On Saturday, March 30th four of us from the team traveled to Lowell, MI to race the Lowell 50 (http://www.thelowell50.com) gravel road race. The upper 70s of weeks past were nowhere to be found and the temperature gauge in the team van rad 35 when we got to the race to pick up our numbers. Chuck, David and I met at the shop and took the Team Active van to the race, flying “team colors” (and I must say it was pretty cool to show up in a “team vehicle” – the only one there, I might add). Derrick came down from Grand Rapids and met us at the race. He raced the 50-mile course, while the three of us opted for the 28 miler.
My race started out unusually well, finding me rolling out with the rest of the 28 mile group, even leading the pack for a bit while the course wound through a mixture of gravel and paved country roads. We reached the first hill (ouch!) and the reality of my “gravitational challenges” (i.e. the fact that I weigh 220 lbs.) quickly set in reality smacked me across my chilly face. I watched as rider after rider (yes, the skinny ones) passed me going up the hill. While somewhat discouraging, I knew we were only a few miles into the day, so there would be time to make up the gap – or so I hoped.
The race really turned out to be much more of a road race than last week’s Barry Roubaix, with the entire course 100% ridable (and fast). Even the dirt roads were hard-packed and on many of the stretches we had (muddy) pacelines of 23+mph. The group that passed me on the first hill got away and, despite trying to get some of the guys in the second group to form a chance and “hunt them down” I realized they were gone and the best I could do was to at least try and keep in control of the chase group and finish strong with this group of guys.
At about mile 8 Chuck (who was racing on a single-speed mountain bike) caught up to me and we rode for a bit. He was riding really strong, but the fact that he had only one gear really hindered his ability to keep up on the downhills, as well as the faster paved road paceline riding. I’m not sure how he did it, given that I used all of my gears for this race, as there were big hills that required the “granny gear” but then topped out on the road just like on a road bike. My cyclocross bike performed flawlessly, which unfortunately was not the case with porr Derrick who battled technical issues on the cyclocross bike he borrowed (and rode 50 miles). Poor guy, but something tells me a cyclocross bike may be in his future…
Anyway, back on with the race. I made some good pulls, bridged some large gaps to catch some stragglers between the lead group and the chase group. At around mile 18 I took off (again, nobody from the group joined me) and caught a guy on a mountain bike from Freewheel Cycling. He was hauling and had been out in front for several miles on his own. The good news is he was a fellow “big guy” and we joked about how these guys that don’t have the luxury of tipping the scales in the 200+ range just don’t know what it’s like to really ride a bike. As is the case with big guys, we kept out front for another couple of miles swapping turns pulling for the other until we got to another big-arse hill. The chase group caught up about 3/4 of the way up the hill, but this time I was able to hang on and regroup with them at the top. Coming back down the backside I made up most of my places and it wasn’t going to be long until the finish line.
There was one more long stretch of road and we were cruising along at a decent pace. My “big” friend put in a massive pull at the front and gave me some much-needed rest and then I took a turn at the front. However, the rest of the group seemed satisfied about sitting on our wheels and taking in the draft. I guess this is one of the things that is somewhat aggravating about road racing is the “mental games” that are involved, as I’d much rather go out and hammer and let the fastest person win. In this case, I knew there were a lot of guys behind me that were keeping “fresh” thanks to our work, but decided I wasn’t going to worry about it and just pressed on. Guess that’s why I like triathlons and mountain bike racing since your results are largely based on YOUR performance. But, that’s bike racing…
Coming into the finish we again crossed one of the two scenic covered bridges that we went through on the way out, so I knew we were getting close. I was sitting in #2 position behind another cyclocross guy that came around with about 500 yards to go and. I timed my jump well enough to get past him, but there were two other guys behind me that had been “enjoying the ride” for the past couple of miles, so their legs were better prepared to get them across the line in front of me. I ended up coming in 3rd in the group sprint, despite that for the last 50 yards every pedal stroke caused my legs to cramp.
Crossing the line I was very pleased at my performance for the day. I was still cramping with every pedal-stroke, so kept on riding until the pain went away. I had a couple of guys come up to me while “cooling down” and comment on what a good ride I had (they must have been some of the beneficiaries of my “pulls” for the day), which made me feel good. Looking over the results, I came in at 1:34:33 for 5th place in the 40-49 category and 6th place had the same time as me (so the sprint finish must have been a close one – I had no idea, as I was focused on getting across the line). It was a great day of racing and was nice to get back into competition. This was my first race of the season and was pretty cool to see the WSI/Team Active kit, even it it was “only” four of us.
Eric Cook – 5/26 (Age 40-49) 1:34:33 – Avg. Speed 17.77 – 28 miles
Chuck Brenner – 3/6 (Single Speed) 1:40:25 – Avg. Speed 16.73 – 28 miles
David Goff – 9/22 (Age 30-39) 1:42:26 – Avg. Speed 16.40 – 28 miles
Derrick O’Brien – 5/13 (Age 20-29) 2:46:01 – Ave. Speed 18.07 – 50 miles
*Full resultes are available here: http://www.thelowell50.com/2012-spring-results.html