Most people who know me also know that I am passionate about riding bikes. Pretty much from March to December, I am riding and racing my bike all over the US. I cannot imagine spending the spring, fall and summer months any other way. But, after doing 50 plus races every racing season, I start feeling a little tired and need a mental break from all the traveling and racing. Fortunately, the seasons of the year cooperate well with my mental state and throw a bunch of snow down on the ground at the same time. For me, this is a sure sign to hang up the bike for awhile and start playing in the snow with downhill skis, skate skis, backcountry skis and snowshoes.
This past racing season ended in perfect harmony with the change over to winter weather. I did one last cyclocross race in the snow at the beginning of December and then put two sticks on my feet to enjoy the snow until the end of February. Luckily, I live less than 30 minutes away from ridge tops of Western Pennsylvania, so I have nice hills and deep snow to play in during most of the winter, which makes it easy for me to do the winter actives I enjoy so much.
I find that skiing not only gives me a refreshing break from bike racing, but it also keeps me fit during a time when many non-skiing riders in my area are struggling to find the motivation to train. My typical winter training consists of downhill skiing 2-3 days a week, skate skiing 1-2 days a week, and backcountry skiing 1 day a week. At least one day a week, I will also do a trainer workout with core body and weight training added into the mix. If by chance there is a spell of warm weather, I usually take the opportunity to do a longer ride outside. Additionally, if the snow isn’t too deep, I also enjoy doing a singletrack ride on nice snow-packed trails with my Salsa Selma singlespeed. The Selma may not be a Mukluk, but it is still a good choice to use on snowy days. Changing everything up as much as I do and having all of this variety in my workouts seems to make winter just fly by and remain fun.
By the time winter is starting to show signs of coming to an end, I am completely recharged for a new race season and my base fitness is ready to be built upon. This year I decided to give my winter fitness an early season test by doing the Southern Cross Endurance Cyclocross Race in Dahlonega, Georgia on February 26th. I figured going south to do a 50-plus mile gravel road race with about 6000 feet of climbing against 200 other racers who have been riding all winter should give me a real good idea as to where my fitness level is. Additionally, Southern Cross will be added to a new series of endurance length cyclocross races next year called the American Ultracross Championship Series, so I figured doing this race now would give me a chance to check out the course before it counts next year.
My decision to do this race was kind of a last minute decision. The weather in Pittsburgh didn’t seem like it would be too great on the weekend and I was actually kind of psyched about doing a long road trip for a race after being away from it all winter. The race started on the property of a winery called Montaluce and basically was set up as a traditional style ‘cross course for a mile or so, until leading onto a few miles of paved roads, which eventually lead to a big loop of gravel roads with a lot of climbing and descending.
I took an early lead on the grass course section and was the first to exit onto the paved roads. I was soon joined by three other riders and we started a paceline on the fast roads leading into the mountains and gravel roads. I hung with the lead group until we hit a few gravel climbs, but soon found their speed to be a bit too much, a bit too early for this time of year.
After being dropped, I ended up riding alone for a little while, but was eventually caught by a chase group of about eight riders. This group splintered apart during the first long climb, which allowed me and another rider to go off the front. Eventually, I dropped this other rider and found myself all alone in fourth place again. On the last long climb, I was caught by another rider. We did the last long descent together and then worked together until entering the last mile or so of the course leading to the finish. We actually worked so well together that we caught the third place rider during our entry into the finishing area.
I moved into third place overall on a run-up and thought that I could hold onto third until the finish, but I punctured my tire about a half mile from the finishing line. My Stan’s sealant gave me just enough air to finish the race without having to run it in, but I fell out of third place back into fourth by the finish line. Considering this was only my 17th outdoor bike ride since the middle of December, I was very excited to finish in fourth overall and in first place for the 35-45 age class.
Doing this race made me even more excited to start the new racing season. I will miss the snow and my fun winter activities, but racing bikes will always be my favorite way to spend my free time. There is just no better way to explore the land, stay fit, meet good friends and have fun than by riding a bike. So, I say goodbye for now Mr. Winter and hello to what will hopefully be another great season of cycling.
Happy Trails, Gerry
Thanks to Mark Duffus for the photo