Dave Chesrown and I drove down to Boone, NC and we joined up with my friend Ray who lives in Fort Lauderdale and we shared a mountain top cabin. There were 6 of us in the cabin but they have cabins that fit up to 20 people. Boone has the highest elevation of any reasonably sized town east of the Mississippi River and has a nice cool summer climate. The winters are long and cold with blizzards possible.
"It's a great area for riding, very hilly, but I'd say it's the best area for training in the whole of the United States." –– Lance Armstrong on Boone, NC Cycle Sport (June 1998)
On Friday we put together a group ride with friends, girlfriends and some local riders that we know. It was a nice easy ride through a rustic valley, one that is part of the 100 mile course. I really enjoyed having the chance to ride again with Noah; he joined our group ride and finished in the top 5 last year. Also in our group were some young skinny guys (Max and Jess) that work at the local bike shop and run a popular bike training camp. They suggested to Dave that he should come down to one of their training camps and they will teach him how to be a better climber. They are nice guys and I enjoyed meeting them last year, I have only heard good things about their training camps.
Later on Friday we meet up at a local restaurant that supports the cycling community. Many of the local riders will be seen with the “Black Cat Burritos” logos on their stuff. They have great Mexican food. Boone is home to Appalachian State University and is very diverse but has a hippy feel to it. We also had a chance to listen to some local music at a nearby park. I think they were called the Mountain Top Boys band or something. Similar to Granville you can see both city folks and some country folks. Some of the Boone country folks look very country. Dave thinks some might be hillbillies.
Friday night in the cabin was busy with everyone getting ready and some good story telling.
We woke up early Saturday and drove over to the start and got a great starting spot in the front row. Each rider has a timing chip on their shoe to keep track of how long it takes to complete the course. Years ago many of the top finishers were from out of state. I think the locals got fed up and now they have turned up their game, now many of the top finishers are from the surrounding area. While waiting at the start, people were talking about our friend Noah who we rode with the day before and this guy Charlie Brown who always does very well. Several super fit women riders were near the front. One of the guys we know has a girlfriend helping us, she offers me a couple of bananas. I take two and eat them; Dave does not want any, he is too nervous to eat.
They say to watch out for this local guy “Yelper”, that he is crazy. He is a strong rider but will often pop early in the ride but will never admit it. He is also known to yell at people and is generally unpredictable. He is seen on the other side of the starting line wearing a mismatched kit and his shorts rolled up. Fortunately for us he is wearing some easily identifiable colored glasses and helmet. Ask Dave, I am not making this up; I think every cycling community has one of these guys.
About 5 miles into the ride we hit a 4 mile climb called Shulls Mill with over a thousand feet of elevation gain. We are 9 miles into this ride and if we hit a hill this hard on a Thursday night, less than 10 riders would be left. We are amazed that we still had probably 300 riders in the peloton. A few miles later we are on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We really are on a ridge with beautiful ridge line views. After about 25 miles some of the guys are fading fast and there is a steady stream of riders off the back. Not long after this the guys that offered to teach Dave a few things about climbing fall off the back.
On the last really long climb on the Blue Ridge Parkway the group splits and Dave gets caught in the second group and I would not see him again until the finish. Strava has segments for the two previous climbs. There were a number of riders with us who were faster than Dave and I on these two climbs. But no rider had ever posted a faster time on Strava than either of us for either of those two climbs before this ride. The group was really moving.
After the Blue Ridge Parkway the lead group would string out and then regroup after each hill. We lost a few riders off the back on each hill. We had one lady rider still in the lead group of 40-50 riders. We will later learn that her name is Cara and that she finishes third place among the ladies. I noticed that if she is off the back after a hill this guy Jason with a matching Cervelo kit always brings her back to the group. He is also carrying her water bottles. I am riding next to them and noticed that he picked up too many of the water bottles that were being handed out by the volunteers. We are approaching the biggest climb of the day and some guys are tossing extra water before the climb and I ask him if he has extra water, no need to throw it out. He says that he has more than he wants and hands me one.
We noticed that most of the competitive ladies had helpers or what we called handlers. There was one young college age gal named Nina that we met on Friday that did not have a handler. Nina told us that she was planning on being the first lady finisher. Dave later gets passed by Nina but she stopped for a break and Dave finished a minute ahead of her. Nina ends up with three ladies finishing ahead of her.
The biggest climb of the day is Snake Mountain; we climb about 1,500 feet before we get over the mountain pass. This is where the peloton is always broken. The peloton was strung out near the top but the riders were surprisingly close together with only a few bike lengths between most riders.
At the top of Snake Mountain most people grab some water. I have a bottle in my hand and will try to drink it quickly before the descent. I have Cara in front of me and I know that Jason will always catch up; he is getting water for both of them.
The first turn is sharper than expected and Cara over cooks the turn. Dust is flying when she hits the gravel on the side of the road and then she is in the ditch and finally flips over in the tall grass. They do not have any staff on this turn so I stop to help. She is tangled in her bike but once I lift up her bike she gets up. She has a small cut on her hand but other than that she looks healthy. She says that her head hurts a little and asks how she looks. To tell the truth she looks gorgeous but I needed to catch the other riders so I tell her she looks fine. She asks if her bike is damaged. I tell her it looks fine and I run back to my bike and race off. We later learn that her wheel was slightly bent but Jason switched wheels with her and off they went.
The descent is fast and dangerous but has amazing views if you can look quickly. The rest of my ride consisted of some of the most beautiful countryside and trying to catch the other riders. I would catch a lone rider or two and try to work with them. At one point I am working with three other guys and things are moving along nicely. The first guy I caught from this group was having cramps when I caught him but he helped me catch the next two guys. Now he is riding much stronger. The two guys we caught are looking strong. We hit Georges Gap and all three blow up. One says he is done and is actually cutting the route short. The strongest looking guy says that it was nice riding with me and wishes me luck. The last one to pop is the one that had the bad cramps and he actually made it over the hill with me but encourages me to go, it made no sense. I soon pass another rider on a hill but he will not be of much help to me. Maybe the guy with the cramps will catch him and they can work together.
I start passing some riders finishing the 50 mile route so I know I am close to the finish. The two routes merge before the finish line. I pass Fort Lauderdale Ray’s girlfriend. I did not notice her at the time but she will later tell me that she saw me and that most of the remaining guys ahead of me were spread out in front of me with small two groups in front of them.
Back behind me the training camp guys catch Dave. They were way too happy when they caught Dave. You can ask Dave about how happy they were. They were so happy to catch him that they must have thought about how much fun it would be to pass him. They rode together for miles but found a hill to get away. They finished a couple of minutes before Dave.
I think that it would be fun to have more local riders join in on the fun next year. We can stay in a bigger cabin; have an even bigger group ride the day before and even more people to enjoy lunch with at the Black Cat Burritos. From Mark: Marty finished 31st with a time of 5:11 while Dave finished 85th with a time of 5:28.