Wednesday, May 30, 2012

US Pro Championships and the Stars and Stripes Challenge

Monday was Memorial Day, a day I have been looking forward to for months now.  But instead of sleeping in and having a cookout, it was time to get up early and head downtown for the US Pro Cycling Championship road race.  It was also time to get to ride the pro course on the Stars and Stripes Challenge!

I have to say that the event actually lived up to the hype.  I got there and got the bike all set up, and rolled over to the starting area.  We had the national anthem played for the group, and even a gunshot as we took off.  Many of the roads were not closed off, but several of the busier ones were.  The course was extremely well marked, and with the number of riders on the course it was really easy to know where the turns were, even if you weren't familiar with the roads.  I was familiar with at least 2/3 of the course already, although I had not been on US276 before on the bike (for good reason!).

The halfway point of the loop is Paris Mountain, which has a 2.2 mile rated climb.  While I conquered it back in January is not a challenge I deem I have mastered anytime soon.  Paris Mountain a strong climb, and really tests to see if you can keep to your own pace and gameplan, especially in a group.  By the time we started up, the ride had thinned into much smaller packs, but there were still at least a dozen folks nearby as I made my ascent.  It was a perfect time of day to ride up, with a slight fog/cloud cover that we rode through.  Nothing thick enough to really coat you with water, but it was a nice mist that kept you cool.  When I reached the final tenth of a mile, I decided it was time to give it all I had and sprint to the top, passing 3 or 4 people that were ahead of me while I was at it.  I still struggle with going "over the top" during efforts like this (I think it's a mental thing of once I get 90% of the way up I slow down too much), but I love having the power at the end of a climb like that to just give everything in the tank to finish really strong.

The way down Paris Mountain may have actually been more fun than the trip up, though.  Typically I have kept my speed down while decending for multiple reasons, the least of which is control.  Going 40mph on a bike can be pretty frightening if you aren't very familiar with the turn ahead of you.  Heck, it can be frightening knowing the turn ahead of you!  I had spent some time over the weekend learning the proper way to take corners, so I was eager to test it out.  I was still keeping a pace on my speed, but being able to up the pace slightly as we descended was nice.  What was a blast was blowing through the intersection that the police had blocked off at the bottom going ~40mph, though.  Typically we have to stop there and wait for the light before going through to Piney Mountain, but with the traffic stopped we could go all out.

The rest of the trip downtown was pretty uneventful.  I can't say I love the climbs on Main Street (to be honest the longer flat climbs are probably my least favorite, because I get stuck between pushing hard and finding a pace.  I typically gas out about 3/4 of the way up them and have to just spin the best I can through it.  We went around Cleveland Park, by the Zoo and the Dog park, and back up to downtown.  Coming back through the start/finish line was something special.  I had decided beforehand that I really wanted to attempt 2 laps of the circuit, even though I knew that I couldn't complete the 2nd lap by 10am, which was when they were closing off the start/finish line to start staging the pro's.  Mentally I had told myself that I had to finish the first lap in under 2 hours to attempt the 2nd lap.  I actually finished it in 01:25:54.  I had plenty of time to run a second lap up to but not including the start/finish line!  This second lap was more for "me", something I could enjoy and take in more of what was going on than trying to keep a pace or worry about times.  The second time of Paris mountain I wasn't pushing for a person record, but I just enjoyed the fellowship, and got to notice the signs that P3Group put out along the route for all the reasons people rode.  I even saw the sign we made in honor of my Grandfather, which was about 2/3 of the way up the climb.

Once I got back and changed, I had a chance to watch the Pro's take on the course.  It was awesome to understand the course and know the challenges, and see the Pro's just tear it up.  Watching them make moves and play off each other was just spectacular.  The crowds were out in force, and there was plenty to do in between the laps when the riders would make it back around the circuit.  It made for a fantastic finish to a great day!  I got to learn a lot more about more of the Pro riders than I knew before, and so many of them I have so much respect for.  I'm sad to see the US Championships leave Greenville this year, but I feel blessed that I got to take part in it and that it got to be here for as long as it did.  Next year the Championships are in Chattanooga, which is only a few hours away.  It will definitely be worth the road trip!

2012 US Pro Cycling Championships

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