Thursday, May 02, 2013

TransIowa v.9: It Just Wasn't My Year...

Sunrise over TransIowa... Photo: Gnat

Gravel road races the length of TransIowa are unique. They're long enough to require months of training, so they aren't undertaken lightly and they aren't something you drop out of on a whim. But one thing years of racing these events has taught me is that, sometimes it just isn't your day. And so it was this year at TransIowa v.9.

The morning of the race started off well enough. I was one of the first riders to show up on the line, actually leaving my hotel for the start line at 3:00am sharp. Guitar Ted had asked us to be there by 3:30 and I was ready a little early, so I decided to get going. When I arrived at the line at 3:10, just one other rider was present that I could see. It was a little eerie, as I knew within minutes a mass of people would descend on the area.

And so they did. I chatted with a number of other riders, including 2012 TransIowa winner, Eric Brunt, who was looking fit, Dirty Kanza 200 race director, Jim Cummins, who was looking equally fit, and other friends from Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and other places. Then, after a short talk from Guitar Ted, he led us out of to the edge of town, to the first gravel, in his truck.

Once we hit the gravel, the pace lit up almost immediately, and a couple of racers started attacking on the early steep climbs. I tried to stay near the front but in the pack so I was in a draft most of the time, but realized after the first couple of hours, when I stopped to remove my jacket, that I was using more energy than I'd thought. The jacket was completely soaked through with sweat... Not a good sign.

Chad Quigley catches me making a funny face at CP1. That's Lance Andre lowering the pressure on the 27c Vittoria tubulars on his Trek Madone. It was a decision he'd later regret, as he'd flat his rear tire less than 15 miles later on some chunky asphalt on a section of bike path.
I pulled into the first checkpoint with Lance Andre, who was riding a Trek Domane similar to the one Jay Thomas used to win Gravel Worlds in 2012. The difference was, here at TransIowa, the gravel was much rougher, fresher and chunkier, so Andre had a much bigger challenge on his hands. On the smooth sections, he was rocket fast, but there were times on the fresh gravel where he found himself on the losing end of the battle for control of the bike and would go careening across the road.
The section of bike path that caused Lance Andre's first flat of the day. Photo: Gnat

When we pulled into the checkpoint, Chad Quigley, a Nebraska homeboy volunteering for the event, told me the leaders had taken a wrong turn and were off-course. That meant we were very close to the race lead, but in all honesty, I didn't really care. I just wanted to get back on-course and catch up to Cornbread, who'd left the checkpoint just ahead of me, so I quickly arranged my second set of cue sheets and was on my way. I caught Cornbread and (I believe) Jay Barre about two miles later, but started having pain in my right knee on a climb shortly after and let them ride away from me while I tried to figure out what was going on.

I eventually stopped and did some stretching to try to loosen my leg up, which helped a little. While I was stopped, I had the good fortune of having a big group ride up on me that included Salsa riders, Tim Ek, Paul Errinton and Jim Cummins. Our group eventually grew to also include several members of the Cycle Works/Moose's Tooth team, eventual women's winner (and 4th place overall finisher), Monika Sattler, and others. It was a group I was stoked to be riding with, and honestly thought I'd end up finishing with.
Our group coming into the first Casey's stop (at approx. mile 80 in the event). Immediately in-front of me is Paul Errington from the UK, with Tim Ek to his left. Eventual women's winner and 4th place overall finisher, Monika Sattler, rides in-front of Tim.

But on this day it wasn't to be. At about 110 miles into the event, my body began to falter again and I quietly drifted to the back of the group. As I dangled at the back, it became harder and harder simply for me to maintain contact, even with the strong draft from the eight-strong group, and at one point I simply made the decision to cut the cord. I rode alone for about 20 more minutes contemplating my fate before I stopped on the side of the road at the entrance to a field, where I sat down and ate a few Honey Stinger waffles and drank a whole water bottle as I sent a text message to Laura warning her that the end may be drawing neigh on TransIowa v.9. But before I decided conclusively, I hopped back on to my bike for about 30 more minutes to confirm my legs weren't coming back (which they weren't).

My dusty Gryphon sits, awaiting my decision...
At that point, I decided that TransIowa v.9 was over for me. I'd simply burnt too many matches in the early going to make myself last the entire event, and the moment of reckoning was at hand. I made the call with no regrets and nobody to blame for my failure but myself. It's just one of those things that I wish I'd have done better, but I can't do over, so I can just learn from it and move forward.

I want to thank everyone who supported me with their thoughts and comments in the lead-up and during TransIowa this year. It was truly humbling and inspiring to see how many people were following our progress during the event. Thanks again to all who took time to follow along!

It was fantastic to see and ride with lots of old friends, and also meet and ride with a lot of cool new people. I was reminded once again of one of the best things about the gravel racing scene -- the people! Thanks to each of you who made this a special event.

Preparing and competing in TransIowa would not have been possible without the incredible support of my beautiful wife, Laura. Not only was she there to pick me up when I faltered, but she unselfishly allowed me the time necessary to prepare the way I needed to for TransIowa -- and any of you who've done it know that's no small undertaking! And also, thank you to Marty Larson (The Prairie Peddler) and Sam Alison at Singular Cycles, and Rob Versteegh at Oakley for the support of my riding and racing. I feel honored to represent each of you whenever I'm on my bike! And finally, thank you to Guitar Ted and all of the volunteers who made TransIowa v.9 an unforgettable, life-changing event for so many participants. Even though it didn't work out the way I'd hoped, personally, it was still an amazing experience... Thanks again!


Barturtle said...

Now I know whose Vittoria Tubular litter I picked up off the side of the road...

Irishtsunami said...

You looked great coming into CP1. I am sorry it didn't work out for you.

Guitar Ted said...

Hey MG! I am so glad to have seen you at T.I., and I was also so sure you'd finish. When I heard got the news, I was super bummed out. I am sorry it didn't pan out for you.

And thanks again for the Templeton Rye, my Brother! Even though I never got a taste, it doesn't matter. I just felt honored that you thought to give me such a gift! You are awesome, and no matter if you finish T.I. or not, you are one of the Good Guys.

See ya soon!

MG said...

Thanks to you all... Especially to you, Guitar Ted. It was a great experience. Thanks for all you did... And all you do to promote cycling. You are one of the Greats.

Thanks again guys.


Steve Fuller said...

Pulling the plug on a race is never easy, but it also takes maturity and wisdom to realize that pulling the plug is the right thing to do. I'm really sorry TIV9 didn't end the way you planned MG, but coming out of it without injury is better than finishing and not being able to ride for 3 months.

MG said...

Thanks Steve -- I agree, 100-percent, but it was still frustrating to make such a rookie mistake in such an important event... You'd think I'd have learned my lesson by now?!!

You put in one heck of an impressive ride though, my brother. Congrats again!!