Monday, May 26, 2014

2014 Gravel Metric

That's me in Team Pedal Moraine orange, fording Steward Creek at mile 49. (Matthew Jarrett photo)

On Sunday I returned to DeKalb IL for the Gravel Metric: 68 miles of gravel, dirt, turf, and (rarely) pavement. In 2010 I rode the inaugural Gravel Metric. It was great to go back and I was rewarded with a course that was better than the original.

Jeff Wren of Team Extreme accompanied me on the drive to DeKalb. Each of us was armed with a cyclocross bike, but our tire choices made a big difference shortly after we waved goodbye to the police escort that had guided us out of the city. Jeff’s road tires were too skinny and too highly pressurized to be effective on the sometimes extremely primitive country roads and farm tracks. With my cyclocross tires, I worked steadily through slower traffic, unaware that Jeff had stopped to lower his tire pressure. That was the end of our collaboration on the ride.

Or was it a race? No official results were kept, but Jamey Driscoll and Ben Berden were in attendance and made a point of beating everyone back to DeKalb:

If you don’t recognize those names, then you probably don’t follow professional cyclocross. Driscoll took 4th place in January at the national championship in Boulder CO. Berden is a Belgian with numerous European and American victories, including the cyclocross race at Sea Otter on April 12. At the Gravel Metric there were 360 riders and some were clearly in it just for fun, but many were racing or at least training hard.

I went as hard as I could for as long as I could, finishing in 4:14 with an average speed of 16.1 mph. That put me 45 minutes behind the chase group that finally had succumbed to Driscoll and Berden with 15 miles to go. At roughly the 60-mile mark I just couldn’t push the pace anymore. I lost a few positions before the finish line at the city limits, but I still was squarely in the top half of the field. Jeff arrived a little while later and we headed to the party tent for food and drinks. People were still on course as we left DeKalb.

Even after the post-ride party, I was 7 pounds lighter than I had been when I rolled out of bed at 5:30 a.m.  A good breakfast, two Hammer Gels and two bottles of Nuun got me through an effort my Garmin estimated at 4,272 calories, but I surely would not have refused another bottle. The Gravel Metric, though, is completely unsupported and runs on roads that have no stores where riders could refuel or rehydrate. It’s a tough event but one for which I am well-suited: I’m a good rider on bad roads who can produce steady (if unspectacular) power for long distances and whose upper body doesn’t wear out.

The Gravel Metric was the highlight of my 3-day weekend, but there were other noteworthy moments. The weekend began with a well-attended, well-executed Washington County Bicycle Club ride. Those 45 miles on Saturday set me up for a good performance on Sunday. This morning I officiated a time trial at Sandy Knoll County Park, then hurried home to watch the USA Cycling National Championships from Chattanooga TN. Alison Powers won the women’s road race to become the first person to hold all three championship jerseys: criterium, time trial and road race. The men’s road race was marred by a high-speed crash that left newly-crowned TT champion Taylor Phinney with a broken leg. Eric Marcotte won in an exciting bunch sprint after a manic final 4 kilometers.

Last week I covered 224 miles in 14 hours, doing a mix of mountain biking, road riding and gravel grinding. It was my heaviest training week since July 2013. This week also will be a period of high mileage and saddle time, then I will taper for the June 7 Stump Farm WEMS race. I want plenty of endurance for my first mountain bike race in 9 months, but I also want some snap in my legs.

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