Sunday, April 14, 2013

2013 Assault on the Carolinas

The 2013 edition of the Assualt on the Carolinas was yesterday, and this is an event that I was really looking forward to.  I knew it was a great route, and I was looking forward to seeing how I fared.  After the last few training rides, I was nervous that I would be strong and feel good at the end of the ride.  The key climb in this ride is Ceaser's Head Mountain.  This is not the most challenging climb that I've done, but the key with this particular segment is the length.  You have to stay strong for 6 miles of varying degrees of difficulty.  If you attack early, you are going to be suffering at the end.

The day started off with the alarm going off at 4am.  Yes, there is a 4 on the "am" side of the clock.  We got the kids up, and had a quick cup of coffee to get on the road.  Packet pickup started at 7am, as we didn't stay in Brevard overnight like we had originally planned.  I wasn't quite ready to eat breakfast that early, so brought some stuff to make at least a good snack before the ride so I'd have energy.  I brought stroopwafels (the snack that Honey Stinger Waffles are based on), some peanut butter, and a few bananas.  I made sure to bring plenty of snacks for the ride itself as well.  

We rolled into Brevard and parked slightly before 7, and I went to go get my packet.  Afterwards, we wandered over to the nearby coffee shop, as we had some time to burn before the ride started.  They had some good breakfast ideas there, and I decided that the "blueberry stuffed french toast" sounded good, and was a good mixture of protein and carbs for early in the ride.

After having breakfast, I had some before the ride started.  I had a chance to do a once over on the bike, and finished getting changed into my kit for the ride.  I was a little nervous that I my brakes were adjusted perfectly;  I had been experiencing some brake rub after putting on the new wheels, and on this long of a ride that could mean issues.  What I found is that I needed to tighten down the skewer a bit more than I had previously to avoid flex between the wheel and the frame.  Once the bike was down, and both it and myself were prepped, I was off to the start line.

Prior to Race Start

I got up there right before 8:30, as I thought the start time was 8:30.  The reality was that the start time was actually 9:00am, so I had an extra 30 minutes to rest before the start time.  I spent that time relaxing, and having a banana.  I was extremely nervous about my fueling strategy, as I had gotten ill on the last 2 training rides for Mitchell.  I had a few goals for today, but nothing was as important to me than feeling strong during and after Ceaser's Head.  It quickly became time to line up and get ready to start.

The thing I noticed immediately on this ride was that the town of Brevard truly comes out for this event.  While I'm still very early on in my cycling life, this event was definitely different from others that I have done.  The community really was involved, and excited to have the folks out there participating.  After announcements and lining up the VIP riders, the ride started out.  We did a loop through the town, and then we rode out into the country.  It was very cool (in the low 50's) when we started out, but I knew it would warm up to the 70's before we were done.  I chose to line up in the front 1/3 of the riders, giving me a chance to see the packs roll out and figure out a pace that would work well for me.

As we started out, I had already decided that I was going to try to stay easy through the first 10 miles, and not worry about trying to stay with the front pack.  It meant riding solo a fair amount early, which isn't really what I wanted to do, but without a pre-established group to ride with that was of similar strength I felt it was wiser to size up the packs than try to hang on early and deal with a potential bonk before the Continental Divide.  

The first climb of the event was Walnut Hollow Road.  It wasn't long, but it definitely let you know if you were warmed up.  The best part of the climb were the people, including the 2 piece band that was cheering us on.

During this time I had gotten into a group that was pacing really well, and I just kept in the back of the group and rested.  The folks in the front actually had us moving closing a gap to another larger group, and such that by the time we reached the climb to the Continental Divide, we had a fair number of people around us.  By this point the weather had warmed up nicely, which was nice for passing the time.  While having folks around you during the climb isn't so bad, as long as you don't get stuck behind someone who is climbing slower than you, having folks around you descents can be tricky.  Personally I tend to descend faster than the average person, some of that is that I enjoy the speed, and some of that is that my heavier weight gives me a gravitational advantage.  What I do NOT do is pass people in places where it's questionable if they have good control of the bike, or in a place where I have to enter the oncoming lane.  This is just asking for issues.  Thus I do not look at downhill segments on Strava as something I will actively attempt to get the best times on.  

