Tuesday, April 12, 2011
It has begun.
A fine layer of clay and limestone silt coats every surface of my bicycle exposed to the rotation of the wheel. The speckled pattern continues across my jersey. It is only broken by the smile on my face. Gravel race season has begun.
Ragnarok 105 is perennially the most difficult race course in the Midwest. It boasts 7700 vertical feet of climbing 111 miles of rural Minnesota roads. The grades are steep and the roads are rutted from early season farm traffic.
The first race of the season is always a gamble. I couldn't be more pleased with the results. With the AZT 300 only a week away my goals were to ride conservatively and not push the pace. I was compelled to challenge Eki in the KOM(King of Mountains) competition when there was no one else willing, or able, to hold him off. It left me recovering from mile 30-65 and holding on by my fingertips from 65-85 as Tri, Farrow, and Buffington pushed the pace.
After checkpoint 3, mile 85, the group rested a bit before tackling "Heath's Hill". It's a behemoth of a climb, 1.5 miles at near 10% grades, rutted and rocky. Throw in a tent full of hecklers and it nearly broke me. It was here that Jeff Austin-Phillips made his attempt at a breakaway. It took us nearly 5 miles to gobble him back up. As we turned onto Lehrback road the finish began in earnest. Ek and Brandon Manke attacked on the climb, breaking the group and separating themselves. I chased and reconnected on the downhill, taking chances in the corners and pushing beyond my comfort zone.
In the end I made the mistake of attacking for the wrong stop sign! Oops, oh well. At least I took that stop sign sprint. There was no way I could have recovered from that effort. I rounded the final corner in 3rd place and pushed with what I had left. I watched on as Brandon took first and Ek came in second. Sure, winning would be great, but it's never really been about the trophy. I'm proud simply to be in the lead pack.
What a finish, what a race! Each year the lead gets faster and the competition more tough. I came into this race feeling a bit uncertain about where my fitness was. I've been contemplating my commitment to these events and wondering if this might be the last year I really compete in any capacity. It sure would be easier to sleep in on those 20 degree March mornings. My excitement, my love for riding rural country roads has been renewed by the Ragnarok. I keep coming back because of the scenery and the people that I've met along the way.