We arrived in Saint Francisville around 10PM, which was taking into account the daylight-savings time change. Knowing that we had an early morning, we checked into the hotel did what any good athletes would do… We went straight to the room to foam roll and we were off to bed to the nearby pizza parlor and quickly inhaled giant plates of lasagna and two pitchers of beer. In my carb-filled stupor, we returned to the room and I decided that running a 25c tire on the front would be advantageous. After making sure that nothing on my bike was going to catch my attention the next morning, I was off to bed. I had thought about this race non-stop for the past two weeks. I have even lost sleep thinking about each and every variable Heather and I have discussed leading up to the day of the race. I knew my body was prepared, so the most important factor the next day was keeping my head about me for the duration of the 106 miles. Since my cross-country trip this summer, I haven’t put in a 100 mile-day, or anything close. Once cyclocross season was over, my riding became almost entirely lactate threshold and VO2 intervals, with a 3.5 hour ride with tempo intervals here and there. My base is strong, but the kind of intensity I had anticipated undergoing for 4.5+ hours was intimidating me a little. Luckily, I have a great coach. I knew that Heather had more than adequately prepared me to push myself beyond what I ever thought to be physically capable of. My numbers reflected this. So, the rest was ultimately going to come down to eating, drinking, and not flexing my muscles too early.
We woke up at 5:44AM (because I have OCD and don’t like numbers that aren’t divisible by 4). We lumbered down to the main lobby of the hotel to pick up our packets and bib numbers, and naturally, my number was 113. So not only was it an odd number, but it was a prime number: my other numerical pet peeve. Kyle, Heather, and I made some waffles, drank the last drops from one of many pots of coffee, and returned to the room to get prepped for a long day.
Kyle and I watched the Pro/1/2 group roll out and decided to hop on the line. We carried our bikes down the stairs, and I followed Kyle as he did a cross-style mount on his SuperSix. I clicked in my left shoe and when I put my weight into my right shoe, nothing happened. I pushed again, but it felt as if my speedplay was sitting flush with my cleat platform. I stopped to see what was going on with my cleat and then I saw it. No spring.
My jaw hit the pavement. I was in such a rush at the shop the day before, I dropped my shoe while installing a shim between the platform and spring bracket on my cleat. I thought the metal area and plastic area had stayed together, containing the “C” shaped spring that lies between them (the piece that enables the cleat to serve any purpose). It must have fallen out and I was in too big a hurry to pay any attention to its being gone.
Needless to say, I had a little bit of a panic attack. Not like hyperventilating or pants wetting or anything like that (pants wetting happened later on), but I immediately went to the first team tent I saw. I asked for a mechanic at the Kona tent, and he looked totally blindsided when I asked if they had any spare Speedplay cleats in their van. The mechanic said they didn’t bring much of anything in way of parts. So I turned around it seemed that Heather and Kyle were both asking around too. Kyle rolled over to the USAC official and asked him where the director could be found. Luckily, he was standing feet away, talking into the microphone! Embarrassed, but completely desperate, I said to him “look, I did something really stupid. I lost the spring in my Speedplay cleat and need a replacement cleat or I can’t race.” Without hesitation, he calmly said, “Zero? X2? What are they?”
He picked up the mic and says, “Okay, everybody. Listen up, this guy needs a Speedplay Zero cleat. So if you have a spare pair of shoes or a cleat handy, this guy could really use it. Thanks.”
Literally, at that moment, I felt a hand on my back and someone say, “Hey man, you need a Speedplay cleat? I’ve got some extra shoes in my car. You want to throw it on real quick?”
We walked over to his car and started removing our respective cleat bolts, and Heather said, “Wait. What size are those?” They turned out to be a 45 Bontrager RXL, and fit me better than my Sidi Ergo 2s. In fact, they were the most comfortable road shoes I have ever put on my feet! He told me to race in them and just find him when I got done! This guy has some majorly good karma coming his way.
Now, I’m not a religious person, but I feel like I should be when these moments happen in life when it seems like something in the universe is changing the world around you JUST to save your ass.
I got on the line and my heart rate was already 110BPM. The group was quite large, and I pulled in five rows back in the 64-man 3/4 Category. Kyle was on the far right in the row in front of me. We started out, and I made my way to the right side of the pack. I wanted an easy out if the road became rough early on. The group was gathered fairly well spread out, but once the 1-lane country road started, sections became narrow and riders had trouble funneling through.
I thought a few of us were going to end up in a pileup on the second wooden bridge (not even 8 miles in), when the bridge was at the bottom of a short hill and a group of riders had nearly stopped in the middle of the bridge, causing several of us to lock up the brakes and hold on, while riders behind us had been going equally as fast. Two riders brushed me coming around, nearly barreling into riders in front of me.
