Here's my Tommaso after the race with Jerome's Jamis in the background, sadly (for me) you'll have to check almanzo.com for the winning bike.
CIRREM is an awesome 63 mile route that begins and ends at the Cumming Tap. Guaranteed to be a great time, already planning on next year. A huge range of people come out to this and everyone leaves happy.
I met Tim Werts over at Milltown Cycles on Friday and we shared some surprisingly good local Faribault Thai food with Ben after tuning Tim's bike up a bit for the race. Long drive down from there, but I rewarded myself with a Smoked Salmon Tapenade pizza at Red Rossa and was feeling good.
My plan for the race was to sit back and try to be as inconspicuous as possible. I knew there would be a bunch of strong riders and that at least a handful of them would all be from the same road team. Sounds weird thinking about "teams" before a gravel event with snow and ice on the roads, but after all this is a road race and would eventually pan out as such. I knew the course was the same as last year and had a real good sense for where the action would really take place. On top of that the roads were going to start out snowy/icy and then descend into muck as we went along. I figured I'd sit back and wait for it to get soft and the consistent hills to get rolling near mile 40. I knew no "attack" would be needed, just steady climbing/descending/climbing would separate us out fast.
The race started and that plan went out the door. We were riding 120 deep on 2 1' wide ribbons of ice and people were looking sketchy as hell (this is coming from the guy who fell in this race and took out a bunch of people last year...). I decided I had to get to the front simply to avoid being taken out. I moved to the front near the top of a longish descent and soon found myself with just Joe Stephens. I knew that I didn't want to go out hard with a small group so I kept the pace relatively easy. Joe is seemed wanted to go a bit faster and I chose to hang on. Steve Robinson decided to cover our "move" and as soon as I realized he was there I really backed it down. Luckily after that crap we were out of the way of the worst risk of a big fall and the pace settled back down. Still, every 3-4 miles someone would go down around me. In the end I think almost everyone hit the deck at some point, which is pretty crazy really.
It took us a while to reel in Stephens and there was some jumpy crap from a few people as that happened, but nothing terrible. We went through the checkpoint with 8; myself, Stephens, Rewerts, Robinson, Severs, VanHouweling, Bach and and Anderson. Everyone was in good spirits and we rode together, comfortably, chatting. I thought to myself about how different it is these events at the front... I remembered my first CIRREM experience and the 4:21 minute time trial that it was. The relaxed pace was nice, but everyone knew that it wasn't to last forever.
I tried a few times to get the group to stop for a pee break but it was inconclusive. A brief attack and then calling for the break when they caught back on did the trick! We paused for a solid 3 minutes, trying to aim our urine at the most frozen up parts of our bikes (most of us were down to 3 or 4 gears at this point and most of us would never have front shifting all day). Once back under way thing started getting a lot more heated. We came to the longest sustained climb, the one that marks the beginning of the rollers and I knew I may as well start really climbing. I could wait and then have to react or I could sneak out to the side and keep my momentum into the bottom. Severs really hit it hard for a while, but I don't think he realized how long the hill was and my steadier pace brought us together at the top. I didn't do a lot of looking around for the next couple of miles as no one was in a mood to let up. It became just Rewerts, Anderson, Severs, Robinson and myself. We lost Robinson and the four remaining slowed once again, most of us with only 1 or 2 working gears once again. All of us afraid to shift so riding both sides of the constant rollers in whatever gear was working.
We stopped again at mile 48 to attempt to clean bikes. Robinson flew by out of no where before any real progress was made and everything got messy. I had a few big gears working and my pull in the aero bars dropped Severs then the next bigger hill/mud/unworking bike yanked Robinson. Anderson was hitting the rollers like a strong man on a clean bike and I was losing a few feet with each pedal stroke. I was trying to look calm but was having to pull hard on the flat to close the small gaps that were forming with each rise. Anderson got away and I couldn't close it. I had his teammate Rewerts on my wheel, his other teammate Robinson and a strong Severs chasing.
Anderson rode strong those last 8 miles and finished alone by 40 or 50 seconds! Rewerts attacked me at the last corner and I held on and got the 2nd position heading into the sprint but the 8 miles of hard chasing didn't leave me with enough of a sprint to come around. I'm very happy with 3rd. Severs wound up catching Robinson and coming in 20 seconds up on him for 4th. Stephens rode strong, but his early sustained hard riding may have ultimately hurt.
It's interesting how this race, all gravel racing?, seems to be changing. Two years ago there was a 3 way tie here... this year that just didn't seem to even be remotely an option.
The beer and people at the finish were great. I went from feeling pretty good on the bike to realizing that I was just destroyed real quick. My face in the mirror reminded me of that Charly Farrow at Trans Iowa picture. Now Mr. Farrow is a handsome man, but he's also a few years my senior! I hope someone sends me the image of the podium that they took right after we finished.
Check out Tim's blog for more on his day, sounds like it was pretty exciting after an early pack crash had him almost out of the race.
I managed to waddle out to the car, find warm clothes, eat some awesome BBQ and enjoy the awards. I also recieved my Cup O' Dirt mugs! More about them and pictures soon.
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