Friday, July 19, 2013

Tour de Donut 2013

It was a day like no other in mid July, it was actually kind of cool outside, not 98 degrees, but more like 75 degrees.  I could tell as soon as I walked out the door, it was going to be a good day.  I was heading for Staunton the home of the infamous Tour de Donut Bike Race.

I am incredibly out of shape and have been working hard, just to try and get back my fitness level and speed from previous years, so I had no idea how fast or slow I would ride. I pulled together a team of domestiques and hatched a race plan.  Mark, Mike, Russ and John were my official domestiques, although both John and Russ told me that they were in no better shape than I was and wouldn’t be much help, I enlisted them anyway.  My plan was pretty simple though, if by the second donut stop, I was having any problems hanging on, we would stop and eat donuts and go for the adjusted time win. 

My Domestiques - Mark, Me, Russ, Mike, John
The next issue to tackle was making sure the team kept all wheels on the ground.  Last year, during the first 2 miles, my team was in a crash on Reservoir road.  It wasn’t their fault, they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  This year we had a plan to stay to the right during the hilly section on Reservoir because most people went to the left and the road was a bit smoother on the right.  We also planned to go out slow and be safe until we made it out of the crowd.  We had a nice surprise that really helped, Christian the race director told me that he planned a neutral start and the lead police car would not go over 15 mph and no one could pass the lead car until  Reservoir road.  I hoped this would keep the number of accidents down and the crazies from riding like maniacs through the twisting turns leading out of town. 

While thinking about the new starting rules, I posed for a photo with the Metro Tri Club and we gave two thumbs up to Patrick Albert, but that’s another story for another time. 

Two Thumbs Up to Patrick Albert
My team and I staged our bikes about four rows back from the starting line, we listened to the signing of the National Anthem, which was really good, then waited for the horn to sound. The race started and the neutral start was working pretty well, but there were still a couple guys on tri bikes that were weaving in and out of the pack, I thought, “one of those guys is going to crash”.  My team was staying pretty close, but the crowd was large, and at the corner turning off Main street the riders were bottlenecked, but we got through ok.  We hit Reservoir road and everyone took off.  Due to the large number of riders we had a hard time getting out of the crowd, after we crossed the highway, Mike rolled back to pull John up from where he was boxed in and we regrouped. It seemed like only minutes and we were passing the first donut stop.  We could see the lead group in the distance and we were all heading for Old 66 where the road was smooth and fast. 
Once we made the turn onto Old 66 we had to watch for fast traffic, but things were going well.  Mark had been pulling most of the way and after Mike pulled John in from the crowd he started helping Mark pull.  Russ got out front and pulled for a long time on Old 66. There was another group of about 10 riders hanging with us, but they were not doing any of the pulling.  Russ was still pulling so I yelled to him “drop back and let them do some of the work”.  Really though what right do I have to say that, I enlisted all these guys to come do all the work for me.  Well I don’t think Russ heard me and the only break he got was when we came upon the big crash on Old 66.  A friend of ours was on the ground with about 10 more people and it looked bad.  There were a couple trucks stopped helping out, so we just kept riding.  Of course, anytime I see a crash, I get extra cautious, so I slowed my pace a little.  The thing is, I felt really good, I had legs, so my taking a couple rest days really worked.  We were hanging between 20-22 mph for most of the race and I never felt pushed, even on the uphills.  We hit the bumpy road section of the route, it was tougher riding just because the pavement was so rough, but we still kept up a good pace, Mark and Mike were doing a great job pulling.  John and Russ were hanging with me, plus we still had that other group with us too.  I even had to slow down on some uphills because the group that was with us was slowing down and the group was so large we couldn’t get around them on the uphills. 

Before I knew it, we were at the second donut stop and heading for the White City hill. Mark looked at me for direction and I said let’s keep going I feel great, so we sped past the second donut stop.  We had a long downhill then headed up the largest hill on the course, the hill that goes into White City.  At the bottom of the hill we passed a lady on a tri bike and she was riding well, so I pulled up next to her and asked her, her age.  I had to know if I would be racing her for the age group win. Lucky for me she was older than me.  Mark said he wanted to ask her age, but he knew better than to ask a female her age.  I worked my way up the hill staying right on Mark’s wheel, I was smiling because I rode the hill so well.  I found out later that Mark was not smiling because he could not slow down and recover since I was still with him.  An ambulance sped past us, so we knew there must have been other crash.  As we rode we did our best to stay in front of the lady on the tri bike.  We also came across Al, another friend and after passing him,  we kept working to pick off riders the rest of the way in. 

