This is the longest, wettest race I’ve ever done. I’ve certainly been muddier and similarly saturated at cyclocross races, but after a mere 45 minutes, you quickly return to comfy dry clothes, cold beer in hand (if not already taken in a hand up). In ‘cross, the more atrocious the conditions (see photos below), the better!
Sunday’s race, however, was a 55 miler. Over three hours riding in relentless rain. All the overnight precipitation softened the sand, adding resistance to each pedal stroke. Not ideal conditions for an endurance race.
I felt great at the start, just barely sticking to the back end of the leading pack. I tucked in, settled in, and saw how quickly we created a gap. I knew I wouldn’t stay with this group for much longer, but this gave me a relatively effortless head start, taking advantage of tucking into their draft over the open roads. After about 30 minutes in, the front pack broke away, and I carried on with two riders who moved with a strong steady pace, a perfect hard effort to ride out the race, I thought. After taking a pull, I dropped to the back of our little group, when suddenly they slammed on their brakes. My front tire wavered nervously a mere inch from the one in front of me! “Was that our turn?” the lead rider yelled out. Couldn’t he have yelled out before nearly crashing us out?!?! (I’m sure he puts on his car blinker after slowing down). When we turned our heads to look back, the sign was facing us, so I thought, no, that’s for the return route. So we carried on for a 100 yards or so, but then darted looks at each other, doubting our decision. Other riders caught up to us, equally confused. Far ahead, we caught sight of the lead pack crossing over our road. Damn, we were supposed to make this dirt road jaunt that would eventually recross the pavement. We turned back to the sign to discover it had fallen over, broken and flipped by the rain so it was facing the wrong way!
Others were quicker to respond to this mistake, so I found myself riding all alone. Maybe it was an hour or so later when I joined up with another rider, around mile 35. He must have made a similar mistake earlier, because we were both extra diligent about looking out for the painted arrows on the road, since the signs couldn’t be trusted. We came to a fork in the road and both veered to the right. Though we didn’t speak, I was glad to have company and we carried on steadily. Not a mile down the road, I thought, this looks familiar…. We had taken a road back to the aid station!!! Apparently, those were arrows from another event and were lighter yellow than the arrow’s for today’s race. Really!?! So…..those were lemon yellow then, not canary yellow?!? Or something…..???? I was dreading that this race was going to become the Dirty 60 before long…. I was worried an additional 30 minutes or hour longer than expected in these conditions would prove disastrous. But we put our heads down and carried on.
We reeled in two more riders in the last 15 miles, but I struggled to keep in touch. The three would pull away from me, but I fought them back, determined to be in a group for the last 5. It’s a soul-sucking finale, an undulating frontage road along buzzing highway 26. You do not want to be alone on this endless straightaway. The effort was worth it, and I could almost crack a smile as I approached the finish line!
As I read over what I just wrote, I see how little I talk about the incessant rain. In truth, it was the wet sand, wrong turns, and shifting challenges (brought about by sand being jammed in the derailleur) that were the most preoccupying and challenging to overcome. There was a moment when I actually smiled and shouted out in glee in the drenching rain. I couldn’t quite believe I had made the choice to spend a day off riding in conditions like this! There was the usual discomfort that comes with racing, but also a feeling of satisfaction and gratitude. It also helped that I made very appropriate clothing choices: 3/4 length Rapha knickers, tall wool socks, Smartwool midweight quarter zip, Hammer Nutrition short sleeve jersey, regular long-fingered gloves, and a cycling cap. I saw some riders squeezing out their midweight gloves while riding. Others had shoe covers, that I can imagine only helped keep the water IN. I was soaked and had pruned fingers, but remained surprisingly comfortable. Thanks to Jared for decking my bike out with an ass saver rear fender and eyeball saving front fender!
Now, my bike is getting an overhaul! Brake pads, rotors, and bottom bracket (below) are DEAD! This proved a more expensive race than I would have liked. Let’s hope all future races are drier….