Sunday I took part in the American Gothic Gravel Race, a gravel metric out of Marion, IA. I was originally planning on taking the Pugs for this one, but after a short test ride on Saturday I decided to stick with with the single speed for this one. In the end I'm glad I did, since for the first time this year I actually ended up racing a race instead of just riding it. More on that later.
I learned about this race from one of the guys who did my ride a couple weeks ago and figured I couldn't pass up a gravel metric that was only 20 miles from my front door. I passed the word to a couple friends of mine who have been looking to get into racing. Ultimately one of them (Mel) was able to make the start and slightly after noon we rolled out of the parking lot with about 15-20 other racers. Since I was single speeding it I took my usual starting position of near the back and rolled out at a controlled tempo while I watched Mel shoot on ahead. I hung out doing my thing for a bit until catching up to her and another woman shortly before we hit the first "B road" of the day. Ok, less "B road" and more "trespassing", four of use hit the chained gate across the road. I held the gates to keep them from swinging around while the others tosses their bikes over and started climbing. I came over last and jumped on my ride for some overgrown and rutted goodness. Pretty soon I had jumped in front of the others and was making up ground when I heard one of my bottles drop. Not wanting to lose a bottle this early (especially my DK bottle), I stopped and went back to grab it. Unfortunately, it wasn't just my bottle that I lost. Half my seat mounted cage went with it. Luckily I had a spare bottle cage open on my frame so I stuck the bottle there and threw the remainder of the busted cage in my jersey pocket. I had to stop at the end of the road to readjust the remaining seat cage and take a nature break, allowing Mel and the others to get back in front of me. Everything in place, I took off to catch back up.
A couple miles later and I had rejoined with Mel. The wind had really started picking up and I could tell she was suffering, so I told her to jump in my draft. There were a couple riders ahead of us and I told her if we could catch up to them we'd have a better draft. She soldiered on and we were finally able to latch on to them in a cross wind. By the time we hit 7 Hills Road, we were five or six strong and rolling well.
Unfortunately that didn't last. At the end of that section of hills most of our group was up ahead of us and Mel was ready to drop out. I tried talking her into continuing to the next town 10 miles down the road, and she gave a good effort, but in the end she decided to call it a day about half way through the race. I tried once again to talk her into continuing on, but her mind was made up and she sent me ahead to join up with the others. I shot off to catch up to them.
By the time I latched back on, the group was six or seven strong and I was feeling good. Riding the first half of the race at a conservative pace left me with a lot in the tank, so when I found myself in no-man's land between the group and a lone rider, I knew who I wanted to be riding with. I caught up to him and we struck up some friendly banter as a herd of cattle ran along the fence next to us. For the next 20 miles we rode together, pushing each other and playing cat and mouse with a third rider. On we went, until we found ourselves back at the gated B (C?) road. We walked the first bit of sandiness and hopped back on our steeds. I rolled out first and almost immediately found myself in a rhythm that was so close to that feeling you get on flowy singletrack that I lost myself in a zenlike trance as I tore through the grass, dirt and sand. At the end of the road, I looked back to see where my riding buddy was at. I was all alone. I saw another rider about a half mile or so up the road and made up my mind. I had six miles left to catch him.
Head down, hammer on. Creeping closer ever so slowly I pushed myself to the verge of cramping. My stomach was growling from lack of food, but I knew I had enough in the reserve tank to make it to the end. I took a few healthy chugs from the water bottle. Head down, hammer on. We turned into the wind. I figured this was where I had to catch him. In a couple miles the road was going to turn south and hit pavement and at that point I figured I'd have no chance given my choice of gearing. Head down, hammer on. I watched him cross HWY 13, just ahead of me. I timed the traffic and shot through the gap that presented itself. We were almost to the turn. I wasn't going to catch him before the pavement. Damn! Head down, hammer on. I made the turn and hit the pavement. I was within 200 yards now, and about a mile and a half remained before the finish. Shoulders rocking, I humped it past a bystander. He said something to me, but I didn't catch it. I smiled and waved. Head down, hammer on. Almost there. Two chunks of road construction stood between us and the finish. One of them required a dismount. I was almost on him. Head down, hammer on. We hit the first chunk of construction together. I had caught him with less than 1/2 mile left! We exchanged pleasantries and he commented about running the last 50 miles alone. Sorry, can't stay and chat. We hit the second section of construction. I dismounted and did my best cyclocross impression. Back on the bike. Head down, hammer on. As I pulled around the last turn back into the parking lot, I snuck a glance back. He didn't chase. I had pulled it out in the last 1/4 mile. I logged my time, checked my placing and I was done. 8th place, if I remember correctly. It felt great to really push my limits.
Later on I apologized to the guy I passed at the end. To some that would have been a dick move when you're not fighting for the win, but I had the fire in my belly and a goal in my head. I hung out for a bit chatting with the other racers, reliving the day and talking about future races before finally taking off. Good day, great race.
Thanks to Charles for telling me about the race, the organizers for putting it on, Matt Maxwell for some Arrowhead gear advice, my second half riding buddy (sorry, forgot your name), and the guy I passed at the end for being cool about it. Also, even though she pulled the plug half way through I still think Mel did a good job for her first race ever. That's it for now.
- Lord Nibbles ;-)