|Remember; Nebraska is pan flat. Photo credit: Ryan Trullinger|
Every year that I do Odin's Revenge, I come away from it excited to go back and do it again the next year. This year was no exception. The people I see are fun to hang out with, the course is beautiful, and the weekend away from home is relaxing.
The previous years that I've done this event, I've done the short course that is around 60 miles and designed more as an intro to gravel riding in the area more than it is a race. That doesn't stop us from riding hard and making a race out of it. Two years ago, Tyler and I finished the short course first together and last year I finished it in third place after missing a turn and not catching the leaders in time (Tyler made an attempt at the long course). I was planning on going back and finishing in first again. The organizers are always pushing me to do the long course, however the "hang out and drink beer with friends" time after the ride always takes priority over doing the marquee event. Our friends Patrick and Sara Doty were going to be there again this year and it's been a while since we got to hang out with them so it was even more important to me that I wouldn't be riding for 12+ hours!
However, this year as I was inquiring as to whether the short course was the same as the prior years so I could get my Garmin ready, I found out that the long course would be crossing back through the start/finish area at about the 100 mile point. Also, there would be two checkpoints with water available within those 100 miles so the longest I would have to go between refilling my bottle would be a little more than 40 miles. I've always known that the long course hits more scenic roads than the short course and I've wanted to see and ride those roads, so after some deliberation with myself, I decided to just do the first half of the long course this year.
|Just chilling and waiting to get moving! Photo credit: Chad Quigley|
One thing I've always felt the short course was missing, besides the cool MMRs, was more competitive riding. The long course was certainly not lacking in that aspect. As soon as we hit the gravel, I felt like I was in a road race. A road race on, as Todd Tvrdik said, millions of ball bearings. We were jockeying for position, trying to simultaneously stay in the draft while avoiding the deep/loose gravel on the initial gravel roads. The pace felt kind of high and I had to make a couple hardish efforts to close a gap or two, but I had already decided to ride as hard as I needed in order to stay with the front group until I blew up so I just went with it.
The group whittled down slowly over the next 30 odd miles. I think most of the climbing was stacked into the first 40 miles and it felt like some of these guys were hitting these hills like we were in a 50 mile road group ride. It got hard, but I was determined to stay up front so I started using my momentum on the downhills to make it closer to the front of the group and then floating back down through the group up the next climb without losing contact. The rutted out and dusty MMR descents caused me to just about lose the group. At one point I hit a rut and just about bounced from one side of the road to the other and almost took out Andrew Casburn behind me. The group wasn't riding too hard though so we got back to them without much difficulty. By the time we made the first checkpoint, we were down to seven guys and I was feeling pretty good despite the hard riding we had up to that point.
I wasn't too surprised that I felt good at that point. I've done lots and lots of hard groups rides of about that length. I was more curious about how I would handle the next 60 miles, but I pushed on figuring I'd just go until I couldn't anymore. Up until this point, I hadn't taken a single turn on the front. I was just hanging on and letting things shake out. We were already going harder than I liked so there was no reason to stick my nose into the wind and make it harder on myself. However, now that there was just 5 or so of us (a couple guys stayed behind at the checkpoint) it was time to start contributing. The pace wasn't too hard so when it was my turn, I set a pace that seemed to match the speed we were already going. Looking at my power numbers it was a power that I knew I could ride at for quite a while so I was fine with that. Pretty soon I heard some commotion behind me and, turning around, I saw that I had opened up a gap with the guy behind me. I had no intentions of trying to ride off on my own, so I let up.
|Dismounting at checkpoint 1. #crossiscoming Photo credit: Chad Quigley|
Over the next several miles the group dropped down to four as Andrew's rear wheel, having quite the wobble to it and rubbing his chainstay, finally forced him to slow down too much. On a side note: Andrew is the same guy who dropped his chain at Pioneer's Park last year while leading the CX race there and still managed to put his chain back on and kick my ass. So, I wasn't without a bit of a smile when I saw that Andrew had dropped off the pace even though the tire rubbing the chainstay was probably a major contributor.
The three other guys I was riding with at this point were Todd Tvrdik, Mike Marchand, and Bill Clinesmith, the eventual winner. At one point Mike started cramping and Todd dropped back as well so it was just Bill and me at the front of this race. And I was feeling pretty alright. I was quite surprised! Pleasantly surprised, of course!
It wasn't too long at all before Todd and Mike caught back up with us. Mike seemed to have gotten past his cramps and it was nice to have two more guys to ride with. We spent several miles riding past pastures with less than effective fencing. There were more than a few cows loitering about on the roads. Thankfully there were no bulls that we could see. Though at one point we encountered a cow and her calf on the road with nowhere to go but at us or away from us down the road. They did choose to run away from us (I'm impressed at how fast a full grown cow can run, BTW), though Mike made the observation that the rest of the calves, who were looking on from the adjoining pasture, would now have a complex seeing as how they now knew who mom's favorite was. So if you have a burger in the next few years that seem inexplicably inferior...
Once we hit the second checkpoint at Potter's Pasture, I saw that we were on the back half of the short course again. I knew that the rest of the course would be mostly downhill so I knew I would have few problems making it back to the start/finish area even if I totally blew up. It was starting to get windy and knowing that I was going to be pulling out of the race at the next checkpoint so when we turned into the wind I immediately went to the front to take the wind for the the other guys who would be continuing on after the next checkpoint. I pulled for a few minutes and then kinda regretted it when Mike and Bill pulled through at a similar pace. But I was able to jump back on with little issue and we made our way through the rest of the first half of the course making pretty good time despite the wind.
|Peter Sagan often finishes a race with a wheelie. I can't wheelie so... Photo credit: Rob Evans|
We pulled in to checkpoint 3 with a total time of 5:46 and a moving average speed of 17.3 mph for 96 miles. I don't think I've done a road century that fast so to have done it on gravel was quite surprising to me! I was pretty stoked. I was honestly tempted to grab some food at the convenience store and make an attempt at finishing the full long course, but I stuck with the plan and called it quits. I was still feeling pretty good at the 96 mile mark, so I am curious how another 85 miles would have gone. If they do another long course where you circle back through the start/finish area at the 100ish mile mark, I will definitely consider attempting the full long course.