Sunday, June 6, 2010
Fawn Grove Roubaix
Road bike race with a couple sections of dirt road thrown in and some minor climbs; sounds like fun. Throw in a couple teammates making the trip East and I was in! With my mountain bike background, I like to think I can handle a road bike in bad conditions as well as most so I figured I might do well with a sketchy section of road or two. So sitting in the parking lot prerace, my confidence level was high. So high in fact that I decided to race my road bike (skinny tires) versus the cyclocross bike (wider higher volume tires) thinking my bike handling skills would be more than enough compensation.
Ever notice how things usually don’t go exactly like you had envisioned? Well that’s about how the FGR shook out for me. The race started in typical fashion except there was not a whole lot of sitting in at the start of the race. EVERYONE wanted to be at the front for the first section of pave (French for shitty road). So if there were wrecks, flats, slow riders you wouldn’t get caught behind. Although this is an excellent strategy, it creates some chaos when the entire field has the same game plan. The pace seemed pretty high right from the gun and I had drifted back to midpack coming into the first 90-degree turn onto the first section of gravel road. I surged up the outside of the pack coming into the turn and picked up some places so I was about 10th onto the gravel.
In my typical meticulous prerace preparation, I had not bothered to preride the course. But I did talk to a couple folks who did. There were stories of heinous climbs and deep gravel, but these are bikers who are only second to fishermen in their propensity to exaggerate. So I kind of took their comments with a rock of salt.
Now anyone who has ever been on a couple group road rides has heard the shrill cry of warning that tears thru the group when there is a tiny patch of gravel in a corner. I mean 5-10 grains of gravel will totally freak out seasoned road veterans with 1000’s of miles under their belts. Frankly coming from mountain biking I always thought it was kind of silly till I went down in an off camber corner while riding one day. So with that in mind I was completely unprepared for what awaited me on the first section of gravel road. I had imagined sections or patches of bad road for a couple hundred yards, with decent lines thru those sections. What we got was 1.5 miles of FRESH gravel in the first section alone. In places it was an inch and half deep and loose. This was a road rider’s worst nightmare…but maybe even better for me.
I was now in 8th or 9th wheel sitting in comfortably. We were zipping along at about 23-25 mph on this first section of pave. My teammate, who was actually wise enough to ride the course the day before, was executing his game plan perfectly. He was keeping right at the front, out of all the trouble behind while sitting in 3rd. Not sure why, but a gap opened between 3 and 4. When it became obvious that no one was willing to stray off of the one decent line thru the gravel, where the most cars had compacted the gravel, and the gap began to grow I quickly realized that my opportunity to compete with the leaders was going up the road.
So with a typical complete lack of neither reason nor respect for my own safety, I strayed out into the heaviest gravel in the middle of the road to try and reel in the leaders. Surprisingly I felt good, really good as my bike fish tailed and slid thru the tire deep stones. I was easily accelerating past the string of riders when I caught a glimpse of speedometer. 33 MPH thru the gravel. Damn am I stupid or what? In my race-induced state of bike rationalization, I decided that I was safer without somebody squirrely in front of me, even though I was traveling way faster than the pack. After about a minute’s solid effort I was able to pull back the leaders and latched back on about 200 meters from the return to asphalt…then it happened BOOM! I blew a tire.
I changed the flat and spent the rest of the day riding thru the remnants of broken bikes, tires and bodies. There were 4 other sections of gravel road that we hit on each of 2 laps. Everyone had a handful of bikes and people scattered by the roads side. Some were changing flats. Others fixing bikes while still more nursed cuts and bruises from taking a digger in the gravel.
It was a good day and great fun. Obviously I wish I could have stayed in the fray a little longer, but that’s what next year is for. I will see you again Fawn Grove!