Unlike 2011, the day started off beautifully. Temp was in the mid-60’s and overcast, and travel time down to Muskogee was a lot quicker – amazing what happens when the road isn’t obscured by torrential downpours.
My wife and kids were joining me on the drive down, to watch their first mass start. Afterwards, they would take off to the Renaissance Fair that was opening on the same day, 7 miles away.
Once there, I got all my gear ready, and threw my bag of post-race gear into Bret’s truck so I wouldn’t have to wait on the fam – or make them rush coming back from the fair. It was at this point I started to get nervous. See, there was a bunch of us going for the 100 today, and most of the people going that route were wearing some kinda water pack. I had opted to just bring my water bottles. First, the pack makes me hot – and I do terrible in heat. Second, it carries about 3 water bottles worth of water, which means more weight than most of the riders would have. Third, I was counting on the weather and the rest stops to see me through. Only time would tell if this strategy paid off.
Lance – the only one of us to do the Deuce at Tulsa Tough (for anyone that doesn’t know, that’s two 100+ mile, back-to-back rides, each below 5 hours) – was laying down the strategy for us. We’d hold with the lead group as long as we could – and as long as they weren’t killing us – and then if they pulled away, we’d stick together to maintain at least 5-6 in our group, making it easier all-around to complete. This, at least, was the strategy.
A side note: it was awesome having my little girls and my wife watch the roll-out (and take pictures!). I spend a lot of time riding (or traveling to/from rides) so it feels good to show them that I’m not just goofing off (most of the time).
I’d like to say we started out easy but the lead pack was chomping at the bit, and after we turned into Fort Gibson our pace hit the upper-20’s and didn’t slow until we hit mile 10. Of course, there’s a reason why it slowed: we had arrived at our first large climb of the day. It climbs up from the dam and winds around, making it hard to tell where it ends. It was here that our group of century riders (centurians?) split up.
Within a half-mile of cresting, the lead group was already back at pace, and getting faster as the downhill grades got steeper. By the time we hit our first major downhill, only three of us were left with the front pack. A quick talk with John and Lance, and we agreed to stop at the mile 30 rest stop to let our other hundredeers (I’ll have to find a word for this) link back up with us.
But something strange happened. There was no rest stop at mile 30. We thought, “Maybe it’s a little further on,” but nope, none at 40, or 50. At this point we’d been averaging nearly 25mph, so stopping for the next group would’ve meant a pretty long wait. We kept rolling.
Here’s where I started to run into trouble. At about mile 46, there’s a significant climb, one of the four largest on the route. Having not had a break, and having maintained about 7 mph faster of a pace than I was shooting for, I was starting to feel the burn. There were perhaps 35 riders in this fast-paced peloton, but at this climb the group split into two. I was on the tail-end of the lead pack, but started to fall off right as they crested. And as with the first big climb, they started putting on serious speed right on the other side. I tried to catch them, having dropped the second group about 2/3rds up the climb, but they kept accelerating.
From mile 49 to about mile 63 is mostly downhill rollers (by the way, absolutely beautiful out there, if you aren’t passing out trying to catch a break away), and the break was taking full advantage of the gift of gravity. Every time they crested a small hill, they put more distance between us. This is seriously disheartening when you’re going full tilt at 28 mph and keep losing ground. But then, a quick glance back showed Lance coming up fast. Determined to catch the lead pack, he flew past and I jumped on his wheel, quickly getting up into the low 30’s and starting – ever so slowly/painfully – to bridge the gap.
Lance – if it wasn’t already clear from his Deuce win – is incredible. By the time we came out of the mountain pass and onto Route 10, we were only about 5 seconds back. Seeing us coming out of the pass, the lead group – to their credit – pulled back allowing us to reel them in. Of course, by “pulled back,” I mean they were only doing 20 mph instead of 30. And on such a smooth road, I can only imagine how hard that was for them.
In another lucky break (for me, anyway), several riders were running low on water and needed a rest stop, so we found a convenience store at mile 65, before our climb out of the valley we’d entered. This gave my legs a much needed break – about 9 minutes – enough to get my second wind and help me hit our third big climb of the day.
With about 30 miles to go miles to go, we had mostly downhills ahead of us, and like a pack of wolves smelling prey, the group musta caught the scent of finish line, because they ramped the pace once more into the upper-20’s. I was doing okay at first, but each hill started to get harder to crest and recover. Then came the infamous Wormhole hill.
Wormhole is not long (~0.3 miles). Wormhole is not a huge (about 160 vertical ft). But the average grade on Wormhole is 9.5%, with some pitches hitting as high as 30%. You push hard up the first half, and the road levels out and turns left. But after that turn, you see that it shoots up again – even steeper. That second section is so steep that when I got out of the saddle to push, my front tire came off the ground and I almost went flipping back down to the beginning. As tired as I was, it was a tempting – albeit entirely stupid – thought.
At any rate, that climb was it for me. The group crested and pulled away once more. No catching them this time. And again to save my sorry self was Lance. Having hammered harder than he wanted to – given that he had a mountain bike race the next day – he pulled back and rolled with me for the last leg of the ride.
Side note: not only did he perform incredibly on Saturday, but he got FIRST PLACE at his mountain bike race on Sunday – way to go!
In the end, we managed to do the 99 mile route in just under five hours, averaging 20.2mph with about 9 minutes of rest. For a tour season opener, I think we started out with a bang. Next week: Tour de Tulsa.