I remember last year wanting to do this inaugural event but scheduling kept me from making the trip. This year, it coincided with several bike fittings with clients in Greenville, so I finally got my chance. As you would expect, anything Hincapie does will be first rate; this event was no exception. Logistics? They did fantastic. Signage? Even better. As an event organizer, you can bet I was taking notice of everything to see how I could take some aspects of this event and incorporate into my Jackson County Brevet event.
Obviously, with a name like Hincapie, you can get a lot more done and pull some tremendous support. That was the case this past weekend. The SAG vehicles were fantastic and I saw quite a few over the 80 mile route I rode. Not sure if that was due to how slow I was going or if there were just a boat load of SAG vehicles out there; probably a little of both.
With completing 6 GAP quite a few times, I figured this 80 mile route would not be a problem. Boy was I wrong. Well, I also had only done 4 rides over the previous 2 months, while experiencing seriously low energy levels. Bringing that into this event was certainly NOT what I needed. But hey, I was going to ride anyway. On the 80 mile route, there were 3 major climbs: Skyuka, Howard and Green Rive Cove. You would think that only 3 major climbs would be far easier than the six in 6 GAP. Even though I was WAY below in my normal performance and energy level, these 3 (combined) were tougher.
Skyuka GAP– it’s only 4 miles but the terrain and switch-backs made the 9 % avg gradient very tough. I don’t remember being passed by very many folks and I was really amazed that I was still able climb fairly decent. I did stop a couple times to pull off my arm and leg warmers but I got back on, caught up to all those I had previously passed, and then passed them again. A very tough climb, and I could really tell at the top that I had lost a lot more endurance (over the past 2 months) than I had cared to admit. I survived but my legs were in pain.
atop Skyuka GAP. I got just as close on the edge of the pavement a few times on the descent as my rear tire is to this severe drop-off.
Skyuka Descent– anytime you have volunteers at the rest stop that precedes a descent, who are going around and telling everyone to be very careful on the descent, you better pay attention. There were even quite a few of them on the actual descent flagging us to slow down for the upcoming turns. I can honestly say, after riding over 150,000 miles on a bike, with having previously raced motorcycles at speeds of 180+ mph, and have seen/ridden some incredible descents on motorcycles and bicycles, THIS descent takes them ALL. This was by far, the most technical descent I have ever done. If you know me, I LOVE descents and tend to speed up when most others are coasting or slowing down. I am not one to back down from a great descent. Yes, I attacked this one and I had to rely on all my experience to get me through this one…..at the speeds I was riding. I did have to unclip one foot twice, as I entered these turns a bit to hot. Some of the 180-degree switchbacks had elevation heights of 20= feet. There were even a few that were more like a 190-200 degree turn. About half way down, I could smell my carbon wheels giving off an odor so I conserved brakes as little as possible. I lost count how many folks I passed and can say no one came even close to passing me. That was one major thrill.
Howards Gap– If Skyuka wasn’t bad enough, Howards Gap came not too long after Skyuka. The initial climb was not incredibly severe but the last half mile was. I honestly never saw my computer show the gradient go below 15%….and it was straight up. I think there was a few 18% spots in there, too. If I had held back ANY of the strength I had at the time, I believe I would have come to a sudden stop and fall over. It was this climb that let me know just how much endurance I had lost. The pain was off the charts and no place on my body that I did not hurt. But, I was determined not to stop or walk; I was going to get to the top no matter what. Only one person passed me and I can’t tell you how mentally encouraging it was to see myself passing everyone in sight. That was the motivator that kept me going.
Green River Cove– this climb is famous for its 17 switchbacks and there were signs for each one so you could count them down. There were only 2-3 that kicked up pretty serious in elevation while the majority of the climb was steady on a not-so smooth road. I only wished there were no leaves on the trees, so that I could take a picture looking up an down to capture this Alpe d’Huez replica-like climb.
Thank goodness the remaining 15 miles was about as flat as you can get in this part of the country. Many stretches were flat with 1-2 percent down hill, so it was nice to look down as see a steady 33+mph on my speed. Yes, there were several false-flats and you could certainly tell it when you hit one. Of course, the hollowing headwinds didn’t help it, either. I managed to connect with one guy from D.C. and we rode the final 5 miles together. Making the last left turn towards the finish line, I decided to bury myself and leave whatever energy I had left on the pavement. It was a strong finish across the line.
The food afterwards was great with lots of beer (I don’t drink) for everyone. If you have kids, then there was plenty of blow-ups they could jump on and slide through. Live bands topped off the festivities.
After polling several folks who had done 6 GAP, we all agreed that this 80 miler was tougher than 6 GAP. I honestly have never hurt that bad on a bike. Ever. I only wished I had been in the normal shape that I am use to to see how much different my riding experience could have been. All in all, I was just glad I was done and off the bike.
All that to say, I’ll be back and hopefully next year, I will be feeling like my normal self and really see how I do. You want an epic ride? This is it. Incredible climbs. Incredible scenery and overlooks. Incredible venue. Incredible host.
See ya on the road….