On Sunday I decided to do CIRREM, a 62 mile gravel race, at the last minute. Paul, Nick, and I drove down to the start in Cumming where, not to our surprise, the weather had scared away a lot of people. Rain, snow, and temps in the mid thirties were forecast.
It was raining as we rolled out of town and on to the gravel. I started at the back, but soon found myself passing riders and moving up to the front. The hard packed gravel was hardly affected by the rain. Just a couple of miles in Nick and I broke off the front, everyone else seemed to be going too slow for our taste. I have the feeling that if we hadn't done that this wouldn't have been much of a race. People just weren't feeling good in the rain and didn't want to try and push themselves.
Pretty soon though a group of seven or so riders had caught us. We went rode together for a while until five of us broke off the front for good. I was really surprised that I was with that group and that Nick wasn't. He has been riding really well this year and already has two full gravel centuries under his belt.
I rode with this group through some pretty hilly terrain towards Winterset. The rain and snow that were forecast were always present and I didn't mind them. I was perfectly comfortable for the first fifteen miles or so until water started wicking down into my cycling boots. My hands were became too warm too so I stripped them off and rode without for the rest of the race. What wasn't comfortable was the sleet that hit us for a few minutes in the first half of the race. It stung my face and hands, especially on downhills and going into the wind.
After Winterset (which I only recognized because I had ridden some of the same gravel in Paul's GRAID ride last spring) I lost contact with the lead four riders and was on my own for the rest of the race. It was a beautiful ride. Lots of hills, wind, fast gravel, and not a few dogs.
I would pull the cue sheet out of my pocket, memorize the next two turns, put it back and enjoy the ride. It was tough to remember much more than that. After five miles of spacing off it is tough to remember whether the next turn is a right or a left. With five miles to go I put away the cue sheet for good and sprinted for the finsh. I was sure that someone would catch me so every so often I'd glance over my shoulder and see if anyone was back there. No one was.
With three miles to go there was a bridge with lengthwise boards spaced about an inch and a half apart. The same width as my tires. As I came up to it I thought to myself that if I got caught in one it could be a pretty nasty crash. Sure enough, with nearly sixty miles of hard riding behind me it was tough to steer a straight course and I ended up with one tire in the gap. Luckily I managed to ride out without incident. Don't ask me how.
I rode the last couple of miles as fast as I could. Not all that fast really. I arrived at the Cumming Tap in fifth place overall. Not bad. I was happy to get into dry clothes.