Southern Cross Gravel Race Q&A
In the lead up to the Southern Cross Gravel Race, I had no clue what to expect AND I didn’t know the right questions to ask prior to the race. Post-race wisdom left me with a little more wisdom but a lot more questions. So, I thought this would be a great opportunity to tap into the wisdom of our fabulous Sorellas!
I had no idea who (outside of Sorella) would be doing this race until the day. The participants ran the gamut from beginners to pros like Lauren De Crescenzo to riders that occasionally had to get off and walk. Bikes varied from gravel bikes with thin tires to full suspension mountain bikes. I asked the Sorellas that raced Southern Cross for their advice post-race. Here's what they had to say:
What was your goal when you signed up for Southern Cross vs your outcome?
Ride under 5 hours based on training speeds.
Clocked in at 4 hours and 17 minutes
Support my God daughter (Reese Murphy) in her first junior mountain bike race and to finish in under 5 hours.
2nd place in age group; 3 hours and 46 minutes
Initially…Get up the beast climb everyone talked about called Winding Stair. Race day, after having ridden some of the course in training, my goal was still to get up Winding Stair!
7th place in age group
Survive and not hate biking by the end of the ride. I hadn’t been training for long endurance rides and absolutely suffer on climbs.
5 hours and 38 minutes (part of that time was tending to a team mate that crashed)
Finish under 4 and a half hours and practice a quick rest stop.
Squeaked in just under 4 and a half hours & managed to get in and out of the rest stop in just a couple of minutes (despite not really being able to walk properly at that point in the race as I went for a single stop race even though there were two).
Don’t be last and don’t get lost!
Successful! 4 hours 57 minutes
1. What is your number one strategy for a long hill climb?
Diane: Pace myself to climb at the very top of threshold and almost to the red light for my heart rate. I did get caught behind a convoy of cars blocking riders on winding stairs which was frustrating and a huge distraction. Once I got past that I was back into time trial mode.
JulieGaz: I actually love long hill climbs (a bit sick) - but I really focus on just getting in a groove and keeping a steady pace - I sort of get in a Zen state when doing long climbs. I often pick out small objects ahead of me to keep me going (like a tree branch, flowers, etc.)
Karen: Relax, breathe, slow cadence (as much as I can), don’t panic, and get into a good rhythm with steady sustainable power.
Kathleen: I like to pick a spot about 10 yards ahead and say to myself “can I make it there?”. Then, when I reach that spot, I silently tell myself “Yay! You did it!”. Then I repeat over and over.
Saskia: Find a good gear and settle in. At the start make sure you’re going at a pace that feels a little easy, it will start to feel much harder when you’re 30-40-50 minutes in!
2. Is there a magic gear choice depending on grade?
Diane: Magic gear choice is determined by heart rate. A power meter might have helped me more. Your legs always lie to you. The heart rate monitor is a bit more truthful.
JulieGaz: No magic gear - just being aware of not mashing too hard of a gear and trying to spin/keeping a good cadence
Karen: No magic gear but I am personally comfortable in a certain cadence range so I naturally change gears to be in that range without really thinking about it.
Saskia: Gear choice is generally a matter of preference - however, spinning is usually winning. You’ll usually be spinning slower than usual since you’re climbing but try to avoid grinding too much unless you don’t have the gears. Spinning faster uses more cardio vs muscular strength and your cardio system recovers a lot quicker!
3. What is your tire situation? Width? Pressure?
Diane: I raced on a Mtn Bike which has its pluses and minuses. It's a 29r with two-inch-wide tires. It's a heavy bike for climbing but crazy fast on the rollers and descents. I may get some skinner tires for gravel but haven't made up my mind. I really love this bike setup on flowy Mtn Bike trails. My Mtn Bike tires were 14 psi in front and 16 in rear"
JulieGaz: Being new to gravel, I have had to really push myself to let air out, I used to ride with 40-50psi but for Southern cross deflated to about 30psi which I will admit -made a difference!
