David P. and I drove north 6 hours for an UltraCross gravel race. As we looked at weather forecast it was not good, two days of constant rain and temperature in the mid 40s. Now racing 60 miles after eating mass quantities of Thanksgiving food is one thing, but a CX race in the rain is a complete insane undertaking. Especially when we never have raced a CX race, so we turned to YouTube for instruction and watched this: click here!
After boosting our knowledge of riding in the rain and mud we were ready to attack the 60 mile course with 3500 ft of climbing. Some 20% grades promised to give everyone grief.
Both of us rode cyclocross bikes that Hub City Bicycle helped us outfit with SRAM 1x, D.P. gear was 42 up front and 11×36 in back. I was a little more conservative with a 40 up front and 11×36 in back. Our tire choices were tubeless 32mm for D.P. and 38mm for me, air pressures 45 to 55 psi. Considering the conditions our equipment worked well in the mud and under water.
The race starts out with a mass start of all classes and with 150+ riders moving as a fast pack to the first gravel and one mile climb causes the chaos unique to gravel races. Probably our highest heart rates were in the first third of the race trying to separate and prepare for the dirt dual and single track sections. We were staying close to the front group blowing through creeks and deep water holes, but a few strong guys were starting to hurt me. The first 15-20% single track climb was crazy with the line of people sliding and moving slowing up. Toward the top we had to hoof it and start the slip and slide down the backside which had multiple pile ups. Escaping from the single track we crossed about a 20 foot creek axle deep onto pavement. Time to eat and drink making a fast roll to the first gravel climb. D.P. rode away from me, while my thought had turned to survival and saving energy for the last 10 miles of railroad rock. These climbs are one after another with me staying in the 40×36 for about 40 minutes and wide open on the downhills. This is the first time that I hit 47mph on my cross bike. One last single track that had some dangerous curves and steep descents of muddy, slick slime.
Personally I rode for about 40 minutes without seeing another racer and then popping out of the single track onto the last 12 miles of gravel there was three racers working on a mechanical. Knowing last year this section was all railroad rock I was ready for the mind numbing grind to the finish. Surprisingly the road now packed limestone for fast rolling path to the finish. Time to make up some time and make sure no one caught me from behind. As I rolled up one of the climbs there was D.P. working on his bike. He jumped on and we encourage each other, plus the rain slowed to a mist. Even though it was 10 miles, we had to take care, eat, drink, and make sure we stayed upright. Riding gravel with wide tires takes a lot of force on the pedals and constant pressure. We over took a couple more riders and hit the trail for the old steel bridge a mile from the finish, fun crossing the guard rails and onto the creek crossing. We hit the creek bank and rode across through the knee deep water to the finish line. 26th and 27th overall and 7th Masters and 13th Open Men. It was an interesting race, maybe epic just to finish with out injury.