photo cred: Jessica HadlockWith the new course, we had a fair bit of road before the first climb. I was worried I wouldn't be able to stay close to the front for long. Robert Lee Moss was the only other single speeder staying up with me in the top twenty, but as soon as the climb started up Mill Creek Road, things got ugly fast. Robert was gone.
I looked over my shoulder about 3/4 of the way up. A selection had definitely been made. I was in the top 15-20 riders as we crested and in very good company. Thomas Turner, Garth Prosser, Shane Schreihart, Luke Sagur, Jacob McGahey... this was going better than I anticipated.
Of course all the geared riders dropped me on the slight descent heading to Kitsuma, but the good news was that I would have the switchbacks more or less to myself. No more geared riders getting pissed at me for running/walking/soft pedaling/surging my way around the tight corners on the way to the top.
Damn. Looking down and back I saw a single speeder coming. He was punching it around all the switchbacks. Either he's strong, geared kinda low, or doesn't know the toll those big efforts will take later. He caught up to me, and I let him around. Time to give him the once over.
Carbon frame, suspension fork. Light bike that can go faster than my rigid machine on the descents.
One water bottle. He's gonna have to stop at the aid stations more frequently.
Slight build. No advantage on the coasting descents.
I still had him in my sights at the top. Once we started going down, I closed the gap down. A certain familiarity with Kitsuma allowed me the pleasure of knowing when to lay off the brakes. At the first opportunity, I came around and left him in my rear view mirror. Before reaching the bottom, I caught Garth Prosser.
"Ummmm.... second place single speed is right behind me. Can I get by, Garth?"
Around Garth and as brake-free as I could be down to the pavement. Eventually I looked back and saw a group about a quarter mile back. I wondered if the single speeder was in the group... I was alone in the wind. I pedaled as smooth a cadence as I could muster right past the first aid station.
Up Star Gap as fast I could get it over with, looking down the switchbacks the whole time. If only I could get to the gap first, I knew I could open up my lead on the descent. I got all the way down to Jarrett Creek Road without seeing another single speeder, and I knew what to do here.
My experience at the Pisgah Enduro had taught me something. I climbed this road with a heavier bike and a 32X16 gear back in June. All I had to do was attack the short, steep pitches and then recover... so I did. More carrots were consumed. Then I hung it out on the washed-out descent hoping to stay clear of the newly formed trenches the recent heavy rains had cut into the old gravel road.
Approaching the second aid station, I realized I was not doing things as planned. Normally, I try to drink X amount of bottle between A and B, B and C, and so forth. This time around, I mounted my bike computer on my stem so I could keep track of time (and nothing else since I left the transmitter and wheel magnet on my workbench where they belong). I wanted to do the one bottle/one gel per hour thing, but I was off the mark and riding based on gut instinct. I had only drank one bottle and nothing else by the time I rolled into the second aid station, more than two hours into the race. Meh.
They had moved the location of the all the aid station from previous years. It was at least 30-50 feet off course. For some reason I looked over and said, "Nah, I might as well keep racing."
So I started up Curtis Creek Road with one bottle.
Fortunately, a friend of a friend was right around the corner and said, "Hey Dicky, you need anything?"
"You got some water?"
His buddy went to the bed of their truck to fetch some water, but I talked him into just dumping the contents of his personal bottle into mine... at least half a bottle. That's fine.
And so I climbed and pulled out my first gel. I missed the natural stream coming out of the side of the mountain and I never realized that Mike Pierce was not only standing at the side of the road, but was the intermediary water stop on the way to the top. I was so focused on turning over my 38X22 that I was in my own world. Tempo, turn the screws, avoid the redline.
When I reached the chicane with the rock outcropping on the right, I knew I had ten more minutes to go to the Parkway. I hammered it out and caught four more carrots. At the aid station, I filled a bottle with Heed. Instead of dropping off the back of the Parkway like normal, we were treated to a few more miles and many more feet of climbing up the Blue Ridge Pavedway. I ate another gel and topped it off with another carrot on the way to Heartbreak Ridge passing the fourth aid station without even looking over.
Going down Heartbreak, I had to be more conservative than usual. I chose the Ikon 2.35 over the Ardent 2.4 based on rolling resistance, knowing the only place the bigger tire was useful would be coming down Heartbreak. "Tire conservation mode," that's what my friend Jerry calls it. I kept looking over my shoulder for that last carrot or another single speeder with front suspension to catch me. It never happened. I did get caught by Ivan Nemnykh, riding a 1X8 aluminum Chumba looking resplendent in his gym shorts, hairy legs, trail shoes, and fully unzipped jersey. I let him by right before the death roots and he went on his merry way.
I saw Jacob McGahey of Industry Nine running down the switchbacks at the bottom. I felt like a dick not offering him anything, but I was kinda racing and everything...
At the bottom of Heartbreak, I knew I just had to not fuck it up. I rode past the last aid station somewhat confident that I could go the final 13-14 miles on what I had. I ate another gel and pressed on, catching Ivan and his gym shorts on the way up to the final up and over of Kitsuma.
At the bottom of Kitsuma, I could feel the cramps coming on. I knew I hadn't drank enough, but nothing I could do about that other than drink what was left in my bottles and hope for the best. I had already consumed my two packets of mustard in a more precautionary manner, so there was no emergency chute anymore. Up Kitsuma, looking over my shoulder and down in the same manner as before. All the way down to the bottom, ripshit style.
I popped out on the final paved stretch back into town. Eventually, I could see a rider behind me, jersey flapping in the wind. Ivan, no doubt. He used all eight of his gears to reel me in, and not wanting to try to duke it out with a geared rider on the few miles left into town, I let him go without a chase. Hopefully I'd still get my top ten overall I so desired.
Into town, still looking over my shoulder, worried about getting caught by a train on the tracks just at the outskirts as it had happened to me once years ago. No train. All alone, pumping my fist across the line, I got what I came for.
photo cred: Jessica Hadlock
Faster Mustache Win!
So ends my love affair with ORAMM. Nine times since 2004.
Win, second, skip, win (9th overall), win, win, a where are they now 7th, second, third, and my final win. 5 wins, 4 losses... a winning season.
I wanted sub 5:30, a top ten overall, and a win so I could walk away for good. That's what I got, and I'm gonna keep my promise. ORAMM has been such a big part of my life, my first ever single speed endurance race, the thing that has consumed my thoughts with drop bag strategies and muggy morning training rides almost every summer since 2004.
I've seen the entry fees go from $65 to $150 in the past ten years. I've also see the awards go from $40 for 1st single speed/$40 for first rigid/no podium for single speeders, to $200 for first and a five deep podium in SS, and back down to a three deep podium and schwag (that's swag for Jordan Salman). Such is life. I never came for the prizes or money. It was a matter of ego, pride, and all things shallow mixed with a fair amount of feelings regarding my unfinished business. Putting together the pieces of the puzzle and finally walking away knowing that I had done everything right and left nothing in the tank.
My ORAMM Opus, if you will.
Thank you, good night, we love you all.
photo cred: Nik Fedele