Mountain Mama is perhaps my favorite mountain century. I was delighted to find out it exists a couple of years ago because I used to do a lot of riding on Rte 250 between Staunton, VA and Rte 28 in WV. There are many ridges of mountains to be crossed on Rte. 250 which presents many climbs and descents as you work your way down the road. The Mountain Mama century ride starts in about the middle of all of these ridges of mountains in the quaint little town of Monterey, VA.
In 2009, I finished the course in about 5 hours and 15 minutes. I thought I might be in better shape this year as I feel I’ve improved in the area of endurance over the last couple of years. Finishing faster might have been a possibility going into the ride. Though these events are not races, for a few of us, it always becomes a bit of a contest to see who can dish out the most punishment to the rest. That’s just what happens when you stick a lot of men on bikes and say go ride 100 miles through the mountains.
The weather on Saturday morning was overcast with a good chance of showers in the forecast. The low cloud deck was keeping things cool which was nice, but it was still quite humid. At about 8A.M. the ride organizer made several announcements and I think we got going at about 8:05. The ride was noticeably larger than in 2009 when I last attended so I made it a point to start in a forward position so I didn’t have to pick my way through traffic on the first climbs and descents.
The ride begins with a quick right turn and then you begin the first climb of the day immediately. It’s about a 1.5 mile affair or so and you gain maybe 4 or 5 hundred feet in elevation to the first gap. No one went really hard up that first climb, but there was some fair tempo being set. Close to the top, one guy went pretty hard and maybe put 20 or 25 seconds on the group before he crested the summit. There was no point in following as there is an extremely long desecent to follow with several miles at 1 or 2% which meant that a rotating group would bring him back in no time.
Sure enough, halfway down the descent, a group of about 10 or 12 formed and began rotating in a paceline. We cruised at about 30 mph into the next little village and caught the lone rider out in front just ahead of the next climb. The second climb was about 2 miles long at about 7% or so. Early in the climb, that same guy surged ahead. I was feeling good and warmed up at this point so I bridged up to him and rode just a couple of meters behind. Another strong looking guy came up a moment later and then John Delong came up too. If you’ve read my blog about the Black and Blue Relay, John Delong was the same guy who really shook up that ride that was so impressive. The 4 of us rode a little bit ahead of the remants of the group of 12 or so that started the climb together. John kind of had the hammer down on the climb, but I wasn’t too worried as a technical descent was too follow and if John has a weakness as a rider, it’s descending. I’d give John a little leash on a climb, but I’d never give it to him on a flat run in to the finish. You’d never see him again in that case.
The 4 of us began the descent and sure enough, we passed John not too far from the top. The descent lasted for about maybe 2.5 miles and at the bottom we were all over the brakes to make the left hand turn that would take us down the road to Sugar Grove.
Once down that road, a group of about 5 or 6 formed which included the 4 guys who had gotten ahead on the previous climb and a couple of others who managed to bridge on the descent. I asked the guys if we could work together and paceline and they seemed to agree. It wasn’t long before John Delong was on the front of the group and just setting a blistering pace down this heavily undulating road. He was going so damn fast. One guy came up from the back and demanded that we slowed down because this pace was not going to be sustainable for 100 miles. I laughed and told him,
“you might not be able to sustain it for 100 miles, but the guy on the front can, so you’d better just go sit on the back and hide.” Pretty soon that guy who complained about the pace was gone from the group along with someone else. Now we were four.
Aside from John D. and myself, the other two guys tried to work with us, but it was a little too much to ask. At one point, one of them pulled off and when John D. pulled through, a gap appeared right away. I jumped ahead to get on his wheel and fill the gap one of the other guys left, but at that point the other two guys called it quits and let John and myself go.
This was playing out very differently than the ride in 2009. That year, we had a large group sharing the work of pacesetting all the way down that road to Sugar Grove. This year it was just going to be John Delong and myself. I didn’t really know it at the time, but we had a nice tailwind going all the way up that road. Tailwinds make you go fast, but they don’t really allow the guy in back to recover very much. By the time we got to Sugar Grove, I was feeling not so awesome anymore. We still had 8,000 feet of climbing to go in about 70 miles. I just started eating and drinking as much as I possible could to fight off the cramping that was going to seem inevitable.
The climb out of Sugar Grove is a bitch. There’s no real other way to describe it. It’s steep in spots and it’s just about hard enough to make anyone work hard to get over it. The tempo up the climb was about the same as it was coming down that road to Sugar Grove. I gave John a little rope on the climb as I began riding a little more conservatively feeling so trashy so far from the finish. I kind of expected he might see the gap and try and ride away from me aggressively. He never really took advantage though and burned a match to get away from me. Perhaps he figured it was pointless as I was only going to catch and pass him on the descent anyways and then make him chase me on the flats.
We ended up riding over the Sugar Grove gap together. I then led us down the descent and I told John to watch my lines and cues that I was braking for a corner. He did a pretty good job of following me down that hill. There were a couple of nasty rollers that ensued and then you pretty much begin climbing again.
