March 04, 2020 - I came. I lined up. Ready for some casual semi race not super competitive fun. Then Peter Stetina slots in next to me ??
So here I am. 48 years old retired elite track/Crit cyclist ready to get his feet wet in this gravel thang. My first impression is there is a very diverse crowd. Both in age and apparent ability/experience. Next there was a lot of bike here. I am a man of humble origins so I’m on a bone stock Cannondale alloy Topstone 105. There are a lot of flagship bikes out here sub 17lbs. Although these days I have my 225 lbs track kilo frame down to a fighting weight of 210lbs. With my Topstone coming in around 26lbs that means I’m hauling probably 240lbs on a course that has 1300ft of climbing per hr. 65 miles of 5k and some change. With Stetina and many other Uber Pros in the field I felt brilliant not signing up for the pro field instead opting for the age bracket. The race went off.
As expected the start was a ball of fire. Being my first gravel race I started in the back third. This was intentional but 1000% a mistake. From the gun everyone was full gas. There was a field for about 2 miles and then bodies started coming back. I skillfully found wheels moving up and followed. Shot thru gaps and picked my way forward in the most energy conserving manner I could. At mile 4 I found myself in a small group bridging to the second lead group in the field. I didn’t see the pro group but knew they were up the road. The only thing I memorized of the course was that at mile 6 we turned right and it was a gradual climb leading to the main 4 mile 10-20% climb of the day. So I knew we had to bridge soon. I took the front and helped the group catch the second group right before the right turn. I slotttd back in and started to conserve for the climb. I just spent the majority of 6 miles at above 300w. I need those watts for the climb. The road after the turn was a rolling, pothole, lunar surface. At speed my bike felt like I was driving a monster truck in a monster jam. I didn’t know how some folks on 28c tires were handling this. I was on 32 FAT roubaix pros that measure more like 35’s. We hit the climb and RUH ROH ELROY we have problem! I lost shifting!! Something happened to the bike. It was perfect and now I have no ability to shift into a smaller gear. I jumped off and barrel adjusted. Jumped back on. Still not working! I peddled a mile. Jumped off! Tried other remedies. Got passed by several riders. Jumped back on. Still not working! Peddled and passed those riders. Frustrated I jumped off again! Passed by same riders. Jumped back on passed same riders. (Mind you starting on a 10-20% grade is like heavy squatting.). This process repeated itself several times until the top of the climb. At the top was a neutral support mechanic who discovered the bumps had loosened the thru axle and the wheel was completely loose inside the frame. (Guess I shouid have checked that thru axle big dummy ??.) The good news is I CAN SHIFT!!!! The rest of the race was rather uneventful as this mechanical incident cost me A LOT of time. Rather than dwell I dropped the hammer the next 50miles to the end. I kept bridging into groups to rest. Leap frogging the best I could. I finally settled into a group holding good pace. This group kept losing riders until it was me and 2 others. On the final climb I left my 2 companions to pace hard to the finish. It was a hard day for a very mediocre result. On the 65mile course I was 5th in my age group and 24/100 overall. I was bleeding time out there from the start. I am already looking forward to taking the knowledge I gained from today and applying it to the next race. Lighter more responsive FLO wheels will gain me precious time as well as starting at the front and being more pack aggressive from the gun. 3 days later I am 90% recovered from the effort. See you after the next race.