Sunday, August 22, 2010

Gravel World Championships: The 695 Shuffle

Rolling into Oasis 2 at mile 138
It was the inaugural Gravel World Championships, also known as the Good Life Gravel Adventure. This weekend went on the calendar back in February. I've toyed with the idea of Trans Iowa and Dirty Kanza but have never pulled the pin on the hand grenade explosion of the self. This time around though I thought, what the hell, it's in my backyard and it's the World Championships. Gravel doesn't get any better than the plains states, period.

My prep basically consisted of one thing, my century of the month. I'm far from what you call an ultra-endurance guy. My longest day on the bike ever was 120 miles and that included about 70 miles of descending from Big Bear Lake California. Other than that, it was Rafal and I's ride of 115 a couple weeks ago. We (Rafal, Mike and I) debated on hydration in the leading days and I settled on a three pack of Camelbak Chill bottles. Swapped the 46t CX crank on the Ibis for a 50t compact and swapped over to my road pedals and shoes, all set.

We had a good pre-race night at the Woodman house and opted to ride to the start in the morning. That lasted all of three blocks when in the twilight hours of the morning I nailed a broken 40oz. bottle with my front tire, shredding my near new Challenge Griffo. A quick turn around and tire change at Nate's, and Anne and I threw the bikes in the car and heading to the Nebraska Events Center. We were greeted by a parking lot full of vehicles and 100+ riders ready to roll.

Sitting 5th wheel with MT in tow. Pic: CVO
I wrapped my earphones around my helmet straps, hit shuffle all songs on the iPod and so began the 695 shuffle. We rolled out just before dawn and it wasn't long before we had a front group of around 30. I took my turn at the front occasionally stretching the legs a bit on a hill here and there. Everything felt good. As we rolled through the Salt Creek valley near Waverly, JT gave me the reminder to not wait too long to start drinking and eating. I obliged by taking in a GU and rinsing it down with a swig of water. By the time we made the westward turn onto Branched Oak road the natives were getting restless, myself included. Jim Winklepleck and Chris Hansen started pushing the tempo bit by bit. I'd let them roll away on the climbs and then use the momentum on the descent to bring them back into the group. We had one good wildlife scare when we came across a skunk crossing the road. Pepe Le Pew gave us a glance over his left shoulder and flicked up his tail. Luckily no spray was discharged. Things got interesting on the north leg towards Valpraiso when the first spill of the day took down no fewer than three of the contenders.

Pics: CVO
Two of the victims, Jay Thomas and Troy Krause would rejoin shortly, but both were definitely feeling the affects of falling on gravel strewn hard packed dirt. A big group of us, 20 or so, rolled into Valpo together. A quick stop for water and our required lottery ticket and we were back off. This first stop would make the first real selection of the day as the lead group was whittled down to just 8 or 10. As we turned south for our first tailwind I was feeling good and started clicking down the gears, using gravity and momentum to crank the speed well above 30 on the downhills. Before I knew it JT and I had rolled off the front, soon to be joined by Kevin Wilkins.

Scouring the aisles in Malcolm. Pic: CVO
At about this time we hit a long section of MMR road and as I led our small group over the dirt I soon noticed that Jay was gone and then Kevin. Here I was, mile fifty something, alone at the front...with a tailwind. I put my Rouleur style to use and by checkpoint two, Malcolm, I had a pretty sizable gap, just how sizable was anyone's guess. Sizable enough though that by the time I finally made it through the line at the Malcolm general store no one else had yet to arrive. Full bottles, lotto ticket in hand, off we go.

I was now back on somewhat familiar terrain, heading towards the Denton alps and "the wall". This would be the first point in the day where I'd drop into the small chainring, Mile 70ish. This would also be the first hint of cramps coming on. Malcolm to Hickman was a tough leg. Forty four miles, all alone, no idea how far ahead I was, temperature rising, just pedaling.

I think it was around mile 90 when I first had to get off the bike to stave off the cramps. Usually the muscle goes once and then is fine. Not this time. About 10 miles later I had to get off again and at this point I could see a black dot on the road behind me. Somebody was coming, but who? It took a good 5 miles for Mike Machard to come up, catching me just one and a half miles before Hickman (mile 111). My 60 mile solo effort off the front had come to an end, and unfortunately so too the championship jersey.

Mike and I both loaded up in Hickman for the final 30+ miles. We took our time, rested for about 10 minutes. As we rolled out, nobody else was yet in sight. I'd hoped the rest and liquids would help the cramps but soon after we left the last checkpoint, I had to let Mike go. The next 30 miles were brutal. Long grinding climb after climb. TK is an assassin. I was so excited to be at the final oasis and see Anne waiting there with Showen, Ortiz, Hoss and Schmidty's family. Full bottles, garden hose rinse off and 10 miles to go. I poured more water on my head and legs in those last ten miles than in my mouth, but I finally rolled in 15 minutes behind Mike, 2nd place. Big thanks to Cornbread and the PCL, great race, great time.

The computer stats read like so...149 miles...8:44:04 (9:06 total time)...17.1 avg spd...9166 ft. climbing...6263 cal.

Mike Marchand, Kearney, NE ~ 1st ever Gravel World Champion

Ian Moore, Waco, TX ~ 3rd Place
2nd place gets you a bithin' Skateboard Mag hat and limited edition JP poster, thanks KW, JP and CS.


Cornbread said...

Hey Mark! Great job on Saturday. It was great having you and Anne there. It meant a lot to the Lincoln crew.

I still can't believe that's the longest ride you've ever done. Congrats!

cvo said...

way to go dude, you looked great.

TOMMY GUN said...

Gaw Damn! Sounds like an awesome day.

RD said...

DK200 is next mark your calendar

brady said...

With my longest ride at 93 miles, & on pavement && hating my bike for the last 10 miles, I have no reference point to gauge this effort.

To go another 60 miles/4+ hours on gravel, by yourself in that heat and at that speed to contend for the victory is truly commendable. Or nuts.

Good job, Mod. You're totally nuts in my book

Mark Studnicki said...

Sounds like a cool as hell event. wish I could have been there. It was on my race schedule at one point when I first heard about it, but something else up :-)