This is the last race in the Almanzo Gravel Racing Series and the last endurance race for me this year. You all know how I feel about the Almanzo
I also have really enjoyed the time I've spent riding/racing with Ben Doom (ever since he crushed me in the 8 hour at Afton two years ago) and wouldn't miss his race for anything.
Skogen and I were lucky to be able to crash at Tim Werts' place Friday night and thus avoided a super early morning. We had a good conversation and too much Diet Mountain Dew and I didn't get to bed as early as I should have- but I woke up feeling pretty decent (I have had a cold that I can't quite shake since at least the Heck). At least that was until I realized just how damn cold it was outside. We would wind up riding as "team breathe-right" once again.
Thankfully we were indoors for check-in and able to stay warm right up to the start. Lots of familiar faces, friendly people and a lot of fast riders I have a ton of respect for. There was some pre-race tension and nerves, but overall it was a really friendly vibe.
The bike- My $100 Giant OCR with the repaired top tube and the repaired Zipp 404 clinchers. Only major difference vs. the heroic was the addition of an 11-32 10 speed XT cassette. As it turns out I never left the 53t up front.
Controlled roll-out on pavement. As soon as we left the pavement I dialed it up to 80% and dropped into the aero bars. The gravel was fast, I was cold and I figured I may as well have some fun. A few miles later the main group led by Jim Bell caught up with me. Jim said, "good morning" and I sensed that had probably not been a popular move with the lethargy that sets in amongst the peleton in the cold.
We hit sand and it was pandemonium. I knew my 30c tires weren't ideal and I picked my way through the next mile or so, jogging where I had to. out the other side I grabbed a wheel and bided my time as we slowly realed in the lead pack. I was thankful we had hit that section on the way "out" this year- as I knew it would have been my demise had it happened 5 miles from the finish like last year. I guessed we were going to ride something close to reverse of last years course. As I was thinking this our little group (led by Tim Ek) managed to close the gap to the lead and I was able to settle in and get some rest.
I got a real itchy trigger finger on a long pavement climb around mile 20, but no one else seemed ready to organize and nothing came of it. Then around mile 36 I could sense the time had come. The "big names" were massing at the front on a pavement section and I determined I would have to hold my place. We hit some incredibly bumpy gravel and shit just blew up. My GPS flew off of my bike and hit Tim (we'd later go back for it and find it had been run over by a car), my bike was flexing and bucking under me and the road felt like it was covered in glue, but I kept my head down. It was at least 4-5 miles before I even looked back, and saw no one. We were a group of 9 with 6 Revolution guys, 1 rider from Grandstay, myself and BOB GRITMAN. I was very happy to have another rider with me wearing the Almanzo colors and even more so I was geniunely happy for Bob that all his hard work training/riding was paying off. We had dropped a lot of big names, guys who had beaten Bob (and myself) comfortably in past AGRS events, but Bob was here now. We wouldn't be in much of a position if Revoution tried some team tactics of some sort on us, but we would be able to take advantage of their huge horsepower to stay well ahead of everyone else at the least.
Our pace slowed to conversational and we measured the gaps to the chasers behind us. We knew they would push hard right away and burn themselves up so long as we held a gap. I also knew that I wanted no part of anyone else getting back with us. Finishing 9th would make my day. I rotated through at the frond and generally did what I could to keep things moving.
Eventually one of the Revolution guys got up the road, then 2 but I sat on. I figured the biggest threats to win were still back with me and I knew that pulling them forward would result in nothing good. That game went on from about mile 60-75.
Somewhere around mile 70 I started to feel good. It was that old "pull of the finish" thing I've wrote about before. The pain started to go away and I started to get antsy. I tried to hide it. We hit another soft section and everything switched- I had to try to hide the fact that if they pushed me here they'd drop me. Luckily, they didn't. I attacked a bit on pavement, but backed it down at mile 78. We hit more soft stuff and I was off the back, frustrated, tired, beat. I though my race was over. The gap was 10 seconds. They hit the pavement and rode easily, letting me back in. Bob and I talked at the back of the group. I think we both felt great for just being there, that we had both already more than accomplished our goals for the day.
The pace stayed low. I studied the map and moved to the front of the group. I was able to establish myself in a position at the front and on the "inside" of what would be the final turn. There was no real fight for it and the pace remained fairly low. I wasn't sure where the final turn would be (I don't think anyone was) nor what it would look like. It just seemed prudent to sit on it positionally for as long as I was allowed to. I expected the pace to really ramp up at any second. My plan was the "slingshot" effect of starting on the front, grabbing a wheel of the guys who go too early and then coming by at the line. I would stick with that plan until I was pushed too hard at the front. The pace stayed low. I saw the street sign, I kicked hard to stay in my place and made that final corner at speed. I remember remembering the final corner in a few crits over the summer. I was thinking I should have been on someones wheel and not out front... in all of those other races it had not been the front runner who had won. Regardless, no choice but to pedal as hard as I could. I heard people yelling my name. I had a lead, but Grandstay was closing... then he wasn't.
It felt great.
Then I realized how much I'd left out there. I was coughing, but it was so shallow and harsh that it was nothing but painful (I eventually lost my voice and can barely speak today). I was nauseous and unable to eat any of the wonderful chili or Famous Monster Cookies provided. I sat and shivered and coughed. The reality of winning not quite setting in. I went back outside and watched some of my competitors finish, I had to tell them I won when they asked how I did. I started to realize it. The sun felt good. My whole year started to look a bit better.
Both Tim and Chris finished respectably. We all had fun talking with the other racers and hanging out together. Eventually Chris and I got back to Rochester- I immediately showered, dressed as an Asian Carp and headed to a Halloween Party.
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