On the weekend of March 20th, 2010, lycra-clad lunatics and misfits converged on Berlin, TN for the first running of the fabulous Hell of the South road race.
Run in the spirit of the infamous L'enfer du Nord (Hell of the North) run from Paris to Roubaixover rough Roman and Napoleonic roads, L'nefer inspires cyclists of all capabilities to ride their innocent roadbikes over surfaces clearly intent on destroying both the equipment and the spirits of the riders themselves. L'enfer du Sud, run in Burrlin, TN(as opposed to Ber-lin as in the major German city, as we were quickly corrected) aimed to do the same but closer to home and with a slightly different accent. Organized as a "training race," as opposed to a fully sanctioned USACycling race, Hell of the South made up for anything it may have lacked in officiality with a fantastic prize purse, fantastic organization, and gorgeous trophies, t-shirts, and posters all available to racers. Combine this exemplar organization with post-race bar-b-q, donations to charitable organizations from around Tennessee, and the presence of bike shops like MOAB in Murfreesboro, what you have is a first rate event which will hopefully become an early-season "must-do" event for racers in the Southeast.
The idea of getting misguided fools to race their bikes on roads in poor conditions is not original to middle Tennessee, and has been practiced in Europe for as long as racing has been conducted, and later in the US in several races including Rouge-Roubaix in Louisiana, and Perry-Roubaix in Georgia. The course at Hell of the South opted for poor road conditions and fairly smooth dirt over sectors of cobbles connected by smooth roads, making the race in many ways more reminiscent of Montepaschi Strade Bianche than the original Paris-Roubaix, but the racing was made no easier by this small change.
The racing was broken into three groups: A (Pro/1/2/3 men), B (Cat 4 men and Pro1/2 Women), and C (Cat 5 men and Cat 3/4 women), each of which had large fields all ready to test their mettle against a difficult day on the bike. Each field rode the same course with varying numbers of twenty-mile loops making up the bulk of the course. The roads were rough chip-seal with a brief transition into approximately two miles of rolling, rutted, and fairly rough dirt and gravel roads, all winding in and around Berlin in terrain which would be gorgeous to ride if you weren't busily chewing your way through your handlebar tape trying to go as fast as the guys and gals in front of you.
The NashvilleCyclist.com's mens' team arrived as an armada with nine riders donning the baby-blue and white kits, and almost everyone on their new Blue RC8 steeds. With such numbers we believed that the odds of standing atop the podium and taking home a good deal of prize money were good. The pre-race meeting was very straightforward: "Race your bikes. Race to win. Never surrender." Or, as we had jokingly discussed days before "Release the Kraken." There are certain game changers in the world, two of them arrived without pre-registering, and were sure to make the day more difficult for everyone involved. The game changers in this time are Michael Olheiser, current Elite National Road Race and Time Trial champion, and ex-masters World Time Trial champion (he has ridden a bike a couple of times), and more recent import to the Southeast from Germany where he raced as a continental professional, Sebastian Flasksamp. Even with these two goliaths riding amongst us our plan was not to change: attack at every opportunity, make the race hard for everyone else, and do our best to make sure we were involved in every critical piece of racing.
From the gun we were active. Patrick Harkins would have attacked 30 seconds before the start were it legal. He was effectively in the drops before the gun went off. It was a beautiful thing. A couple of minutes later when he was brought back Tim Hall attacked, bringing a few additional riders with him, including me. For the first eight miles this was the story. Attacks were everywhere and every one of them contained a member of the baby-blue army. Soon Mr. Olheiser arrived at the front and the air of tension was obvious within the group. The second there was a lull--approximately one mile from the first trip through the dirt road--I attacked, got a gap, and put down the hammer. Soon Olheiser and Flaskamp joined me, and the race changed complexion immediately. About ten miles later the break was solidified and there were two races on the road. This is when NC.com put on their hardhats, grabbed their lunch pails, and went to work making sure that any move going up the road contained someone without doing a lick of work to help anyone else get free. It was time to win the race. And race we did. The reports from within the team and from other teams were all identical: NC.com was involved in everything and the guys raced until their legs ached and their eyes crossed. Nobody gave an inch when they should not have. These are the days that make racing worth every second of suffering.
The endgame for the breakaway was relatively predictable with Olheiser and Flaskamp dueling in the final meters, and Flaskamp producing a very impressive final kick to take out the sprint, leaving me trailing by several meters to cross the line alone, spent from a day riding with a pair of experienced roleurs. Minutes later the peloton stormed across the line with JohnWaggoner taking fifth in the chaotic bunch sprint after a heroic twelfth-hour attack by Jason Guzak, who, after launching from about two miles from home, was caught in the last fifty meters. As much as the dirt was not the terrible roads of northern France, it did have its share of victims, including Tim Hall whose unfortunate flat in the dirt ended a race for a very strong pair of legs, and Brent Mahan whose final kick is always worth considering for other teams. Shannon Williams and Mathew Meunier, whose French sounding name alone strikes fear into opposing teams, both spent their day on the rivet giving everything they had to track down moves and attack when lulls came. As a side effect their days were cut short, and while the official record book shows them as DNF it should be know that they GETHAD (Gave Everything They Had All Day).
Hell of the South is a great race, on rough roads, in middle Tennnessee, that should it be run again, should be on the calendar of everyone who likes to envision themselves in Northern Europe come Spring!