I tried to keep it short... First I’ll thank Corey "Cornbread" Godfrey for conducting a flawlessly executed event and all his sponsors who helped make it FREE! The Pirate Cycling League, Jay Thomas and the Trek Stores of Omaha, Kansas City, & St. Louis, Cycle Works, Moose's Tooth, Screen Ink, Icon Graphics, Scott Showen and TMCO, Chad Hawthorne and Budweiser/Monster, Oso Burrito, Yia Yia's, The Skateboard Mag, the Colesburg 40 Race, the Rinkordt Family, the Schmidt Family, the Stamper Family and all the many volunteers who spent their day in 97 degree heat helping make this event.
My trip up to the heartland was short and sweet spent the night at a little bed and breakfast about 2 miles from the start line (but still managed to get lost in the dark and spend 20 minutes trying to find the start line). Here’s a shout out to the fine folks at the Prairie Creek Inn B&B that put me up for the “short” night, fead me breakfast and provided me a place to wrench on my bike.
My only strategy for the race was to “no matter what” stay with the lead group until mile 40 when we turned south out of the Northwest headwind… that was it, I knew if I could stay with the lead pack until then I could manage a top 5 placement… we started at 6 am in the dark, just a couple minutes before first light. I had opted to go without a light so I went right to the front to stay out of the dust and trouble. The pace was brisk but manageable, the gravel well… was like concrete… I had showed with a knife, at a gun fight… while my bike is fast, its still a mountain bike with 2.1” tires… it was a good choose for Dirty Kansa 200 with its large brutal rock, but not for this race, maybe 10% of the racers were on mountain bikes (if that), most were on skinny tired cross bikes and about a ¼ were on road bikes.
At only 7.5 miles in that horrible sound of PIST PIST PIST PIST was heard, as I looked around to see who was flatting I spotted Stans sealant flying up behind me… I let out a string of explicates well deserved for a race put on by the “Pirate Cycling” club… I worked my way to the outside of the group and began to slow to see if it would seal up… I would have thought the main field would be down to about 10 or so at this point, but no, there were over 25 still in the group, not good if I was going to try to catch back up, that big of a group would keep the hammer down. As the tire neared flat about 10 psi (started at 40) it sealed up, I slammed on the breaks threw a CO2 in (started to leak again), then got back on in hopes of it sealing (maybe took me a total of 30 seconds… as it started to ride Dennis Grelk – who had a chain issue a mile back came up in a furry, I had about 2 seconds to make the decision – jump on his wheel or keep looking at my rear wheel to see if it seals up… too late Dennis was gone in a near superman effort (I take that back it WAS a superman effort, Dennis bridged the 1 minute gap in only a couple minutes, it took me another minute or so to decide that now was the time to start chasing to get back on… into a 10 mph headwind… it was not to be done. Mad as heck the main group kept putting time into me. I was only averaging 1 mph slower that with the group, but for a race that's 149 miles long it was enouph to cause me to loose over 30 min, by the last CP.
I had hooked up with the only other mountain biker in the lead group during the short time that I could still see the main field as we worked together for a couple of miles, I then took the lead to pick it up a bit more… pushed my effort level way high at this point thinking that that big of a group would have a hard time getting through the mandatory checkpoint (possibly letting me catch up if i could keep their lead to only 5 minutes)… the flat, wasn’t my fault, however turning West on West Ashland? (vs. Right on West Ashland was), figured this one out one mile down a rutted up B road, had to turn around and backtrack (this cost me about 10 minutes and about 6 places)… only navigation mistake of the race. It was on that bombing off course downhill B road that I broke my 5th Carbon Frame (spit the integrated seat post at the seam) – it gave the bike a nice ThudBuster suspension seat post feel.
I passed about 10 riders at the first check point by just going in getting my ticket and right back out… the rest of the race would be the same pass a couple “shelled riders” and worked with a couple of mechanicalled riders, pass about 5-10 at each checkpoint…
As the race whent on the wet fog of the morning was replaced by 97 degrees of intense cloudless skies… the heat index was most likely about 105-110. On the black B roads the sun would cook you from both sides… I was dropping electrolytes and fluids at an incredible rate, luckily stomach distress wasn’t an issue (and wouldn’t be until mile 120), so I kept downing Gatorade to somewhat offset the losses.
The story of the day for all racers would be the heat and the near Genius route design that afforded zero recovery time, the course was a series of hills placed back to back to back to back in what was feat of sadistic and masochistic intension not witnessed too often in gravel racing… as you can see by the race profile there really wasn’t a single hill of substantial effort (although there were 4 hills/walls at 10% or greater) but the totality of all of them combined made this race extreme! Over 2/3’s the field would pull the plug from dehydration, cramps, and complete and utter exhaustion – remember these are guys (and gals) that eat gravel for breakfast with bacon and beer…
At the third and final checkpoint, I pulled in to find 5 guys getting ready to head out and only 3 riders ahead, I couldn’t believe it, I was getting back up there… oh wait, they had left 30+ minutes earlier you say… oh well… in and out at this checkpoint as quick as possible (after downing a half jar of pickle juice – had been fighting bad cramps since mile 70). Got out about a minute after two other strong riders (Dale Pinkelman and Kevin Burke), was able to catch up to them just as we turned on to stagecoach road (a 7 mile stretch of small hills strung together that would take us to the third highest point on the course), it took everything I had to hang on the wheel of these two riders during the climbs, but I knew if I didn’t I would suffer a long and painful death by myself… the one thing I’ve learned in endurance racing is that misery loves company.
About 20 miles out it was just Kevin and me, as we rolled threw a freshly rocked section I heard Kevin call out that he was done, it was his third flat of the day, he would get a tube for his road tire from Dale and finish only 10 minutes back.
I rolled the last 15 miles solo for a 4th place category and 4th place overall finish at 9 hours and 40 minutes at an average speed (including off the bike of 15.3 mph). While the flat at the beginning of the race changed everything, I’m not sure it would have changed the overall, I just would have been abit more fun for me to fight it out upfront than clawing my way back up for a 130 miles. I do regret not acting in that split second to jump onto Dennis’s wheel as I could have (maybe) gotten back on, also, possibly not showing up on a road bike, the course was hard and fast.
Had a fantastic time riding with lots of top athletes, gravel racing draws such a great group of individuals, Spent miles riding with Mark? (mtbiker), Troy Krause (sic individual – one of the route designers), Dale, Kevin, and many others (who I have forgot their names due to the heat and dehydration - lost 10 lbs during the race, but no $1200 hospital visit this time)… Congrats to Mike Marchand (who I KNEW would win this race, he is one fast gravel eating fool [and now has the “Gravel Worlds Jersey" to show for it], I’m sorry I didn’t get to draft that wheel). Thanks again for Cornbreads efforts in putting this event on and brining gravel racing to the “international stage”.