Butterflies were present, just wondering how my off-season stuff would pan out. The couple of weeks leading into this event looked promising. I felt strong and able to control my zones really well. The start line was cold, somewhere in the upper 30’s. The wielding weapon of the cold was the wind. The wind was something that can only be personified as a monster. With gusts of 25+mph, the first 84 miles were directly into the teeth of the beast! The slipstream was invaluable, and the pulls were rotated quickly.
The Tour of Autauga is the opener to the Alabama Backroads Series. The roads switch back and forth from smooth pavé to the dreaded chip-seal. Having a plan is always a good thing, and I knew by the direction of the wind that soloing wasn’t a good idea. The front group was a large mass, and two riders went down within the first 10 miles of the start! I was growing more agitated and nervous. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why new riders (yes, they are easy to point out) feel like jumping up front and riding in a tight group at speeds they cannot handle . . . but that is for another post. After a sharp turn north, the side wind was devastating. Without a proper echelon . . . well, we . . . yep, ripped in half. Guess where I was? I know my limits. There was no way to bridge over. I had to be patient. But there was a problem: riders are dropping like flies. To my horror, at mile 60, it was down to me a very young kid. As you can tell on the elevation, we were in the middle of the elevation. Here’s my next problem: the kid seemed to be very talented that knew nothing about cycling (hence, the big mountain bike helmet) and had no clue how to work together. I did my best to tell him, but I really think that he thought I was trying trick him. I asked him to allow us to share the wind and work through the next 15+miles. Yes, typically wind and climbing are a mute point, but like I said this was nasty, nasty wind. It made a 9% grade feel like 15%. Pacing each other would have helped a lot. Nothing doing. The kid surged up the climbs and coasted down the descents, while I tried my best to stay at a rhythmic, high cadence, and my legs were not feeling quite right at that distance.
Somewhere near mile 70, three guys rolled up behind me (from the shattered group) and told me to jump on. OH. MY. GOSH! Yes, nooooooow were cooking with grease! I grabbed the tail and ordered my legs to spin hard, while munching quickly on a banana and a goo pack with a couple of long pulls on my bottle. The speed was climbing. I checked the map on my stem. In eight more miles we would start a fairly downward trajectory. We were working well together. Our speed was averaging 22 mph, we were steady on the climbs and descending on the top tubes like our hair was on fire, bumping near 50 mph on a couple of them. Yep, you guessed it. One by one, riders from the very front group were gobbled up; then I saw the kid. He was spent. His cadence was slow, and he was slumped. We caught him and blew by him. He had nothing to jump on. I really felt bad, but it’s a good lesson I guess.
Now into the 80’s section, I was hydrated. My legs were refreshed, and I could feel the momentum building. Our four-man group was working like a machine and averaging 25ish. Two of the guys mentioned they didn’t have much left and dropped the pulls pretty quickly. The wind was back to a direct side wind. We all agreed to 45 second pulls and tried to stay steady. As I figured it, our group was at least in the top ten, and two more riders were dead ahead. Around 93, we caught and passed them. I still felt really good, but we were down to three and no riders ahead and very little time to catch. At the finish, I was 10th out of 141 riders. Yes, I was happy with that. It was good, in my book. I am excited for the upcoming events.