I couldn’t believe it, there we were only about 5 miles from the finish and I was feeling great.  We were moving, we crossed the dam and headed up the last of the really big hills, just as Mark got to the top of the hill he yelled for Mike to take over, his legs were screaming.  Mike started pulling with Mark and I on his wheel, John and Russ were on my wheel.  We made the turn onto Reserviour road and rode up on Mike Wever and Mike Hovatter, the president and treasurer of the Metro Tri Club, then we saw Keith Timmins riding back out, he is the Secretary of the club, of course since I am the vice president of the club, we sort of had a Club board meeting going on.  Mike W asked who was pulling for me and I said Mark and Mike, so both Mike W and Mike H jumped on and tried to stay with us. We had lost the other group coming up the hill into White City.  We made the turn that many people mistake as the last turn and start sprinting for the finish, but it’s not the last turn there is one more, so most people end up falling off because they started the sprint too soon. 

John was doing his best to beat a guy that had been riding with us the entire race and he was in John’s age group.  Not even a second before we crossed the line the guy sprinted up and nosed John out.  The good this is, it was a chip timed race, so since the guy crossed the start line before John, John still beat him based on chip time. John ended up in 3rd in his age group beating the guy by just a couple seconds. 

Mike W tried his best to pull a power play and get us at the line, but Russ squeezed him out and he couldn’t pass. I rolled across the line in a1:38 with an average speed of 20.63 mph.  That time put me in 4th place overall in the Female division, 1st in the 40-49 age group and 66th overall.  I was extremely happy with that finish, especially for the shape I am in.  Oh and there were 1500 in the race. Plus the Metro Tri Girls pulled of a 1,2,3 in the 40-49 age group, with Kate G taking 2nd and Phyllis B taking 3rd.

Robin - 1st Place
After the race I found some leftover donuts and ate two, they are so much better when you are hanging out after the race than they are when you are hot and sweating, trying to choke them down. Oh and I found a diet coke to boot. 

Ahhh... Life doesn't get much better
I also talked to couple guys that either saw the big crash or were in it, they attributed it to someone in the group riding in tri bars, being unstable and taking everyone down.  I had to wonder if it was one of the two guys I saw at the start of the race. 

As for my riding buddies that crashed, one had a broken collarbone and broken ribs, along with the worst injury of all, a cracked bike frame, the other came out with a broken collarbone.  Everyone else was sporting some road rash and bruises. 

Of course Mark livened things up with his man skirt and of course he was wearing it the correct European fashion.  I won’t say what that is, but you can ask him, next time you see him.

Hey Mark, what you got under there
Thanks to my Domestiques for coming out and spending their Saturday morning, dragging my rather large read end around the course. I bought my domestiques what I thought was a really cool gift, but they didn’t come until after the race, so I still have to give them out.  They are not really as cool in reality as they were on the internet, but it’s the thought that counts. 

Donut Keychain
Below are some photo’s of a few of my friends taking home hardware. I can’t wait for next year and I’m going to be in shape this time. 

Dan with his daughter
Doug H
Don B - 3rd overall
Jim D after 15 donuts
Karen H
Mark and Linda - 2nd Tandum
Travis after 12 donuts he looks way too happy

Mike H, we are still friends even after battling it out at the finish

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Cannondale SuperX Review

There I was alone in what was a 110 mile gravel race, but for me it was now a 119 mile gravel race.  I was lost and alone in the middle of Kansas on gravel roads and, I had not seen a car or a rider in over an 2 hours only rarely seeing a farm house in the distance.  It was just me and my Cannondale SuperX, grinding through the gravel wondering if I would ever get back on the race course.  I couldn’t help but think “how did I get here”. 

Kansas Gravel - Photo Credit Chuck Vohsen

For almost a year I had been coveting my teammate, Chuck’s, adventure/gravel bike.  He had scoured the earth and found all the perfect parts and built a Salsa Vaya, he even blogged the whole build process.  As he built his bike, he kept telling me what a great time he was going to have competing in all upcoming gravel races.  I was not convinced that gravel racing could ever be fun.  I had done plenty of adventure races on a mountain bike riding gravel roads and it was never what I would call fun.  I said “I will never gravel race, EVER, I don’t care how many times you tell me it’s fun”. 

So the more Chuck rode and the more stories he told me, the more I thought, maybe I want to try this, but I did not want to waste a bunch of money on a gravel bike and find out that I hated gravel racing.  Oh, but then the light bulb in my brain went on.  I had been wanting to start riding a few cyclocross races and I realized that a gravel bike is really just a cyclocross bike with bigger tires.  In my mind I could justify maybe making a purchase of a cyclocross bike and using it as a gravel bike also. 

Now this meant that I would have to start researching bikes, because I’m not mechanically inclined like Chuck, so much so, that the bike shop guys tell me to never ever do my own maintenance.  I hate to admit it, but every time I have tried to do my own maintenance, it has turned into a disaster and I end up running into the bike shop yelling “code blue” because it always happens the day I’m leaving town for a race. 

So after looking at Trek, Felt, Giant and Cannondale, I had narrowed the search to two CX bikes that I could afford.  My number one choice was the Trek Cronus Pro and the Cannondale SuperX was my second choice.  Since I race for the Cyclery which is sponsored by Trek, I was pretty sure I would go with the Trek. Plus the Trek had tubeless ready wheels, which I thought I would really need, but it had Shimano 105 components, and I really wanted the next step up to Ultegra.  It also had the Bontrager Evoke saddle which I like and of course the frame was carbon and I wanted the lightest bike I could get.  

