590 line up for the 80 mile, 8000'+ of climbing event with many others populating shorter routes but it was in this group that Hincapie, TeeJay van Garderen, Michael Barry, Kevin Livingston and other current and former pros slotted in with the greats of Ohio cycling. While the Ohio guys and gals did not make the podium finish, three of them finished in the top 10.
The start was a bit chaotic with Jon Morgan and others crashing as cyclists were forced in to a narrower slot in the road then what they had previously been riding. Jon is ok but his frame is toast and sounds like he braked so hard the pads burned through the rims too. Above, this and other images provided compliments of Hendra P and yes, that is Hincapie on the right. From this point, Luke Russell takes over with his recollection of the ride.
There was much hubbub at the starting line as riders jostled for position and ran into friends from all across the country. Our Columbus group of about 20 managed to secure a great spot near the front, and we watched as George, Tejay, and Tom, to name a few, moved through the crowd to lead the fondo out and get the show on the road. The start was fast-paced and rolling, and held a big group of nearly 200 riders spread across both lanes. Oncoming traffic was ushered off the road as we thundered towards the base of Skyuka mountain through some of Greenville's most scenic roads. Some anxious members of the peloton were pretty aggressive with their braking, causing some big pile-ups near the rear of the group. Gus had to wrangle himself free from me in a near-crash, and Jon was tangled up badly in a big fall that destroyed his bike. I was involved in both incidences, and went down with Jon around 12 miles into the ride, fortunately not taking out Lori who was riding right behind me. I was lucky, and my bike was still rideable, but Jon had much worse luck. He is in the market for a new frame. After picking myself up I managed to TT back to the group just before the base of Skyuka.
It was a lot of work, as I said before the pace was very quick at the start. When I arrived, I saw Marty and Hendra casually move to the front of the pack, weaving their way past all but the fastest climbers as they rode the 1800 foot, 9% climb alongside the pros, allowing only a couple of enthusiastic riders to get away near the crest of the climb. Marty would later tell me that he was "just hanging onto the back". His casual, perhaps wry smile while he was climbing tells me a different story. He was playing his cards pretty well. I was about a minute and a half back at the top of Skyuka, and managed to catch Hendra on the downhill. He had stopped for a photo op at the top, overlooking a gorgeous valley of fall color. Hendra and I rode hard from the base of Skyuka towards Howard's gap, a grueling 2 mile uphill, with parts over 15%. I couldn't match pace, and dropped off as the others blew through the climbs and flew along the (very scarce) flats. I was passed by Gus who was riding like a storm with a group of 4 of the Hincapie development team riders. I heard that he got tired of riding with those guys, and ended up dropping all 4 of them a little later.
After 2 major climbs I made a pit-stop at the mile 54 rest area to refuel, and met up with Lori who was having trouble shifting. She was stuck in the small ring for a good 5 miles, and we found a mechanic willing to help us out and get us back on the road, though I think Lori lost a good 15-20 minutes to the mishap. The mechanic was nice and made sure Lori could use both chainrings for the rest of the ride. Lori and I led a group of 8 or 9 riders at a fast pace away from the rest stop, going 25 or so along rolling hills. Lori decided she had had enough of me pulling (hard), and came around me to push the pace! I moved to the back of the group and held on, as I watched gaps opening up behind Lori. I managed to close the first, and then the second, but by the time Lori had opened a third gap, my legs just couldn't keep up. Lori disappeared with 2 other guys and rode away from both of them a little later on.
The final big climb was a long 9% grade with 17 switchbacks. It was tough and I rode hard uphill, passing a lot of people on the ascent. Eventually the climb opens up and flattens to about 3%, and that's where Lori and Marty do pretty well. I think on the overall segment including the 17 switchbacks and then the 3% grade up to the summit, Lori clocked the fastest female time ever, and Marty was 2nd fastest overall. No messing around here in Ohio. After the summit is a long, gradual descent for 7 miles and I tried to gain as much time as I could, hoping that I would catch Lori if I went fast enough. After the descent, the road flattens for a couple of miles along the Saluda river valley until a final 1.5km climb to the finish at Hotel Domestique. I arrived 2 minutes behind Lori, and rode as hard as I could. Marty would finish very near the front, missing out on the podium by a very small margin, and was there to greet us after a nice shower and change of clothes. Hendra finished not far behind Marty, after what sounds like a mostly solo effort. Gus finished a little later than Hendra, powering through the course. Todd Delay came in a few minutes after me, and soon thereafter, Rick Miller arrived. Meredith, Allison, and Maya, rode together and crossed the finish after sticking with eachother the whole way. Meredith told me it was the hardest ride she has ever done. 80 miles, around 9000 feet of elevation, and with intensity to match the Thursday New Albany ride, it is a tough ride to match anywhere in the world. That's why we all decided to go climb Paris mountain the next day for "recovery". No rest for the wicked.
Marty finished 5th, Billy Campbell *who I still count as an Ohio guy) was 7th and Hendra 9th. Marty rode hard and said that is as good as he could do, besting last year's time. Farther down the list but not by much was Pete Czerwinski at 44th, Gus Cook at 64th, Lori Nedescu at 104 but 6th overall in the women's division and that with a 15-20 minute mechanical, Luke at 110, Todd Delay at 119, Cornel at 137, Meredith, Maya and Allison riding together and finishing mid 300's. I could not find a time for Rick Miller and Tattoo Dude Wes but no doubt they finished high on the list.