Monday, September 29, 2008

Six Gap...the pain is past

Check out these smiling faces...it's some of the Gainesville Cycling Club crew, acting rather chipper the night before Six Gap.

Dahlonega, Georgia is a beautiful area in the southeastern United States; I used to ride motorcycles in and around the curvy, scenic roads in the early 80's. But now it was time for a return on two wheels without the engine. The only pistons pumping on the Six Gap ride were my very sore and now tender legs.

I could go into dozens of details, but bottom line this was one of my most intense efforts, over a given time period, in my endurance career. There are concise explanations given for the actual 104 mile course, but I can sum it up simply:

You climb very steep and very long hills and then you descend.

Six times.

The start was massive, with 2300 riders off the line. The first 30 minutes was a 2000 rider peloton. Riders were shoulder to shoulder. During one of my first shifts, I threw the chain. As I scurried off the road, hundreds of riders rolled by. I re-entered the tour within seconds and resumed the pace. The first 20 miles were rolling hills and then the fun/torture started.

The first gap was a holy s%$t moment. I panicked.

The climb was long and brutal, and I was sure that I could not complete the course. But at this point I give kudos to Cliff Courtney, an advertising exec who spoke to my students at U of FL last Thursday. Cliff had done the event where cyclists pre-ride stages of the Tour de France.

"Just remember to stay relaxed from head to toe," said Cliff.

That sounded simple, but it actually saved my Six Gap performance.

I settled into a slow methodical pace...lowest gear, barely turning the crank, with every muscle as relaxed as possible. Many times the pack was climbing at 6-8 mph. The minutes, then the hours ticked by. My $1500 Felt F60 was doing the job and on several occasions I would climb past a rider on a $5000 bicycle. I must say that felt pretty good.

Climbs came and went and descents had to be negotiated. I hit 42.9 mph at one point and was being passed on both sides. It was too fast for me, I was not comfortable with the speeds. That said, it was such a unique sensation, something I had not experienced.

Here's a great web link that will demonstrate the magnitude of the course:

http://www.satillacycling.com/images/6.jpg

So, after 25 years of training and racing, I found a new rush. Mountain centuries rock. Pain and terror, all packaged for consumption by the average consumer.

I pulled into the finish in 7:10 riding time, 7:39 on the clock. My traveling buddies, Dennis and Mike, also had excellent finishes.

Good friends, clear skies, a new challenge complete and no one (in our group) was hurt. One female took a bad fall on one of the descents and we are still waiting to hear about her condition.

These types of events are not for everyone, but I am thankful that I can participate. What a wonderful season of life, living as an endurance sport athlete.

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