Southern Cross Gravel Race
When: Usually mid to late Feb
Where: Dahlonega, GA. aka – Deliverance country/GA Foothills
Distance: 51.4 miles
Do I Recommend this race? Yes, if you like endurance racing, nasty gravel climbs, wicked long descents, and early season fitness test against some fast ATL dudes and gals.
Pros: Sick gravel, start and finish at Monteluca Winery (Berkshire Hathaway Property), tough competition, burritos and beer at finish.
Cons: Not familiar with course, sub-optimal course markings, slugging through the CX style course at end of race when the novelty has worn off with hike-a-bike, steep and long run up.
Finished: 22nd out of 243 with time of 3h:26min. Winning time at 3 hrs.
Weapon of choice was my dirt ninja: Sorry it’s not a Cannondale, but this bike ate that gravel for breakfast. Uber light at 18.13 lbs. 1×10 with 32T in front, which was the only drawback to this bike/course. 44c/1.8 low pro Spesh Renegades. Super light tire 430g. Brian Schultz I know you couldn’t give a rat’s ass about this technical jargon. Deal with it. This bike is bad 2 the bone. Had a blast on it and would ride it again with a 36T up front for an awesome 1 to1 climbing ratio. The ideal set up is either CX bike or hardtail mtb with a low climbing gear and big enough gear for the descents and miles of pavement. I think a CX bike with disc brakes, 1×11 with 38T would be killer as well. This is where I struggled bc of the low gearing and couldn’t to get my gubby mits on a larger front ring leading up to the race. I registered the Wednesday before, which was an impromtu decision. I had good fitness going into this event, but my bike just wasn’t fast enough Definitely could’ve used more gears.
Gravel racing has increased in the past two years substantially and is attracting a melting pot of riders from cyclocross, roadies, and mountain bikers. We’re fortunate in this area to have this option that’s essentially in the backyard. If you are a roadie and own a CX bike or light hardtail, I recommend you attempt one these races. This was my third gravel race with Pisgah Monster Cross x 2 and SouthernX. My placement was almost identical to 2013 MonsterX where I finished 21st and 22nd at SouthernX. However, two different distances and on two different bikes. I thought that was odd.
I was certainly misled by the difficulty of SouthernX thinking it’s no where near as difficult as Pisgah gravel climbing. North Georgia is legit. I got up on line for the start and from there you have to fight for position for 300 yards on the pavement to hit the off camber grassy field where the CX course starts for approx 1.8 mi. With all the snow and rain prior to this event, my mtb stomped that field and put me in good position when we hit the pavement. The lead group/break with guys like Thomas Turner, Jim Edmonds, and Brian Toone shredded the field. I was in the first chase group with Kelly Klett, Brad Cobb, and Garth Prosser and some other randoms – all who I have raced against in the past and have gotten waxed. I was stoked just to be sitting in and spinning out in my 32T ring. I was fortunate to hit the gravel with these guys when we the climb punches you in the face. The first major cat 2 climb called Winding Stair on Spring Mountain – 10 mi and 1.9k climbing is a beast with grades up to 18%. I found myself riding alone and trading pulls with Prosser. His fitness had slipped with the cold winter up north.
Winding Stair climb over. Hell yeah. I didn’t get passed. Check shoulder, Prosser still there. I keep laying down the watts to hit the first major descent. Hells yeah. The dirt ninja was just wailing and screaming faster, faster! I am spinning out. Dropping Prosser and reeling in less technical riders. Then we hit the pavement again. Now I am depressed and pop some grub. No hot pockets this time from the bad publicity earlier in the week since that stuff, not meat is tainted. Organic Evol chicken burrito burning up from my sweat and the scorching sun. Aw yeah. Feeling better.
Back to the gravel for the second big climb of the race. Depressed again and trying to get my mind right. Body, legs, and low back are decent. No fear of cramping after excellent burrito. I hit Hawk Mtn – 7.0 mi and 1.1k climb, more gradual than Winding Stair with Prosser and another random dude. I was blind and had no idea what to expect. I was thankful the random’s local intel about the climb ahead. He was right with low grade and steady climbing. Perfect. I wrecked that climb popping Prosser. He was slipping and struggling, not a good day for him. I rode solo for another 36 minutes. I was thinking about the Bike Love Party that night, beer as usual, and hoping some backwoods north GA honky wasn’t going make me squeal like a pig. No squealing. Climb over. Happy again.
Now I’m descending Cooper Gap on Sassafras Mtn, which is really rough gravel back to the winery. Stoked because I am getting close to the finish, but still had no idea what to expect. Wailed the descent reeling in guys on CX bikes and now in top 20. Bomber descent finished. Depressed x 3 now because I see pavement, my weakness for the day. Spinning, spinning, and coast. Spinning, spinning, and coast for 5 miles on pavement. Holding onto top 20. Hit the winery and the course markings sucked my roughened taint. I headed into the winery field instead of pavement. Passed x 2, then 3 and onto the steep, muddy run up. Now I am squealing like that north GA honky told me to. I hate north GA. Cursing. Slug more cx style course, stream crossing, single track, hike-a-bike, 1.8 miles of it at the end is rough. Finished. Happy. 3h26min. For what? Another burrito, beer, and 22nd place. That’s bike racing.
Onto Bike Love Party. I don’t think you want a play by play there. Met a cutie. Taking her out tonight. Boom.
Next race is Sunday March 23rd. Hardford 50 Gravel in Max Patch area.