Oh gravel racing, you trendy new thing you.
OK, so I’ve done a few gravel races I suppose, mostly Old Man Winter Bike Rally (3 times) and a fundraiser called Roads to Ruts in Douglas, but both were either in the winter or very low key events. The Dead Swede in Sheridan, WY, would mark my foray into one of the bigger gravel races exploding onto the scene.
- Sheridan is an amazing place to ride. And it’s in Wyoming.
- I wanted a podium
- I had teammates going which meant for once I would not have to drive to a race (!!!)
The Dead Swede has a few distance options – 100, 40, and 20 miles. Because I have only once rode 100 miles on a bike, I opted for the 40 mile distance as I knew my hacked together fit on my cyclocross-turned-“gravel” bike wouldn’t bring out any weird pains at that distance, and also that I know I can hammer that long. In a weird bike race season that is either a triumph mountain peak or a barren canyon of despair, I haven’t been setting too many goals… except for the Dead Swede. I wanted to win… well, podium. I’ll take that. I’m trying to be better at realizing I can’t control anything about the race except for me, and sometimes you just have to accept a faster person registered (but it doesn’t mean I won’t give them hell on the first climb and make them work for it for a little while!).
After a fun road trip on Friday with dino-sitting, Moe’s, and exploring our amazing AirBnB, my three teammates plus Sam (eh, he became honorary 9Seventy Racing for the weekend I suppose) readied our bikes and prepared for what lay ahead. I kept joking that they were all my domestiques that would tow me to the finish, which I think started to annoy all the boys.
Sam, Mike, and I picked the front row of the 330+ 40 mile racers that lined up. I hate mass starts, and I hate them even more in a crowd mostly filled with people that have never road raced or ridden in a peloton. The incredibly short neutral roll out took place, and then bam! 8 miles of pavement to get us warmed up. For the most part the pace was fast but reasonable, with some surges and weird slow downs. Someone tried an attack, but I also think they were 15 (and would win it overall), so nobody really chased. I kept my eye on the Douglas squad, which all seemed to be working for Terri. Dammit, where’s my domestiques?! LOL.
After eight miles we hit the gravel and immediately the first big climb of the day. The still air combined with my black skin suit and hot sun made me want to melt but I made it to the top as the first female. I think over the next several miles I stayed close to Chuck and Terri, but eventually dropped off. But it was cool, because I was having fun and so excited I was feeling powerful and fast, especially after the disappointing race a week prior at the Gunnison Half Growler. Time to maintain this second overall female position!
Super, crazy fast descents (well, if you’re me… I descend a bit recklessly on gravel… wait, I mean 43mph on 32mm tires and useless cantilever brakes on loose gravel is totally safe…), long grindy uphills. The gorgeous scenes of Sheridan County flew by along with the miles, and surprisingly quickly I reached Dayton for a tiny bit of pavement before turning back towards Sheridan. The next gravel road was rolly, falsely flat, had a mild headwind, and was hot. I started picking off 20 mile racers, who started in Dayton, hoping everyone would hold their line as I flew around on the downhills in some sort of silly aero tuck (making that skin suit do it’s job, clearly). Around hour one I started sipping my Tailwind, cognizant of the fact I needed to be taking on the calories and hydration in the sun.
The third (in my mind) signifiant climb loomed in front of me and I sighed and shifted into the granny gear to spin up. To my surprise, Tony from Rapid City caught me. Tony and his crew saved my sanity during the 2015 Tour de Wyoming, and soon we were flying up the hill together, catching up on the last four years of our lives (which consisted of “I stopped racing and training.” “Hey, so did I!”). I’d hang with him until the beer and bacon aid station, which I blew past. But I enjoyed the company… my pace up that climb had definitely quickened with Tony distracting me!
Soon traffic picked up, just in time for the final climb. Which was a miserable hill with a false summit. The vehicle traffic kicked up dust climbs to insult my lungs, and due to the traffic, we all had to climb in the loose gravel on the side which added some trickiness. I caught my teammate Ty as Sam came around me – I had thought Sam was miles in front of me, but turns out he was chasing back from a double flat.
Pavement. Ugh. The last handful of miles on the pavement sucked. I had flatted on a road ride in Sheridan last summer, so I was weary of the shoulders and road debris, sticking to the travel lane. I didn’t want to risk anything. Ooooo the school… I’m close… ooooo the bike path, I’m even closer! Yesssss the steep downhill into the park… YESSSS THE FINISH LINE!
2nd place overall women, 2nd place 30-49 women, 13th place overall out of 330 or so racers. 2 hours and 26 minutes.
(And all done on a 2012 Specialized Crux with canti brakes and relatively narrow tires in comparison to today’s trends, and hamburger seat bag. I thumb my nose at you, industry marketing tactics!)
It’s been a long time, or even never, since I have been this proud of my race effort and finish. I raced smart in the opening pavement miles, hiding in the pack. I railed the descents, and made sure to stay steady on the climbs. I put forth a solo time trial effort over most of the course, much of it into a hot headwind all by myself. I was so freaking happy!
So yeah… I like this gravel stuff. It’s a whole new different style of racing. It has some roadie tactics without the 15-20 hour a week training commitment Colorado women’s cat 3 road racing seems to command just to not get dropped in the first fifteen seconds. It has a need of skills that crosses over from cyclocross and mountain biking. It has crazy awesome courses on little travel roads. And in events like the Dead Swede, it has crazy huge women’s fields!