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Race Report: 2013 Southern Cross

Southern Cross: the kickoff race of the 2013 season

Southern Cross: the kickoff race of the 2013 season

I’m barely into training for the 2013 racing season. I took December & January to drop additional weight and did little training. I arrived at February 1 twenty pounds lighter than December 1. I’m trying to take off another 10-15 lbs in the next couple of months as I prepare for my first serious race, Cohutta. I’d like to be as light as possible before spending 100 miles and 10+ hours on the mountain bike.

I officially began base training February 4. That gave me all of 12 days of training before Southern Cross. Southern cross was a C race on my schedule.

I spent Friday traveling to Dahlonega, Georgia with my friends Tom Blanks & Pat Blair. We arrived at 7pm just in time to get our race packets from Northstar Bikes. We had a delicious dinner at Piazza in downtown Dahlonega before we hit the sack to get some shut eye before the race.

The race wasn’t until 10am so we had plenty of time to get ready in the morning. Everyone has there own pre race routines. I followed mine: wake up, eat oatmeal with toppings, eggs & coffee, use the bathroom, suit up, get to the race 1 hour ahead of schedule, eat a cliff bar 30 minutes pre race, and stay warm in the car until 10 minutes before race (it was right around freezing at the start).

My mates and I getting race ready

My mates and I getting race ready

Most would try to warm up the legs prior to the start more than I did but this was a C race and I knew I’d be on the bike for 4 hours. Plenty of time to get warm. Additionally there is a cross course section at the start that I knew would be a big bottleneck for everyone except the leaders so I thought that would give me plenty of time to get warm. If this was a 1-2 hour effort I would have gotten more warm before the start.

I was in the starting line right in the middle of the pack. About where I figured I would be in the race. The start was typical for us mid pack cyclists: take off quick, hit your brakes as things bottleneck going through the cross course, avoid the minor wrecks from people bunching up, and just try to stay with the racers in front of you and not hold up the racers behind you.

I knew going into the race that it would be hard. I knew there were 2 really tough, long, climbs that were 75% of the effort.

2013 Southern Cross Elevation (Full ride on Strava)

2013 Southern Cross Elevation (Full race on Strava)

The first climb was REALLY tough. I had low expectations going in for my performance but it was all I could do to keep the pedals turning over. I wasn’t expecting that. In my short cycling experience I’ve done at least one thing: I’ve climbed a lot. So even though I was early in my base training I still didn’t think I’d have much trouble with these two climbs. I was wrong. They were brutal.

At one point I took a break to eat something. In retrospect that probably saved me from bonking. Later I would find out that both Pat and Tom bonked on that climb. And that was only 12 miles into the entire race. So my grabbing a cliff bar may have kept me from getting into much worse shape.

I managed to hang on to the group around me for the most part during the climb. The climb was so steep that even though I stopped for a cliff bar and kept walking while eating I was was still nearly keeping up with those that were grinding up the climb. I jumped back onto the bike after eating for a minute and felt ready to crank away. A mile later I reached the top of the climb. Hallelujah.

As I was reaching the top I passed Tom who had bonked and was hurting bad. I yelled “You look like sh$t…eat something.”

Then began the 1st of 2 big descents. Fast, gravel, tight turns. It was awesome after climbing for 10 miles. The only problem was it didn’t last very long. The first climb took an hour. Although the decent was 10 miles long, it only took 15 minutes. At the bottom we turned onto roads for a few miles. I caught onto the back of a group that was moving pretty quickly and held on for the ride until we were back in the woods and climbing again. Trying to use as little energy as possible I let everyone else pull. I just sat in.

All too soon we started the second climb. This one was tough but not quite as steep as the first. Again about midway up the 10 mile climb I took a break and ate. Tom had eaten and recovered a bit so midway through the 2nd climb he caught up with me and we were together the rest of the ride.

In every endurance race there is a moment when I ask a really important question: “What the hell are you doing?” That moment for me came towards the very top of the 2nd climb when there was yet another steep climbing section. This one was breaking people. I saw some very fit looking riders stopped in the middle of the ride trying to recover. It was tough.

Winding Stair Gap Road Climb #2

Winding Stair Gap Road Climb #2 (photo credit Donna Combs Garcia)

I finally crested the hill and began the decent. I was relieved but soon was suffering again. This time on the downhill. The first downhill was fun after the first climb. This one was punishing. The gravel was rough, there were lots of ruts and bumpy spots in the road. At one point I was offering a mountain biker cash for his bike to make the descent. It was painful and long. While the first climb went all to quickly, this one seemed to take forever and was jarring the entire time.

Finally we were dumped onto the road at the bottom. After some confusion about which way to go we were cranking away on the road toward the finish. Homestretch now. 12 miles of relatively easy road riding. Until the finish. Tom did most of the work pulling me along.

The race organizers, tortured souls that they must be, put another section of cross course at the end starting with a HUGE run up (or walk up for the vast majority of the riders I saw). I was completely depleted at this point.

I struggled through the cross course and finished in about 4:20. I was shooting for 4:30 so I was happy with my day in general.

In terms of effort this was likely the hardest I’ve done to date. When I loaded my ride later on Strava it showed that I spent over 2 hours above my anaerobic threshold which is about as high as I would be able to hold for a 4 hour effort. I was pleased with that given my stage of conditioning. I’m not faster yet but I’m able to suffer. That’s a good sign hopefully of good things to come:

2013 Southern Cross Suffer Score

Pat and Tom had both had disappointing days. Pat hadn’t eaten enough pre race and bonked in the middle of the 1st climb. He recovered and was able to reel people in the 2nd half and was strong through the finish. Tom had been sick all week and was barely recovered so I’m pretty sure his body just mutinied and decided to throw him under the bus. We all changed and jumped back into the car for the drive home. 30 minutes post finish we were making the 700 mile trek back to Baltimore.

Big kudos to Cheryl Sornson who not only won the women’s race but also was behind us on the highway and waived us down to tell us Tom’s bike was precariously moving around on top of the car. Her warning helped us avoid a bike mishap that would have added insult to injury on a tough day.

I did hijack our dinner plans and meet up with my oldest son, Caleb, and his roommates for dinner Saturday night in Blacksburg. It was 9pm before we pulled in and we were still in a hurry but we were able to grab a quick mexican dinner with he and his roomies (he lives with some terrific guys). We left an hour later and made it home around 3am.

Great weekend road trip. I slept soundly. At least for 4 hours.

Keep moving forward,


Written by

I am the CEO of Blue Ocean Ideas, a creative agency in Baltimore, Maryland. My job is to clarify the strategy and take care of my team. I am married to the beautiful Elise Rittler and we have four great kids. When I’m not at Blue Ocean Ideas or with my family I am riding a bike, running, playing ultimate frisbee, eating, or sleeping. There is a little more about me here.

2 Responses to “Race Report: 2013 Southern Cross”

By Hillbilly - 21 February 2013

I was the guy in the Hammer jacket, we were back and forth all day, I think that was you on the side of the road wondering which way to go, I pointed this way, yes a brutal race, the cold zaps me, did this in 2011 with a 3:50 time, I was 30 min slower this year, funny how as everyone settles in we see the same ppl all day

By Greg Rittler - 21 February 2013

That was me. When we came our of the gravel descent I was going so fast trying to catch some people that I didn’t follow the markings very well. I’m very grateful you came along. I thought I was going to be riding back up that hill to figure out which way to go.

You planning on doing Hilly Billy? I should be in much better shape. Hopefully between that and the temp we will both be fairing much better for that race. I’ll look for you.

Still had a great time on Saturday. In spite of the pain and the cold.

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