“SERC #10” Season Finale at Fontana Dam, NC

Fontana Village Resort in Fontana, NC hosted the final race of the US Cup East / South East Regional Cup (SERC) series.  Besides being race #10 of the SERC series, it was also the American Mountain Bike Challenge (AMBC) race #10 and the Southern Classic series race #12.

As if the convergence of three series was not enough, it was a “mandatory” race for the SERC series.  In other words, if you wanted to compete for ranking in the series, you had to race at Fontana.  Needless to say, that brought out a big crowd.  For many of the classes, mine included, the leaders were within a point or two of each other, so everyone brought their “A-game”.

A little interesting background on the venue — Fontana Dam is a hydroelectric dam on the Little Tennessee River operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority which built the dam in the early 1940s.  Fontana Village, since converted to a resort, was originally the temporary village where many of the workers constructing the dam were housed.

Very typical of the course.  Damp dark soil and climbs.

Very typical of the course. Damp dark soil and climbs.

As for the terrain, Pisgah Area Mountain Biking Meetup said it perfectly: “The series ends at without a doubt the most demanding course on the circuit, the trails surrounding the village are as tough as they come…”

Located in the mountains, it’s roughly a 30-mile drive from the three nearest cities — Maryville, Tennessee to the west, Bryson City, North Carolina to the east, and Robbinsville, North Carolina, to the south.

As you can imagine, that meant climbing — 2,751 feet in each my three laps for a total of 8,253 feet!  I’m not sure how long each lap was but last year’s course was 7.3 miles per lap and this year they’d added a new section that was at least a mile.  Most of the course was the same as last year only in slightly better condition and without rain.

It’s funny how the mind works.  I had two distinct memories of Fontana from last year:  First, I remembered there was climbing.  Second, I remembered being terrified at the very technical downhill section of the course.  Here is an excerpt from my race report last year:

“…Finally we reached the summit and made a left turn over a big rock and realized we had arrived at the dreaded downhill. Like a fine wine, it exceeded our expectations. We pointed our bikes downhill and began bounding from rock to rock. It was so slippery that we did much of it on foot, dragging our bikes. It seemed like a short version of Heartbreak Ridge, the horrific descent on ORAMM.”

Having just finished riding some of the most technical trails anywhere at Nationals, the technical stuff at Fontana seemed oddly easy.  And there was more of it than last year.  The entire new section was technically difficult but in comparison to Pennsylvania it was a walk in the park.  Amazing what a little experience will do.

As for the climbing, I had it simply filed away as “lots of climbing”.  Apparently I completely forgot the utter brutality of the climbs at Fontana.  I don’t think I will forget again.  Maybe the harsh climbs had been overshadowed in my mind by the horrendous technicality of the bad downhill section.  Maybe not.  Either way, it is amazing how different the course was from my memory.

Not having the luxury of coming up a few days early for a pre-ride I had the usual dilemma:  Pre-ride Saturday and pay the price (fatigue) on Sunday, or not pre-ride Saturday and pay the price (unfamiliar trail) on Sunday.  Oh well, the trail had a new section so I went for the pre-ride trying unsuccessfully to stay in heart rate zones one and two.  I managed to get in the pre-ride but in the process burned some matches.

This year, unlike last, I am competing in both the SERC and the Southern Classic series.  That means that I really needed to do the Saturday night short track race to try to pick up some bonus points for the series.  I was trailing Mark Poore (fourth place) by only four points, and if I could do better than him on one or both races, I had a real shot at moving to fourth for the series.

Although tired from the tough pre-ride I ate a light lunch and was at the line for the short track race which had been pushed back from 6 to 8PM and was running late.  The seven hour trip, the pre-ride, and now the lateness were starting to take their toll on my energy level.  And the only ones who showed up in our category to race were the first five in the points race.

The whistle blew and we began our 15-minutes-plus-2-laps race.  I was immediately in last place of our group but keeping up with Mark.  As we raced around the 0.3 mile grass criterium on the side of a hill I continued to hold my speed while Mark faded quickly, and after fourteen laps, I managed to beat him by a lap and a half, picking up one of my four point deficit.  I completed the race at an average heart rate of 98% of my max, but at what price?

Time for a quick dinner and off to find our hotel where we got to bed by about 11PM.  Overnight I woke several times but was able to string together about six hours of sleep.  When it was time for our 9:30 race, I was feeling pretty sluggish.  I’d had my race-day oatmeal before 7AM, but with the pre-ride and the late evening short track race I was not feeling it.

Jim Frith - 1st, Tom Willis - 2nd, Mark Gilliam - 3rd, and Troy Zimmerman - 4th.

Jim Frith – 1st, Tom Willis – 2nd, Mark Gilliam – 3rd, and Troy Zimmerman – 4th.

By the end of the first, half-mile-long climb I was already struggling and squarely in last place.  I somehow managed to complete all three of our 8-ish mile laps but had no idea where I was in the field.  I knew that I had never passed Mark so if he had finished the race, he’d remained in fourth for the series.  As it turned out, I was 7th in a field of 10.  Mark was 6th and took back the point I’d gained on him the night before.

Here are some of my numbers from the Fontana race for those of you who are interested:

  • Avg HR: 87 % of Max

  • Max HR: 112 % of Max

  • Avg Power: 180 W

  • Max Power: 1,389 W

  • Max Avg Power (20 min): 201 W

  • Normalized Power (NP): 197 W

  • Intensity Factor (IF): 0.761

  • Training Stress Score (TSS): 149.0

  • Work: 1,674 kJ

Last week’s numbers at Nationals:

  • Avg HR: 91 % of Max

  • Max HR: 118 % of Max

  • Avg Power: 202 W

  • Max Power: 1,264 W

  • Max Avg Power (20 min): 226 W

  • Normalized Power (NP): 214 W

  • Intensity Factor (IF): 0.825

  • Training Stress Score (TSS): 135.8

  • Work: 1,455 kJ

My average heart rate was lower than the 90% I’d like to see but that was probably a combination of the nearly three hour duration of the race and the lack of recovery from the pre-ride and short track race on Saturday.  Power numbers were off as well, probably for the same reasons.  Funny that I did more work and suffered more stress and yet put out less power.  Clearly shows the effect of fatigue.  In reality, I never really had a chance in Sunday’s race.

All in all, it’s been a tough but rewarding season and it’s almost over.  I finished 4th place in the Virginia state championship, I won the South Carolina state championship, and took 3rd place in the North Carolina championship.  And I guess 5th place for a seven state series is not so bad for my first year as a Cat 1 rider.  I’m having a good time and I’m learning a lot.

I still have a couple more races in the three-state Southern Classic series where it looks like I’m a lock for 2nd place behind Jim Frith.  Next week I race in Greensboro on a trail I’ve ridden several times before and will be able to drive up the morning of the race.  After that comes the six-hour race in Woolwine, VA, and then the Southern Classic finale at North Wilkesboro’s Dark Mountain trail.