Once the pack finally got rolling it was time to think a little bit about the race. The profile for ORAMM looks like this:
The first test of the day is the Kitsuma climb. From the start the first 5 or so miles are paved, it switches to gravel, and then ends with about half a mile of steep switchback single track.
I decided that I was going to try to hang on to the front pack on the pavement. I knew that the racers would not be really spread out by the time we got to the single track and I wanted to be closer to the front than the back where the less skilled riders would be. I figured I could hang with the good riders on the switchbacks and didn’t want to get stuck behind people who had to walk that from the start. On the downhill, yeah I would be slow, but Kitsuma was pretty wide and so people could pass me.
Dave and I pre-rode this climb earlier in the week. I knew that the road/gravel was not really very steep and so I could put a good tempo into it. I stayed with the front pack. On the back, but with the front pack.
The switchbacks were fun. Steep but with good spacing so they were completely ride-able. One of the local guys was saying “It’s only a small hill no problems here”. Up we went.
The descent on Kitsuma is where you learn that ORAMM is not really at all civilized. The “descent” has climbs on it. If you look at the profile closely you can see the biggest one. But there are probably 3 or 4 other sharp kicker climbs. (I will note for the record that none of the climbs had and level or negative grades on them. NONE OF THEM.)
The riders were all still close to each other and so the decent was at times slow and frustrating as I got stuck behind people who could not descend very well (I may not be good at descending, but I was far, far from the worst). The course had dried out considerably since the pre-ride on Monday and the trail was really nice and tacky. Eventually we got to the bottom and shot out into the park and then back onto the road.
Here is the video I shot from the pre-ride on Kitsuma. I should say that Dave and I were a little conservative on the pre-ride. It was really slick and we didn’t want to break anything before the race.
I headed to aid station 1.
The Team Bohl super crew is a well oiled race machine. The pit stops are much like you would see at a nascar race. I pulled in. Noah grabbed the bottles from my cages handed me two new ones to replace them with. Coreen gave me a bottle with ice water that I chugged. “How you feeling? You need and gu?” Off I spun. 30 seconds later.
Dave and I rode a little bit of Star Gap the day before the race. It was enough of a look to see what torment that would be. The hike-a-bike started right at the bottom of the Star Gap climb with a giant bolder/root combination step to get over (we would have to get down this later in the day as well). “It’s only a small hill” guy was still behind me chiming away. I got off my bike to go up the bolder. He got off his bike and climb up as well. “I thought this was a small hill, no problem?” “Didn’t want to show anyone up and make them feel bad” he replied with a big wicked grin on his face. I returned the smile.
The switchbacks on Star Gap are much tighter and more technical than on Kitsuma and there was still a good bit of congestion. I was forced to walk a number of them. I tried to mount back up on my bike when I had a chance and walked when I needed too. We all pretty much went the same pace walking, riding or walking and riding. It was a leg sapping climb and I realized I didn’t have my best legs that day.
There is a little bit of fire road climbing after the Star Gap descent and then a gravel descent to the second aid station. I felt like I was being passed more than I was passing, but I couldn’t really tell.
Team Bohl moved to aid station two and again performed flawlessly. New bottles, another ice water to chug. A quick coke. “How do you feel?” “Crappy.” “Well this next part is what you do well. Climb strong.”
The crux climb of this race is the Curtis Creek climb. It’s over 3200 ft and 11 miles. The grade is pretty mellow for the first couple of miles then it becomes more sustained 10+%. Finally in the last mile or so it tapers off a little bit near the top.
I was with a couple of riders at the start of the climb and we had a nice chat for about two miles. One guy said we were on a 7 hour pace. I didn’t really know what that meant in the greater scheme of things, but he said it would be his personal best and was a really good time. (Note I learned later that the ORAMM equivalent to the Leadville “big belt buckle” time is under 6 hours. You get a bottle opener if you do this. So a 7 hour pace is pretty respectable.) I also got some advice about the Heartbreak Ridge descent. Something about a fan of roots about a mile down on an off camber corner. The advice was walk it or crash. Yeah! Then the climb got serious and people stopped talking.
My approach to a climb like this is to get into a comfortable cadence and spin my way up the hill. I try to keep my effort as level as I can. Whatever speed I can manage I manage. I do not worry about what other people are doing.
The climb was long. I passed some people. Some people passed me. I saw probably 4 or 5 racers who had cracked going back down the hill to SAG out at aid station 2. Mentally that was the tough part. It would have been so easy to turn the bike downhill and glide back to the station. The guys who were doing that looked to be buff and in shape. I wondered what had happened to them. But I kept turning the cranks. 3 miles to aid 3, 2 miles to aid 3, 1 mile to aid 3. Aid three! Top of Curtis Creek. Time to get a coke.
“We are out of cups.” WTF?
“I can put some in a bottle for you.”
“Tell me when.”
“When the coke reaches the top of the bottle!”
I got back on my bike and turned onto the Blue Ridge Highway.
Then I put my angry eyes on.