Wrote a nice story for you all (if I may say so myself), then closed the window without saving. Sometimes that happens, but there are few things I find more annoying than having to rewrite a text and constantly having the feeling I found better words the first time around. At any rate, here's the second attempt.
The funniest thing of our Almanzo gravel ride weekend (read here what led up to this
) happened actually the day before the ride. There was a slight rub on my front disc after I had flown down, so Andy Ording (a good friend and the former owner of Zipp wheels) and I went to a bike shop in Rochester to get it fixed. The mechanic then proceeded to turn a slight rub into a much more severe one, handed the tools over to another mechanic who also failed miserably and then, in a bout of extreme honesty, proclaimed "this is way beyond my skill level".
Thanks for the honesty but I could have used that info before you started! When he said their head mechanic was really good and could take a look at it in a few hours, and attempted to make it even more convincing with a "he trains all the mechanics for all our stores in Minnesota and Wisconsin", I had to bite my tongue to not say "you included?"
And to finish it all off, he lobbed an inappropriate if completely accurate "All you'll hear is the gravel anyway" our way.
By the way, the reason we were at that bike shop to begin with was that although I had checked the temperature for Saturday, I had not noticed how much colder it was predicted to be at 9am at the start. So I got an extra base layer, and the two base layers, one jersey and one Gabba rain jersey (also windproof) turned out to be the perfect set-up. I added a super thin rain vest for the first hour and once I was rolling it was perfect. That didn't stop the pre-start standing around from being freakin' cold but nothing could have saved us there.
(still cold and still smiling at the start, Andy and I)
A propos start, we met Jim there, a fellow U.P. rider (though he was smart enough not to be on this particular ride). It's always nice to meet our customers, but U.P. riders seem to be particularly fun, the enthusiasm for how that bike has changed their riding and where they have been exploring is contagious.
(Jim's a smart man. Not only because he bought an U.P., but also because he's not riding Almanzo, he's wearing two jackets and he's wearing a hat)
I had a very straightforward tactic, borne out of the fact that months of sickness and too much travel ruined my preparation. Then with two weeks to go, I developed a crippling back pain, giving me the grand total of just two training rides in the past two months. Since two days ago I wasn't even sure there was any point in traveling here, and since I still couldn't even mount my bike without severe pain, I was under no illusion that I was ready.
So the plan was what I like to call it the Hennie Kuiper doctrine. He once said "cycling is finishing everybody else's plate before you start your own", and since I knew there was barely anything on my plate to start with, that was my only chance to ever make it through 100 miles. So Andy and I started very conservatively, on the short roller climbs I made sure to drop back and not punch up them, and on most descents I was able to catch back up to the little group we were in (why people push their guts out on the climbs and then stop pedalling on the descents I will never understand).
Anyway, when I say "little group", it's not like that was too much help as usually the road just had one or two strips where the riding was good, so in a cross wind there wasn't too much of an echelon going. And a cross wind there was, 20-30 mph they said. It certainly felt like more and more as the day wore on :-).
The first 40 miles to Preston we did OK, averaging 14 mph and taking it very easy. Andy had to wait for me a few times, but on the descents I would drop him consistently and this became a running gag for us (since he was on an U.P. too, he began to suspect I'd shipped him a defective frame in some pre-planned attempt to beat him at Almanzo). His wheels were next to catch some flak, from rims to bearings to tires to tire pressure. To be honest, we had no idea what it could be, but whatever we did and whichever way I tried to slow down (sitting up, jacket open), I would roll away from him.
While this was funny for me, it also meant Andy was less and less inclined to wait for me as he figured I'd catch him on the next descent anyway!
In Preston, I've only ever stopped at the supermarket for water and then continued. I never knew there was anything else! But we had discussed that a real lunch might be a good idea, and indeed we found a sandwich shop and enjoyed some real food, potato chips and drinks. It felt like a bit of a waste of time this early in the ride, but boy was I happy later on that we'd done that. At least we were still able to digest at that point, and those calories came in handy at mile 80.
Getting back on the bike with our sweaty gear was bitter cold, but the 20 miles after Preston were so brutal we quickly warmed up. It was just one big zigzag between head/crosswind from the left and the same from the right. Never any respite, it was just relentless. We were really slow, and due to our lunch stop there weren't any groups left either. But Andy did an amazing pull for most of that stretch and I happily saved my plate.
Then we got a stretch with a few tailwind sections, but they never lasted more than a mile. Our humor got darker, but we were actually still in good spirits and reminding ourselves that we almost decided to do the 160 miler definitely made us cheery. When we got to the Forestville Park, we decided to stop for a bit and have some BBQ and potato, along with other assorted goodies. It was there that we met Alexandra, another U.P. rider with a very cool 650b set-up. You can see her bike in the showcase as well although it still has 700c wheels there
. We chatted for 10-15 minutes and then it was time to roll again.
Straight out of the park is a paved climb that I really don't like for some reason, but it wasn't too bad this time around. I was really starting to wonder why I felt so good, and if riding only twice in two months before was in fact the perfect training schedule. Had I stumbled upon a better and completely new way to prepare for these sorts of events? Alas, no, I had not, I was just oblivious about what was still to come. We now entered a stretch where the wind was still mostly against us, and Andy and I swapped feeling strong and running on fumes every five miles. It was weird, but somehow one of us always felt OK enough to lead while the other struggled, and then it flipped.
We took another short break, ate the chocolate cookies I had picked up on our lunch spot, only to find out as we rolled on there was an "official" stop 200m further down. So we stopped again, treated ourselves to some Jack Daniels (in case anybody doesn't realize this already, a really, REALLY bad idea) and off we went again.
The climb at mile 90, one I had never ridden before without dismounting, started to enter my mind. To be fair, previously I had ridden Thor Hushovd's 2009 Paris-Roubaix bike here and those gears were not conducive to me climbing anything beyond a highway overpass. This time around, I had a 34t front ring and an 11-40 cassette. Close to the ideal set-up I think, with 34x11 I can spin up to 50 kmh (30 mph) on the descents and beyond that, I don't care. And on the other end, you can never have a small enough gear but 34x40 is close to it. My theory proved correct, as I was the only rider in my field of vision who rode up that climb (of course there were many more but most of them were hours ahead of me). Andy had 38x36 and that's close to 20% more. So for once, I had to wait for him, but the next climb our roles were reversed again.
There was another nasty climb with 5 miles to go, one I had completely forgotten about but never will again, and then it was semi-smooth if extremely slow sailing. In fact, not sure why I use a sailing reference as it is completely inappropriate. The way the wind was blowing, the sailing would have been super.
We crossed the finish line, quickly ate a hot dog, instantly started to freeze and then rode back to our hotel. Well, you really couldn't call it riding anymore. It is amazing how your body just completely shuts down when it passes a black/white blocked line. We were crawling, the 600m must have taken us 10 minutes. It was hell, but the bath divine. And coming out of the bath, I felt great. The back pain that had crippled me pre-ride and played up in the middle section was completely gone, my legs felt fine, it was all good. Apparently 9.5 hours of gravel riding is the best back massage one can hope for.
Andy and I both weren't hungry until late, and then all but one of the food options had closed. The one that was still open should really be closed for good, it was awful, but that didn't really matter. It was a fun dinner and overall a really great weekend. Also thanks to Andy's willingness to wait for me several times.
Onwards to the Dirty Kanza, I bet if I train even less for that I can go even farther and do the 200 miler! Just kidding.
And to close, a small detail of my Steve Hed Special Edition bike, the inside of the chainstay. After all, that's what got it all started: