Over the summer Cathy and I spent a bunch of time riding dirt roads. The camp that we bought in Vermont is located on some great dirt roads and so we had been taking advantage of that and enjoying the change in scenery so to speak. We have also been extremely happy with the adaptation of our Cannondale SuperX disc brake cyclocross bikes for dirt road riding. Setup with the stock, Stan's Alpha340 clincher wheels and 32c file tread cyclocross tires, the bikes are awesome for the un-paved.
Anyhow, our teammate Kyle had reconned the course earlier in the summer. Cathy and I spent a day of the week leading up to the event driving the entire course and riding the central third of it. The course posed some challenges bookended with an armload of steady climbing at the start and a brutally steep climb at the end. All in all though, it was a great course with some wonderful roads and good scenery. The only dicey parts would really be a few intersections toward the end that had traffic lights or stops as the course would not be closed for the race. That meant open roads and abiding by the normal traffic laws, including stopping at the traffic lights.
|Race shots from Cathy's GoPro|
The van was a bit crowded and packed with gear so I laid my jersey and bibs on my bike-bag and turned away to do some work to the bikes. Somewhere along the lines my shorts disappeared. I rifled through my bag and no luck. I searched the back of the van and no luck. All the while, Kyle was still getting suited up in the back seat of the van. I looked at him and asked if he had seen my shorts. Emphatically no he replied then tried to find the tag on the shorts that he was currently wearing. Kyle is a size medium while I am a size large. A walk behind the van discovered a pair of bib shorts hanging from the bars of Kyle's bike, size medium. At this revelation Kyle stripped the shorts off which he had spent far too much time getting comfortable in and handed them back to me. All the while Cathy was standing in the front trying to avoid eye contact with a now fully naked man in the back seat of the van. I wrestled with what to do with my now pre-warmed shorts.
Moving on, we finally get the wardrobe squared away and make our way to the start. Cathy, Kyle, Rich and myself line up toward the front on the second row or so. The start is neutral for the first 1.8 miles of pavement out route 111 leading to the first dirt segment and the real start of the race. It is clear that many are treating the event as a ride, planning to have fun, soak in the sights and stop at the feed zones. Looking around however, it also becomes abundantly clear that others are treating this as not only a race but a full on battle for supremacy. On the line we have loads of racing legitimacy with multiple younger elite road and cyclocross racers, a good sampling of the elite master's race scene, a whole lot of unknowns from the nether reaches of Canada and one young man with a spiffy world champion's jersey and Redbull team helmet and bib shorts. Turned out his name is Austin and he had just won the Gravel Worlds the weekend before at a 150 mile race in Nebraska. He is also the current messenger World Champion I am told. I assumed that was all legit and in told, knew it would be a hard day of racing. Kyle was a mess of nerves but had been riding super well all year. I was hopeful but would take what I could get.
|The turn at Lake Seymour where the first feed zone was|
At the crest of the first real rise the road winded back a bit and you got a good view of behind us. Decimation and despair was all that could be seen as well as a huge gap. This was the break that was going to fight for the race, a group of about 15 guys. We continued on some flatter sections and then had a fast downhill. In the left hand, dirt corner one very fit racer in gym shorts, a Coyote Hill MTB Camp jersey and a collection of vintage equipment hit the corner a little hot, drifting hard and throwing gravel everywhere but keeping it upright. Then we hit the next hill. Shortly there after, as the tempo eased a bit, I heard the voice of Colin Reuter from Crossresults fame. He, John Mosher and another guy had bridged up on the last downhill when the pace eased a bit. Unfortunately, only Colin had been able to stick when the inevitable surge happened just after they caught us. Colin was talking a mile a minute and clearly stoked to be there. He tells all about it here.
|Race shots from Cathy's GoPro|
As we hit the turn onto RT111 at Lake Seymour and the first feed zone the pace picks up a bit. A rider goes up and I go with him, knowing we were heading into a short steep little climb followed by some rollers. We get a bit of a gap but I'm not wanting to go too hard at this point so keep the pace sane and soon I'm caught and passed. The final roller to the general store is where we turn sharply left and head down the last bit of pavement for this stretch and back onto dirt.
