Since the beginning, when Luke (Instagram @lukedoesnotusethisapp) introduced me to the willful and wild world of gravel, we have been riding to and from races. This may seem dumb. That's because it is. However, longer events spanning 130 to 200 miles are what we are gunning for. We ride to and from the races that are under 100 miles, making the day 120 to 150 miles with some wicked speed in the middle.
Cue the pain and suffering track.
This day was no different. Luke and I slumped out of bed at too-effing-early o'clock, shoved pre-race-energies down the gullet, and commenced with the coffee body shots. Morning routine out of the way, we set off on the 30-mile gravel ride to the race. A heavy fog greeted us as we set out. Pine flavored fog... as it turns out, the Houston fire department was setting the forest ablaze in an attempt to prevent forest fires and the smoke straddled our path. We are nothing if not willful and we pressed on through the smoke. It was at this point Luke mentioned he woke up not feeling well. I am truly blessed to have an adventure buddy who will get out of bed early, when feeling sick, for a 30-mile ride to a race just so I would not have to go it alone. Thank you mate <3 The smoke cleared after what seemed like 400 miles and we set our hearts upon the start line with furious haste.
We made it just in time. A pressure-wash pee and top-off later we waited at the line, Gary announcing the terms of engagement, racers twitching, and tension wafting on the breeze. An electric phat bike led the procession down the starting straight. My plan, and the 30 extra miles on my legs made this easy to execute, was to finish with nothing left in the tank and with a smile on my face. Hopefully I would get learnt a thing or two on the way. Vite brought a squadron of hitters I have battled before including Bean, Chase, and Craig. All formidable as individuals and even scarier as a team. Cantu brought only one major player, but he was worth a team. Collin.
I had premonitions telling me the attack that would stick would be made on the back side of the course on a two-tiered climb lasting 2 painful minutes.
On the first lap here I started up the climb in pole position, putting in a good tempo. An attack by Chase, who weighs all of 6 pounds, slapped past me like I was camping on the roadside. Collin followed and I was heavy on their heels, with a Bicycle Heaven racer bringing up the rear. The pace was blistering for my out-of-shape legs, and when Chase really turned on the power over the second, steeper, tier he put a few seconds into me. I stayed on the gas over the top and used my weight to reel him back in on the descent, but it cost me dearly. The 4 of us traded turns and kept the pace hot, attempting to solidify our gap on the rest of the field.
Lesson #1: I have learned this many times, but let us have one more lesson. If you are bleeding from the eyes: take a turn out, pedal through soft, or take a short turn. DO NOT pull in zone 4/5.
This lesson turned into corporal punishment when Collin casually placed the pace at 600 watts up the next climb. I could only take around 30 seconds of this before catastrophically exploding, taking myself and the rest of the break off his wheel. He glanced back at us over the top, surprised to see us detached, and kept hammering away. Chase seemed to be the only one feeling remotely okay. The group picked up the pieces and continued its headlong rush to Collin. The hunger of the peloton is a powerful force, and with time its maw consumed Collins lead. Gary is a beautiful, yet cruel, man and the course bolted once again up the two-stage climb. This would be it.
Lesson #2: Hold on. Do not lose the wheel. You do not have to make it pretty, just make it.
I do not remember who attacked, but I do remember pain. Lots of it. Once again, over the peak, Chase put in a large dig and, once again, he lost me. It took turning my brain off, and just gunning it until I was back on, to stick the break. This left me dismembered, legs falling off, drool seeping from my gaping mouth. I was broken. Employing lesson #1 kept me alive, if only by way of life support. Chase and Collin seemed comfortable but weary of one another. The other gentleman and I in the break were definitely the weak links, and it would not be long before we broke. Honest to God, I cannot remember who it was, my brain did not have the oxygen to process the information. Over a climb, Collin launched an attack. We all tried but Chase was the only one able to stick it. The fruitlessness of a chase was evident, but to hell with giving up. I came to this race to cross the line and fall off my bike. After two pulls, my compadre was officially deep fried and set up the BBQ behind me, waiting for the finish line to loom into view. I got out the heavy machinery and dug, and kept digging, trying to find China on the other side. At some point I rode the other man off my wheel. I stole a glance behind me. There was a chase.
I searched for something more. More power, more oxygen, more anything. There was nothing but more pain.
Abruptly the pavement was beneath me. One mile to go. Simultaneously the chase caught, but only two had made the jump. The cat and mouse for third began. A sprinter always has another 10 seconds in the legs, so I waited. And waited, and waited. A look back showed no one in sight, we had time. Swerving, fakes, and gentle pulling slowly ate up the last mile. 500 yards to freedom. A figure in black and blue flashed by on the left of the group. We had delayed much too long. Brian Barrow was here to trash the China shop. Thank Cthulhu that Brian was on a single speed, or we would not have stood Epstein's chance in a holding cell. We scrambled to get onto his wheel, letting him steamroll us to the line. A Shama rider went early, I jumped hard and sucked a draft. He coasted and gently swayed in the wake of Brian who had kept the throttle to the floor. Slotting in behind him was the move, so that is what I did. When the timing seemed right, I sent a letter to hell to be on the lookout for my impending arrival. I crossed the line first out of the bunch and third on the day.
Race Ready Repair had a cornucopia of prizes, even an entire Salsa Journeyman. Mandi and Gary put on an incredible event and run a sweet shop. I highly recommend stopping by in Conroe, TX to see what a credit they do to bike shops. I cannot wait for this event again next year.
We had beer, told war stories, and eventually Brian and I began our roll back to the AirBNB. Our route took us through more forest gravel but eventually we ran into a roadblock. "Road Closed by Order of the Fire Marshall". They were burning again. A detour would have taken us another 50 miles out of the way... not happening. Words will not do it justice so I will just drop some pictures here.
When you are competing regularly, it can be difficult to separate yourself from the win-or-hate-yourself state of mind. But why do we race? Is it to pit ourselves, gladiator style, against others in a test of strength and skill? Yes, of course. But it is also so that we can learn to race smarter, stronger, and faster. Each race, win or not, is a chance to push yourself past where you thought possible, make mistakes, take risks, and have a blast going fast. The choice to ride to and from the race ended up being the only thing that got me in shape for Mid-South, as I had been battling injury for a few months.
Equipment is paramount and is such a huge part of the going fast and having fun. The 38mm Teravail Cannonball was the perfect tire choice for this course. My Jakroo Echelon kit kept me cool, comfy, and aero over 120 miles. The Smith Ruckus kept my eyes smoke-free and the Ignite helmet kept me in the break longer. The i9 UL-235 wheels held up, as always. These suckers just keep taking beatings. As usual, the Cosmic Stallion was right at home.
I cannot wait for the next one! I finished first last year and third this year... think I can pull second next year?