Robbins did mention that torturously long “bad hill” that comes 90 miles into the 100-mile ride.
“I need to talk to whoever did that,” Robbins joked to the Anniston Parks and Recreation crew at the finish line.
After pedaling around for 19 years, the “Woody” used its 20th anniversary to make a point of climbing more into view. Anniston PARD organizers and Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce officials made a promotional push to get the race more recognized in and around an area more known for the Cheaha Challenge, which usually draws 500-600 riders and celebrated its 20th run a year ago.
The push for the Woodland comes as Anniston Mayor Vaughn Stewart has made a point of maximizing the area’s natural draws for cyclists, calling Anniston “Bike City.”
Weather didn’t cooperate with promotional efforts on the Woodland’s behalf this year, forcing postponement from the original March 23 date. Because the start/finish line was moved to McClellan’s ball fields parking lot this year, the rescheduled date had to fall on Sunday to avoid conflict with Saturday’s opening-day activities for youth sports.
The 20th Woodland also wound up in competition with the Tri-States 100 in Dothan, but managed to draw 95 riders.
All things considered, “We’re happy with the turnout,” said Angie Shockley, who puts on the Woodland for Anniston PARD.
Riders completed different distances, and the untimed ride had no winners, per se. The trio of Anniston’s Dr. Tony Esposito, Gadsden’s Randy Kerr and Kerr’s friend, Kentuckian Jeff Ekoniak, were the first 100-milers to cross the finish line. Birmingham’s Barbara Gower was the first of four female century riders to finish.
Since rescheduling put the Woodland into April, sun and temperatures into the 70s just added to the challenge as riders tested the Bains Gap climb. The 2-mile climb, with grades exceeding 20 percent at points, is one of two major climbs on the course.
Oh, the Bains Gap climb also falls near the end of the course.
“You want to quit,” Kerr said. “Your legs are telling you to quit.”
Esposito said hitting the Bains Gap climb 90 miles in “hurts a lot, especially when it kicks up to about 20 percent at the end.”
He called the sensation “like searing pain you would not believe. The worst pain you could ever imagine. You just have to push through it, and you’ve got a nice downhill after that.”
Oxford’s Jamey Waugh called the climb “terrible.”
Anniston’s Quincy McDonald didn’t climb Bains Gap on Sunday but has, and his word of choice is “grueling.”
Anniston’s Joe Magouirk called the last 150 yards “vicious.”
“It just means you’re doing one-legged squats for the last 150 yards,” he said. “You’re standing up, pushing and breathing hard.”
Gower said the trick is pacing.
“Go as slow as you can without toppling over,” she said. “And don’t ever look up, because, if you look up, you’ll think, ‘I can’t do it’.”
The climb is just as challenging for riders who register for distances shorter than 100 miles. Harold Davis, an Alabama State Trooper who lives in Lincoln, signed up for 50 miles but said he still had to “dig deep” to get up Bains Gap.
“You want to get off and start walking (and pushing the bike), but you know walking is not going to help you get over faster,” he said. “You try not to cramp, basically, because, at that point, you’re giving it all you have.”
Anniston’s Kyle Mann considered signing up for 75 miles but settled for 50, partly because he wanted to save himself for Bains Gap. Once riders make it to the top, he said, the reward is “an epic downhill.”
Riders take a long, curvy, downhill run, which can get frighteningly fast. Mann and Magouirk said they used their brakes.
“Usually, I’m pretty dizzy when I come across the top of it,” Magouirk said. “There’s some guys in our group that roll off of it severe, but that’s not me.
“I’ve got a wife and kids at home. I’m not sticking myself in a guardrail.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.