This past weekend Renee and I decided to take a little road trip from Philadelphia down to Ducktown, TN for the second stop in the National Ultra Endurance Series, The Cohutta 100.
Renee, having no interest in spending the better part of a day on a bike decided to race the Old Copper 20. This was the first year the promotor, Trail Head Outdoors, added the 20 miler on top of the tried and true 100 and 65 miles distances.
Not holding anything back, Renee hammered the competition. She had a great day handily taking the win. The trails were flowy and the gravel climbs suited her strengths. Afterwards she took to relaxing and lounging about the Ocoee White Water center while I sold my soul in the Cohutta 100.
I managed 10th overall, surprising myself a little on such a climbing intensive course. It was a 100 mile race and we raced every bit of that 100, it was no joke! It was really exciting to be a part of.
I didn’t catch the break with the front group into the single track at the start. I didn’t think it was too big of a deal at the time but looking back now, it was. Around mile 20 the single track ended and the gravel forest roads started. It was endless climbing and white knuckle descents on very loose, dry gravel through fast sweeping turns.
As I started up the gravel, I bumped into local Pennsylvanian, Stewart Gross. We teamed up and quickly got to work trying to catch the front group and amassed a decent sized following of other riders. I stopped at an aid station around mile 27 to grab a bottle and was informed that the lead group was only a few minutes ahead. I caught back up to the chase group and stiffened the pace for the next 10 miles. It took some time but the work paid off, I could see the lead group up through the trees! I was excited but a little concerned that I may have burned a few too many matches pulling the chase group to the front of the race.
Towing up my new found friends made the lead group about 30-35 racers deep. We were rolling in a really solid peloton through the forest, 37 miles into an NUE race. There would be a good amount of drama involved in pairing this group down before the end of the day.
Around mile 46 we came to an aid station, a total gaggle with so many guys. A few racers bypassed it and attacked the climb coming out of the aid station. This shattered the group. I managed to grab two bottles and get to work chasing. It was vicious but I managed to get back on after a few minutes of hard work. At this point, 8 to 10 racers didn’t make it back, the group was now a little smaller.
This was the start of a 32 mile loop (roughly mile 46 to 78) which entailed a lot of punchy climbs. As the miles wore on, the group got smaller and smaller. Every climb there was a push and another rider would pop off, usually never seen again.
As we finished that loop we came back into an aid station around mile 78. I refilled my bottles and found myself the last rider out. Luckily we went into a descent and I caught back up. The group was down to around 10 riders at this point.
Around mile 80, we took a left hand turn onto a steep climb. Dylan Johnson attacked and the group shattered. I was in no condition to match the pace at that point. I found myself in no mans land pretty quick but didn’t worry much. I was still climbing well and stayed focused. The next 10 miles were some of the biggest climbs of the day. I passed droves of Big Frog 65 racers throughout the next hour. Those were some hard miles and they let me know.
The single track started around mile 90. I spent a few minutes getting into the flow of things but couldn’t hide from my legs as they started tightening up and cramping. I ate a snack, drank some water and took it easy for a few minutes. I got myself back together but not before I was passed by another racer named Anthony. I didn’t let it get to me, I have been a racer for years and thought to myself, “It’s not over until it’s over!”
As I came out of the mountains and dropped onto the highway heading towards the finish, I could see Anthony a few hundred yards ahead. I buried myself, full on time trial trying to reel him in. Unfortunately he looked back and saw me coming. He was frantically pedaling trying to hold me off. The yards were closing fast but I ran out of time and we finished only a few lengths apart with a time of 6 hours and 55 minutes.
It was an aggressive weekend but also a great adventure. Tennessee was beautiful, my Cannondale FSi worked flawlessly, the racing was epic and I am really glad that we all get to enjoy racing and riding our bikes for fun. Life is good!