Tag: gravel

Leland Kermesse Race Report

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)

Barry Roubaix Race Report

Kristi getting on the podium (5th in her age group)!

by Kristi Hanson:
Going into Barry Roubaix, I really had no expectations since we had just gotten off 5 days of pretty hard riding in Vegas. On the ride up, I was actually talking with Melissa (MK), my stellar travel buddy, about how I was a little worried my legs would not hold up and all I wanted to do was stay upright, put forth a hard effort, and see where I landed.

I will admit however, in the back of my mind, I knew this was the first real test for me after putting in some pretty grueling hours on the trainer over the winter. I was hoping it would play in my favor but tried not to think about it too much.

When we woke up my stomach was pretty shaky. My first thought was REALLY AGAIN on race day!! Just once I want to wake up and not have any issues. However the reality is, I think my nerves get the best of me and my stomach is not made of steel so I am just going to have to deal. Second thought was SWEET, I still have at least 2 hours for this to play out!!

We got to the park, checked in, and still had some time to kill so MK and I just hung out in the car for a while. Best thing about MK being my travel buddy as we laugh a lot over stupid things so being with her is the best distraction pre-race!! Also on a positive note, my stomach started to feel better so I knew we were heading in a good direction.

When 9am hit, it was go time. Got the bikes ready, hit up the porta, and went out for a warm up ride. I followed the course so I would know a little of what I was getting myself into. First 4 miles were pavement and then the gravel started. I have ridden gravel roads quite a bit up at my family’s cabin and on the trails in Minneapolis. However, this gravel way less matted down and so it was going to be critical to pick a good line (i.e., where the car tires usually ride) and do my best not to get scared on the descents.

During the warm up, I knew things were going to be better than expected. My legs felt unusually good and I was able to climb the hills like a champ.

People started lining up pretty early since like cross it was a mass start. Difference for this race is the waves were not by category. Instead they were by distance and age. Positive of this is you could really work with anyone on the course. I was in the third wave and unfortunately because of a necessary last minute porta stop I was pretty far in the back of the wave. I knew however, I had 4 miles of pavement to move myself up.

When our wave went off, I just continued to find holes to move up in the pack and before I knew it I was towards the front where I wanted to be. When we hit the gravel the front group was broken in two and I was in the second. Those boys were just way too fast for me especially with all the climbing that was happening. In addition, at this point we had started to catch the slower group of the wave before us so there was a lot of movement for position. I just kept telling myself breathe and be smart but aggressive. You deserve the good line just as much as the guys do!! Being in only girl’s races the last few years, I forget how aggressive boys can be :-).

The next big section where things got broken up was when we hit the double track; aka about a two mile long cyclocross course. For the most part I rode this entire section except for one little part that was just way too sandy. Thank goodness for all the cyclocross racing!! It was a big help and allowed me to make up quite a bit of time so much so that I was sort of by myself until the half way point.

I really had no idea at this point where I was in the race. Was I still up front?? How many girls were in front of me?? In my head, I was convinced that Sandra and Jessica from XXX and Karin had to be in front of me. There was no way they were behind me.

At this point, I was feeling pretty beat up!! I actually thought about giving up and it was right at that moment that my Spidermonkey teammate, Sarah Rice, showed up. She was my first push of motivation. Sarah and I worked together for a good 5 or so miles. She would pull me on the flats and I would pull her up the hills. Our relationship works really well this way!! More importantly it allowed me just enough rest and company to get back in the game. Unfortunately, this teamwork came to an end when Sarah dropped her chain. She gave me one look and said “go, go” so I went. I grabbed a guy’s wheel in front of me and we rode on for another few miles together taking turns pulling and passing lots of people.

It was after these few miles that my second push of motivation came. There was a big pack of I am going to call the 40 year guy group with three women; Sandra from XXX, a girl on a fat bike (who was amazing), and a girl on a mountain bike. It was at this moment that I realized I was out front. I was really in this and had to push hard until the end. I grabbed onto this group and gave it everything I had to stay with them. Pushed up every climb and let my fears go on every descent!!! Only two of the girls stayed with us and we picked up another on the way. In addition, we had a very scary moment when we had to make a sharp left turn after a steep descent that was not well marked. I thought for sure I was going down or someone was going to run into me but we all made it through upright on two wheels. Talk about a group of bikers that knew how to handle their bikes. Pretty sweet!!

Everything was swimming along until we hit the second section of double track. Almost all of this section was not rideable so we all got off and ran. I did whatever I could to stay with the two girls not on the fat bike, yes she rode the entire thing, and I managed through the run but when we got back on our bikes their technical skills were just way better than mine. Pretty awesome actually!! In this section, I also took on large puddles for the first time in my life. I just trusted that the guy before me got through so I took the same line and had success as well. Fear overcome!!

At the end of the second technical section, it turned to pavement and stayed that way for the rest of the race. I was all alone again, but pushed as hard as I could because I knew the two girls were not too far in front of me. It was tough to keep pushing but then motivation push number 3 came. Yep, the 40 year old guy group showed up again and I grabbed on; held on for dear life until we got back. It was at about a mile out that one of the guys says to me “we must be towards the finish people are getting swirly”. I say back “Yep we are close”. He says “Are you getting in on this sprint?” and I say “what for? I am the only girl in the group. All I get is seconds. Not worth the risk.” He says “SMART”.

We all finish together and they congratulate me for hanging on with the OLD GUYS!! This was by far the HARDEST 36 miles I have ever ridden and the 40 year old guy group pushed me hard.

At the end, I knew the race had gone well but still was not entirely sure where I finished. I had to stop myself from thinking about it because the first goal was to spin out my legs and then get in warm clothes. This was interrupted however, when I saw Peter and decided a 312 was a better idea!! Thanks to Fred for bringing them along; it was the perfect post race beverage :-)

Once I got on warm clothes, we checked the race results and I was shocked that I pulled off a 5th place finish in my age group out of 35 and had beaten all of the girls in Chicago in my age group. Sarah was not far off in 7th and if it wasn’t for the chain issue, she probably would have taken me.

It was my first podium in a really long time and felt great!! I was pretty excited all the grueling trainer rides paid off.

The sweeter moment however, happened the day after the race when Katie and her accounting skills realized I was 9th overall out of 77 and 1st of all the girls from Chicago in the 36 miler!! Pretty awesome day and could not have been accomplished it without all of the support from my family, friends, and the Spidermonkeys. You guys rock!!


Dave gets on the podium too (4th in his age group)!

Some additional comments and/or words of wisdom:
Geoff P. – “I shouldn’t have made that left turn at Albuquerque” and “Nothing like riding 67mi for a 62mi race”

Hayes S. – “You know you’re bonking when you’re letting a pugsley take a pull on the pavement heading into the park”

David L. – “Hell apparently has 62 miles of mist, wet sand, gravel and ruts. I love hell.”

Pete M. – What I learned: the importance of checking your tire pressure before you start warming up for a race.  My tagline: “Who the hell is Barry?”

Spidermonkey Official Participant List:
PJ Cavoto
Kelly Clarke
Dave Cushman
Kristi Hanson
Eric Landhal
Karin Langer
David Loring
Peter Monko
Geoff Pomerantz
Sarah Rice
Hayes Sanborn
Fred Wu

Congratulations to everyone who raced!

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