I compared it to the Cannondale which was also carbon and it had the upgrade to the Ultegra components, it was not tubeless ready, which at the time was a strike in my mind, because I knew how hard gravel can be on tires and I was afraid of constant flats with tubed wheels.  The saddle was a Fizik Tundra, which seemed to be a very expensive saddle, but I have never actually tried one before so I didn’t know if I would like it or not.

After all my research and thinking about it, and let me tell you, I thought about it for 6 months before I made the purchase, I made a trip to the Cyclery, where Andy, a master mechanic and coach, fitted me for both the Trek and the Cannondale.  Andy was also a Trek Cronus lover, but in the end, he said fit is everything, and the smallest Cronus made was a 50 cm, which he couldn’t in good conscience tell me would fit. However Cannondale came in smaller sizes and I could get a 47 which is what I needed.  The Cannondale was a bit out of my price range, but with some coordination between the Cyclery and Cannondale, I was able to get an affordable price.

Robin's Cannondale SuperX
I was still not a believer and was worried that I would get the bike and hate it, I had heard some bad stuff from fellow riders about Cannondales, and was worried that it may be true.  I did have one friend who is a great road racer and all he rides is Cannondale, he told me I would love it and not to worry.  I ordered the bike, while I was still recovering from tailbone and heart surgery, it came in just a week before I was going to be released to ride.  

I started thinking about what kind of tires I needed for gravel racing, the bike came with Schwalbe Rapid Rob’s in a 35C size.  Everyone told me that they would never hold up to the gravel.  My adventure racing team, ROCK Racing, is sponsored by Schwalbe and I happen to really like their tires, so I wasn’t really worried, but the Rapid Rob is not considered a tough tire, so I ordered Schwalbe Marathons, the toughest tires they make.  I had to stay with the 35c’s because the next size up in the Marathons was a 40c and I thought it would be too big for the bike.  Unfortunately, the tires would not arrive in time for my first ride or my first race.  

Rapid Rob vs. Marathon
After a week of looking at the bike, I rode it one time on some gravel roads in the Busch Wildlife area, in Missouri.  It was only a 50 mile ride, but the bike felt pretty good, except for the saddle. 

Photo Credit - Dan Singer
Then six days later I took the bike to Herman Missouri and competed in Tour of Herman Gravel Race.  If you know anything about Herman Missouri, you know that it is crazy hilly. 

Hills of Herman - Photo Credit Dan Singer
So I’m on a new bike, rolling down steep hills at 40 mph in deep river gravel. I was more than a little scared and I was riding a race tire, instead of a tough tire. Guess what!  It was all good, not one flat tire, and I only fish tailed to the point of hysteria one time.  After finishing 68 miles of tortuous hills and heavy gravel, I decided that I really liked my SuperX.  The only thing I really hated about the entire bike was the saddle, it was not made for a butt the size of mine.  I knew I would be swapping it out for one of my favorite saddles before my next ride.

Saddle from Hell - Photo Credit Dan Singer
I left Herman, still as out of shape as ever, but feeling good, I mean for the shape I was in, I should have been sore from being rattled to death over the gravel and hills, but I really felt good and I felt good the next two days too with no residual back aches. So the bike did a great job handling the some of the roughest roads in the Midwest. 

Fast Forward

Just a few weeks after the Tour of Herman, and not very many rides on my SuperX, I found myself in Kansas racing in the Dirty Kanza.  

The Epic Gravel Race
As far as the course went, it was all hills, but not the steep grueling hills of Herman, mostly long climbs with one after the next and the gravel of course was much tougher than the Herman gravel.  I had to constantly find a line left from previous riders to follow. Yes, I was scared a couple times, but I was able to keep both wheels on the road. 

Who said Kansas was flat
Oh and I was riding the half pint race of 110 miles, but since I got lost once, I ended up riding 119 miles.  Never once did I curse the bike, or feel like it was killing me on the rough roads. I had put on the Schwalbe Marathon tires and they were really working well.  I never felt like crying or like I wasn’t going to make it, I never wanted to throw my bike in the gravel and walk away.  I have to give credit to my SuperX, it was so comfortable, so light, and so freaking awesome, that I was even smiling when I crossed the finish line and I finished it faster than I had expected even with the extra nine miles. 

119 miles later
Now if I were my teammate Chuck, I would have given you a more technical review of the bike, but Chuck thinks like a engineer and he is a guy, so all the mechanical stuff means something to him.  For me though, the icing on the cake was finishing a Dirty Kanza and thinking, well I might just do this again.  Well it actually took a couple days before I really thought that.

So next up, I will be putting the Schwalbe Rapid Robs back on and race some cyclocross and I have no doubt that I will love the SuperX just as much, when I’m racing a cyclocross course.