This 4th climb of the day I don’t know by name, but it’s about maybe 2 miles long. Again, John and I rode together and basically talked as we rode uphill. The descent of this climb the ride organizer warned us had been chip sealed recently. It was a little loose in spots, but nothing too treacherous. We got to the bottom in one piece and worked our way over to Rte 220.
Upon our left turn onto Rte 220, we were greated with a stiff headwind. I was kind of giving John the low-down about the course as we went as I was much more familiar with the roads than he. This wind coming out of the south was going to make this Rte 220 stretch and the Rte 28 stretch to come quite difficult. Not only would we be putting out constant power to get up the 5 climbs that remained, we’d now have to work our asses off on the flats too. We sucked it up and soldiered on to mile 49 which was the first rest stop of two I planned on taking. I had drained the 3 bottles I had on me. I refilled them all with Gatorade and grabbed a handful of cantelope and shoved it into my mouth. John topped off his bottles and also grabbed some of the fruit. We weren’t there but maybe 2 minutes before we rolled out. No one else who we were riding with earlier managed to make it there before we left. My guess is that we already put many minutes into whomever was still behind us.
I was feeling increasingly crappier as we made our way up 220. John did a good chunk of the pulling on that 220 stretch before we made the right hand turn onto Snowy Mountain Road. When we got on that road, I told John to be safe and have a good ride. I was going to have to throttle back to survive this. I figured he would just blast up the climb ahead of me as I settled into a rhythm where I could get my legs and head back underneath me. He did ride ahead a bit. He might have put about 15 seconds or so on me within a couple of miles.
Since I was now riding alone, I plugged in my earbuds and flipped on the ipod. Some people may judge me as an idiot for riding with headphones, but when I do this, I get to the right side of the road and stay the hell over there. If a car comes up behind me and hits me while I’m as far over as I could possibly be, whether or not I’m wearing headphones, I was going to guess a car could find its way around me. So the way I see it is when I do get hit from behind, at least I get killed while listening to some sweet tunes and enjoying myself. I trust drivers will go around. If they can’t, well there isn’t anything I can do about that. If I hear a car coming from behind me, I don’t get off the road and neither does anyone else. Anyway, that’s how I roll.
Maybe with Keane cranked in my ears and my belly getting full of Gatorade, I might have begun to feel a little better. I also usually hate going hard at the bottom of a climb. I prefer to find a comfort zone and if I feel up to it later, lift my tempo bit by bit. Eventually, I rode myself back to John. We crested the top together and I again led the way on the descent down. This time he couldn’t stick with me despite me trying to go down rather conservatively. I knew that together he and I would make better work of the headwind that awaited us on Rte 28. I pedalled lightly for a couple miles at the bottom until he found my rear wheel. I then set tempo for the next few miles as we worked our way down to Rte 28. John took over the pace setting just before we made the right turn onto Rte. 28. He kept tapping out the rhythm as we headed up the long false flat towards the actual climb up Allegany on 28 as we headed south. He would occasionally move out to almost the center of the road. I still had the music going in one ear at this point so I would have to suck it up and just ride into the wind myself on the right side of the road. I don’t think the wind on Rte 28 was quite as severe as it was on 220 earlier as we had the big climb in front of us perhaps blocking a good bit of the wind. Eventually the real climb up 28 started and again, I kind of guessed out loud that John would ride away from me. He never really got more than a handful of seconds ahead of me. Perhaps he was hurting a bit too from the fast start. If he had just put his head down and buried it I would have let him ride away from me. I was still feeling crappy enough to think I was going to cramp eventually on one of these climbs in front of us. He just never went into that next gear on the climb.
The climb went on for a long time and eventually we found the summit somewhere very close to 4000′. There’s no immediate descent, but just a couple of huge rollers at the top. After a couple of miles of those we found the proper descent and I tucked in a just glided away. This time I probably put 30 or 45 seconds in between John and I, but I wasn’t going to try and soldier on alone at this point. I knew I still had to stop at mile 82 which was only about 5 miles from where we were so I rode slowly until John came back to me. He came by like a freight train. We made the left onto 250 and John had the hammer down all the way till the rest stop.
I would love to see this guy’s power numbers. He’s got crazy power on anything flat or rolling and undulating. His power seems to come down on sustained climbs which was probably the only reason I was still with him at this point.
At the rest stop, we got off our bikes and filled our bottles. John asked the volunteer woman if they had the potatoes this year and she responded in the affirmative. I hadn’t even thought about any food like that, but that sounded just perfect at the moment. She also provided a shaker of salt to which I coated my plateful of steamed, red potatoes with. I fed myself with my hand and scarfed down those potatoes in about 2 minutes flat. This time I filled my bottles with straight up water as I was feeling a little sugared out. We rolled out of the rest area together with about 19 miles to go.
