Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Reviewing the Centuries!

My wife and I enjoy doing centuries.  In addition to the long rides that we do alone or with friends, in the last several years, we have taken part in dozens of organized events.  This gives us the chance to ride on new roads, meet new people, and break up the monotony of week-in, week-out, solitary endurance training.  Plus, it gives us the chance to grow the sport of cycling, and it often provides us with a fun and easy way to support some solid charities.  In 2012, I/we have done the Tony Serrano Century, the Not Your Grandma's Century, the Wheels o' Fire Century, the Cheaha Challenge Gran Fondo, the Chattooga Century, the Blue Ridge Breakaway, the Wilson 100, the Covington Century, the MACC One Love Century, the Savannah Century, the Beatiful Backroads Century, the Hilly Hellacious Hundred, the Six-Gap Century, and the Spin 4 Kids.  (Feel free to comment below or send me an e-mail if you're considering riding any of these and want my thoughts!)

Centuries attract a wide variety of riders, and we use centuries to suit whatever training needs we have on that day.  Often, I will ride with a fast group for the entire ride, which requires me to put in short- to medium-length bursts of power amidst long, easier segments of sitting in the draft of other riders.  (I have decided, by the way, that riding like this is not the best way of improving my triathlon bike split although it does make me a stronger cyclist overall.  More on that in a later blog post.)  Other times, I will stick with the group for a significant portion of the ride, and then drop out to put in some miles on my own.  Still other times, I will intentionally ride solo for the entire distance, either because I'm looking for a more sustained, evenly-paced effort than what I can get from group riding, or because I'm putting in time on my tri bike.  (Some folks ride their tri bikes in the group.  Riding a tri bike--or at least riding in the aerobars--is dangerous in a group and is thereby disrespectful to the group.  Yes, some people do it anyway.  See my section below about bad behavior.)

Having spent so much time at organized events, my wife and I have become keen judges of what makes a quality century.  As I reflect on my 2012 tour of centuries, here are the things that stand out.

The Highlights

--I was the first person to finish both the Cheaha Challenge Gran Fondo and the Blue Ridge Breakaway.  Most centuries are un-timed affairs, but there is a handful that post finishing times.  I enjoy timed centuries, but it definitely makes for a different feel.

--I got to ride with two Continental pros at the Cheaha Challenge.  I traded pulls with them in the last twenty miles, and I was one of only two guys who they didn't drop, even when they started pulling hard in the last ten miles.  It was really difficult--probably the most difficult ride I've ever had.  But as I was telling myself as I clung to their wheels in the last twenty miles, how often do I get the opportunity to ride hard with pros?

--I won the KOM competition at the Cheaha Challenge.

--I finished third in the KOM competition during the Six Gap Century.  I was initially nonplussed by this given that I wanted to win, but the more I thought about it, the better I felt.  I'm going to keep the goal of winning on my radar for a few more years.       

The Low-lights

--I got a sidewall blowout while coming down Jack's Gap in the lead group at the Six Gap Century.  I ended up sitting on the side of the road for about an hour until a Good Samaritan from North Carolina gave me his tire.  (He had a broken spoke and was abandoning the ride.)  The bright side is obvious: the blowout didn't cause me to crash at 35 m.p.h. two weeks before Kona.  Another bright side: it freed me up to focus on the KOM competition.  (See above.)  I ended up having a great ride, albeit entirely solo after the blowout.

--I got knocked off my bike by a pack of about twelve dogs during the Chattooga Century.  It was during the twenty-five mile add-on, which took me onto some pretty sketchy roads.  The bright side is again obvious: I wasn't bitten by any of the dogs.  I used to think dogs were okay before I became a cyclist.

--While climbing in a small group at the Hilly Hellacious Hundred, someone fired a gun at us.  It was probably just a pellet gun, but it was, undoubtedly, a gun.  No one was hit, but we heard the shot, heard it whiz by, and heard it hit the kudzu just off the side of the road.  Once again, I think that the bright side is obvious: no one took a bullet.  I never envisioned writing that about a bike ride.     

Best Century of the Year!

And my award for Best Century of the Year goes to . . .

The Blue Ridge Breakaway!

It's worth pointing out that my wife agrees with me.  We did the Blue Ridge Breakaway as part of a weekend trip to Asheville, NC.  That fact alone probably helped the BRB win my not-at-all-coveted top spot.

