It's a shame that for what was otherwise a wonderful and well-executed event, what many of the '97 BikeFest riders will remember is making U-turns and getting lost. But I'm getting ahead of myself...
I hooked up with Robby Powell and Chris Kalberg to ride over to Hillsborough together. It was a wonderful morning, both clear and cool, and each of was looking forward to the ride. We had all ridden the 100 mile route last year, so we knew we were in for good rural scenery. I also knew the ride was popular with NCBC members, and I was looking forward to enjoying a good, fast paceline.
So we threw our bikes on the rack on top of my van and headed toward Hillsborough. Upon arrival I was immediately impressed by the number of folks they had directing traffic. It was clear that the Tarwheels had engaged a large number of volunteers. Anyway, as we got out of the van I noticed we had three bikes but only two front wheels on top. Chris thought I was kidding when I asked, "You did bring a front wheel, didn't you?" I wasn't. Somewhere between Apex and Hillsborough there's a nearly new wheel with a Campi hub and Mavic rim. We learned the hard way that no matter how short the distance, always secure your gear with a cable.
Fortunately for us (or, I guess, for Chris, 'tho I was feeling bad about loosing the wheel, too), Jack Powell pointed us to Jerry Allan. Jerry lived just a few miles away and had not one, but two spare front wheels which he offered to Chris. Jerry called his wife and, bless her heart, she made her way over to the courthouse early in the morning so that Chris could do more than sit and watch the grass grow for a few hours.
Meanwhile I was getting my stuff ready and decided it was time to make a quick pitstop. It was 7:50, so I had 25 minutes - shouldn't be a problem. I saw the well-marked restrooms, and the line wasn't that long, but I got up to the starting line with only a couple minutes to spare, and in my haste, left my Cliff Shots and Powerbars in the van. So it goes.... I figured I'd just have to make due with the gallon of Gatorade I was carrying in my camelback and water bottles.
We finally got underway, and the group rolled along smoothly. A few miles into the ride there was suddenly a lot of commotion as we recognized that we had missed a turn. Fortunately the traffic was light, because it takes some doing to get scores of cyclists turned around at once. I was thankful that nobody (that I was aware of) hit the pavement in the process.
The peleton was underway again, still at a warmup pace. We were heading down a long, downhill when damn! - we missed another turn. Now I realized what was happening. The route was marked, but the arrows were right at the intersection, which allows no anticipation for the turn. The lead group at this point was large, some 60-100 riders. A double paceline that large and traveling 25-30 mph simply cannot turn that quickly.
We regrouped once again and made our way up to the first sag stop. This was almost comical. There were arrows leading into the sag stop, but none leading out. None of the riders were planning on stopping at the first sag stop, but we all stoped in the road to try and figure out which way to go. Some riders turned back to see if there were arrows at the intersection we had just come around. There weren't. But everyone was following everyone else, so the whole group did a U-turn, stopped, and then did another U-turn. Finally we headed on straight, but at this point the riders were getting frustrated. It would soon get worse.
Many of the roads we were on had been recently resurfaced. This was great, as it made for wonderfully smooth riding, which you immediately appreciated as soon as you hit the non-resurfaced sections. One stretch was so fresh, however, that the turn arrow had been paved over. The front half of the pack was completely unaware they had missed a turn. Fortunately for me, I was riding near Smith Doss and Caude Monnier on their tandem; Claude was paying close attention to the cue sheet and called out the turn.
I figured this was a good opportunity for a quick pee break, as the faster riders would be coming up behind me once they realized they missed the turn. Well, those riders didn't know they had missed a turn, and I quickly found myself off the back of the pack by 3/4 mile or so. Damn! Now it was time trial time to bridge the gap. This is where I love having aerobars. Unfortunately, we were on a long downhill stretch, so the lead group was doing 25 mph or so. You get a huge drafting advantage at that speed, so while they were pedaling lightly, I was going anaerobic in my solo pursuit to catch up. I was finally able to close the gap, and relished the more relaxed pace over the next several miles. I also decided to stick close to the tandems, as they had navigators who could call out the turns.
This strategy worked well, but I eventually found myself in front pulling the paceline down a long hill. All of a sudden, there was a little arrow marking a left turn. Damn! Not knowing whether there might be traffic about to pass, I called out the turn but went straight myself. I U-turned again, along with several others, and caught up with the group yet again.
Somewhere about this point we passed Robby Powell going the wrong direction. I called out to Robby, since I knew we had made all the turns along the way. Shortly afterwards came the large lead group which had missed the turn. We yelled at them too, but I don't know whether they turned around or not - I never saw them again until the end of the ride.
When we hit the next sag stop we encountered the same arrows-in-but-no-arrows-out problem. We were a smaller group by this point, so the group U-turn wasn't quite so problematic. Over the next few miles the group thinned some. I noticed after a while that the tandems were no longer with us. I also realized my plan for the ride - hang with the fast riders - was no longer valid, as they were all out in the countryside somewhere.
When we finally made it back into Hillsborough I stopped at he van and refueled, then went over to the registration area to see if I could hook up with other riders doing the full century. Chris Kalberg and Mike Wallace were there, so we headed out together. I was in front as we headed out on the second loop, and after a couple of long hills, I noticed that I was riding solo. Oops! Oh well - if we're splitting at this point we'll probaby continue to split up, so I just continued on at my own pace.
Fortunately the second loop was better marked, so navigation wasn't a problem. Of course, I was riding solo and slower, so that helped, too. Slugging out the final third of century can be tough when you're by yourself. The scenery was nice. In fact, coming from Wake County, I was encouraged to discover that true rural farmland still exists - complete with farm aromas and everything! I was in a bit of a daze as I approached the 80 mile mark, when suddenly a string of riders passed. I caught their wheel and was thankful that suddenly the miles were passing more quickly.
The group stopped at the final rest stop, and that's where I got a true apreciation for the work the Tarwheels had put into the ride. They had all kinds of goodies and refreshments, and I quickly quaffed two ice-cold bottles of PowerAid. Ahhhh.... The peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on homemade bread were great, too. Oh, and the homemade cookies. And the bananas, and te oranges, and the fig bars...
I had pretty much had my fill when Mike, Chris, and Robby rode up. Mike had caught Robby going the wrong direction again (after flatting for the second time). We regrouped and headed out from the sag stop together. We were all pretty tired at this point but were able to maintain a steady pace the remaining 15 miles or so back to Hillsborough.
Back at the courthouse I was enjoying more of the food they had to offer, especially the big iced barrel of soft drinks. As we were packing up some of the other NCBC riders showed up. TJ Ross claimed they had 78 miles on their odometers by the time they finished the first loop, so they simply headed out-and-back to get their milage up to the full 100.
In spite of the split ups and U-turns, it was still a nice ride. We finished with bikes and skin intact, and that's worth being thankful for. I'm looking forward to doing the ride next year, because I'm confident, given the energy the Tarwheels put into this event, the route will probably be the best marked route you could find!
Page maintained by David L. Cole and last
revised on Wednesday, August 13, 1997.
[ NCBC home page ]