|Team Speedy Chubs before the race. Stolen from Kendal and Juho|
First, let me say that this was one of the best organized races I've ever attended. The roads were well marked and there were people at every intersection helping you find your way. The start was easy to find and the waves were perfectly timed so there weren't overly large clusters of racers. They paid the county to condition the roads. Every detail was thought of. They even had childcare set up - unheard of!
Despite all this wonderful planning and coordination Mother Nature had created a crazy set of road conditions that XXC Magazine described best as being ". . . varied from rutted, pock marked, ass puckering sheets of ice and snow to clear pavement to hard packed, frozen solid stretches of dirt road".
As I set off on my journey, with my single goal of staying vertical, I was very relieved to see that the conditions were different from our pre-ride. The mud was minimal, but the ice and snow were prevalent. Around the 5th mile I attempted to shift gears and instead heard an icy ripping sound. My rear derailleur cable tore into two, sending my derailleur to the smallest (hardest) gear in the back. I stopped and fussed with it for a few minutes. Nothing was going to fix it. I was looking at 30 more miles and over 2,000 more feet of climbing on icy gravel. In my hardest gear. I sent a text to our crew chief, Kendal, that I may need to get picked up but that I'd see how far I could get first. My coach has been getting me ready for Michigan Mountain Mayhem, so I've been doing a good amount of leg strength training. I changed my mindset from this being a race to it being a training opportunity. I would now see how far I could make it before my legs completely gave out.
This set of circumstances made for some ridiculous situations, where even on the smallest of hills, I would be out of my saddle grinding away like my life depended on it, and someone would breeze by me seated with a cadence around 100 rpm. I'm certain many people passed me shaking their heads thinking, "why doesn't that lunatic just shift down a few gears"?
|For added hilarity, compare my face with those behind me. |
Photo by Julie McGraw Photography
There were times when I looked for a main road to pull off to in order to call the crew chief and arrange a pick up. But each time I'd find one I'd think, "well, let's just see if I can make it a little longer". Along the way I witnessed several people go down hard, one person being escorted to an ambulance, and as I crested a particularly tough hill I saw a poor racer having CPR administered (we've since heard that he's doing well in hospital). With about 4 more miles to go I saw a woman at the side of the road looking very frustrated at her bike. As is my custom, I asked her if she had everything she needed as I approached. Usually this question is answered with a thumbs up, or some sort of variant on "all good", but every once in a while someone needs a tire lever or air can. She didn't respond verbally but I could see in her face that she was in mechanical trouble and needed help. I stopped and did what I could to mend a bent front derailleur and chain link (this race had a way of destroying gear in very creative ways). We did our best with the tools we had and I hope she was able to make it to the finish line.
In the end the whole team made it through with only one DNF, due to a mechanical. And only two of our members crashed (they seem to be ok now). Our team placed 33rd out of 37, which is pretty good when you consider the number of professional and pro-am teams who participated combined with the level of preparation we had.
Would I do the race again? I don't think I would, but that has more to do with my relationship to the dirt road race format than anything else (which I'll write about soon). Would I recommend it to others? It depends. It was, as I stated earlier, a very well organized race. I would recommend it to those who have plenty of dirt road experience and probably a good amount of mountain biking too.