this opportunity to pass.
Back on his bike he quickly found a group to ride with and ended up passing quite a few people on the final climb. He finished in 26th.
We both agreed that putting 2k and 1k to go signs on a climb like Sugarland is a cruel joke played on the field by the organizers. Absolutely brutal to see 2k and do the mental math and figure that’s about 10 more minutes of suffering.
Both of us took three bottles (having no neutral feed, and no one to hand us bottles) and drank every lost drop by the finish. I personally could’ve used a fourth bottle, but it wasn’t practical to carry.
Great weekend of racing for John and I, a bit more driving/travel time than I prefer, but there aren’t any races like Tucker County close to home. Hope to make time for it again next year and finally end up on the podium.