2017 Almanzo

Sorry for no photos.  Perhaps I can add a few down the road, but I didn't see too many photographers braving the rain.

Almanzo is the hardest gravel race I do.  It's harder than the longer races.  It's harder than the 'harder' races.  It's harder than the races promoted as "hard".  The competition makes it and 2017 was no different in that regard.  I knew going in that I would simply not be the strongest person in the field.  It would take my best riding, strategy and some luck if I would have a chance.

Bad weather would be to my advantage.  No one is better prepared to ride that course in cold and rainy weather.  I rode 155 miles last month when it was 31 and sleeting because I enjoyed doing so.  Even if someone else was as "ready" I was confident.  I also knew my bike was perfect, with the brand new Barlow Pass 38c compass tire on the rear and the Snoqualmie 44c on the front soft roads and loose gravel would also be to my advantage.  As soon as the extended forecast came out I was pulling for it to come true, and it did.  

(insert photo of rain)

The race started a bit slower than expected.  Most years it gets very strung out over the first hill.  I think this was a little neutralized due to the strong east wind.  Not much point in going too fast at that point in the course with that.  Right away though Colin Catlin outed himself as feeling pretty good by going off the front solo but no one else really reacted and it was much too early/windy for him to get anywhere solo.  We would hit a cross wind soon and things would get hard.  I was positioned well and took my turns in the echelon.  After the crosswinds I have no idea how large the field remained or who was there.  Visibility was near zero all day.

You might say that visibility being zero is terrible.  Heck, I went through Adam Bergman's "jet wash" once on a descent and had to emergency stop when I literally couldn't tell where the road was anymore.  All that "sucks" and all that, but it is also a great opportunity.  When things are broken down that fully.  There is nothing but forward movement, instinctual reaction to the shapes in front of you,  survival.  It forces you to exist in your most basic form.  It puts you into the moment and it is a gift.  I've been that way in other sports a couple times in the past.  Usually it is for a minute or two.  I remember very clearly one run of Slalom at Spirit Mountain in a MidAm many years ago where I was fully present in that way.  A day like Saturday though, it can put you there for hours.  Better than drugs...

We barreled along in our own bubbles.  I watched some minor attacks etc. into the wind but knew it wasn't "it".  Keeper road approached and it gets steep at the end.  I was well positioned but it's not my kind of climb.  The right combo hit at the front, another fast rider reacted and another went to his wheel.  I was sucking air but I had to go. I put in an effort and then the descent came and I took risks.  When I made it across I truly felt like they were expecting me.  The group had formed with Tim Savre, Catlin, Bergman, Eric Thomson and myself.  I remember thinking that they expected me but that I wasn't sure I actually belonged.

The miles went by, I took my pulls.  Always take your pulls if you can when you aren't sure you belong...

I got a bottle hand-up from my wife with Eira on her back and an umbrella in Preston.  I forced myself to drink more and tried to eat.

Bergman attacked and got a gap in crosswinds.  No idea on mileage, 48?

Savre got a tiny gap around a corner with a little rise after it and I just went.  It wasn't thought out, it just happened.  I crossed the gap to Bergman over the next few miles with no idea whether or not the guys behind were close or out of sight.  I couldn't see behind me.  I just knew I wanted to get to Bergman.  Bergman and I together could stay clear and I could be assured of no worse than 2nd.

Soon after Forestville Catlin and Savre came up to us and Savre was clearly feeling good.  He was gone.  I struggled on the hills.  If we had gotten over those next 4 miles without being caught it might have been different, but we did not.  Credit goes to Catlin and Savre for, presumably, working together and if not for being so strong as to catch us anyways.  Thomson was gone, we didn't know what had happened to him.  I still do not.  Tim said that when I had jumped to go to Bergman he had looked back to see who would chase me and Thomson was not there, only Catlin.

Anyways, I had played the one card I really had to play in such company.  I dropped my chain once and a 20 second gap turned into a minute and then two.  I lost my edge a little but I kept pedaling.  I never looked back.

The water crossing was cold.  I squatted in it and urinated.  I felt much better on the bike after that.  I also put my glove in the water accidentally but it was already so soaked it didn't matter.  Nothing probably could have mattered then.

Oriole road passed, the final climb passed.  I felt better than when I had won in 2015 over the last 6 miles or so, but there was nothing to do about it.  The ship had sailed and I just ground to the finish.  No one was there but two volunteers.  My wife was in the car and Eira was napping.  Kim helped me to get my wet clothes off and we drove away.

I would end my night collecting friends from NE Iowa where their attempt at riding the Alexander had stalled.

catching up a bit...

This is very bike racing focused.  A lot has happened in 'life' as well, but this isn't the place for that.

Have to start with last year.  In the last corner of the last night of a 3 week crit series late last June I went down in a crash pretty hard.  36 hours later I rode 205 miles or so from my house to Spooner, WI.  That was dumb.  I rode the next day too.  Heck, I rode a crit two weeks after that and then again the next week.  Anyways, I had broken my collarbone, a small bone in my hand and sustained a concussion.  I didn't really realize that all at the time.  Really only the concussion ever caught up with me anyways, the rest just sort of messed up my golf season an ability to reach into my jersey pocket with my left arm.

Ten weeks after that crash I went over the bars in a WORS race.  I was riding in 6th or so at the time which was good for me in the Elite field.  I finished 8th.  I was 'ok' but didn't feel well training that week.  I raced ok in the Filthy 50 the next weekend and finished 2nd but things weren't all great.  I continued to develop additional symptoms.  It got bad.  I was eventually off the bike for 4 months.  I gained weight, struggled with some things.  My family was great.  I was lucky I worked at home and could work when I felt good.  There were times when I simply couldn't accomplish anything for days.  Times when I couldn't sleep.  Times when I couldn't remember the meal I had just eaten with my family.

By late February the haze had past.  I've been riding hard ever since.  I've learned some lessons and have changed a lot of my plans for this year to avoid risk when possible.  I don't have any deep life lessons or opinions.  It was a mistake to go on the long ride after the first crash, I wouldn't do that again.  Racing can be a little dangerous, but everyone taking the line already knows this.  I guess I hope if you are reading this you'll still be aggressive and race hard but respect the need for rest/recover/care when it comes to head injuries.

Since that time I've done my best to fight hard and get back to being able to ride well.  It's been a struggle with losing the 12 lbs or so that I had gained.  I've been lucky to have plenty of time to ride and I think I've taken advantage of that.  

I desperately wish I could be racing crits and road but I know I need to recovery as fully as possible first and doubt I'm completely there.  That means this spring/summer I really just had gravel races on the calendar.

Cirrem I surprised myself with a late surge from a few minutes back with 20 miles to go all the way to the front of the race with just one rider who pipped me at the line.  I had been solidly dropped early on hills and this was a big surprise late

LML I struggled with climbing early again (the weight) and had to ride solo much of the middle of the race.  Again, was able to push hard late and finish 2nd despite another strong field.

Ragnarok I kind of knew what to expect and was able to execute a plan based on the reality of my fitness and take the win for the 2nd year in a row.

After Ragnarok I actually started to do more than just pure base miles and by the time the Hungry Bear 100 rolled around I had lost 8 of those extra pounds and my climbing no longer was a total achilles heal.  In fact, I was able to be agressive on the climbs.  I flatted very late while off the front with Jesse L. and that robbed us both of finishing off what had already been a fun battle.  I wound up 3rd despite taking nearly 7 minutes to change the flat and left feeling motivated and with momentum.

I haven't had any clear symptoms or issue for a few months now and I am very grateful for that!