This is a "home" event for me since the start is 4 miles or so from my parent's. Nice to be able to have dinner with them and to have their support at the checkpoints. Tim Werts, and Dennis Grelk stayed at their place too and it is always good to see them both. We had some great lasagne and played a bit of Kinect. Tim and I rolled down to the registration before Grelk showed up and we ran into a buch of the LCR guys. I had heard the buzz about the KOM/pot stirrer/most aggressive rider award that Larry was going to be giving out and he immediately started in on that as soon as he saw us.
I didn't want to hurt my chances in the race by being overly aggressive, but as I thought about it I wasn't so sure that chasing the rock wasn't going to mesh with what I thought my best strategy would be. I knew there were a lot of fast guys in the race, quite a few of whom were more or less endurance specialists. If I could get away from those guys early with some strong guys I hoped it would mean that I'd be able to put distance between them and myself before their advantages over me could really kick in. I figured I would try to split the group on the 3rd or 4th big climb. I assumed there would be a lot of action on the first few climbs with many people trying to earn the right to claim the rock.
The opening climb up Lehrbach was much slower than I had expected. It is a climb that I know well and the key part is having the lungs left to power over the relatively flat top and hit the descent hard. I could hear Larry's words in my head and I considered the sketchiness of the descent that followed (I remembered the race two years ago when I had been strung out behind a group after that descent and had burned myself up quite a bit right away just to stay with the group). I pulled out to the left, took a couple of hard standing pedals then settled in to a solid climbing pace, fully expecting my move to have caused all sorts of reactions.
The move was about 45 seconds before I past in the video there, there were not a lot of reactions. I had my head down and did not check until much later. At the bottom of the hill I had a large gap and chose to keep it going. The group almost closed on my near the bottom of the next large hill at mile 7? or so but I gained on the ascent and then even more on the way back down. The ragnarok course if very up and down, working in a pack is not as important as it is in many other races. Plus I knew I had a fast bike setup and aero bars. I settled in and checked the gap from time to time. My expectation was that a small group (likely the exact guys I "wanted") would eventually feel like they had to bridge up to me. I was willing to go alone if they would not and reduced the effort to something I thought I could sustain.
There was a left turn onto a "church road" upcoming... I reached a road that went that direction, but the street sign was gone. There was a yellow arrow painted on the road. I didn't want to give up my gap, I turned. I watched the group hard and made sure they followed. After confirming that they had I set back into opening up a gap over the next large hill and getting out of sight. The mileage for the next turn past, I hit pavement I wasn't supposed to hit and I knew I had to turn around.
For a moment I felt all was lost. We had gone at least 3 miles in the wrong direction! Then I realized that all of the horsepower in the race was still all together, we would get back to the front.
The group was 15-20 at that point. As we worked our way back toward the front we steadily shed riders. I tried not to work hard, I knew that I had burned extra matches already. That said, I wanted to earn that rock and I went to the front on the B road climbs. The group kept dwindling. We lost some people early who I had expected to figure in the final selection, if not for the win. Just before the checkpoint we reached the front of the race once again. We all agreed to take a few minutes at the stop, go the bathroom and refill our bottles etc.. Our group slowed a ton and we spent some time riding in a relaxed manner in a couple of river valleys. We even allowed quite a few of the chasers back on. I didn't really want to, I felt insecure about dropping them again, but the other guys up front were unworried and more or less left me no choice. The B road out of the valley was sort of anti-climactic as I was ready for an all-out attack, but it left me riding with just Krawczyk, Moore, Meiser, Peterson, Carlton and Curran.
We hit a series of long climbs south of Millville. On the first I took the front and rode a steady pace, worried that there might be an attack. At the top I realized I had attacked, it was just Brendan Moore, Brandon Krawczyk and myself. We were disorganized and allowed the group of 6 or 7 to reform. The next large hill the same thing happened again and again we had to stop and worry about directions. After that I made a point to get my maps turned over and right in my map holder. There was a really cool spot with a bridge under construction where some CX skills were needed. There was another pee stop break. I tried to spend time drafting/resting as we moved through the valleys. I knew that the next time we split it was going to be the real thing. I would have to deal with those two for the rest of the day- initially as a team, but later things would be sorted out. Racing with them for 45-50 miles intimidated me, but I knew that as long as I would ride with them even if I did a third of the work I would be putting mileage between myself and everyone else.
Finally, we got near the top of a long gradual climb and some of the race organizers were parked near the top where it kicked up a bit. We were just less than 20 miles from the final checkpoint. I could tell it was a short enough climb left that a real attack was possible without much risk. The three of us again were clear. This time I had the maps out and organized. We rotated and worked together well. I was surprised to find myself feeling comfortable working with them. I relaxed a bit with the map reading when we hit highway 63 and we went the wrong way! Another 2 mile detour and some time on 63 at 30+ mph chasing what turned out to be no one... Again, we neutralized for the checkpoint and made sure each of us found what we needed. Again, we slowed a bit leaving it and chatted etc. for a few miles. At the base of Heath's Hill I heard a loud pop and my chain was caught. I panicked, worried that I had broken my derailleur hanger and that my day would be over. Finally got things back together, knew those guys would wait for me if they realized I was back moving. Got back with them on the long descent down the other side.
We continued to work together. Brandon put in a monster pull up one of the later climbs that really opened my eyes to just how strong he was feeling. I wanted to win and felt like I was in a position where I had nothing to lose- beating either of them would be great, but I'd already done more than I had ever expected. I did think back to the Dirt Bag though and I knew that I was capable of 'stealing it' if either of them faltered. I would be incredibly happy with third though, those two are both pretty accomplished if you know what I mean!
Huneke road kicked up and Brendan put in an effort that hurt me. They were a bit confused at the turn to Orchard and I tried to point them to the right from my place 100 yards back so that they could continue without me. Their hesitation allowed me to catch on the descent. Finally we reached Lehrbach and the pace was high from the pavement on. I held on to where it really kicked up but had no response when Brendan again kicked it down. I'd watched him take off like that a few times before, but it was always in the first two hundred yards of mountain bike races...
I watched the two of them race up the hill with a huge smile on my face. My parent's, girlfriend etc. were all at the top of the hill watching me get totally destroyed but I couldn't have been happier just to be there. Brandon, true to form, sat on Brendan's wheel to the top and came around for the win at the line.
It was a great experience and I am definitely thankful to the other riders and the organizers. This years course was excellent, really cool to head that far south and get those long climbs plus the longer river valley sections.
Here is Brendan's blog-
I agree that we rode this like a Gran Fondo. The lead group in these races is very similar to the time I spent riding up front at the Dairyland Dare. It's a great "feel".
I was awarded the rock-
I can't put into words what it means to me. I'll probably be trying to defend it all year.
Results are here-
Today I did this-
Results - Thanks to all who came out to make the 2017 Dirt Bag another good day for the gravel community. The previous days rain made the course a little soft and put...
1 day ago