John asked how long the next climb was. I told him about 3 miles and also gave him some info about what lay beyond it. I kind of figured he was going to ride hard up the climb and drop me completely. I was still feeling like a used piece of meat at this point and again wished him luck and told him to be careful. I’m a big fan of John and I wouldn’t mind finishing behind him. This guy is such a monster. I was able to finish ahead of him a couple of months ago at the Black and Blue Double Century, but I had told him several times already during the ride he was probably going to placing ahead of me today. I just never felt good after mile 30.
Sure enough, as soon as the grade kicked, he put the hammer down a bit and opened up a gap on me. I just maintained a steady effort that would keep the cramp demons away. I put the headphones back into my ears and selected Snapcase (The best heavy/thrash band ever) to see me back to Monteray. John probably put 30 seconds into me on the first mile of the climb. During the 2nd mile of the climb, I started to feel a little less crampy and was able to keep him at about 30 seconds in front of me. In the last mile of the climb, I began feeling a lot better. I might have taken back 10 seconds from him. At the top, he was just up the road from me. There was a quick downhill part followed by a brief uphill section and I caught him just as we crested the uphill section. From there it was about 3 or 4 miles of downhill with some kind of technical twisty parts. John lost sight of me somewhere in that twisty section.
One thing I haven’t mentioned in this blog is that I was riding my Reynolds DVT46 Tubulars. Unfortunately, I had just glued them up 2 days before this ride. I had done a 15 minute ride on them Friday morning just to make sure the bike was working right, but I never really got to lean into some corners just to build my confidence that the glue would hold the tire on. I had been riding all of the corners conservatively all day long because of this. This descent down 250 from the top of Allegany was no different.
When I got to the bottom of the descent, I knew from riding it previously, that you immediately begin climbing again and it starts with a 10 plus % wall. I dug right in as soon as the climb started as I knew John would be chasing from behind and it was now apparent to me that John always went pretty hard at the bottom of climbs before scaling back his effort to something more sustainible. I went pretty hard up that climb. Harder than I had gone all day. The salt and the potatoes had brought my legs back around and there were no longer any hints that I might cramp. That climb is a short one of maybe 1.5 miles. I could not detect John anywhere behind me but I’m guessing I could only see behind me about a minute’s worth of distance due to the twistiness in the road. I then descended a couple of more miles down into the village of Hightown.
Upon rolling off of the mountain side, I was greeted by a ferocious cross wind that initially knocked me both ways across the road before settling into a nasty cross/headwind/ coming from my right or the south. There’s one little roller in the valley where Hightown sits and it felt as though I was coming to a stop as I tried to ride over it. I sucked it up and rode across the second part of the valley. As I started the final climb of the day there were several people out on the side of the road cheering me on. I thanked them as I rode past as it gave me a boost to lift myself over that final mountain of the day.
That stiff and cross headwind finally relented as the climb turned to the north and see-sawed around the ridges up the mountain. I couldn’t see John anywhere below me, but I still kept the tempo as high as I could. My second wind was beginning to fade, but not so fast that I wasn’t going to get over this last mountain. I got to the top and breathed a sigh of relief as I now only had to make it down the other side without crashing to finish the ride.
Everything went according to plan until the bottom of the climb when a white dotted doe decided to hop onto the road in front of me and just stand there. I slowed way down and she finally decided she had seen enough of me and bounded of the road to my right. At that point I was on the wide open bottom section of the descent just before you come down into Monterey. I flew through town and made the final right turn that took me back to the school where the ride had begun.
When I pulled into the parking lot, I coasted around the loop of parked cars before remembering where exactly I had parked mine many hourse before. Unfortunately, my bike computer malfunctioned early in the ride and wasn’t telling me how long I had been out there. I’m guessing my finishing time was about 5 hours and 20 minutes or so. About 5 minutes slower than 2 years ago. Conditions of the weather and the ride itself just didn’ t lend itself to finishing in less time. That wind out of the south made the going up 220 and 28 considerably slower than in 2009. Also, there was just 2 men sharing the load from almost 80 miles out, whereas in 2009, we had 15 of 20 guys pacelining all the way down that long road from 250 to Sugar Grove which allowed me to conserve a lot of energy and ride the climbs faster.
John pulled in about 5 minutes after I finished. I feel like he towed me a bit on those 220 and 28 sections of the course, so I felt kind of bad dropping him on a descent. It just feels cheap or something. It would be really interesting though to compare who would ride the route faster by himself. He would take time from me on the flats, but I would take time back on the descents. One thing is for sure though, John is wicked strong and I hope he rides some ITT’s in the future. He could give the Pro’s a run for their money if he trained specifically for it for even just a little bit.
The event was awesome as it was in 2009. I kind of feel like I short myself out by only using 2 of the rest stops, but I don’t come out to ride casually, at least not this year. Perhaps with my son now being here, my future fitness will be much less than it is now and to ride 100 miles will be much more difficult and I’ll get to stop and enjoy all of the people who come out to support this event. Next year I will remember to bring my swimsuit so I can actually go in the pool with sweet diving board after the ride’s over. I’ll also stock the cooler full of beer and commit early enough to the event that I can stay in Monteray at one of the bed and breakfasts. This ride is super fun and the vibe after was great as everyone I met was really nice. Till next time….