'99 Bridge to Bridge Incredible Challenge

Ride summary by Tom Sheffield

bicycle chain

I didn't sleep well Saturday night. Perhaps it was because I subconsciously knew that this time there would be no excuses. This was my second Bridge-to-Bridge (BtB) bicycle ride, so I was familiar with the route. Last year I was sick, but rode anyway and was pleased to finish in 6h37m. I had logged just over 5500 miles since the Road Dogs' 1999 New Year's Day Metric, including 14 Centuries. My training rides during the month preceding BtB included Blue Ridge Brutal, Hilly Hellacious, and the Hanging Rock "Triple Hump" metric.

The weather on Sunday was perfect. Cool enough so that I wore a wind vest and arm warmers at the start. However, by the time I reached NC181, the vest had become a "cape" (unzipped) and the arm warmers had become "wrist warmers".

The start was typical of a large group ride. However, it differed from the 1998 BtB because we didn't have to "compete in a crit" around the Lenoir Mall before the start of the ride. Initially I lined-up with Kurt near the front of the pack, but I quickly came to my senses and withdrew to a position that would allow me the psychological advantage of passing more bikes than visa-versa.

Chris Harkey showed-up again this year, but he didn't bring the DeFeet team or George Hincapie with him. He won again anyway, but the pace was a bit slower than last year and there was a very large lead pack during the early stages of the ride. About 5 miles into the ride, I heard one cyclist asking another for shifting advice: "How do I get in a gear that makes me go faster?", the answer was "Push the little lever behind your right-hand brake lever." Several of us who overheard the exchange had a good laugh. As much as I wanted to "cover the Goobers" for my teammates at the front of the pack (as I did so adeptly during the Tour de Moore), I immediately decided to improve my position by getting as far away from that particular Goober as possible.

Through the "rollers" east of Lenoir, the pace near the back of the pack was erratic. Robby Powell rolled up beside me and said it reminded him of I40 at rush hour. We were either going 25-30mph or 5mph and the yo-yoing eventually outlasted my ability to recover aerobically. Coming into Lenoir on US64, the paceline was stretched-out single file for at least 1/4 mile. It was a sight to behold, and I wish I could have seen more of it, but I'd had enough by the time we re-entered Lenoir and dropped them all "off the front". I quickly found some others who had employed the same tactic, and we negotiated the "rollers" on Abington and Adako roads together. When we reached NC181, one of the volunteers informed us that we were 20 minutes behind the lead pack. (I've always wondered what they expect me to do with that information.) This year I averaged 22mph getting to NC181, which was slower than last year, but I felt much better at that point in the ride.

It took me about 1h15m to negotiate NC181. Someday I'd like to have enough confidence to ride harder on this segment. This year I did manage to get to the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) without using the little ring on my Ultegra triple, although I will admit that the 42:27 saw extensive duty. On the way up NC181 I passed a guy loading his bike into the back of a pickup truck and heard him say: "I think I probably could have made it all the way!" I bet he'll train harder next year.

Gwynn was waiting for me at the entrance to the BRP with fresh bottles of water and Cytomax. Even thought the SAG support for BtB is excellent, I feel more comfortable using my own drinks. While waiting for me, Gwynn witnessed some amazing bike handling (or lack of same) by the riders exiting NC181 onto the BRP entrance ramp.

Immediately after the brief refueling stop, I was fortunate to join a small group of bikes for the BRP segment of the ride. We were constantly reminded by Park Rangers and Volunteers to stay in a single pace-line. Once was while one guy was dropping to the back after a long pull. Another warning was at a feed zone. If they had seen the large pack taking up both lanes earlier in the ride, they'd probably have us all wearing bright orange suits while picking up Gu packets and discarded water bottles along the BRP. Our pace was slightly slower than I desired, but undoubtedly faster than I would have managed on my own, so I sat-in until we flew through the screaming descent. When we started to climb the long hill up to the US221 exit, several of my "friends" started cramping, so like a true Road Dog I dropped them (this time, off the back). I had an excellent ride on US221. The new pavement made it easier than last year, and it's definitely the best riding segment of BtB. During this part of the ride, I overheard a conversation about a training ride last week at Hanging Rock. It turns out that it was the same group that Kurt and I saw while we were there. After I told the guy that we do repeats on Pilot Mt. and Hanging Rock, he asked me if he could hook a tow line to my bike before we started to climb Grandfather Mountain.

I got to the Grandfather Mountain entrance at 5h44m and still felt surprisingly strong. I passed many bikes on the mountain and I don't remember (selective memory?) any bikes passing me. Last year I walked one switchback near the parking lot at the top. This year I rode the mountain non-stop and finished at 6h02m. This year I don't have any regrets, I can't think of anything I'd have done differently, and therefore I have no excuses.

BUT next year I'll sleep better the night before, hang with the lead pack longer, ride harder on NC181, find a faster paceline on the BRP, put my head down and ignore the scenery on US221, yada, yada, yada.....

Page maintained by David L. Cole and last revised on Friday, September 24, 1999.
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