After winning the Lost and Found Gravel Grinder singlespeed category a year ago, I decided to run the same gearing (42/17) this time around. If nothing else, it would be nice to be able to keep pace with the geared guys on the flats and stay in the draft during this 100-mile mixed-surface race.
The start line contained more big names than last year, so I was prepared for a fast pace from the gun. This wasn’t the case. Last year, once we hit the dirt in the trees leading up to the first big climb, it was on. This year, the group stayed together and the pace was composed, with guys calling out rock and water crossings for those behind. It was a relief for me… until we hit the bottom of the first climb when all the geared guys shifted down to settle into a nice pace — a pace that I felt would be too slow for me and I’d end up burning more energy over the course of the climb. So I just went off the front!
I fully expected at least a few people to go with me; someone else had to be itching to go. But nope, I looked back after a bit and didn’t see anyone. I must have gained a 20-30 second gap by the first crest. After some more rollers another solo geared rider came to join me. Saying that he just wanted a head start on the downhill because he was a pansy (his words).
I didn’t care. It was nice to have some gears do the pacing for a bit. We stayed together for a while and then I drank too much fluids when I should have eaten and so I fell off his pace a bit, and decided to cruise the flats on the top for a bit and fall back into the main group since they’d eventually catch me anyway.
Crossing the big valley (click to enlarge). Photo by cx magazine
We all hit the first aid station together and went right by. It was only mile 20. The steepest part of the climb followed, and I fell back from the leaders. But I caught a few back on the descent so I was with three others for the flat pavement transfer that followed. Spinning my legs off, well in excess of 100rpm at 27mph to stay with the group hurt so bad. And it’s really hard to reach into your back pocket and get something to eat. But generally it’s worth it to stay with a group. We hit the next climb together, but I was really in need of some time to recover at that point.
They ended up getting a gap on me, which I didn’t make up on the next descent. So I was all alone when I came to a T-intersection of a deep gravel road under construction. As I approached I was thinking that I needed to turn left there, remembering from last year, but there was a cone with a course flag in it on the right side. So I started to turn right, looking over my left shoulder down the other direction of the road for more course flags because it felt wrong.
A second later, I heard another racer turn right, too. I figured it must be right. But it was not. He went on past me and we climbed all the way up and over the next hill, in horrible deep gravel. I began to notice that I was only seeing his tire tracks in that deep gravel, and it should be fairly easy to see more. We started going down the hill and in a clear view of the road saw nobody ahead.
We stopped and agreed that we made a mistake, and started slogging back up the hill. On the way back down, we picked up four more riders who’d made the same mistake, but hadn’t gone as far. By the time we got back to the intersection, I’d covered an additional four miles, lost about 25 minutes and wasted a whole lot of energy. Mental energy, too. But when the road straightened out, I saw a group of riders that I wanted to catch up to before crossing the big open valley. So I pinned it.
I had almost caught up to that group when we made the turn onto the pavement that crosses the wide open valley and I really wanted to be with a decent sized group. I was spinning so fast, and was almost in reach when they picked up the pace. Ahhhhh!!! C’mon!!! I chased a little more but I could only hold 28mph for so long, and I watched them ride away.