Appalachia Visited, put on by JR Petsko (abraracing.com) and his tireless team of officials and volunteers, is a nice way to close out the road racing season. The race is 60 miles up and down the Cheat River Valley around Rowlesburg, WV – 25 minutes from the Maryland border. Rowlesburg, population ~600, is an extremely cycling-friendly town, and also hosts the Mountain State Dirty Double gravel stage race in May and the Appalachia Time Trial Championships in September. The Rowlesburg area offers challenging climbs, fast, twisty descents, and a number of rolling, country roads in the valley.
Our combined pack of masters men 40+ and women was over 50 riders strong. We stuck together as we started out on the gently rolling valley road. However, a climb about 10 miles in practically split the group in two.
The next big split would come around mile 20, at the base of the highest peak of the day. The same as at the Mount Davis race two weeks ago, a small group including Gunnar Shogren, Frankie Ross, and seven other riders kept a snappy, steady pace up the climb and rode away from the remaining members of the pack, including the women’s group and about 10 men, with others scattered across the landscape behind. Gunnar would go on to win the 50+ category, followed by Brian McAndrews of Wayne, PA and Henry Swinty from Fort Wayne, IN. The 40+ race was won by Grayson Church of DC, followed by John Nelmes of Virginia. Nathan Goates of Shippensburg, PA, edged out Ross for third. After getting dropped and sprinting back on a few times, out of breath and with no benefit of a draft going uphill, I watched, disappointed, as the lead group pulled away.
However, it was pleasant to have a large group to work with for the rest of the race. Our pack would break up on the climbs, but come together again on the roads in the valley. I was glad to at least be among the strongest climbers in this group, so I did not have to fight to catch back on further in the race.
The last climb, about three miles long, at around mile 48, is followed by an equally long descent with twisty U-turns, 9% grade, and a rolling seven miles to the finish. Defending women’s champion Michele Sherer, Team BMC Bike Stop of Warrenton, VA, set a steady pace at the base of the climb that was just fast enough for her, me, and Stokely Samuel of Bowie, Maryland to pull away from the group. Thanks to the turns in the road, we were soon out of sight, which can be an advantage in a race. However, the disadvantage was that we did not know how far back the other riders were. Michele was concerned about the pack catching us on the flats after the descent, which had happened a few other times in the race. So, she was glad to have Stokely and me along to work with. I sensed she lessened her pace a hair in order to keep us all together. We crested the hill in a group, descended pretty tight together, and then began a hurricane paceline to keep the other riders away – including Nicole Dorinzi and Melissa Hiller, who were close behind and would finish 3rd and 4th. I had just enough left to get off my saddle for a sprint in the last 200 meters, and rolled over the line slightly ahead of Michele, same second.
Rowlesburg was a good warm-up for the Dirty 40, a 60-mile gravel race next Saturday, August 30 in Derby, Vermont. A number of riders from “West Pennsylginia” will be making the trek north including RDC teammate Mary Boone, and Nicole Dorinzi of Morgantown. It will be nice to have some familiar faces in the pack! I am glad to have had good hilly road races in Appalachia Visited and the Mount Davis Challenge – to prepare for the hard climbs of northern Vermont.