Three of us set out on a damp and foggy morning with Cascade Iowa as the destination. The plan was to meet Paul Carpenter at 9:00 AM to ride the north 100 miles of the Balltown Classic race course. Bill, Paul and I had ridden the entire route many times but Jean (pronounced like John) Dragon would see the toughest part of the course for the first time. Jean's plans were to make 2012 his first attempt at the Midwest spring classic.
The gloomy mist turned into a light rain as we neared our staring point at the tiny Happy Joe's just off highway 151 on the northeast corner of the small Iowa town. The fine mist returned as we rolled out of town hoping the England like weather would break and turn into a beautiful day like the rest of the unseasonably warm spring had been.
The pace was social as we forged our way north into a slight headwind while the spray from the water soaked roads made drafting less then desirable. Shortly after the aptly named Roller Coaster Road the pavement showed some signs of drying as the mist ceased and the light fog began to break. We enjoyed so great views as we neared the bluff town of Balltown sitting at the end of Ridge Road. The long gradual climb to town provides a panoramic view of the Mississippi River valley as well as Illinois and Wisconsin. We three veterans enjoyed this forgiving approach to the hilltop turnaround and remembered years this scenic road was closed and we were forced to go in and out on the more hilly and less scenic Horseshoe Road. We also knew what was waiting on the southern trip.
I am not sure how Horseshoe road received it's name. Maybe the visual of standing many horseshoes in a row would give you a good idea of the profile. Another possibility could be the horses needed special shoes to climb the hills or stop at the bottom. Either way after 7 different times over this road going south or north I know what it means to me. We are going to descend really fast and ascend really slow on three "major" climbs before we hit Epworth. This is where the race would break into the contenders and pretenders and leave rides scattered to fend for themselves for the next 80 miles to the finish line. Luckily we were only riding 100 today not 200.
The three long, steep climbs were just as I remembered them. All you can do is just set a nice steady pace and grunt it out, and wish you had a bigger gear in the back. During the race this is where you decide if you want to push it to keep up with the lead group and risk blowing up and a very long ride back to Dewitt or do you climb at your pace and try to conserve as much energy as possible. On this trip I chose to let Bill and Paul go up the road and I hung back with Jean. Unlike race day I knew they would wait at the top to regroup. Afterwards I wish I had pushed it a little harder on at least one of the hills.
Epworth was the planned stop for the day at the 57 mile mark. Jean's wife is from Epworth so he knew where the BP store, just two blocks off the route, was located. A quick in and out and we were on our way south with the hills and the wind behind us. At this point you can breath a little sigh of relief knowing the big climbs are over but the problem is you still have 75 miles of riding. On this ride we only had 43 so it did seem like the end was near.
The thankful light breezes pushed us along at a nice pace over the next 25 miles to our turnaround at the race 50/150 mile sag stop location. The only break was a quick flat tire change by me just before the turnaround. Bill was not too happy to learn that we had to turn around and head back into the wind for the rest of the ride to Cascade. He mentioned something about finding a stick.
We plodded north, rotating regularly, over the undulating terrain counting down the last miles. Our trip was interrupted again by a mechanical problem with 15 miles remaining. This time it was a little more serious then a flat tire. As Bill rotated behind me and in front of Paul his rear skewer brushed Paul's front wheel and bent a spoke causing the wheel to have a significant wobble. Paul was able to stay upright but the wheel was gently rubbing on the fork. Luckily I had a multi-tool with a spoke wrench and was able to take some of the wobble out so we could continue.
We finally rolled onto Cascade 6 hours after departing. Once the roads dried the weather was fabulous for riding with the temperatures staying consistently in the low to mid 60 the entire ride. It was a great training ride that provided Bill, Paul and I a reminder of just how tough this hilly course can be. For Jean it was an eye opener. He later said that words cannot describe the course even though I had tried several times since he had mentioned the race would be fun.
I look forward to the challenge that competing on this course always brings. There will be some very talented riders and I hope to hang with them as long as possible. Whether solo of with a group this is one of my favorite ultra-distant rides in area.