I stayed in the middle of the peloton going into the first gravel section. I knew that the gravel would separate the pack quite a bit. I wasn’t looking to blow it out whatsoever, but I did want to get in the front of the group, just in case there was a promising breakaway and I had an idea of who was off the front. I used the first gravel section as a time to make worthwhile passes that would establish my place in the front of the pack. There was one pileup at the beginning of the gravel, when the course took a sharp right-hand turn uphill. The turn was littered with large rocks atop loose gravel, so those out of the saddle lost their line and caused everyone adjacent to lose theirs as well. I saw riders stopping and getting tangled up, so I took the turn way to the outside. I was almost track standing, waiting for the bodies to clear. Then, right when the group started to move again, it stopped. I put a foot down, but got back on and pedaled through the rest of the gravel section. I rode past someone who was running up with their bike and asked them if they were also having cross withdrawal. They didn’t reply. J
I was in a pack of twelve or so riders after the first section of gravel which consisted of 4 riders from the 4th Dimension Team and a smattering of other clubs. But the lead was short-lived. Minutes later, a group of 30 or so riders worked their way back up after the gravel turned back to pavement. It was obvious that a major strategy of doing well in this race was to avoid being held up by other riders, whether it be getting stopped behind them on technical terrain, or having your line obstructed when just trying to keep your wheels straight in loose sections. I ended up staying towards the front of the pack, often spending more time on the front of the line than I wanted to. But the wind had not gotten bad yet and this was good time to get my legs to open up a bit, so I just spun around 22mph until someone else wanted to set the tempo. There was one rider who went off the front SUPER early. He was a rider for 4th Dimension, and I could see he was really digging in. I thought to myself that it would be stupid to chase this early. I looked at a guy next to me and said, “We’ll catch him. No way he can sustain that for the duration.” The guy replied, “I don’t know, man. I think that guy competed in RAAM last year.” (This sentence should go in with the Shit Cyclists Say video.)
He also said that during some crit last year, he did his laps faster than the pros as a Cat 3. In other words, this dude was strong. When I looked up, he was already out of sight. I still didn’t have any interest in chasing or trying to make a breakaway of my own. I wanted to have a good finish, so I wasn’t about to risk that for a fighting chance in hanging with him even if I could catch up.
We hit the second gravel section, which was the longest and definitely most challenging. It was a combination of large, loose rock gravel, deep sand, and long steady climbing. Picking your line was tough through a lot of it, and people were having trouble putting enough trust into digging in their front wheels and plowing through. You had to anticipate which way riders were going to fishtail so to not get caught up or run into. This was impossible to do, however, when you were right next to someone when they lost control of their bike. I was subject to this twice, once in the second section in the middle of the road, and once in the third gravel section, putting me in a runoff ditch, bikes and all. Luckily, both of these happened going uphill. So, I lost some momentum. But this was much better than had I been bombing down at 33mph and run off the road.
Between the second and third gravel section spills, they not seem like huge setbacks; however, they allowed for two more riders to make their way out of the gravel a little faster, and get that much more of a lead once their tires hit the pavement again. At this point, the official told me that first had 3 minutes 30 seconds, second around 2 minutes, third and fourth had around 1 minute 20 seconds. And then I crested the small hill after the third gravel section and saw the fifth place rider only 20 seconds in front of me. This was around 84 miles in according to my Garmin, but I had been having issues with my GPS auto-pausing on and off all day, along with issues reading my power meter. So I didn’t know if my distance was accurate. I closed the gap, but during this time, I was all alone for a short time so I could re-search for my power meter. It turned out that we only had 15 miles or so, so my Garmin was off by 7 miles. He and I traded pulls for a bit, but I could see he was hurting. Another rider had worked his way up to us, which was a godsend for the guy I’d been working with. Me and our new comrade took 30s pulls for 10 miles or so, and somehow, a guy named Dan who none of us had seen since mile 25 came rocketing up into our line. Dan had chased for 70 miles, and still had the gas on. I was so damn impressed. Towards the final 2 miles, there was a shallow, but very steady climb. This was my chance to take a bit of a gap and secure a top 10 finish, so I powered up and dropped the group by 100 feet or so. Then, Dan did it again. He rode up on my wheel, and we traded long pulls until we saw the 1km sign. Then I decided that I was going to bury myself into the final climb and try to drop Dan. This failed attempt ended up in me continuing to pull Dan up the hill, and once it leveled, he hammered down and pulled away in the final 20 feet. I rolled in; legs on fire, in 6th in the 3/4s. Found out at the post-race dinner that I had finished 3rd in the Cat 4s, with a time of 5:07:43. I would have been happy with a top 10 finish, but was absolutely beside myself to find out I not only had come close to top 5, but had managed to earn a spot on the podium and still had an absolute blast! I will absolutely do this race again next year. The course was far more fun than I had expected, and I had pretty high expectations from everything I had read and heard from those who have raced it. I would even go as far to say that this was an easier undertaking than Southern Cross; however, for this race I had gears, so I understand that its not a fair comparison. Kyle Boudreaux was the race director (and guy with the microphone who helped save my race) and did a phenomenal job inside and out, along with everyone involved. Definitely want to send a big thanks to the organizers, volunteers, support team, and that random guy who lent me his shoes for the race. And most importantly, to the team I traveled to Saint Francisville with: my mother, who chose a pretty crazy weekend for a visit, my stellar teammate, Kyle Campbell, who had some issues early on in the race and still finished strong in the top 10 of the Cat 3s, and of course, my coach and teammate Heather for her unwavering support in everything I do.