Training camp took a slightly (slightly, very slightly) more serious turn for Saturday’s Southern Cross. It was time to put the legs to the test, and the squad put in a great ride at an unforgettable event.
With a minivan full of reinforcements arriving late Thursday night, 3T Q+M had a strong line-up heading into Southern Cross and contributed to the small but powerful field. That minivan held Jay Ellis and Danny Soltan from the team, as well as friends of the squad Martin Vecchio and Seth Kleinglass.
A full eight-man line-up put in a metric century Friday, which is ideal race prep, as you well know. After a week with over 30,000 feet of climbing, there wasn’t much else you could do to the legs anyway, and even on the slopes of Woody Gap, everyone was pretty excited to enjoy the great weather and even better company.
Al decided to skip the race and put in more miles training, and as he slept peacefully into the crack of 9 am, the racers packed up and headed to Daloghena and the Italian-inspired villas of Montaluce Vineyard, host of the race. 300 brave participants expected a cold start, but a strong sun kept even the earliest arrivals rather comfortable.
The game plan was simple. Cody went to the front and kept a hard tempo, and with the race bypassing the early single track due to heavy rains, the lead group hit the climb up Springer Mountain just 10 minutes into the race. While the official climb is around 20 minutes, it belies the real challenge of the ascent. With some undulation, it’s really almost an hour of effort, with Sovis on the front for the first forty minutes. Of the 300 person mass start, only 20 riders were still in touch when Matthew Busche upped the pace still further.
Sean was present and correct, while Danny dangled just seconds off the back as the lead group hit the steepest section of the climb, hitting 20% for around 300 meters. Sean was plowing a lonely furrow in 7th place for much of the rest of the day, while Cody caught back up to Danny and gave him a wheel to follow as the course wound along the rivers and up the base of the following climbing.
With a rider in sight, Danny set off in hot pursuit with 2km to go over the top of the last climbing, using his incredible handling skills to make easy work of the run-in to the line. A screaming trio of riders passed first Cody, then Danny, and finally Sean. Determined to hold their wheel, Sean was taking plenty of chances on the long and winding fire road off the mountain, and he finally paid the price. He catapulted into a ravine at 30 miles per hour, but somehow popped up unharmed. The crash cost him a chance at a top six and a few sore bones, but luckily no trip to the ER.
Behind, Jay Ellis was contributing to the workload of a sizable and cohesive six-man group. After Friday’s big ride, it was a race to build more fitness and take in the stunning views of North Georgia. Jay was steady all morning long and rolled in not too far behind the top 20 or so riders. Friend of the squad and Michigan legend Seth Kleinglass was rolling strong as well, meeting his four-hour goal with an accomplished sense of punctuality. All in all, the Michigan crew represented The Mitten in style.
We had an awesome time at Southern Cross, as always. It’s one of the best organized, laid-back, and well-run events we’ve ever done, and perhaps the most welcoming field of participants around. Every person in the parking lot, on the start line, and on the course were friendly, supportive, and encouraging. There’s a little something to that whole ‘southern hospitality’ thing, to be sure!
Take a look at Danny’s impressive ride on Strava here.
We’ll get you the full results as soon they’re posted online.
Sean and Cody are headed back to Michigan, but Al, Danny, and Jay are sticking around for a few more days of riding in Georgia. There are just a few weeks until you’ll see the bulk of the team back in action at the Waterloo Grit & Gravel in Grass Lake on March 17, the first event in the Michigan Gravel Road Series.
We’ll have more on the race, our bike set-ups at Southern Cross, and we’ll check in with Cat who is been on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean to train for nearly a week, all on the blog over the next few days!