This was a great ride overall.  It featured a fantastic route.  It was both difficult and beautiful.  Here's the profile:

Make no mistake: there was PLENTY of climbing in the first forty miles, but those hills are dwarfed on the profile by the monstrous climbs that came in the second half of the ride.  Those two big climbs you see are each nearly an hour long.  One takes you up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the second is on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The highest point in the ride also happens to be the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It sits at over 6000 feet, which is wicked high for the American southeast.

The descents were not technical, but they were long.  By the finish, my body hurt more from holding a descent position than from climbing.

The BRB was also very well-organized.  The rest stops were where they needed to be--not that I stopped at any of them.  (Like I said, timing the ride and posting the results makes for a different feel.)  The volunteers were friendly and well-trained.  The organizers of the ride not only marked the directions on the road, but also included admonitions such as "blind driveway" and "holes."  They even went door-to-door along the route the week before the century and asked all of the dog owners to leash their animals.  As a result, I had no problems with dogs during the ride.  Right now, there is already information on the web site for the 2013 ride, and it's still nine months away.  

In addition, the riders were friendly at the BRB.  Some may say that you can't judge a ride by the riders.  I disagree.  I think that the ride organizers can do things that promote a positive feel and thereby encourage respectful riding.  

The ride wasn't flawless.  The post-race food was lackluster, and they didn't offer any healthy options.  In addition, the ride director continually apologized for the hills--in the pre-ride e-mail, in his remarks just before the start, etc.  This was out of synch given that the reason that we drove all the way from Atlanta to western North Carolina to do the ride was because of the hills.  Nonetheless, the BRB takes the prize.

I may be prejudiced because when I went onto the BRB web site to gather some images, I found a picture of myself leading a small group down a descent:  

Cool!  I think that I'll make this my Facebook cover photo for a while.

Honorable Mentions go to the MACC One Love Century and the Cheaha Challenge Gran Fondo.  Both rides are well-organized, with great volunteers and solid routes.  As it happens, I feel like my two strongest bike rides of the year came on these two days, so perhaps I'm once again being less than objective.  Honorable Mention also goes to the Chattooga Century, which is my wife's new favorite century in the state of Georgia.  It has hills, flats, a short climb, and even a 125-mile option.  It's like a picturesque tour of cycling in Georgia all in one ride, with great volunteers.  Also, I'm not being totally fair to the Spin 4 Kids, which is a great ride, too.  Spin 4 Kids, though, came one week after Kona, and I was mostly there (a) to hang out with our friend and new cyclist Anne, and (b) to sample the rest stops.  It was probably the only ride I have ever done where I took in FAR more calories than I burned.  Taking so much time at the rest stops meant that I got to interact with this nine-year-old girl, who deserves some credit for doing the full century.

The MACC One Love Century had the coolest t-shirt:

The Chattooga Century had the worst, but I think that that is kinda their schtick:

(I mean, really.  This one HAS to be a joke.  Right?)

That being said, nearly every event was well administered, with a few exceptions.  The Beautiful Backroads Century was evidently unprepared for the number of people that showed up.  There were long lines everywhere--including a line of traffic stretching all the way on to the interstate--and about half of the participants, including Kacie and me, were still in the parking lot getting ready when the mass start began.  (In the future, I going to park a half-mile from the start at the Budweiser Plant, ride my bike to and from registration, and pick up with the ride when it rolls by.)  Likewise, at the finish, they only had one cooler of water.  Of course, given that it was the Budweiser Plant, they had a LOT of beer.

And then there are the rides run by the Southern Bike League: the Wilson 100 and the Covington Century.  Even though the SBL deserves some credit for resurrecting the Covington Century, and even though they are smart enough to get the "Rest Stop Queen" Joyce Brown to staff their ride, they are really bad at managing rides.  I rode their signature ride--the Wilson 100--for the third time this year, and I have resolved not to ride it again.  They are scattered at registration, they run out of supplies at rest stops (if they have supplies at all), the rest stops are at odd intervals, and the folks who do the rides practice a great deal of unsafe behavior.  Like I said before, some folks may believe you can't judge a ride by who rides it, but I do.  In addition to putting everyone in a bad mood at the start with a disorganized registration process and long bathroom lines, the SBL seems to do very little to limit the number of people riding four abreast, going uphill against traffic, weaving back and forth across the road, and blocking the path even when someone is coming "on the left."  They did have a cool t-shirt design this year, but they went back and forth as to whether they were going to give me one.                  

