It's been a long, long season of racing gravel. The Ragnarok feels like it was 2 or 3 years ago, so much has changed but a lot has stayed the same. Throughout I rode hard and perservered even when things went to hell. My goals for the season were to make the selections, ride aggressively and to finish every race.
Late in the summer it started to become clear that the overall AGRS championship was going to come down to a race between Ted Loosen and I. This prompted me to put together my wicked fast Gentleman's ride team which enabled me to get a few points ahead of my friend. Then at the Heck my repeated attacks were foiled by the large group and, after an odd restart/finish/thing, relatively fresh legs for Ted and Dom meant third place for me and a completely tied series.
This set the stage for an interesting race deep in Revolution country this past weekend. I was hopeful as I'd left the Dirtbag in 2011 with an unlikely sprint finish win out of a large group including Ted and 5? of his teammates. However, you never know who will show up to these things and I'm well aware that Revolution is stacked with guys who I would prefer not to race head to head, let alone 'en masse'. This was all very good though because it would make for an exciting race. I felt I had some cards left to play that hadn't quite been shown- I knew how hard I'd been able to ride solo in the Gravel Conspiracy and that the way things had played out at the Heck and Heroic hadn't given me a chance to show the form I hoped I was on. Skarpohl and Dom would also be in the mix (hopefully at least not deliberately working against me) and that also served to increase the interesting possibilities.
It was COLD. I had to put my gloves in my bibs to not lose any man bits early. I spent as much time as I could in the back of the pack until we approached the large paved climb that generally serves as the first real selection point. I was lucky that I recognized the importance of moving to the front right when I did because two of the strongest Revolution riders, Toftoy and Beuning, absolutely went from the base. I was able to get into third wheel and hang on. By the top we were down to just a handful including a determined Monika Sattler! Skarpohl was no where to be seen. We rotated a bit and I rotated badly hoping to at least get Skarpohl back. Eventually he came charging up to us solo. My best hope for a strategy was going to be to hope Skarpohl could wreak enough havoc on the flats that I'd be able to counter attack somewhere and get a group without Ted... maybe even with Dom or Skarpohl in it. I did not want to go solo vs. any combination of that caliber of rider.
Nothing for a while. A couple of pee breaks, a Kind bar or two. Skarpohl went hard but the group did not split. Then the group just slowly moves apart. It wasn't an attack, more of a letting go... I counted riders and stayed with Ted rather than even picking up the pace at all. Beuning also stayed back and Monika was with us. There was some cat and mouse. We came to a hill where I had a chance to work and make them both work rather than just one of them. Surprisingly I got clear at the top. I had no idea how far forward the lead group of four (Toftoy, Schad, Talerico, Skarpohl) had gotten but I knew that if I were clear that I would put my head down and go.
Monika and I both have Strava... over the next 30 minutes and change I was 2:36 faster than the 3 I had left. I was well out of sight and on a couple instances timed my gap to the front 4 at under 30 seconds. Once they all sat up and sort of looked back at me and I thought I had succeeded but they had other ideas and began pull away a bit and it took a while before I closed it at all again. I needed the group up front to crack and leave me a straggler, or to reach the checkpoint or something. I was forced to slow the effort slightly and consider the possibility that I would have to ride the remaining 50ish miles solo, could I stay clear of Ted, Monika and Lance? As the lead had been so close I had stopped using my cue cards and just followed... We came to a couple of closely spaced corners and I slipped up. The cue card mileage was off by 1 mile and I knew this, but somehow I turned onto a road at mile 60 that I had already turned onto at mile 57 and now I was supposed to be crossing it.
I figured it out in time to avoid total disaster but this was a cruel end to my almost successful move. To make matters worse I watched the three who had been chasing start rotating nicely just 25 seconds in front of me upon my return to the course... A gap that would take me another 7.6 miles at 21 mph to erase... At that point I was grateful to have regained the group but knew I was in a bad position. No matter what I ate or drank or how much I drafted I figured I was at a huge disadvantage.
We got lost, there was a mistake on the cue cards. Everyone got lost. It turned into a huge mess. Ted and I agreed to "tie" for the day and for the overall (he would get the prize and notoriety due to a tie-breaker which I made up on the spot). I found my legs again and we all worked hard together to reach the finish with 7 extra miles on the GPS. No matter what we had agreed upon on the road Ted and I still had to sprint (I have no idea what place we were sprinting for after all the resorting of the pack on our detour) and I went too early for what was left in my tank... falling short on the same road I'd flown up the year before. It was probably fitting that AGRS 2012 Champion and custom frame winner Ted Loosen beat me up the hill.
The lead 4 had similarly neutralized after the miscue and they all crossed together. After a year worth of racing I would have sprinted if I had to do it on foot, but I think they did the right thing too.
It was a great day on the bike with lots of strong riders. Awesome to see such a strong group up front, particularly Monika and Jenna Rinehart who both put in great efforts. Cool to see women up front on gravel.
In a lot of ways the dirtbag was a recap of my season. Proud of riding aggressively, accepting of the results whatever they were, finishing.
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