At last year’s Spring Valley Presbyterian Church ride, my intent was to ride with the lead pack. That plan quickly evaporated when a small pack stormed out of the gates and vanished out of sight. I’ve always been a slow warmer and wasn’t ready to chase. It turns out I couldn’t have caught them anyway. I found out later that was the JB Express.
Jeff Brandenburg is a local Iron Man triathlete and one of the strongest riders around. He once finished Assault on Mount Mitchell in the top ten. He prefers to ride in his aerobars in the lead. He rides so fast that others do not complain. They are fine riding in his draft.
For this year’s Tour de Midlands, my last big ride before Mitchell, I knew that the JB Express would be riding out front. My plan was to try and stick with them as long as possible. I also didn’t want to burn myself up too much. With 9 days until Mitchell, I wanted to keep something in reserve.
In the first few miles of the ride, we somehow missed a turn. We ended up at a dead end and had to circle back to the other riders. We then missed another turn and frankly had no idea where we were going. We were sitting in the middle of an intersection, looking at cue sheets, trying to figure it out where in the world we were. Finally one of the SAG vehicles pointed us in the right direction. Even then we weren’t sure. Another rider who seemed to know what he was talking about pointed us in another direction. We took his advice and got there all the same, but that splintered the pack and slowed us down somewhat.
As we crossed over the dam and headed towards Peak, I started to ease in. My heart rate was in zone three and I was comfortably cruising along at a fast pace. Jeff is training for Ironman Coeur d’Alene. His goal was to keep his wattage steady in the low 200s for the entire ride. That meant that although he was riding fast, the effort should be consistent. That was the case most of the time. I noticed that we took hills comfortably, maybe even a little slow. The only time it was a struggle was after cornering, where sometimes I would have to sprint quickly to catch back on.
My one worry was fueling. I had plenty of food, but only two bottles of water. Hydration was going to become an issue at some point. Jeff wouldn’t stop, but as luck would have it, we encountered a train crossing at the Little Mountain rest stop, which allowed us to refill our bottles.
I watched the miles tick by, amazed that I was able to keep up. We passed the 60 mile marker, then 70 miles, 80, and then made the turn back towards Lexington to take this thing home.
At mile 90, Jeff surprisingly moved off the front and Gordon took over. I didn’t know Gordon too well, but assumed he would be keeping the same pace. Umm, no. I hardly noticed the extra effort until we hit a section of hills. All of a sudden my heart rate started rising and wasn’t getting an opportunity to recover. It turns out Gordon is a Cat-2 racer and he was tearing us up. With every hill it hurt more and more.
At mile 96, we hit the toughest hill in the stretch. Mark, who was riding in front of me, gave up midway through the climb. He dropped and motioned me to go by him, and I tried, but the gap had developed and I didn’t have the energy to close. After cresting the hill, the gap had extended. I pushed to try to catch it, burning the last of my remaining energy. The pack was slowed at an intersection and I caught them briefly, but had already spent my last match and didn’t stay on long.
Phew. I was exhausted and not too disappointed to ride in alone at my own pace. My speed average dropped a little bit and I ended with a 21.5 average, which is close to my personal best for a century.