by Dave Cushman

Leland Kermesse
Flatlandia Cycling
April 21, 2012

Category 4 – 100km
Finish: 2nd

If you haven’t ever heard of this race (titled a “kermesse,” the Flemish word for a bicycle race), it has two distinguishing features: gravel and wind. The gravel makes people chicken out and not sign up, and the wind makes those who do show up regret it. For the 2012 edition, however, we lucked out on both accounts.

This is my fourth year racing at Leland, and I’ve seen varying conditions. While the course still delivered 9km of gravel road per 25km circuit, it was dry this year. Gravel is never easy, but when it’s wet it gums up your drivetrain, obstructs your vision, and generally makes you a little more nervous.

Additionally, like everywhere in Illinois outside Chicagoland, Leland is flat farmland. And in the spring, before the crops start a-growin’, nothing slows the wind down. At this race as the day progresses and the winds really start to strengthen, you simply cannot ride alone. This means getting dropped from the front group is not an option. This year the winds were light (<20mph), but the importance of staying up front always remains.

These two factors (gravel and wind) come to a head three times per lap at the start of every gravel section. A big, wide peloton has to funnel in to a narrower, slipperier path. Due both to crashes and long, strung-out single-file lines, being up front is paramount to not getting left behind to fight the wind with a lesser group at these sections. With four laps this means there are 12 points of urgency throughout the race – in addition to the usual race jockeying, wheel-touching, breath-catching, gel-eating moments you already have to deal with.

My 2012 notes, via my patented Bullet Point Race Report System™:
  • Tubulars. Always race tubulars. It’s not about being cool, or buying speed. The best riders in the world ride them cause they’re better. They cost more cause they’re better. There’s no question they made me better in this race. I have a set of tubulars for cyclocross and a set for road racing. However with the gravel in Leland, I opted to borrow a set of 27mm Vittoria tubulars from Alex (RVB) that were a middle ground between those I own. While my training regimen, bicycle, genetic makeup, breakfast that day, etc. all were factors, there is no doubt in my mind these tires accounted for half of my success. I was able to ride low pressures in the gravel that kept me stable, allowing for energy conservation on a tough 3-hr race.
  • Don’t freak yourself out. The night before the race I had to change front derailleurs when I should have been sleeping. Trusted my mechanic skills; didn’t freak out. The day of I got to the race late, with only enough time to pin on my numbers. Knew the course had a neutral start, and several miles ‘til things heated up; didn’t freak out. Then my cyclocomputer broke off into my rear wheel as I was rolling to the line. Went back to the car real quick to cut the zip ties; didn’t freak out. During the last lap of the race, with only about 12 people in the lead group, and mere miles from the finish, Mr. Andrew Zens crashed right in front of me in the gravel and took me down. Without hesitating (or thinking) I got up, jumped on my bike, and calmly pulled myself back up to the group; didn’t freak out.
  • Freak others out. I touched wheels with someone who slowed down in front of me at one point during the race. We were probably going 25mph on a paved section. I almost crashed, and that would have meant race over. — Sidebar: there’s a reason why Dean is careful to always reiterate (a) maintaining a constant speed and (b) not overlapping wheels. Listen to him. In a race it isn’t always possible to avoid these things; on a training ride it is. — Despite it not being my fault, I felt a little embarrassed with the guys around me, with them likely thinking I’m gonna crash them out at some point. As they gave me a little extra space for the next couple kilometers, allowing me to comfortably cruise in a bubble of space in the middle of the pack, I realized: if you freak people out, they hesitate to ride around you. Problem solved! Act squirrely then make your move. New tactic for Crushman in 2012: peloton wildcard!
    [Note: Don’t try this at home. If it’s not obvious, there’s never a time to ride dangerously.]
(photo credit: Nancy Fallon)
  • Sprinting. It always comes down to a sprint (“it” being every race without mountains or a sandbagger). Everyone should practice sprinting every chance they get on weekly rides. Don’t give up before it starts because you don’t think you’ll win. Sprint for 3rd. Sprint for 8th.
  • Cyclocross Rules! Getting up fast when you crash, riding 30mph in gravel for extended periods on road tires, understanding how to utilize tire pressure…cyclocross pays big dividends. Do it. (Bonus: the ladies love a CX racer!) (Double bonus: so do the men!)
(photo courtesy of K. Hanson)
Official Spidermonkey Participant List:
PJ Cavoto
Kelly Clarke
Dave Cushman (2nd in M4)
Kristi Hanson (3rd in W4)
Kristen Meshberg (1st in W1/2/3)
Sarah Rice (2nd in W1/2/3)