May 16, 2010
Yesterday I rode the Almanzo 100. The Almanzo is part of a series of four 100 mile gravel races here in Minnesota. The other races in the series are the Ragnarok, Dirty Benjamin, and the Heck of the North. The Almanzo took place in Southern Minnesota near the town of Spring Valley. The terrain is incredibly hilly, I would say that about 25% of the course was "flat" (the rolling hill in the photo above would definitely be categorized as flat) and the rest was constant ascending/descending. It was really pretty unbelievable just how hilly that portion of the state is, I had no idea such topography existed in Minnesota.
It was easily the hardest day on a bike I have ever had and there were many times I wanted to quit and give up/punch Chris Skogen* (the organizer) for being such a twisted and malicious individual.
*Chris is a super rad dude who organizes the hell out of this race and puts together amazing materials for the riders. He does all of this while charging no entrance fee. It's a huge gift to the MN cycling community. Big thanks to him.
My bike of choice for this race was my singlespeed cross bike. I currently don't own any drop bar (wanted multiple hand positions) bikes with gears that will take a 32c tire (that's what the new Groove is for). I set it up with a 42X17 gear. The bike for it's part was as good as an SS bike could be. It fits me like a glove, the saddle is comfy and I had no issues with it of any kind.
This year was an all new course for the Almanzo and the gnar factor was set to stun. For the first 68 miles I was on it. I found myself able to climb faster than most of the guys on the geared bikes who were spinning up the climbs and I was consistently able to catch people descending. I don't know if I am just a heavy dude with fast wheels or they were scared of letting it fly on the loose surface but time after time I was able to blaze past others on the way down.
The flats however is where I found myself struggling with the limitations of one gear. I hooked up with four coworkers from mile 40 to 68. In the paceline I got spun out and was only able to hang out in the middle or back end where I'd end up yo yo'ing off the back constantly. After several miles of dropping ten feet back and having to chase to catch the wheel, I eventually adopted the tactic of trying to stay in the middle of the paceline which forced me to spin my ass off to keep the line together. It was punishing but I knew I was making good time.
Around 50 miles or so I felt my tank getting low and knew that I needed to eat one of the sandwiches I had in my backpack. The gel's and bars that I was able to munch on while in motion were simply not cutting it anymore. The guys I was riding with had no intention of stopping to feed until the drop bags at 68 miles in so I had a choice: I could either tough it out and stay with this fast group where I was making good time or stop and get some food and risk being stuck out there all alone. I elected to keep on moving and was pretty blown by the time we reached the check point.
I thought that we'd hang out for a half hour or so, but my companions were into dining and dashing so after about 10 minutes they wanted to head out and I decided my best chance of finishing this thing in good time was to stay with them.
The checkpoint was in a river valley and on the way out we had to ride up some seriously steep climbs, I ended up having to walk one of them and my companions were gone, not to be seen until the finish line. I had 32 miles to go and was now on my own, and I was tired.
I don't know what to say about the last miles or so but I was in full on zombie mode just trying to survive, front wheel wandering eyes cast down. The only thing that really kept my spirits up were the townspeople who were chilling in front of their homes and cheering for us as we rode by. Huge thanks to all the folks who came out to support the racers, your claps and noise really make a difference.
I ended up 65th out of somewhere between 300-400 racers with a time of around 7 hours. This was 100 miles on a single speed on the nastiest non mtb terrain I have ever ridden. It was brutal, but I'm very proud to have finished.
Big props to all who rode, all who finished (finishing this thing on any type of bike is a serious accomplishment), and especially all of the MPLS cats who came down. I will definitely do it again, but next year I'm bringing gears.
(Everytime I go out for a real long hard ride my achilles tendons pop when going up or down stairs, it doesn't seem to be dependent on seat height (leg extension) more on effort and exertion. Does this happen to anyone else? What's the deal)