Mask or not, there’s no hiding superhero singlespeeder Marco Soldano’s strength as he spreads his wings.
Keep Up With Batman
We picked our buddy up, uncramped now after pounding bottles of electrolytes and getting in plenty of calories, I ate another rice cake. I reloaded my Bento box with peanut butter pretzels.
It was then that the legendary Marco Soldano, his efforts on this day notable because he charged forward relentlessly on an On-One monster cross singlespeed rig and because he wore his signature Batman cape and eye mask. Even a lack of his power food of choice, bananas, at this aid station would not stop him from his furious gallop.
While the #RAWSTEELTHUGS re-upped provisions, Marco blew past us. We headed out eating his contrail of dust and glory as we tackled another dirt road on the way out of checkpoint four, but, thankfully, not the awful mud pit we’d ridden on the way into checkpoint three. Another horror awaited our group of four as we turned onto washboard from hell, dirt and mud with ripples so tightly spaced so bad it felt like trying to hold onto a jackhammer while you balanced on a pogo stick when you hit it wrong.
Where’s the good line?
It was almost impossible not to collide with the frozen ripples of dirt at the wrong angle with the wrong speed. I floated over my saddle and loosened my grip on the bars and let the bike float as I hopscotched back and forth across the road to wherever I saw small stretches of flattened washboard and a potentially smooth path.
I’d kept up a strong cadence of eating and drinking throughout the day and remained mindful to keep consuming, no matter what terrain I found myself riding. That helped fend off bonking and I felt pretty good, even after more than a hundred miles of riding. No cramps, no stomach issues — but true to the events name, my backside was in bad shape.
I Dream of Coca Cola; I Forsake Grilled Cheese
My legs felt sore and tight everywhere, the washboard didn’t stop and I just kept pedaling as hard and smoothly as I could. Where there wasn’t washboard there was more peanut butter mud that jammed up my gears and derailleurs and sent my chain skipping up and down my cassette again like a tap dance solo. Jason’s bike had enough and his drivetrain seized, ripping his derailleur hanger off his bike and finishing his ride for the day.
Jason felt so strong he figured he’d just sheer his derailleur hanger off.
Blake and I pressed on and united with the mighty Marco to form a smoothly oiled paceline over another 10 miles of smoother dirt and asphalt drawing inspiration, all of us, from his Batman cape and eyemask. I dreamed of the Coca Cola I would drink when we reached the next rest stop every time it was my turn to eat wind. Before long we made it to the final checkpoint of the day and just ten miles left to pedal.
I ate another bacon and egg rice cake and slid another marshmallow and Cheerio treat down my jersey, drank the dream Coke and refilled my bottle, but didn’t have an entirely clear head at this point. While I dawdled, Marco made a super-efficient pitstop and absolutely hauled ass down the road, his cape dancing in the wind, a sight you’re unlikely to see at the next Tour de Cat 3 Soon to Be in the Pro Tour Currently in the Tour de World’s Most Beautiful Industrial Park.
Even Bento Boys have to take a break sometimes.
We’d now been on our bikes more than seven hours. When the aid station volunteers offered me a grilled cheese, it sounded great. When they said it would be a few minutes, I didn’t mind at all. But while I waited, a few riders who had been behind us leapfrogged ahead and took off down the next stretch — more awful washboard and mud.
Ten Miles and Running
That’s when Blake suggested I blow off the grilled cheese and we start riding again. Good idea. We took off down the road and started the routine of darting back and forth across the washboard trying to find somewhere smooth enough to not skip off the bumps with every pedal stroke. As we got closer to the riders who had passed us, Blake suggested we drill it, so I got out of the saddle and pushed it. I passed one rider, then two, then kept going. My legs were on fire, but I knew that the race would be over soon. I ate my first gel of the day and felt resuscitated, like Pac Man after downing a power pellet. The road literally went in a straight line for the last 10 miles. I didn’t think, I just pedaled.
Possibly the best sprint against no one for ninth place I have executed in my storied competitive cycling career.
Eventually I saw what looked like a few people standing in the distance. As I got closer I saw a pair of orange cones demarcating the finish and Murphy Mack standing there clapping. I did my best dog-evasion-speed sprint all the way to the line and thanked him for a great event.
My official finish time put me at eight hours and change for the day in ninth place, the ride time on the Garmin was less that that total, but I didn’t really care where I’d finished or how long it had taken to get to the end. I’d had an experience I couldn’t have anticipated in a place that sometimes smelled like cow shit, but that had a beauty of its own under clear skies with storm clouds ringing us but never advancing towards us.
From there, it was an easy four-mile spin back to the parking lot where we started. As we rolled into town past a gas station, I looked down and saw that I had one last marshmallow and Cheerio treat stuck to my base layer. I reached inside my jersey, grabbed it and chucked it at a stop sign. We rolled into the Rotary parking lot and finally got off our bikes and met up with Jason who had carried his bike over two miles of mud after breaking his derailleur and caught a ride back to the start with a volunteer.
Eight hours, 132 miles, no rain.
I grabbed my gear bag out of the car and headed inside the building to the bathroom where and I baby wiped myself off in a handicap toilet stall, washed my mud-caked arms and face in the sink, stood on a plastic bag barefoot and cleaned my feet to put on dry socks, then went inside for a gourmet catered dinner and a low-key awards ceremony. The end of the day felt like the race itself, underground, fun, mischievous, like the start of the beginning of something destined to become big, something destined to become a classic. I went to the Taint Hammer looking for an adventure, and adventure I got. Next year, I expect that word will have spread about this exceptional event and it will soon take on legendary status like the Dirty Kanza and other groundbreaking events that became classics before it.