Everything came back together on the way down and we rolled hard on the dirt segment. I knew that in a couple of miles we had one of the best sections of the worst road coming up, which was also on a screaming fast downhill taking us around the back side of Echo Lake. Having ridden it before and being conservative on the bike and tire choice, running the SuperX disc CX bike with Vittoria 32c Evo XN file tread CX tires at higher pressure, I was pretty sure I wouldn't flat. I pushed the pace hard on the climb up and then went as fast as I could on the descent, passing everyone and stringing it out. My intent was simply to punish those who chose to run narrower, road specific slick tires on their road bikes. At the bottom we came back together and a quick assessment showed the only casualty was Sunapee master's racer Bruce Diehl, who had flatted on the way down. Bruce is a solid racer who was riding really well that day and probably would have beaten me.
Soon another break formed, this time with Expo racer Todd Bowden and a younger but very solid racer from Canada. They got a bit of a gap before we started to respond. We turned left heading away from the lake and were soon on a short section of pavement heading down to the intersection of RT105. I was sitting toward the front but not on the front when out of nowhere a large up-thrust rock appeared in the pavement. I instinctively hopped it (more like launched it really) but immediately heard the crunch of man and metal hitting the road at high speed. Paul Richard yelled out, "Don't look back" to avoid further incidents and we questioned what to do, ride back to check or move forward. Colin was right behind me and saw it all. It was Evan who hit the lip one handed and went into the ground hard. Kyle decided to roll back but was joined soon Sunapee rider Sam who had also gone down and stated that Evan was shaken, but mostly OK. There were also marshals at the intersection close to the accident so the consensus was that we should roll.
At this point there were thirteen of us I believe with Kyle and I still hanging on for dear life. The ride through Brownington was pretty non-descript with some long steady climbs and a couple of shorter steep grunts, but nothing decisive. Descending out however posed the net big challenge. We had a super fast downhill that took us over I91 and then abruptly made a 100 degree turn right onto Pine Hill Road. Paul Richard went off the front there and I chased hard wanting to be alone into the corner. A couple of dirt rollers and Patrick Ruane went off as well, just before the left turn onto Glen Road. This was a high speed descent with a sharp right corner half way down which had lots of chatter bumps in it. I chose to hug the extreme inside, which was banked heavily off the central crown of the road. This allowed me to maintain all of my speed without issue. Unfortunately Sam was having a really bad day and got to the left in the corner, over the crown of the road and ended up flying off, tumbling into the grass of the shoulder making for a spectacular show.
Soon Todd went off along with one of the Canadian team riders to chase the break, which was now very legit. The run into Newport was mostly flat with some gently roll and a bit of a head wind. The break never ran far and nobody was really trying hard to bring it back. We could also see the steam running out a bit on the break and the realization that the biggest climb of the day, one that most had only heard about and not ridden, was still looming ahead.
|Food and drink didn't help the post race cross gut|
Instead we moved forward, making the right corner and moving upward in earnest. The climb lasted for an eternity and got steeper as we went. I slipped back a bit and the real climbers did there thing. I counted nine ahead making me the tenth on the road with a gap back to Kyle, Salem and Paul. I finally crested maybe 50 yards back, just behind the follow car that had joined in and was filming the stretch. I went as hard as I could on the descent and managed to bring it back to within maybe 20 yards but got slowed at the next intersection, narrowly missing rear-ending the film vehicle in a full on skid.
Back up to speed I chased hard and caught just as the lead group had to stop at another red light onto RT5. This was a bit of a cluster and we swarmed a truck that was waiting to turn but we all got through. An unexpected course change had us make a right on a side road after crossing over I91. This was a nice rolling road with some dirt and a couple of steep short climbs, which was cutting off a busy stretch of RT5 and the RT5A, but where was it going to dump us out in terms of the finish? Would we take a right or a left when back on RT5A? I had no idea but tried to stay up front. The turn would be a left and then a right leading into the finish but it was such that I couldn't react quickly enough to challenge. I hit the grass field loop last of the lead group, which was now whittled down to seven, and had no legs left to challenge for anything better in the bumpy grass. Todd got the win. Always tough to beat him in the grass. Here's the full loop that we did and my tracks.
|Todd and Kate the 2013 Men's and Women's winners|
A great day on great roads and a truly great event. Is there room for improvement? Sure, with some seemingly simple changes there would be big gains. However, it was still one of the highlights of the season for us and we will be certain to be back again next year.