The 2003 Blue Ridge Brutal 100 registration took place under rainy skies not unlike all the other major mountain centuries of the past year and a half. Fortunately, blue skies prevailed before the start of the ride.
The Road Dogs were represented by a list of the regular suspects plus a few new faces to West Jefferson. Randy Murray, Robbie Powell, Alan Nechemias, Jimmy and I were repeat offenders while Brian Grimmett, Christine Hanning, Craig Popelars, Orjan and Robert Harvey decided to join us in the pain this year.
The ride started on wet roads so the pace actually was a little slower than normal to begin with. The Road Dogs decided this was a good time to put ourselves on or near the front. We were no more than a couple of hundred yards from the start when Brian and Robert started pacing the group. It didn't take long for Team DeFeet and Cycles DeOro to take care of that problem and soon we were assuming our normal position in the pack.
The group started breaking up before we hit the Blue Ridge Parkway but I think it is safe to say that most of the Dogs stayed with the pack until that time (I know that I saw Jimmy, Brian, Randy, Robbie, Orjan and Craig). Unlike past years, the front group had an early breakaway take place off the front that happened on the Parkway (not sure of the exact mileage). At 52 minutes into the ride, those two riders were already a couple of minutes off the front. Later time checks verified they were maintaining around a 3 minute lead. Another rider turned to me a one such time check and said "3 minutes is a lot of time to make up...do you think we can close the gap". I replied something like "why would we even want to do that?".
By the time the front pack exited the Parkway, the Dogs were down to Randy, Robbie, Craig, Orjan and me. All of us had taken our turns somewhere in the first 50 miles leading the pack up at least portions of some of the hills but Craig out did himself on numerous occasions by going to the front to pull back minor breakaways.
The course this year had several detours that kept the veterans wondering just how many additional hills could be added to this years route. By the time we hit Buffalo road we had just about 70 miles under our belt. I knew my time with the front pack was coming to an end so I started heading to the back of the pack before the big climb up Three Tops Mountain. When I got there, I was met by Robbie Powell who had the same thought of "why be at the front and let everyone know they are in the process of dropping you when you can slide to the back and just mysteriously disappear".
The front group (which had consisted of approximately 35 or so riders) broke up on the Three Tops climb. One of the two riders who had broken away earlier was caught either on the climb or sometime afterwards and the pack now consisted of small groups of two, three, four or more riders with a couple of exceptions near the front of the group. When I finished the climb I was with another fellow from Raleigh (I apologize for not remembering your name) that I had ridden with in Hillsborough the week before. We descended together and proceeded to try and find some of the other front pack riders we had ridden with for so long. He turned to me and said "I don't think we can catch the front group so do you want to count on getting caught from behind". I mumbled something about trying to "find my rhythm" and proceeded to watch him drop me like yesterday's news. It took me about a mile or two to get back up to speed and lo and behold I rolled u! p on Robbie Powell. Mr. Powell was fighting inner demons (cramps) when I caught up with him. He told me to go on by and I told Robbie that I thought we would probably be able to hang together. Funny how your energy can come and go on these rides. One minute I am trying to encourage Robbie to hang in there, the next minute I am cursing at myself for attempting to hang on his wheel! It seems Robbie recovered pretty #%& quick and I remember that we went through Todd (train grade) averaging around 22 mph for the entire 10 or so miles.
By the time we crossed Hwy 221 (92 miles), I was beginning to fight inner demons of my own. Not so much cramps as just a loss of power. Robbie proceeded to drop me shortly after this point and I worked hard to stay within 50 to 100 yards of his wheel. We stayed about that far apart until the last 4 miles. It was about that time that I watched Robbie close the gap on these two guys who had been staying about 30 to 50 yards in front of him. It was a classic Road Dog maneuver that I then witnessed. Robbie worked a couple of hills and descents and proceeded to chase down these two lone bandits. I saw him pull up beside them for a few moments (just to rub in the fact he had caught them or either to show respect instead of just blowing by them) and then watched him start falling by towards me. After I caught up with Robbie I asked him if he had gone up to them to see how their ride was going or to whether he ! was trying to bum some food and water.
Anyway, Robbie and I finished together in 5 hours 11 minutes and change. It was a hard ride but a good ride. When we got to our cars, we saw Randy Murray who had finished some 5 minutes ahead of us and later we found out that Orjan had finished 2 minutes ahead of him! Craig Popelars (who we saw in the ditch with cramps after Three Tops...do you mean I forget to tell you about Craig being in the ditch?) overcame adversity and finished a very admirable 5:21. I apologize for not knowing everyone else's finishing times but I know the order I believe. After Craig, I believe it was Robert Harvey, then Jimmy and Brian, Alan Nechemias and Christine.
As far as the guy who did the early breakaway in the first hour...he finished in 4:41 which was good for around a three minute lead on the second place finisher.
Allen "Budman" Walker