Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Race Report: Ring of Fire, Aug 6, 2011

by Marla Briley

There aren't many places where you find a mixture of beer-guzzling, cigarette-smoking bikers; spandex-wearing, Gatorade-drinking cyclists; and crowing, tree-climbing roosters. But, this weekend at the start of the second annual Ring of Fire ride, many of the best area cyclists were present, mixed in with Harleys, their leather-clad riders, and a few crowing, clucking chickens.

The ride had a bit of a twist from last year's ride/race. Red Licorice, the event's organizer, partnered with Austin Cycle Camp to offer $1,500 each to the first-place man and woman to cross the line on the 84-mile Big Loop course. Last year, the distance was 110 miles and Mike Minardi and I took first-place man and woman. We were awarded a pretty cool chain ring, but that is not quite the same as $1,500 dollars. With the money came a higher caliber of rider, and first-place anything was no longer on Mike and I's radar, but having a good overall day and strong ride was.

This is the tale of two rides taking place in one event. First was the race, which started at 7:30am, went for 84 miles, and included, as I said before, some of the best cyclists in the area. The second was the 84-mile ride, which started at 7:45 and included anyone who didn't care to "race," rides only a TT bike (which was not allowed in the Open "racing" group), or, like me, those who are training for something bigger to come.

Last year, the 110-mile Ring of Fire was part of my buildup to Kona. This year, the 84-mile Ring of Fire ride was part of my buildup to the 70.3 Las Vegas Championships. I needed to test my nutrition and my ability to withstand the heat and hills of the "Hill" Country. For those racing the Open, they were thinking more about strategy and whose wheel to follow, unlike me, who was thinking more about my salt intake and making sure my wattage stayed steady and consistent through the entire ride.

According to Gray Skinner, who races for Austin Bikes, the Open Division started out just like any other pro 1/2 road race. Super Squadra, the largest and only team in the race with four riders, immediately went on the attack, sending Steven Wheeler up the road. The pack is reluctant to respond with a hard 84 miles still to come. The pace picks up a bit and riders start making moves off the front. Most are unsuccessful and short-lived, as no one really wants to join the one-man sacrificial lamb (Wheeler). About 30 miles into the ride, the Cat 1 men split from the rest of the men and the women racers.

Thirty miles into my ride, I'm feeling good. I think, "The hills aren't so bad, the heat isn't so bad." I've broken the ride down into two 42-mile loops. So, by my calculations, I'm almost done with the first loop so I'm almost done! Right?

Back to the Open Division, things are getting intense – 787's Brant Speed rolls slightly off the front of the group, which is now about 15 riders. Gray moves in behind him. They begin to open up a small gap just before the difficult 1-mile climb. Alarm bells go off in the field as their gap grows to maybe 10 seconds. The New Zealand Champion and heavy favorite, Logan Hutchings, who rides for Hotel San Jose, Super Squadra's Dave Wenger, and Tulsa Tough's Stefan Rothe, ride up from the field as the five of them begin to climb. Trying to establish a gap on a climb is a good tactic, Gray explains, but also one of the more painful experiences on a bike.

"We flew up the climb and made a sizable gap on the rest of the field as I bled out of my eyeballs to stay fifth wheel," he says. "The eight of us pursued the leaders for the next 40 miles. The leaders came into view just up the road around mile 60, but the field was content to let them sit for a while, knowing that the fireworks would begin once they were caught."

Back to us regular "Joes," who are just out to test our nutrition and our legs in the hills. By the second loop, it is 10am and the temps have soared from 82 to the high 90s. I rode the first loop in just around 2 hours, never stopping for water. On the second loop, I stop for water at mile 52 and then mile 62 and again at mile 72! The heat takes its toll on me and my water bottles. I'm pouring half of my water on me, and the other half I'm drinking as if I were a dying man in the desert. While we have to stop and refill our own bottles, the Open field, for whom every second counts, have hand-up stations for their refills. So, while I'm messing around at the aid stations, the Open field is racing for the finish and the $1,500 prize money.

Gray tells the tale: Around mile 73, with the sun starting to rise, the heat in the field turns up as well. Logan Hutchings attacks the field just before the last big climb. Only the two riders who have teammates up the road are able to respond. This is David Wenger and Stefan Rothe. They take off in pursuit of a flying Hutchings. With the break having been caught, the race for the win is on. With 3 miles to go Logan Hutchings breaks away. He ends up taking the win, coming across the line solo with a sizeable gap. In the women's field, Jen McRae took the win with a convincing lead.

At about an hour and some change, I'm still making my way to the finish line. With no more than the thought of an ice-cold soda and the chance to take off my shoes, which are killing me, I pedal on. I don't remember the hills being quite so steep and I swear there was more shade the first time around. However, the volunteers are great (especially the girl with purple hair that is cheering "Go Team ATC"!) and the course is well marked and I do get there in the end.

At the finish, there was cold beer, shade under the trees, and a country western band playing for everyone, regardless of whether they raced the 84-mile Big Loop or rode the 23-mile Little Loop.

Photos: Jake North Photography

Marla Briley is an Austin triathlete and member of the ATC Women's Racing cycling team.

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