This descent is also marked us entering South Carolina, the halfway point of the ride, and a rest stop.  I had mentally thought about where I would want to stop during the ride, and what my focus was.  I wanted to be sure to have plenty of water, but I wasn't all that interested in the food that they may have.  I filled my water bottle with the energy drink, as it was GU brand, and I saw the pb&j sandwiches sitting there.  After thinking it over, I decided that the real food at this point would be good, as we had a fair amount of rolling hills leading up to Ceaser's Head.  

Looking back towards Sassafras Mountain

As I was heading out, I came across a guy that I ride with pretty regularly around Greenville.  We decided to roll out together for the ride up to Ceaser's Head.  We got ourselves into a really good pace line, and worked our way to the base of the mountain.  Before the climb was another rest stop that may decided was a good place to rest up before the climb.  I didn't need more water yet, so it was onto the mountain for me.

As I stated earlier, Ceaser's Head is not the most difficult climb that I've done in the past year.  The major marker of this climb is the length, though.  Strava marks it at 6.3 miles of climbing, with a total ascent of 2058 feet.  I really wanted to be strong on this climb, and my goal was to stop at the top and rest for a few minutes before heading back to Brevard.  I also had to keep in mind that coming down Ceaser's Head towards Brevard is a much more shallow descent than what you climb up, so the rest time was much less afterwards.  I didn't climb up quite as quickly as I had hoped, but this was the real "proof out" of how I'd feel with the new wheels I had gotten earlier in the week.  My expectations were that it would be easier to keep them rolling, especially when I was tired.  These expectations I believe were well met, even if my times didn't show it.  

At the top was a rest area, and I took advantage.  What I really wanted to do was take a nature break, but where we were corraled off to there wasn't an easy place to manage that.  I refilled my primary water bottle with more GU Brew, and had another pb&j before heading out.  It was time to head back to Brevard.

Hail Caesar!

The descent was shallow, which meant that I had to do work while riding.  I had expected at this point that I would find another group to ride with, but much of the descent I ended up riding by myself.  The view was fantastic, and I was making really good time regardless.  

Divide and Conquor

About the time that I made it back into the outskirts of Brevard, I met up with another small group of guys riding in.  I joined up with them, and we worked our way into the town.  Just about the time you reach the end you come to a small climb, and the group that I was riding along with broke up at that point.  After this point it was easy riding into the chute to regroup with the family.  I had considered having some fun and doing a salute of some level, similar to the Peter Sagan celebrations, but I didn't want to do anything like that if I was around other cyclists, for risk of injurying myself and others.  I ended up just coming through sitting up happy and strong.

There was a lot on this ride that I was happy about.  I met all of my primary goals, and finished in an excellent time.  The goals that I was looking for:

  • I didn't bonk.  After feeling ill on big efforts before, I really wanted to be sure that my fueling worked.
  • Start out easy.  I didn't want to attempt to hang on with a group too fast for me early, and end up being miserable later.
  • I didn't bonk.  I kept eating throughout the ride, and kept my thoughts on good fueling throughout the event.
  • Find a group to rest in.  I found groups throughout the event that I could hang with without having to work too hard while keeping up with my goals.
  • I didn't bonk.  I kept my efforts to a point where I could stay strong.
  • Climb smart and strong.  I didn't have any huge spikes in my heart rate, and I kept up with good solid efforts.
  • I didn't bonk.  Trying real food throughout the ride helped a lot.  I attempted to keep the use of gels to a minimum.
  • Lastly - I didn't bonk.  Feeling fresh (and not ill) on the ride made it much more enjoyable.

In recap, the Assault on the Carolinas is now by far my favorite event that I have participated in.  While I'm sure there are other events that are a lot of fun, I intend to circle the weekend every year that this event is running, and make sure that I'm there to enjoy it.  Brevard, NC was recently called the "Cycling Capital of the South", and the town has really taken to the title whole heartedly.  The area is excited to embrace cyclists, and there are rumors that a European Pro Tour rider is looking to buy property in the area.  If you are looking for a ride that is as memorable as it is challenging and enjoyable, make sure that you give this one a try.  Next year marks 15 years that this ride has been running, and I have a feeling it will be running for many years to come.

Did I mention that I didn't bonk?


  1. Nice job out there. I'm glad that you didn't bonk, LOL. Your face looks familiar, so we might have crossed paths at some point. Agreed that the Assault is a fantastic ride.