All in all, I'd say it was a good year for centuries!  I'm looking forward to doing a few more next year.  See you on the roads!

[Feel free to stop reading here.  What follows is a blog post that I promised myself I would write about some of the horrendous behavior that I saw from cyclists during our rides this fall.  It's a bit of a rant, though, and I don't want to shove it down anyone's throat.]

Bad Behavior from Cyclists

In the last year, I have become increasingly critical of cyclists who act like jerks.  Perhaps this is a sign that I'm becoming more of a triathlete than a cyclist.  (A year or two after becoming a cyclist, I found myself very judgmental of runners.)  Some things are harmless.  For example, at a couple of centuries, I saw riders wearing their Road Race State Champion jerseys.  No, I'm not just jealous.  I was the Cat 3 Road Race Champion a few years ago, after all.  However, I only wore my jersey in road races, as is the convention.  If you wear your Road Race State Champion jersey in a charity ride, it suggests that you either (a) are looking for any opportunity to show off the fact that you won the State Championship RR; (b) think that a charity ride is a race; or (c) both.  Regardless of the motivation, it's a douche-y move.  Another example of some harmless yet ridiculously bad behavior: at some rides--the Beautiful Backroads Century stands out--riders would sit in the draft behind me for up to two hours, but would ignore me if I spoke to them at stoplights.  If I'm doing 40% more work than you, it seems like you can at least be polite and respond when I say something like "It's a beautiful day, isn't it?" or "Are you planning to stop at the next rest stop?"   

Of course, some behavior is potentially more harmful, and of course, I am much more critical of it.  Chief among these behaviors is the crossing of the yellow line.  When you're riding in a group, you should never cross the yellow line onto the other side of the road.  In a bike race or a triathlon, you can be penalized or even disqualified for crossing the yellow line and riding against oncoming traffic.  Since there are no course marshals present at a charity ride, though, cyclists feel as if they can do what they like.  That's right: cyclists feel that because they have fewer people looking after them on the road, they can behave more unsafely.  This year, I even saw people crossing the yellow line going uphill, so that the cars coming over the hill in the other direction couldn't see them at all.  That's downright stupid.   

I suppose that the yellow-line-crossers believe that they are risking only themselves.  Or, they think that they're more important than the group they're riding in.  Or, they think that they're in a ProTour race and the roads are (or should be) entirely closed for them.  All of these things are incorrect.  Here's the deal.  First, when riding in a group, crossing the yellow line (or the midpoint of the road is there is no line present) is dangerous for the entire group.  When a cyclist riding down the wrong side of the road encounters a car coming in the other direction, he will dive back into the group in order to avoid a head-on collision with the car.  Normally, there isn't space for him, so his sudden dash into a gap that doesn't exist causes the riders who are following the rules to swerve to miss him.  This creates a ripple effect through the group that may cause crashes.  People get hurt in crashes.  Second, crossing the yellow line incenses people in cars.  This shouldn't be taken lightly.  When cyclists ride headlong down the wrong side of the road, cars see that and don't appreciate it.  It thereby increases the animosity between drivers and cyclists that can lead to ugly confrontations when we're out on the road solo.  (At the Six Gap Century--where bad behavior reached its peak--I saw cyclists riding down the wrong side of the road actually wave cars off the road.  Are you kidding me??)  Third, crossing the yellow line to move closer to the front of the group is an extremely weak thing to do.  In order to move up in a group, either one can wait for the riding to get hard so that the group strings out and the rider can pick his way through the gaps, or one can wait for the riding to get easy so that the group bunches up and the rider can cross the yellow line and pass everyone.  The former method is what strong, skilled, sportsmanlike riders do.  The latter is what weak, unskilled, disrespectful riders do.  If you believe that you deserve to be in the front of a group, don't disrespect everyone by passing on the wrong side of the road.  Rather, get stronger and earn your way to the front.  If you can only stay with a group by virtue of riding dangerously, chances are that you don't belong with that group anyway.  And as a member of that group--whose safety depends on everyone in the group riding safely--I can confidently say, I DON'T WANT YOU THERE.

That is all.

1 comment:

  1. George, this is such a great write up and one that I've bookmarked at Tom and I are always looking for rides that people (*ahem* you and Kacie) would recommend!

    And I love your list of crappy cyclist things. I don't get the yellow line crossers, ESPECIALLY on blind curves. Really? Just play Russian Roulette with a loaded gun people.