Friday Joni and I drove to the southern end of Brown County so I could attempt the Gravel Grovel a second year in a row. This is the last of the Ultra-Cross Series, though I haven’t done the series before and am considering it for my 2014 schedule. If you recall, last year I had THREE flat tires in the 62 mile event and a finish time of 5:50.00. The goal was to beat 5 hours this year. The course has approximately 2300 feet of climbing in the 62 miles.
I decided to keep the tires a bit softer this year to avoid flats on the pointed crushed limestone gravel roads. The course is approximately 50% gravel roads, 40% pavement and 10% mountain bike section which really throws the pure roadies off a bit from their pace.
Cold start again, high twenty degrees as the peloton rolls out on pavement for a couple of miles and my legs feel quite leaden. It will take me about ten miles to warm up and start really pedaling strongly.
As with last year, about 12 miles in we hit the mountain bike section and once at the very steep climb I got off the bike and ran up the slope hoping to get past everyone there. Last year I got stuck behind two guys on the other side going downhill and they were NOT doing well descending. This year I reached the top past the people I started the climb with and there where three people at the top getting to re-mount. I got past all but one and sure enough he was braking like crazy going downhill. After a couple hundred yards a wider spot presented itself and I called out a pass to the left and zoomed by him. The mountain bike section eventually dumps out onto a paved road on which we ride about 2-3 miles and reach a turn-about at Story, Indiana. Last year the course went directly back to the mountain bike section which created a bit of a hazard with the two way traffic as leading riders came back at riders heading out. This year the courseback diverted to an entirely different single track. I used my mountain bike skills in these two sections to gain and pass on a few riders, though some caught me once back on the road.
Temperatures climbed and midway through the day I was really feeling almost over-dressed with my base layer, skinsuit and thermal jacket as well as a full head balaclava. But by four hours in, I was glad to have all of it again.
The gravel sections didn’t seem quite as “gravely” as last year though it could only be due to being a bit more familiar with it.
I felt pretty good for most of the event. There were a couple steep road sections I could not ride. I didn’t stop at any checkpoints until the last one where I dumped some un-used Heed and replaced with water. Shortly after departing this aid station I also downed the one HammerGel I brought with me. I really felt a bonk coming on. This helped me keep pedaling steady to the end. I also forgot my Endurolytes and was staving off some thigh cramps later in the race.
In the end, I pedaled down the last paved section, crossed the stream and up through the finish line. I didn’t meet my 5 hour goal, missing it by a few minutes but successful finish anyway.
Race season over until Barry-Roubaix in March.
Season wrap-up next week.
Gravel Grovel Results: 52nd of 95 men Masters 40+, Time 5:07:38