It was everything we asked for: pain.
The race was 33.8 miles, 4300 ft of climbing, with two significant climbs. The first was 7.5 miles long and gained about 1500ft and the second was 5.2 miles long and gained 1800 ft. The last 1000 ft was a nice mix of steep rollers along the way.
After a four hour drive out to Thomas, WV, Tom, Bolster and I arrived at the top of a mountain at the staging area at an elementary school (quite an odd place for a school I thought). It was next to a massive wind farm, which was pretty cool looking.
We got there early enough to drive the last climb to see just how hard it would be, and I'm sure our moans and incredulous cries were heard all over the wild and wonderful state. It was the kind of climb that you had to use your gears going down so that you didn't burn up your brakes. I personally couldn't believe how long and steep the climb was and felt very nervous as to how I would be able to conserve energy for what would certainly be a survival and not a race.
The route was shaped like a lollipop, but we started at the bottom of the last climb to avoid people killing themselves whilst descending the mountain during the race.
We got going and the pack was nervous. With potholes and gravel all over the road, it wasn't exactly Baltimore County level road quality. After a few miles we were into the first climb and Bolster was on the front doing what he does best, drilling it. He set a nice tempo to make everyone feel uncomfortable. The pack stayed together till the first plateau 4 miles into the climb. When the road turned back up, I found out that the winner of the cat 5 last year was on the front. No sooner had I heard about this guy, that he rolled off and put about 5 seconds on the bunch. I looked around and didn't see any of the guys on the front willing or able to close it back up, so I jumped up the road to join him. He asked me how I felt, and I said good, so we upped the pace and thats about the time the dynamite went off. We pushed it to the top of the climb and found about 6 guys had bridged up. Bolster and Tom had missed that group but joined us quickly with another group a few minutes later.
After that, it was just us. We had a group of about 18 guys rolling along the very hilly, top of the mountain. We got to the descent on the other side with no major events, other than sweating half our body weight from the intense heat. Then the descent began. Now, we had been warned about this, and I dare say I didn't quite believe quite how insane this would be. We're talking sustained downhill sections as steep and windy as Ivy Hill, with tight turns at the end of it, and throw in some gravel on the edges for good measure. It was a very serious bunch as we went down.
About 3/4 of the way down, Tom crashed hard on a tight right hander after a very steep section. Coming into the turn, he went a bit wide into the 1 ft gravel buffer all the roads seem to have and chose to ride into the ditch next to the road instead of laying it down. He flipped a few times and smacked his head pretty good, and managed to puncture his leg with a few of his chainrings (there is a great picture of this). He popped right back up though and aside from bleeding everywhere, felt ok and hopped back on his bike almost immediately and kept riding.
I also had a mishap on the same turn and flatted my rear wheel. I thankfully had a nice driveway to ride into (the only driveway for like a mile) and came to a nice stop. Tom had convinced me to carry a spare (which I normally wouldn't do in a race) and I changed it over the next few minutes. Providentially, a beautiful young woman walked down her driveway to see if I was ok, and to offer me the use of a bike pump she had (a really nice one at that!). I couldn't believe how perfect the situation was, despite the obvious frustration of it and watching riders flying by. I got back on after a few minutes, thanked my new friend and was back on my way.
The rest of the race for me was one long time trial. I hit the flats at the bottom of the mountain and hammered as hard as I dared knowing what loomed ahead. When I got to the final climb, I down shifted to find that to my dismay, I couldn't get into my 26 in the back, and was stuck in my 23. "Fantastic" I thought. I spent the next 30 minutes grinding up that agonizing mountain and managed to ride myself back into the top 20 for 19th.
Meanwhile, Tom was chasing hard to get back on. A larger chase group caught him and sat on HIS wheel as they approached the final climb (fully able to see the blood pouring down his leg). At the base of the climb Tom said his farewells to his companions and surged up the first mile long kicker that averaged a lovely 10.5%. It was right about then that Tom had his second piece of fun for the day when his rear derailleur cable stop snapped off the downtube of his bike. Now, in his 34 in the front and 11 in the rear, Tom stopped, but continued to walk up the mountain, determined to finish the race! He did, and came in a very respectable 45th of 62 riders after walking for over 2 miles uphill! Towards the finish line, he even managed to get back on his bike and finish the race riding... on a 7.5% grade, in 34/11... tough as nails!
Meanwhile, Bolster finished the descent unscathed and rode well with all of the front group to the final climb. He beat the crap out of kids less than half his age and dropped most of the group he was with. Riding in fifth position with the leaders within eyesight, he too had a mishap; a mechanical. Thats right, 3 for 3 on the day. Bolster dropped his chain while trying to get some speed in his pursuit of another guy up the road. If you've ever tried starting on a steep grade, you know its virtually impossible to clip in while going .2mph and after some wiggling, Bolster was going again. He lost a few places in the process, but managed to claw himself back into 8th! What an awesome testimony to anyone younger that at 46, you can still throw down with the best of them. His time would have put him into 4th in the 40+, but he chose to push us 4/5's hard!
All in all, each of us had something to be disappointed about, but it was a good experience, a beautiful venue and despite being hotter than the surface of the sun, it was great weather. The goat was represented well, and it just goes to show that the goat does in deed breed climbers.
Below are pictures of all of us suffering up the last climb with about 100 meters to go: