I hesitate to tell the whole, ugly truth about what went on during the 2012 Ragnarok. I'm speaking of myself only when I say that. There were moments out there that I don't want to think about any more, but I would be remiss if I didn't say there were a few I was proud of. It was the first race of the year and I feel the story must be told. Not much for race re-caps I'll spare you, dear reader, the sickening details of how "I went up that hill, then I went down that hill, I was going really fast, then I wasn't". Really, in some ways racing is always the same. A guy or girl just pushes that bike as hard as the body will allow, it's not much more complicated that that. Throughout this year's RAG I rode with a slew of talented riders. Some of these riders I would form a racing kinship with designed to eek out more speed as we worked together the best we could. I appreciated their "eye on the prize" attitude, as it really helped me. At the time of this writing I cannot remember their names and in some cases I never knew them, for that I apologize. Here comes my report:
In the olden days (3 years ago) gravel races would start with a neutral roll out and it would pretty much stay neutral until everyone was done asking about babies, families, what type of grass fertilizer each other uses, etc. Those days are gone forever! I lined up with an old friend that I hadn't seen in some time, Ray Coyle. Ray and I used to race against each other back in the day, yo. Ray always beat me in the comp class mountain bike races of the Minnesota Series, but I was determined to keep chasing him. I admired his class, his skill, and most of all his killer instinct. In those early days I wanted to some day be able to ride a bike like Ray. My old friend spends most of his racing time on a road bike these days so I was excited to see him taking a shot at the gravel. I tried to fill him in on what I knew about the course, the climbs to watch for, and generally how I thought things would play out.
The first 10 miles seemed unusually quiet, with little "How ya been?" stuff going on. It was all very business like and was it just me or are we riding pretty hard already? Perennial fast guy, Charly Tri made a comment to me about the pace being ramped up already. This confirmed for me that I was right, we were haulin'. Soon, Ray questioned me about the pace, wondering if this was normal. "Seems a little fast to me", was my reply. Then it happened. Shortly after bombing down a huge descent at about 35 mph the group notices one Drew Wilson who had been off the front about 300 meters solo, apparently getting some thinking done or something, coming back toward us. I could almost hear the collective thump of 15 guys' hearts dropping to the gravel. A wrong turn! Like lemmings we trusted and followed him right off the cliff. And, we had to go back up that hill! Anger coursed through my veins, "Why weren't you checking the cues?!", I screamed internally at myself. Then, my response would be, "Because, I've been holding on for dear life, I couldn't have been checking the cues if I'd wanted to."
The group did a 180 and started back up the monstrosity of a hill, only now it was "FULL GAS"! The sharp end of the lead group was made up of the likes of professional mt. bikers and cat 1 roadies and they were riding angry. Then, there's little ole me trying to keep up. It wouldn't last long before I would be shelled out the back like yesterday's trash. 20 miles into a 107 mile race, wait...113 mile race, we were off course for 6 miles...and my fuel tank went from F to a quarter tank from pushing the gas pedal through the floor boards early on. Not good! I watch 7 strong men, my good friend Joe Meiser included, walk away from me up a climb and there wasn't a thing I could do about it. It was like watching the Titanic going down and I was treading water. How long before I'd succumb to the cold? Where were the life boats?
"Hey buddy", came the call from behind. It was my good friend Ryan Horkey and Ray Coyle was with him. It was the "life boat" and they were throwing me a rope. Instantly, I sat up and let them come to me. I was elated, I wasn't alone, and they seemed to be handling the "cast off" from the lead group well, I'd try to do the same and stop beating myself up about it.
The three of us were well matched with similar, and complimentary skill sets. Ryan can just simply knock out steady hard miles, rarely wavering on his output. He's also mentally tough and keeps his head in the game at all times. If you stay with Ryan you're going to get a good finish, that's just the way it goes. And, Ray...wow, the memories came rushing back to me. His competitive drive is unmatched. I marveled at his ability to tap deep reserves over and over, whenever he needed them. I mean we were all hearing the deafening sound of metal hitting rock as our shovels hit bedrock with each effort to go a little deeper, but Ray just kept hacking away. I look up to these two guys and I was happy to be in their boat.
We picked up riders we didn't know from time to time and it seemed that eventually they would just go missing as they released themselves into the deeps. Soon, another would take his place. I wondered if we were limiting our conversation with them, almost as if we didn't want to get to know them, for worry that we might never see them again anyway. Ryan and Ray kept their eyes forward, looking for the next target and I did my best to hold on.
The targets always seemed to be 'roadies'. There were a lot of them and they're fast! A few in particular were tough, nasty little riders, who never let off, and seemed to enjoy quick nonsensical surges that only seemed to hurt all of us. This resulted in closing little gaps over and over and over, which screams PAIN!
I sensed my partners wavering a bit as the miles wore on. I too was hitting my low points, but I was determined to stave off the negative thoughts in my head. A large gap had formed between two fast guys (who's names escape me), Horkey, Coyle, and myself. I checked the state of my friends and the looks on their faces told me I had a decision to make, stay with them in the comfort of the life boat or jump over board and swim for it. "It's now or never Eki". Without even a "thank you" I jumped in the icy water and chose competition. I embarked on a solo mission to close down the gap in high winds with a never ending stretch of gravel between me and them. I could see one of the two riders ahead checking on my progress from time to time. I tried to will them to slow down, but they didn't want to be caught. Later this rider would tell me that he was asking himself, "How is he doing that?" as I fought the good fight, alone. Eventually, I latched on like the runt hoping to belong to the family. I never really fit in, so I stayed on the back telling myself that if I can just hold on, it will be an accomplishment.
My legs no longer belonged to my body as I inched my way up the final climbs of the RAG. The competitive Tim was now dead and the "you can do it" Tim lived on as I focused on just getting through to the end. Finally, the last climb to the finish. All I had to do was turn over the pedals a couple hundred more times and it would all be over. The lead group was probably showered and enjoying a nice beer buzz at this point, while I still battled demons from deep within.
I crossed the line and made eye contact with one of the best race directors in the business, I muttered out, "What place am I?" "8th, Good job, Tim!", was the reply that came in a surreal echo type voice. My mind tried to make sense of it all. "How could that be? 8th? Did he say 18th?" No, it was true...8th. I did it! Somehow I slipped into the top 10, as if I snuck into a secret club. I'd keep my eyes down and only speak if spoken to.
|In the top 10 club.|
What a day! Thanks to Ryan Horkey and Ray Coyle for hauling me into that boat.
My Salsa La Cruz Ti was flawless as well as my tire choice...Schwalbe Supremes, fast and durable!