Johnny Mitchell - Finish Strong Elite teammate
Category 1 Racer
Lives: Florence, SC
On Monday, May 19 the Finish Strong Elite Cycling Team competed in the 39th annual Assault on Mt. Mitchell. This ride is known throughout the country as one of the toughest bike rides you can do. I say ride, but everyone knows it's a race. The Finish Strong Elite team was represented by myself, Andrew Crater, Parker Kyzer, and Debbie Milne.
The ride started at 6:30 am. The temperature was a brisk 49 degrees. Much cooler than we have been riding in for the last month. It DID, in fact, start out like a ride. No one wanted to ride fast. We all just stayed together near, but not on, the front. It was all fun and games and conversation for the first 40 miles. One guy attacked off the front (yes, that means he had over 60 miles to go). Still, no one seemed too bothered. Parker and myself went to the front just after the Bill's Hill climb and pushed the pace. It caused a small break up in the field, but we weren't really committed yet, so it all came back together. Like I said, fun and games. Everyone knows the race starts in Marion, anyway.
We arrived in Marion in a pretty slow time. The leader had over four minutes on us. Parker and I were worried. Luckily, I had Boyd Johnson regaling me with tales of the times they had closed bigger gaps to better climbers. So, I was put at ease. We all got our musette bags from the feed zone. The strap broke on mine, so all my food and fluid was spilled on the ground. Andrew gave me one bottle and I was able to get another one later, so I managed. No one seemed too concerned about going hard just yet, so on we crawled. A couple of miles into the climb Andrew Crater was setting a steady tempo with Parker Kyzer on his wheel. There were two riders behind them, then me. Andrew upped the pace just slightly (which was amazing to me, because I knew he didn't feel good, as he had told me prior to Marion). When he accelerated, the two riders behind Parker let a gap open up. So, smelling blood, I pounced! I came around them and positioned myself in front of Andrew and really started driving the pace. Andrew, Parker, myself, and one other rider rode clear of everyone. We were now chasing the lone rider off the front. We dropped our tag-along companion after a couple of hard tempo miles. So it was down to the three Finish Strong riders chasing the guy who had now been solo for over 50 miles. I was having a very good day. Legs were great! Lungs were great! Everything was falling into place. It was hard, but not agony. Andrew was NOT having that kind of day. He was cramping. He didn't feel good. He even said he was having a stomach issue. Still, not only did he hang on, but he did his share of the work. And on the downhill stretch he was absolutely flying. I'm sure that is where we made up the most ground. There is no way one tired rider was going to out ride the three of us down hill. We kept hearing time gaps. At one point we heard 2:20. Then a half mile later we heard 1:10. We knew he was in trouble. We were all setting a steady, fast tempo. Parker is like a metronome up a climb. He can continuously pound out a cadence and tempo that puts most people on the rivet. We came around a corner and could see the leader. He was, predictably, crawling. We shut down the pace immediately, in no hurry to catch him. We began discussing what to do when we caught him. Andrew, being the elder statesman, made the call. We rode steady until we got about 10 meters behind him, then attacked together. Miraculously he was able to get back on. He was was not happy to see us. So Andrew and I got behind him and Parker was riding beside him. And this is where the race was won. Nine miles from the top, I won the race because of where I was on the road. Parker was beside him, so too obvious. Andrew was on the inside behind Parker and to my right, so boxed in. I was behind the leader and on the left, so in the best position. Andrew looked at me and gestured with his hand to go now. So, go I went. I attacked as hard as I could, hoping to discourage any pursuit. I hit it hard for about 30 seconds and looked back. I was gone! Andrew and Parker were still sitting behind the other guy going nowhere.
From there on I just put my head down and rode a hard, steady pace. Behind, Andrew gave me a long leash before he attacked. He got away and got a pretty big gap, then it was Parker's turn. One by one we rode away from the former leader and into the top three spots. I crossed the line first.
Andrew and Parker came in 2nd and 3rd together. In the end, there was no way one could beat three. Our team was too strong and worked too well together.
In the women's division, Debbie Milne was leading until she got into the park. The sudden drop in temperature at the top wreaked havoc on her body and she was overcome by shivering and cramps. She even had to stop and get off of her bike to subdue the cramps. She watched the 2nd place female ride by into the lead. She was eventually able to get back on and finish 2nd.
Not bad for stopping on the side of the road.
In the end, we brought four riders and didn't have a finisher worse than third in their division. It was a good day for TeamFS.org