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Race Report: The Dead Swede 2020

The final climb of The Dead Swede (Photo by Powder River Photography)

2020 has been a struggle when it comes to racing. Races either cancelled, or moved their date. The Dead Swede was one of these – from an original June date to beginning of October. Like in 2019, I targeted this race as one of my “A” races when planning my season, along with Bear Bait 8 and the Laramie Range Epic. Bear Bait 8 happened but I was the only one in my field, the Epic went virtual, so that left me with lots of fire for The Dead Swede.

Last year I raced the 40 mile course and loved it, but bumped up to the brand new 60 mile option for this year. When I registered I had barely begun to get 60 mile rides under my belt, so I was nervous about how it would go, but thankfully after a spring and summer of lots of 60-70 mile rides, I felt confident with racing the distance, especially after Robidoux Quick N Dirty.

Some of the 2019 crew returned – Eric and Mike! Brian was new to the crazy crew. Sadly we couldn’t get our sweet Air BnB from last year, but were able to at least catch up over dinner before heading to all our hotels.

It was a chilly 40 or so degrees on race morning, as we all stood around debating clothing choices. I glanced at other women I saw, trying to size up my competition. I really had no idea what to expect, much like at Robidoux. The Dead Swede did see a big drop off in participants when they moved the date, but there were still about 90 starting the 60 mile race (the 40 mile race had the most participants this year, but still about half of what came out for 2019’s race). Not horribly shabby, considering how 2020 panned out.

Waiting for the start.

8:05am and off we went! A couple rows of recreational riders were at the front, so I quickly made my way through them during the neutral start to get to the front of the pack. My strategy is mostly “get to the front, then you know if you’re passed.” A small peloton formed, but it wasn’t nearly as organized and fast as the previous year’s. Apparently I made an enemy with a 15 year old when he rapidly swerved into my line and I scolded him, so he went on to call me out on Strava, ha! But yeah, I didn’t like the group, lots of weird riding happening. Needless to say, it was a relief when we all turned onto the gravel and could spread out a bunch.

Then, it happened. A ponytail and neon pink jacket passed me and she looked mighty strong on the climbs. I was going to have to work for this one, it seemed, but I was nearly immediately discouraged by how strong she appeared on climbs. Eric kinda laughed at me, and told me not to worry. Gotta love good gravel friends like that!

However, after a few miles it was apparent some of the tactics that were coming into play, and I didn’t like them (aka, sitting in my draft but not willing to return the favor), so I yelled over to Eric that I needed to put down the hammer. It was mile 12 or so… of a 60 mile race. So early with so much tough climbing left, but I had to make a gap. It was rolling downhill into the first aid station in Big Horn at mile 16, so to my advantage and I let my legs do their thing. I breathed a sigh of relief at the gap, but as I turned around on the out and back, it was obvious how small it was not only to 2nd place, but 3rd place. I told Eric once again, “I don’t think I’m winning this thing,” and he rolled his eyes at me.

Out of Big Horn I climbed in a small group with Eric and South Dakota Guy, all of us taking small turns into the wind. I lost my group when I took a few seconds of non-pedaling to yank my bibs back down over my knee warmers (the worse!) and take a gel, but kept the guys in view. The course then turned onto the fantastic Dry Weather Road, which lives up to its name with baby head rocks, ruts, and overall awesomeness. After this fun stretch was over, we joined the 40 mile course where it leaves the pavement, and I was back into familiar territory from last year.

With a headwind from the north-northwest, my times were decently slower than the previous year’s, but I kept pushing on, stealing glimpses behind me when I could (but I realized 2nd place had probably removed her neon pink jacket by now and would be blending in with all the other dark dots behind me). I went back and forth with South Dakota Guy, Eric, and Brian throughout the course, which was nice to have familiar faces. I rode into Dayton with Eric, but he needed water at the aid station so I kept going on, time trialing on the false flat to the second-to-last major climb of the day. A climb in which I was nearly creamed by a semi truck hauling sheep… ugh.

By now there was a nice tailwind, which was much appreciate. I flew past the final aid station, knowing I had about ten miles left, and most of it is downhill and very fast. I was pedaling like mad, when my Garmin gave me the “you’re off course!” beep. I panicked braked and looked around, as there was an intersection. Brian wasn’t far behind me, so I let him catch me and he said his Garmin did the same, but we were in the right direction. By now I was panicking, and knew I lost precious seasons. Pedal pedal pedal. Finally the last climb appeared, which was hellacious last year. Luckily with a tailwind this year, it went quicker and didn’t see all that bad because I knew what to expect, and I took my time smiling at the photographer, unaware I was being chased down with intent…

All smiles on the final climb! (Photo by Powder River Photography)

To the top, and I hit the pavement for the last few smooth miles before the finish. I hammered as much as I could, knowing I had to finish strong (and it’s good I did this!). Finally it was the final steep bike path descent, and the finish line, which I sprinted for with Brian!

YES I DID IT!!!!

1st Place overall women, 6th place overall out of everyone… 3 hours 37 minutes 1 second!

Brian and I were still trying to breathe normally and get out of racing mode when the 2nd place woman crossed the line, only one minute and nine seconds behind me. “Oh wow, that was really close!” I remarked to Brian. It felt really good to work for the win and to have to put a lot of effort into it. Sure, easy wins are nice (I had a 20 minute or so cushion at Robidoux), but there’s something sweeter when it is close and required a lot of work and panic and fear for several hours. Eric rolled in next and told me how much he wanted to call me on the final climb and let me know she was chasing me down. It was close!

Nothing like a finisher’s beer from Black Tooth Brewing!

The Dead Swede 60 mile is a fast race, so I had a comical amount of food and water on me, though I do like to lean towards being over prepared. I had 2 liters of water with 300 calories of lemon Tailwind mixed in, and terrible me, I still haven’t pulled the bladder out of my Chase Vest, and noted how much I drank. Starting one hour in, I took an SIS gel every 30 minutes, which was an amazing tactic I’ve never tried. This really kept me fueled and I was never hungry. SIS gels are also so easy to eat, I just rip them open and smoosh the entire gel into my mouth at once. Because they’re isotonic, I do not have to worry about drinking right after I take one, either. I also had two bottles of plain water on my bike, but I never touched those. I think with the cooler temps, I could’ve gotten by with just bottles on my bike without the camelback, and not needed aid stations, but it was still so nice just to have the water on my back and to not have to worry about stopping, which eats into precious seconds.

No podium this year, so just this goofy photo of myself. I am slightly sad they didn’t give out spears or axes as trophies, but hey, it’s 2020, so understandable.

Second Dead Swede done and dusted, and still one of my favorite events! I did like the October date, as the temperatures stayed cool and the autumn colors made everything pretty. I will definitely be back in 2021, and now the debate is beginning on if I should give the 100 mile course a go….

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