|Photo by Craig Linder|
My Almanzo adventure started a few weeks back at the Strada Fango gravel ride. There, I suffered like a dog on the soft surfaces, huge climbs, and through miles of snow/slush/running water. My All City Nature Boy single speed cross bike with 700 x 32 tires definitely wasn't the bike for me to ride there. Also at the core of my Strada struggles was a lack of hydration & nutrition (I hadn't expected 67 miles to take me close to 6 hours).
For the Almanzo 100, aside from having a bit more fitness, I toted with plenty of food, water, and gear in my Tangle Bag (yes, available at Cyclova XC). I carried 3, 20+ ounce bottles of water with me, and refilled them all 3-4 times each during the event (yes, that's a lot of water). I also carried with the following food, which was all consumed by the time I crossed the finish line:
2 Honey Stinger Gold energy gels
4 Honey Stinger energy chews
4 Honey Stinger Vanilla Waffles
2 Salted Nut Rolls
1 Pull Tab can of Chef Boyardee beef ravioli (along with a Titanium Spork)
1 bottle Reed's Kombucha ginger drink (my new super fuel)
9 Camelback Elixor orange electrolyte tablets (which I dropped into my water bottles when refilling them)
My bike setup was very similar to Strada Fango, except I ran a bigger gear (42 x 16). I also dusted off a sweet old racing wheelset (Dura Ace hubs, Mavic Reflex rims, and a trick spoke lacing pattern) of mine and glued up a pair of Challenge Grifo tubulars to them. This wheel/tire combination rode like a dream - fast acceleration, speedy top end, silky smooth, great traction in the loose scruff, and stiff. This wheel set change alone trimmed more than 2 pounds of rotating weight from my bike, as compared to my setup for Strada Fango - and 2 pounds of rotating weight is a REALLY BIG DEAL!
I arrived a bit later to the start line than I would have preferred, so elbowed my way in about 4 rows back from the front. Standing in a mass of 1500+ ecstatic gravel riders confirmed in my mind what a big deal gravel adventure bicycle riding is. I've never had so much fun during an event - and it was 100% free! Chris Skogen's very positive and fun pre-race announcement & the entire group singing Happy Birthday to his young son prior to the start set the tone for what was to be an amazing day!
With that, we were off and rolling. The pace was controlled at the front by a lead car for a bit, and then the car took off. My 42 x 16 gear was quickly spun out in the huge lead group, so I had to pedal in quick bursts with very high cadence and then tuck for a great draft. As we went over some rolling hills and turned onto our first gravel, gaps started developing, and I found myself in the 2nd group, with the lead group slowly pulling away (which I was fine with).
From here, my mantra for the day was draft & conserve on the flats (letting the non-single speeders pull me along on the fast / downhill sections where I was spun out, and ride the climbs aggressively - maintaining any momentum I had as far/fast as I could go up the climbs so I could keep my big single gear turning.
I rode the first 30 miles or so without eating anything, but the for final 70, I found myself consuming a bottle of water every 30 minutes or so, and eating regularly. This kept me moving and feeling good. At about Mile 50, I started to feel the unwelcome twinge of quadriceps cramping from time to time - when pedaling hard out of the saddle as I pushed hard to keep my single speed bicycle moving up the hills. I kept on pounding the water, food, and electrolytes, which generally held off the cramping beast. I did walk what was I think 4 of the steepest and longest hills out on the course - which was almost as fast as riding and much easier on the legs.
And then there were the river crossings... The first river crossing at about mile 40, which I had heard about wasn't a big deal. The water was about 1 foot deep and a bit muddy on either side, but was literally a hop, skip, and jump across. The 2nd river crossing (at I think about mile 65 or so) though was a different story. I arrived to a long line of nervous riders waiting to cross. The river was raging, and it looked deep. When I arrived, there was a big rope strung tightly across the river, with 3-4 burly volunteers helping people across. By help I mean hand holding, carrying bikes, and even carrying people. At 6'3" tall and 190 pounds, this was a tough crossing for me, with water up to my hips. Race organizers made the right call routing everyone after the top 50 around this tough river crossing.
The final 30 miles or so was a blur, and I felt surprisingly good. There was a long rolling section with a rolling tailwind that I was in a train of 5 Penn Cycle racers with and we were averaging 30+ miles per hour for a long time. This incredibly fast section was followed by an epic high speed, curvy gravel descent - it felt like a video game, rather than real life. This descent was followed by a massive climb known as Oriole climb, which was the final climb that I walked/ran up the majority of. From the top of Oriole climb, the final 10 miles was mainly rolling headwind back into Spring Valley. Upon crossing the finish line, a traditional congratulatory handshake from race volunteers was much appreciated.
Upon finishing, I quickly got out of my race kit, cleaned up, and put on some comfy dry clothes. I spent the next several hours helping out, feeding, and cheering on countless smiling (and grimacing) gravel riders. Congrats to the big Cyclova crew that all conquered Almanzo this year! I can't wait to do it all over again next year!
If you still need some more gravel stories, check out Kristen's "Century of Gravel" story on Gravel Shark!