Karen: Rene Herse 42s @ about 30psi
Saskia: I have recently moved to a 42mm Rene Herse tire and it is really nice. Fast on roads, however, has knobbies that grip the loose stuff and clears mud like a champ. I’m a more athletic build so heavier than all the climbers and ride a nice cushy 28-30psi.
4. What was your nutrition on the day?
Diane: Nutrition...lol...well I drank Infinit Nutrition go far vegan from a bike bottle, had regular water in my camelback and ate gummy bears that were in my rear pocket for a continuous sugar high.
JulieGaz: I had a HUGE bowl of oatmeal with chopped up apples, cinnamon and Greek yogurt all mixed together in the car on the way to the start (about an hour before the race started). During the race I ate a package of cliff shots (spread out throughout the race) one gel and 2 pieces of a type of naan bread that I tore pieces off - only drank 2 bottles (which was not enough). Ate a lot when I finished!
Katie: I did Skratch in my hydration pack, dried mangos (yum) and some baked sweet potato cubes to break up the sweet. My favorite treat was the Coca-Cola at the top of the second climb. It’s definitely a pick me up and you should definitely be alert for that big descent!
Saskia: I’m a HUGE fan of liquid nutrition (#infinitnutrition), I had two bottles of that (one was Speed for women, and the other was Go Far vegan - dairy intolerance) and I supplemented with a 100-calorie gel/bar every 45 minutes or so.
Kathleen: I have celiac disease which means no gluten (wheat / barley / rhye & in some cases oats) so I typically bring all nutrition with me. I used Infinit Nutrition in a my camelback and did not carry another water bottle. I had 2 bars with me (Banana Vital) along with 2 packs of Skratch energy chew.
5. Any other obstacles / tips you can share?
Diane: Obstacles...myself. I figured I won't be competitive, so I started near the rear. I lost time just crossing the start line...Of course, the car caravan on winding stairs was an issue especially with all the dust they kicked up which really impacted my breathing on a long hard climb. Once I got past these, I really was able to get into the zone. One important, tip was one I received from a friend who has raced it multiple times. He said to ride hard on the asphalt section and try to draft on the wheel of a fast rider. I did just that. I rode behind Saskia on that section as she kept passing folks. She is such a strong aggressive racer. Doing that probably made up for starting from the back
JulieGaz: Tips -just have fun -- I really focused on pushing myself as much as I could - I was very comfortable with the distance and was trying hard to push myself so I would not have ANYTHING left at the end and feeling like I gave it my best attempt. I typically ride events with trying to save some reserve (important for long endurance rides) - but wanted to see what I could do if I really went for it -- was truly racing against myself and just excited to be out there!
Karen: Obstacles…Flat tire!!! Don’t panic and be prepared. I did neither! For a couple minutes I just stood there looking at my tire wondering what I was going to do. Thought for sure my day was over. Several people rolled by asking if I needed help, I said no, I didn’t want anyone stopping for me. Finally common sense kicked in, I realized I’d seen a tire getting plugged, knew I had plugs, so decided to give it a try. What did I stand to lose? Worked like a charm! Added some air and off I went. Had I been more prepared I’d have spent half the time fixing it.
Saskia: Southern Cross was HARD. Like, seriously hard and it kicked my behind. Despite having ridden most of the course on a training ride, it was totally different doing it under race conditions (particularly pace). The climbs seemed longer than I remembered and just so much jelly legs. A wise person once told me ‘embrace the suck’, it will get better. And just make sure you keep on the calories and hydration, you’re asking your body to do a lot, keep fueled!
Kathleen: I struggle with asthma, so I had an albuterol inhaler with me. I also had a few curious bystanders question whether or not I had asthma as I was laboring up the Southern Cross climb. One guy said he used to sound exactly like me and suggested Woodstock Chiropractor. I haven’t looked into it yet, but definitely will!
I can’t wait to put some of these tips to good use! I will definitely feel more comfortable when this race comes around next year.