|Kershaw makes final preps while Eki's gravel grinder looks on.|
Much like the closing miles of a race, the mind seems to let go allowing the body to succumb to the exhaustion and pain. My mind had let go and the fire that burned inside like a power plant was now an ember as I mentally shifted to winter riding, training, and a different look at the bike and what it can do for me. Somehow I'd have to "get up" for this one, but the sub freezing temps weren't helping the matter, neither was getting up at 4:30 a.m. Nevertheless, the DBD would be there. Kershaw picked me up, while Farrow traveled alone sorting out the details of his life (i.e. dog management).
A misfiring hub, a sore foot, and dead legs were on my mind. Not one for excuses, I shoved these issues to the back of my mind. I focused on my theory to gravel road racing and told myself that I owed it to myself to stay true to a strategy I hold fast in every event, the likes of which I cannot divulge here. Catch me in the bar and I'll tell you all about it, if you're interested.
Jim Bell, eh.... I mean Superman, exchanged pleasantries with me while we adjusted our gear. He question whether I'd be bringin' all I had in this race. I desperately tried to convey to him that I didn't want him to bring all he had, I knew it was not to be as this was his home town race. I let him know that I'd sit back if he would. He laughed and said that he doubted I'd be taking any bit of this thing easy. In my mind it felt like I was in an alley with rival gang asking them if they really wanted to fight and hearing them say "Yeah, don't you?" My only response, "Yeah, I guess so, but kind of not really, only if you want to...God, I'm going to be into it BIG TIME very shortly." Hey, racin' is racin'.
I'm going to hit the highlights of this race as the majority of it involved me riding down a gravel road and sometimes a tar road. At about the 5 mile mark Ted Loosen rode next to me and warned me of a huge sand pit that would be coming shortly. He also acknowledged my effort in this year's Heck of the North on the front of the race. He encouraged me to "sit in" on this day, I'd earned it. A classy guy, this Loosen fellow.
The sand pit came and carnage ensued. Guys were spilling all over the place. I went from 22 mph to 2 mph in about 2 seconds. Stuck in a 50 x 14 gear I couldn't shift as there was too much strain on my chain. I laughed to myself as I slowed to a track stand, just ridiculous. My good friend Ryan Horkey launched over his handle bars, another guy ate it right in front of me leaving me hoping he was o.k. It was nuts! Meanwhile, the St. Cloud boys ripped through it like they practice that section, maybe they do. Needless to say a monster gap formed and I had some work to do. Clear of the sand, I went to the drops and into the red zone. 15 minutes later and I was hooked on with the help of two others. Back in the lead group which was about 15-20 guys strong I felt comfortable, but knew there'd be more attacks, but when?
40 miles into an 85 mile road race...I mean gravel race and I noticed Jim Bell gathering his posse around him. Something was afoot. Suddenly, we hit a crazy wash board section of road. I could have sworn my bike was coming apart underneath me. Concerned that I'd lose a bottle over the rough road I kept checking and re-checking the bottle. Somehow the St. Cloud boys and a few others flew through the wash boards and a gap formed. This time they became highly organized. I could see them rotating fast and fluid about 40 meters ahead of me. I put my head down and went after them, but 10 men, some of them on carbon fiber road bikes, with road tires, and carbon wheels, all working together was tough to catch alone. Soon, I was caught by a fast moving Brandon Manske (winner of this year's Ragnarok). I jumped on his wheel and we began working well together. I felt the lead group coming back to us. Then, Brandon announced he had a flat. I was alone again. I chased as hard as I could for about 30 more minutes and counted the seconds between them and myself to see if I was gaining. 27 seconds, turned into 35, 35 turned into... It was too much for one guy. I decided I needed to sit up and ratchet things back or I'd be taking a break on the side of the road soon.
A lone rider appeared from behind and I began to think two is better than one. I held up for him and I was glad I did. He asked if I was lonely ridin' all by myself. We introduced ourselves and traveled side by side recovering from our respective chases. Matt (from St. Cloud) knew the boys up the road and he assured me they would not be caught, I agreed. I silently rooted for my buddy Ryan Horkey who did make the break. "Hang in there Ryan, you can do it!", I said to myself.
Time passed and it seemed that Matt and I were content to talk and almost forget that we were in a race until a group of riders appeared on a hill top behind us. I let my partner know that we had riders approaching. I heard them come to my wheel a few minutes later and noticed Hondo (Farrow) among them. He was driving hard and clearly still racing. Matt and I jumped on and the fire somehow was re-lit. My dead legs came back to life as I seemed inspired by this group's intensity. Jeremy Fry, a friend from Trans Iowa gave me a "Hi Eki" as he rotated through. "This is a good group", I thought as I committed to sticking with them and at times helping them. I knew I'd finish in this chasing group.
1 1/2 miles from the finish, a twitchy Jeremy Fry attacked and got a nice gap. Concerned that this gap could stick I decided to go with him. If anything I figured it would be worth it to try to put a little sting into the rest of the guys' legs. We were soon gathered by the rest and together again. We rolled through the residential streets unfamiliar with where the finish was or how it would look. I told myself that I would attack the group with 2 blocks to go, but I still needed to identify a right hand turn that was ahead somewhere. I didn't want to be at max effort and miss the turn. As I tried to work it all out in my head one of our crew announced that the turn was right there. "Shit!", I wasn't ready for it that quickly. Another in our group had the inside line on the turn and he jumped it quickly. I responded going around a few others giving chase. Surprise, the closing 500 feet were up a steep hill and definitely had me stuck in too hard of a gear. Unable to turn the cranks over at the rate they needed to be I could not overtake him, finishing a bike length behind, 2nd in our group.
As it turns out Ryan who I was pulling for earlier was popped off the front group not long after I initially lost contact. He was forced to ride alone for some 35 miles to the finish, but did not allow himself to be caught, finishing about a minute ahead of my group in 10th place! I came in 12th position, in 4:33, which is clippin' along pretty good for a gravel race. I'll take it!
I'm glad to start the season of rest, fun riding with no immediate goals, then training for big things next season.