This was my fifth straight 3 Mountain Madness charity ride, but my first time doing the 75 mile route. I had done the 95 mile route in my previous four rides. This year I had to be back home early in the afternoon, so I opted for the 75 mile route. I don't particularly like climbing mountains, I do it because it's like taking bad-tasting medicine...I know it's good for me, that it makes me a better all around rider (that's what I tell myself to justify the pain).
The past two years I've had bad experiences with the 3 Mountain ride. Those experiences involve things like getting dropped on Sauratown and/or Hanging Rock, losing gobs of time on the descents, chasing like crazy alone or with one or two other desperados, burning myself up way too early and struggling just to finish.
But here it was again and I was back for more punishment. I saw teammates Rick Lee and Jay Cox at the start. If there were others I didn't see them, and with 500+ riders that is certainly possible. Early on, I knew it could be a decent ride for me when I was able to get to the top of Sauratown pretty close behind the leaders without killing myself. Close enough that I was able to catch back on with a few others pretty soon after getting to the bottom, instead of having to chase all the way to Hanging Rock.
I also managed pretty well up Hanging Rock, keeping the lead group in sight until about the last quarter of the climb, when the front pack seemed to accelerate. Instead of trying to match the acceleration and going into the red zone as I've done in the past, I just continued to ride at my own pace. I did lose ground, and then lost some more ground on the descent because of vehicles between our group and the lead group. Fortunately a big chunk of the former front pack were in the same boat as me, including some pretty strong riders. There was a well organized chase and the group was all back together soon after passing though Danbury. At this point, I really felt good compared to the last couple of years...I was safely in the front pack after the second mountain without feeling like I had already spent two hours in the red zone.
When the routes split around mile 55, of the 18 or so riders in the front pack, only three of us turned right to do the 75 mile route. Jay Cox was still in the 95 mile lead group when we split. I'm not sure of his final result since I had to eat and run as soon as my ride was over, but he was definitely riding strong. My two 75 mile companions were Kyle Richardson, a Randolph County buddy that I ride with all the time, and Adrian from the Triangle area (I didn't catch his last name). We three rode together until the start of the Pilot Mountain Climb.
In the past, when doing the 95 mile route, Pilot Mountain is usually filled with riders from the 75 and 95 mile rides by the time I get there. This year, it was really nice to start the climb basically having the mountain to ourselves. I just focused on turning the pedals over and trying to walk the thin line between riding hard enough, but not too hard. I didn't allow myself to look back until about halfway up and was surprised to see a pretty good gap back to Kyle, who is a strong climber, and I didn't see Adrian at all, so I figured I'd just keep doing what I was doing. By three quarters of the way up, I couldn't see Kyle anymore, either. I just kept turning the pedals over, made the turn at the top, and coming back down I saw I had what was maybe a two minute gap. I really suck at descending, and Kyle is pretty good at it, so I figured he would make up a lot of time on the descent. I got slowed up again by car traffic near the bottom and figured Kyle and maybe Adrian were right behind me and we would be riding in together.
Once I turned out of the park, I glanced back and didn't see anyone, so I just put my head down and tried to maintain a good hard tempo for the last 7 miles or so back to the civic center, finishing in 3:55 by my computer. Kyle came in 4-5 minutes later and Adrian another couple minutes after that.
When all is said and done, while it feels good to 'win the ride', I'm more satisfied that I was able to put my previous two 3 Mountain Madness "rides from hell" behind me and can say I had a good, strong ride.