I raced the Tour of Tucker County again on Memorial Day weekend this year. It's a hard, 56 mile race with 6000+ feet of climbing. The first climb is 7 miles long and starts within the first 20 minutes of the race. The race finishes at the top of a 5.6 mile long, 1800 foot vertical climb, known as Sugarlands road. You've heard of the famous Manayunk Wall, right? The Manayunk Wall is only 1/2 mile long, averages an 8% gradient, and at it's steepest gets to 17%. By comparison, Sugarlands averages 7%, but contains a steep 1.1 mile long section that averages 12% and kicks over 18% at times. So imagine something like 10 Manayunk Walls stitched together and you'll have the Sugarlands "Wall".
Calling this a hard race is an understatement. Why not throw in a hot 88F degree day with high humidity? Yea, now everyone is suffering even more. Bumpy, narrow, backcountry roads? They've got 'em. How about large flatbed trucks barreling down the road coming right at you while you're climbing and nearly smearing you on the pavement like the rest of the unfortunate local wildlife? Yep, that happens too. Despite all that, this is the best damm race a $30 entry fee buys you.
This was my A-priority race for the season, which means it's what I've been training for and focusing on since the winter. I felt I was prepared and ready. I wanted a win or at least a podium spot. Racing is funny though. Things don't always go as planned. You never know who will show up or what will actually happen or how you will feel come race day. For me, after 30 minutes of racing, I knew things were not going to go as I had hoped.
At the crest of lower Limestone road, the first part of the first climb, I stayed with the front group. I knew I had to be there if I was going to be competitive. The road continues to wind up & down for several more miles before finally cresting out after 7 miles. At that point I had slightly fallen off the pace of the lead group of 5 riders were pushing. I was no more than 20 seconds off. But as the race progressed, I found myself with a second group of 5 riders and we slowly slipped back, giving that lead group 5 minutes total by the time we hit the final climb.
By this point I was going into survival mode. A kind stranger was handing out free bottles of water before that last climb. Thank the heavens for her. I poured some of the ice cold water on my head and drank the rest. It felt good but it couldn't pull me back from being on the verge of cramping. I don't cramp very often. When I do, it's either because I am dehydrated or I've ridden myself to my limit. So the best I could manage was to just go at my own pace and finish the race with maybe in the top 10.
I finished 9th. I put in a solid race effort. I can't say I'm happy with the result but I'm satisfied with my race effort. Things don't always go as planned and there's always next year. I'm already planning on another 300 mile drive and that $30 race entry fee for 2017.