Weather: Miserable, Severe Thunderstorms, Hail, Heavy Rain, Flooding, Mid 60s, Low Wind
Course: Modified stick and lollipop north of Sparta, TN
Field Size: 35-45
Teams: Novo Nordisk Dev Team
All week long I was glued to the Weather Channel’s weekend forecast for Sparta, TN. Every day the forecast would fluctuate from 20% chance of rain on Saturday to 100% chance of severe thunderstorms. Sadly, come Friday the forecast was sticking to their 100% chance of storms. I woke up Saturday morning to gray skies and an ominous mass of red and yellow moving towards Sparta on the radar. I figured that the storm would pass by race start or at the very least be almost done. I get just outside of Sparta when I finally hit the storm. The storm was so severe that there was a clear line on the road where on one side it was torrential downpour and the other was dry. It is still just over an hour until the race start and the storm was moving fast, but my hope of it passing by that time was starting to wash away with the rain. So 30 minutes out from the original start time the race officials push back everything by 30 minutes. It still ended up being a wet start but at least it was hailing.
Right out of the gun we were going hard. I had a NP of 362w and average HR of 156 bpm. What made the first 30 minutes even more difficult was the lack of warmup (no warmup at all) and the cold rain. Within the first 3.5 minutes I was already at 174 bpm even though there weren’t any attacks. The first part of the course had a tight turn with some severe run off water. We were going fast (24.7 mph) so the pack stayed slightly strung out which kept it safer. The attacks started once we made our first right onto Blue Springs Rd. Most of the initial attacks came from a Novo rider. For some odd reason they would only try to send one off the front. So the first 2 or 3 attacks from the group were single Novo riders just sitting in the wind. The smarter tactic would have been to try and send 2 or even 3 riders off the front. When you have 12 riders you can sacrifice a couple to try and establish an early break. Due to the fact that the early attacks were all solo efforts they were brought back in a fairly controlled timeframe. I also tried my hand at an early break but couldn’t establish a gap so I abandoned the idea quickly. I knew that there was a climb coming up and I would have my opportunity there.
The road leading up to the climb was extremely sketchy. There was a lot of debris in the road, big branches, leaves, sticks, rocks. In addition to the debris there were multiple spots of 2” deep water runoff. This wasn’t your normal water runoff either. This runoff had a decent current to it and made a hairy situation going through. Luckily, nobody crashed at least that I know of. I know there were a lot of mechanical issues because of the water and debris. So the peloton rolls past a point where we should have turned to go up a climb. The road was blocked by emergency personnel because a tree had fallen in the road. The race official made a quick change and modified the loop. The modified loop still held a good length climb in it. So let’s look at the climb. The climb is 3.4 miles long averaging 5% with a couple flatter sections for respite but finishes with a steeper section. The first time up there was a lot of separation happening. I began the climb towards the back of the pack and had to spend some extra energy getting to the front. It took me about ¾ of the climb to get to a select group of 4 others. One of the 4 is Kenneth Hall, who ended up finishing 3rd overall. Kirk Bjorling, a friend from Asheville, was also at the race and you can see his data for the climb. He ended up making the second select group also known as the chase pack.
As you can see, my average heart rate was a little higher but my power was significantly lower. The reason is I kept my cadence high during the climb. My average cadence was 96 rpm compared to Kenneth who was climbing at 84 rpm. This requires him to put out more power which will fatigue the legs a little bit more.
A select group of 5 make it over the climb with a 20 second gap. On the way up the climb we were informed by the moto that it was going to be a one lap race. As soon as we crested and realized we had a gap we put the hammer down. For the next 45 minutes we executed a solid pace line and averaged 26.3 mph to extend our gap. We get to the turn to go back to town but the pace car turns left and we head back out for another loop. This confused us because the moto stated that we were only doing one lap. After 10 minutes of debate with the moto and official we find out that we are doing two laps which extends the race to 84 miles. We all take in some calories and simmer our pace down. Our gap at this point was over 2 minutes. The second time up the long climb was a good bit slower for everybody. We decided to take it easier to conserve some energy.
As you can see, our select group gained some more time over the climb to pad our lead. Now, we didn’t have radios or even a moto, at that point, to give us our gap but we knew it was safe. After the climb we averaged 24.4 mph all the way to the finish. During this race to the finish I began to have some rear shifting problems. I couldn’t get my rear derailleur to shift into the 3 smallest cogs. This made it difficult to contribute to the group and destroyed my chances at a sprint. In the final mile I tried to eliminate the sprint all together with an attack but everybody in the group covered. I ended up coming in 5th because of the mechanical.