Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Good Life Gravel Gran Fondo #goodlifegravel

Roads like these!
It's shaping to be a busy (for me) race season this year. A couple weekends ago Rafal held his annual Gravel Gran Fondo starting from Malvern, IA. I'd had this on our calendar tentatively since he announced the date, but with the Lewis & Clark Crusher and Odin's Revenge both in June already, adding the gravel grand fondo would have made three weekends in a row of events for me. In recent years that would have been too much for our young family, but I was keeping the date open just in case we felt it was something we could handle. And as it turns out, we could handle it this year with little extra stress. It's crazy what a difference a year can make with young kids.

My idea for this ride was to simply ride hard. I wanted to see how long I could stick with the real fast guys. A few of the Harvest Racing guys were going to be there plus Jonathan Wait and other who were for sure going to really throw down. I figured I'd hang with them as long as I could and then ride my own pace to the finish. The only distance offered this year was a 63 mile route and I knew I could manage to crawl through the rest of that kind of distance if I totally blew up.

I was also trying out a new set of tires. My brother had purchased a set of Compass' Bon Jon Pass Tires for his new cross bike recently. They're a 35mm full file treaded tire with a tubeless ready bead.They're really light for their size at 300ish grams per tire. Tyler was having a hell of a time getting them set up tubeless on the Stan's Grail rims that came on his new cross bike and then when they finally did set up, they blew off the rim just sitting there later on. Once that happened, he decided to give up on them feeling he couldn't really trust them again. I had heard other reports of the tires doing just fine so I wondered if they would play better with my Pacenti SL23s. Tyler, being the generous guy he is, gave the pair to me to try. They weren't nearly as easy to set up on my rims as my WTB Cross Bosses were, but once I blasted them with 80+ psi from my air compressor they seated with a few nice snaps. I handled them with care for a while waiting for a tire to blow off a rim, but it never happened. Talking with Lucas Marshall later on, he theorized that the more supple sidewall of the tires are what made it hard to get the bead to take.I think he may be right there.

Anyway, I still had my doubts on these tires. With anything less than 30 psi of pressure in them, I could take my thumbs and force air out of the bead. The sidewalls are pretty thin too so I wondered if they would be more prone to sidewall cuts. However, it's rare for something to put pressure on a sidewall like my two thumbs while you're riding and the gravel we have around here isn't very sharp so I figured I should, in theory, be okay. The lack of any kind of knobs on the tread was something I knew I'd have to get over in my head too. I generally believe that tread doesn't really do much for you on gravel roads, but it's still hard for me to translate that knowledge to confidence while I'm flying down a gravel road at 35+ mph with a corner at the bottom!

So, back to the gran fondo. Somehow I managed to lead out the group with Kevin Gilinsky. As we hit the first section of gravel, all I could think was, "don't crash!" Fortunately, the tires were feeling okay on the flat gravel that we started on. I set about a pace that was not hard but not super easy either, waiting for others to come around soon, but it seemed as though everyone was quite satisfied with the pace I was setting, so even though there was another line of riders next to me, no one was wanting to push the pace must faster. Once we hit the hills, it was another story all together. Pretty soon I was riding just about as hard as I could in order to stick with the front guys up the hills and spinning out my 38x11 as fast as I dared on a couple downhills as well. 

When we hit the first MMR is when I lost the front group. I just didn't yet have the confidence in my tires in the dusty dirt and they rode away. Within a few miles though, I settled in with Thomas Torres and my team mate, Jakob Wilson. We were still riding pretty hard up the hills until I mentioned something about not loving seeing 400+ watts on my Garmin every time we went uphill. I don't know if my comment caused the other two to back off a bit or if the gradients just got easier, but I started feeling like our pace became more manageable for me after that.

As we neared the checkpoint at close to the halfway point, Thomas was starting to act a bit fatigued. We definitely didn't want to lose him. as three is better than two with something like 40 miles to go so we worked on not pushing it so hard as to drop Thomas. At the checkpoint, we refilled water quickly and got back out on the road within a few minutes. Thomas was thinking about just hanging out there for a bit, but made a snap decision to continue on with Jakob and me instead. The next several miles were dead flat and we cruised along all together pretty quickly. Thomas took the lead for the last bit of the flat sections and I remember thinking he seemed to really be working hard. The very next hill was probably the steepest one in the whole route and as we turned onto it, Thomas looked up and said something like, "Oh shit. I'm cramping. See you guys later!" The way he said it was pretty funny, but I still felt bad for him as cramping there with like 30 hilly mile to go would not be fun! However, I quickly turned my attention to riding up this crazy hill. My lowest gear was a 38x36 and so I just stood up and cranked away at like 50 rpm and tried not to look up too often to see how much further I had to go.

Fred Hinsley always gets your best side in pictures.

The rest of the route was just me and Jakob. He had made it up the brute of a hill probably 30 seconds faster than me, but he soft-pedaled at the top to wait for me so we could work together. In the distance ahead, we could see someone who had been dropped from the lead group and so we kind of used him as a rabbit to reel in. We rode conservatively so we could pass him with enough energy to make it hard for him to latch on to our wheels though that turned out to be unnecessary as he had been cramping we found out later and didn't even try to hold on as we passed.

Thomas loves cramps, apparently!

Surprisingly enough, I was feeling relatively fresh as we moved into the final fourth of the ride. That was good, cause Jakob was starting to feel less than fresh, I think. A low gear of 34x26 on a hilly ride like that will do that to you! Since I was feeling pretty decent yet, I was able to take longer pulls,and since we are team mates, I didn't have to worry about him attacking me later on. The only other notable thing about the last bit of the ride was the really funny (at least after-the-fact) one-two canine punch that happened at the top of a hill. I think we were just cresting a hill when this tiny little dog come rushing out of a yard yipping and yapping at us with all the ferocity of a 15 pound furball. We laugh and shake our heads at the cute little "guard dog" until two seconds later when his buddy, the 80+ pound german shepherd came flying out of the yard heading straight after us looking less than friendly! We got to practice our dog-sprints then!

Jakob and I rolled in together to finish in the top ten and under 4 hours total ride time. I think both of us were pretty happy with out performance and pretty stoked on the whole event. Afterwards there was delicious food for each rider from local chef/cyclist Eric Marshall and, of course, beer! I thought the event was fantastic and I hope to do it again next year!

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