The Red Clay Ramble is a gravel race in South Georgia known for being hot and fast. With only 2300 ft of vertical gain over 56 miles, it’s a hammerfest from the very start. And in Georgia, in August, it’s freaking hot.
The morning called for near ideal conditions. It hadn’t rained in a few days and the red clay roads that we’d soon be barreling down were all but guaranteed to be dusty and fast. I got to the start thinking, “This isn’t so hot, maybe I’ll take a quick warmup loop to check out the start/finish.” I rode for two leisurely miles and arrived back at my car dripping with sweat. Not a great sign. I’d also been obsessing over gear ratio for weeks and was keeping a keen eye out for the other single-speeders in the crowd. Among others, I found a guy named Zach who I know from racing cyclocross, and I know to be a very strong rider.
The start gun went off and the pace was high immediately! The lead group disappeared up the road pretty quickly, and for the first several miles I found myself bridging from group to group, getting a draft when I could. At one point I rode with Zach and a small group. We talked about gear ratio and it got me thinking I was way overgeared for this thing, but I found myself with some momentum at the base of a rise in the road, and dropped the group.
And I was alone.
I rode for the next 10 or 15 miles completely alone, occasionally catching a rider from the front group who’d started too fast and blown up. But they were essentially going backwards and no good to try to work with. It was hot but I was able to concentrate on my hydration and nutrition, and the miles ticked away.
Then I was caught. Zach came up with a group of five riders, including another single-speeder. We all worked together for a few miles, until Zach took a pull at the front and shattered the group! I was second wheel and looked back to only find Justin, the other guy on one gear. We hit a paved section of the course and a fast geared rider came upon us and sat himself right on the front, pulling hard. Eventually he dropped us but Zach and I had left Justin behind as well!
Zach and I worked together really well for the next 20 miles. We traded pulls pretty well, but since I was the heavier geared rider I spent a little more time on the front. The trade off was that on the down slopes (descents is a strong word for the terrain on this course) when Zach was tucked behind me and the draft was causing him to pass, he’d just give me a push to keep me ahead. Sort of a reverse Madison at the track. I’m not sure how much work it saved me, but it was a morale boost at least.
At mile 40 we found a group of guys who’d just left a rest stop, and worked hard to catch onto the back of the line. Soon we came to a hill and without the ability to downshift, Zach and I passed the group quickly; he more quickly than me. I was slowing down and he’d created a gap of maybe 50 yards. I looked up as I crested the hill only to see him in the drops, head down, hammering. And missing the course marker for a left turn! I yelled for him but it didn’t look like he’d heard me, and I certainly wasn’t going to chase him down. The group caught and passed me and I was alone again. I worked hard for the last 15 miles, always keeping an eye over my shoulder, expecting to see Zach baring down on me every time I turned around. I was lucky enough to get a cold beer handup at mile 50, and that was enough of a pick-me-up to power me to the finish.
There was one guy out in front of us, the dude must’ve been killing it in the front group of the race until close to the end because his time blew me out of the water. Justin ended up in third – it turned out that Zach rode nearly five miles before he realized his mistake! He was in good spirits afterward, you can’t win them all I guess.
All in all the Red Clay Ramble lived up to it’s tag line – 56 miles of hot and dirty fun!