The Race to the Rock is a 25-mile time trial that ends at the top of Chimney Rock mountain. Apparently in previous years, they had riders depart one-by-one, but they changed that to a mass start for logistics and safety reasons.
Despite the fact that I don’t really race, I thought I would make the most of it, and give an honest effort. I had felt sluggish since returning from Colorado, so perhaps doing well in the time trial would give me some confidence. I registered in the Men’s Masters group. This turned out to be the largest percentage of the field, giving the least opportunity to place, but that’s okay. I didn’t expect to win. I just hoped to do well.
The mass start let off from right in front of Chimney Rock State Park at 7:30am. I positioned myself close enough to the front that I could jump onto the lead pack. The goal was to hang on with them as long as possible until the final climb.
The pace was spirited, but not insane. I was able to hang on without problem. I was nearly gapped on a small hill, but was able to maneuver around the dropped rider, and catch up with the pack. We flew through Memorial Parkway, the curvy road on the southern shore of Lake Lure. We powered over the climbs, and leaned through the descending turns, barely tapping the brakes. After five miles, the pace was around 25 mph. I turned around to find everyone else had fallen off. It was just me, and maybe a dozen or so other riders in the lead pack. Things were going well.
We pushed past Lake Lure, and took a left on Bill’s Creek Road. Hmm. This road looks familiar. The moment we turned, I asked a rider to my left whether we would be riding up Bill’s Mountain. “No,” he said, “we’ll turn right before it.” We began climbing almost as he finished the sentence. I looked at the 11% grade reading on my Garmin, squinted to see the course better, and realized we were climbing Bill’s Hill. If I changed gears at that point, I could drop my chain. I tried to power through it, but it was painful. The riders started to move away from me. Finally I was able to get into the little ring, and even started gaining on the group, but it was too late. They were gone.
I rode solo for the next several miles, rolling around more twists and turns on Buffalo Shoals Road. I thought I might make it all the way to the climb without another rider catching me. That wasn’t the case, as a group of around eight riders crept closer. I had been working hard, so when I saw them behind me, I eased off and fell in. It was best to rest and leave something for the climb.
That’s exactly what I did. They kept a comfortable pace, much faster than I could have managed solo, yet nowhere close to what we managed with the lead group. That got me to the climb.
We entered the park, crossed a bridge, and entered a shroud of trees. The trees would be above us for the entire climb, so the scenery from higher elevations would wait until the top. To my surprise, the climb was a lot milder than I had expected. There were some slightly steeper pitches, but few that surpassed the 10% level. Most of the time it was right around 6%, which is just about perfect.
I shifted into my lower gears, and focused on climbing as efficiently as possible. I kept reminding myself that this was a race, so I would want to climb faster than the rest of my pack. That seemed to not be an issue. A couple other riders and I formed a gap between the rest of the group, which wouldn’t really be bridged. We continued upward, and eventually it was just me and a guy wearing a Missouri jersey (who I later found out was Jon). The climb was short, thankfully. I found out later that it took me about 18 minutes.
We could hear the finish line before we saw it. Someone was reading rider numbers and names as they passed. We passed through the parking lot and knew we were about done. Jon kept a steady pace. I thought about pushing to try and pass him, then thought better of it. Another guy did exactly that from behind, passing both of us. Jon caught him, while I didn’t bother. My heart rate was through the roof by that point. I passed the finish line uneventfully, relieved that it was finished.
I was proud of my performance, and thought I could have placed. That turned out not to be the case. I was 13th overall (I think), and 5th in the Men’s Masters category, which I am very happy with. A friend and blog reader, Kevin Meechan was 3rd in the same category, finishing a couple minutes ahead of me. I was pleased for both of us.
Overall the event was spectacular. Setup Events did a great job managing the course and with the post-race ceremony. The views from Chimney Rock didn’t disappoint. After the riders cleared out, we rode the elevator up and took in some of the sights. We then capped the weekend with a nice brunch near the bank of Lake Lure. It was a great time.