I had the privilege to participate at Gravel Worlds– a 150 mi gravel race in no other prestigious region than in the middle of the US…Nebraska.
The race promoter crew, PCL, didn’t lack any creativity to make this a special race. It all started on a farm owned by a German who kicked off the race with a big circular hip motion accompanied with a noise you would usually hear in the Alpes. He was shaking a massive cow bell. Surprisingly, he didn’t start yodeling.
Nebraskan weather treated us with the best of the best – upper 90s and 20 mph winds. Although this might not be the best outlook for some coldblooded Minnesotans the race was set up that made everyone a winner. Every racer had to buy a lottery ticket on each of the three checkpoints and turn them in after the race. Now we are 203 racers. Obviously, one of us would win!
Anyway, the more realistic happiness was found in the three additional checkpoints called fittingly “oasis” along the course. That meant six water stops on a 150 mile course. I would carry 2 bottles.
The race started at 6am. I missed the memo to bring a light so my borrowed 50 lumen blinkie shined as far as to the front wheel. Well, with a start right into soft gravel and my newly enforced anti-crash-policy I lost the front group with my friends in it.
Who would I talk to now for the next 149.5 miles? I was concerned.
When finally the sun crept over the horizon and I saw more than my front tire, it was time to chase. About 16 miles and 20 matches later I caught on. I would have been fully content if the race would have been done right there. I was cooked!
At mile 30 we had to buy our first lottery tickets. 15 people stormed the gas station. But I took my sweet little time to refill water bottles and buy my tickets and left the store.
Apparently I misinterpreted the hectic movements of my fellow racers. (I see a trend here for my rather slow stops)
Back on the bike I was reciting the German curse vocabulary while imagining 120 miles by myself. Can I catch on again?
Where are you, legs?
Shut up, legs!
Didn’t work! Jens is lying!
But only a few miles later I found my friend Ted at the side of the road getting back on the bike after fixing a flat.
How convenient! That was my chosen wheel.
Four others caught on to us and our group of six cruised along roller after roller. The sun started frying us. But it was all good. Except one thing.
Me: “Ted, you are too fast for our group.”
Ted: “I have good legs.”
Me: “I realized. Can you please ride away from us?”
Ted: “Nah, I like hanging out here.”
After some convincing, we finally got him to leave us. He ended up second that day to a pro racer.
For the next 100 miles we got baked with a consistent 20 mph wind from the South. If I was dough, I would be done by now.
The impact of the heat can be best explained by a comment from a fellow racer when we turned towards North:
“Oh dammit, we have tail wind.”
I stared at him in disbelief.
“There is nothing anymore that gives some sort of cooling down.”
It was about 1 pm and around 110 miles into the race with the next 12 miles straight into the head wind.
I was alone. No one insight. No tree. No draft. Just me, loose gravel and a 100 degree breeze right in my face. My mind was already at the next checkpoint.
When my body caught up and I approached the gas station, I saw the three leaders pulling out!
Only three!? But where are the others?
I found the answer in the gas station. One super clean rider (did he take a shower in the sink?) sitting too comfortable on a bench sipping on his fourth Gatorade.
“Are you done racing?” I asked.
“Nope. Just taking a break.”
“Haha…right! How long are you taking a break?”
“Not sure. Until I cool down.”
“Are you joining me?”
“Naah. I wait.”
Shoot, he was my only hope to mix the next 30 miles up a bit. Apparently, I annoyed him by asking him another five times because he finally got up. I had company! Someone to talk to!
We got lost in a conversation. That got us lost.
Two miles off course.
When we turned around we met up with another group of four. We ended up riding together until the last few miles before the finish.
At the finish, I was greeted by Corey, the race promoter, a sweet jersey and a lunch box! (I wish I had a picture of that)
What a race! Great organization, challenging course, and a heck of fun! Thanks to the PCL crew for an outstanding race!
Thanks to Foundry and HED to set me up with the perfect gravel bike!