The fourth weekend of April was a good one for me. The weather was fantastic, a new bike, two fun races, and I got to hang out with great people.
Friday – The New Bike
I’ve been riding gravel and cyclocross on my Crux since 2012. It’s been my favorite bike for years, but after this year’s Barry Roubaix it needed some TLC. Before I even had the chance to start any work on it, we discovered that the front derailleur mount was broken and wouldn’t be safe to use. That was a game changer. So what should I do… fix it, buy a new bike?
I took the bike to the Grand Rapids Bicycle Company Fulton St. shop to see what they recommended. After discussing the options, we decided to convert it to a 1 x 10 setup. It was both a fun and affordable option. My new favorite mechanic Dan got the parts and worked late on a Friday afternoon to get it ready for me. I was riding the HellKaat Hundie the next day and Dan knew it, so he spent extra time making sure it was ready to go the distance. He wouldn’t let me take it until he was certain it was perfect.
Just a couple of weeks earlier I had invested in some new wheels for the Crux… a set of Velocity A23’s. Probably the best wheels you can buy for gravel and cyclocross. For the tires, I went with the 700 x 40 Panaracer GravelKing SK which I mounted tubeless. Wider tires and lower pressure seems to be the trend, so I thought I’d give it a shot. The only chance I had to ride with the wheels was in the Barry-Roubaix. No issues with traction or control during the race, but it was not the best conditions to get a true feel for them. So I was looking forward to getting to know them better.
OK, so technically I didn’t get a new bike. It doesn’t shine like a new bike nor does it have that new bike smell, but it felt new to me. And I couldn’t wait to hit the gravel with it!
Saturday – The HellKaat
It was an early start for a Saturday. I was up and on the road by 6:15 AM to get to Dorr in time to pick up my HellKaat Hundie packet and get setup for the race. This was my 2nd year riding the HellKaat, which is both a fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and a race. It’s still a relatively small event and it has a mellow vibe, which is one of the things I love about it. The location, packet pickup, the start… it all went smoothly but without any feeling of pressure.
I wish I could say the same for me. This was going to be my first gravel century and I was facing a long day in the saddle on a bike that I had just picked up the night before. I had also found out late Friday night that the friend who talked me into the Hundie had to cancel due to food poisoning. I was a little amped up. Fortunately, the other rider from our group, Jane Van Hof, arrived and we set off committed to sticking together and to getting it done.
This year the race start moved from Hudsonville to Dorr which required a new layout to the course. It was a great change. Rolling hills, farms, and lots of iconic scenery. There was over 4000 feet of climbing, but there were no steep hills. The gravel had some rough spots, but overall it was in good shape. A breeze picked up a bit in the afternoon, but it didn’t feel that bad since there were frequent turns which also put it at your back at times. And it was well marked.
With the great conditions, the first 40 or so miles went by quickly. Jane and I rode with various groups doing a bit of socializing along the way. Eventually we ended up with a mixed group from Alger, Central District, Velocity, and Founders. Everybody was in a good mood and helped share the work load as best they could. We took a casual but steady pace. It went surprising well. However, after 75 miles, reality set in for me and it started to get tough. By mile 90 I had discovered that the hip flexor muscle could actually cramp up. Some of the group dropped off along the way, but we ended with 5 of us crossing the finish together. Roughly 6.5 hours in the saddle plus 20 minutes or so for breaks. I’ll take it.
My bike was great. I ran the GravelKing’s at about 30 psi, which softened the ride quite a bit making it much more comfortable for the distance. The 1 x 10 gearing was ideal for the course. Everything about the bike was perfect. You’d never guess that half of it was replaced less than 24 hours earlier. A huge shout out to GRBC, Panaracer and Velocity for that.
One of my favorite memories of the day came around mile 20, while we were still in a large stream of riders. I looked over to a pasture next us and spotted a group of horses running full out. They were gorgeous! And you could tell they were excited to see us and wanted nothing more than to join us. It was an inspiring sight; one I hope to see again next year. Yeah… I’m already planning on it for next year.
Sunday – The Time Trial
Ugh… I hate my alarm clock! It was 6:00 AM, an early start for a Sunday, especially after getting up early and riding 100 miles of gravel the day before. But it was time for the Yankee Springs Time Trial. This is the WMMBA’s biggest fundraiser of the year and it has a huge impact on the trails that I love to ride, so it’s important to me to help.
This year at the race I was handling the raffle. A Velocity wheelset and a Küat bike rack with all the proceeds going to our trails. I was fortunate enough to have my son join me. He is required to volunteer several hours per year for school, and he had such a good time with it last year that he was happy to join me again. I’m not going to lie; we were using every angle we could think of to sell those raffle tickets. I think we came out pretty good by the end of the day.
The weather on Sunday was perfect. All the reports I heard from the racers were that the trail was in amazing shape and riding the fastest they could remember. I so wished I had brought my bike. Screw the tired legs, I could have managed a lap. That is my one regret for the weekend.
Founders Racing was well represented at the race this year. We had 7 riders competing at the Expert/Elite level with Jeremy Karel and Mike Bernhard making it to the podium. We also had a large group volunteering, including Tim & Nancy Curtis as Race Directors, and Martin Hall, Terry & Denise Sensiba and myself helping on the committee. It’s a big race for the team.
In the end the YSTT had a record number of racers… 777. It was the first year there was a beer corral and all the feedback was positive. It was great to be a part of it and to know that I’ve done my part for our local trails.
Whew… a long, tiring, but fun weekend. What a great way to start the season.