On Saturday the 26th I entered the third annual CIRREM gravel road race held in Cumming Iowa (10 miles south of Des Moines).The 64 mile race is put on by Des Moines area cyclists who three years ago organized a group ride as motivation for some cold weather training This year saw 80 riders pre-registered with another 30 race day entrants.
I have been eye-balling this race for a couple weeks as training for April’s Trans Iowa. With 7 weeks to go it is time to ramp up the training intensity and start to focus on hill climbing. As the day approached the weather forecast looked pretty good with temperatures in the low 30’s and no snow or rain. Mid-week we got about 3 inches of snow but it missed the Des Moines area and the forecast temperatures was still in the mid 30’s. Earlier in the week, before our snow, our gravel roads were in great shape so I figured the race course would be dry and fast. Friday night saw 2 inches of new snow and colder temperatures for the race. I tend to stress about rides like this as I over think every little detail. What tires to run, what to carry to eat/drink, what to wear, will I stop at the sag stop. Every time the forecast changed my strategy would change. This was a 4 to 5 hour training ride and not that important for my season. For Trans Iowa my mind will really be in overdrive.
Leaving Muscatine at 6:30 a.m. we headed west for a 9:00 arrival in Cumming and a start time of 10:00. With temperature in the upper teens my main concern was keeping the water from freezing during the 4-5 hour ride. I had two insulated bottles filled with warm water, one was Perpetuam. I also was trying a Camelbak under my jacket. I had some Power Gel bites along as an extra fuel source that would be easy to eat on the move. I was worried I might be a little under dressed and hoped the harder pace would generate enough heat to get me by and it did.
After the start Connie was headed to Des Moines for some shopping and to meet Chris for lunch. They were going to meet me back at the Cummings Tap after 5 hours or earlier if I called. The pace was pretty social as we rolled out. We even stopped at one corner for a nature break. It was interesting after an hour it seemed like we rolled though the feed zone. Riders started digging in there pockets for gels, bars and thawed water bottles. The challenge was completing this simple task with lobster gloves on your hands. More then one gel ended on the ground.
Our front group of 30 hit some serious hills around mile 20 and the group began to thin out. The hills were endless and after the 4th or 5th serious roller I was one of the casualties. During a brief reprieve a handful of us were able to get back on the tail of the group.
Near the 25 mile mark we had a long gradual downhill. Partway down the hill a rider on the far left of the road hit a rut that launched him and his bike sideways through the middle of the group. I was behind him and had to move clear to one side to avoid the carnage. Total three rides hit the deck. Once we got to the bottom of the hill we stopped to wait for everyone to re-group. When was the last time you saw that during a road race? A few miles later I was off the back again for good.
My plan was to ride non-stop so I rolled through the sag stop at the 30 miles mark. 1:57 was my time at that point. That is less then 15 mph average. I was comfortable with the fact I was going to be on my own the rest of the race. I caught a few riders, got caught by a few, but basically was on my own. Just past the sag stop both my water bottles were frozen beyond use. I could not even unscrew the caps to get the liquid out. Getting my Camelbak nozzle out from inside my coat, while moving down the road, proved impossible wearing my heavy gloves so I decided to pull over. I also needed to remove my goggles because they kept freezing over and I was tired of scrapping the ice off them to read the cue sheet. My heart sank as I grabbed the nozzle that would supply the only water I would have for the next two hours only to find it frozen solid.
Around mile 45 I was passed on a climb. A couple miles later I was feeling pretty good and decided to use the rider ahead as a rabbit. I picked up the pace and kept my mind focused on the chase. By mile 58 I caught up with him. At the pace we were going there is not much benefit to drafting but misery loves company. With all the hills it is easier to ride your own pace. A few miles later it was obvious his uphill pace was more then mine and I was on my own again for the last 5 miles of the race.
I really had no goals for this race other then a really good workout. Not drinking or eating enough had it’s effect on how I felt finishing. The last 4 miles seemed to take forever as I counted down each mile. It was nice to finally see the finish after 4:34 of riding. I was pleasantly surprised to find out I finished in 12th place.
This is the third type of in-formal gravel road ride I have entered. Very low key with the focus on the social event before and after the ride. Each race has had less then ideal riding conditions but I have come away really enjoying the day. Next time I need to stick around longer to partake in the post-race activities and get to know more of the riders.