Thursday, July 04, 2013

The Odin's Revenge Experience...

Welcome to the Nebraska Sandhills -- you get into them in the north loop of the course.
 There have been volumes written about how boring the I-80 drive through Nebraska is. So unless you're from central Nebraska, you'll probably be surprised to learn that a gravel grinder with a start and finish in Gothenburg, Nebraska, just a stone's throw from the Interstate, is one of the most scenic and challenging events of its type in the country.

In just its second year, Odin's Revenge is quickly establishing a reputation as a punisher. Last year, the 180-mile event ran on a day that saw 104-degree temperatures, so attrition was more than 50-percent.

Cornbread & I during the foggy, muggy first loop of the 2012 Odin's Revenge. This year would be much different...
This year's shortened 150-mile event featured incredible weather, with high temperatures in the mid-80s and clear skies. In the afternoon, an increasing northwest wind made the second half of the course a particular challenge on the way out, but on the way home, we flew on the wings of that same strong wind, now at our back.

I was fortunate to have a great traveling companion for the adventure -- Guitar Ted -- and he made the trip an absolute joy. G-T drove over from Iowa and then we loaded up our newly-renovated Subaru for the journey to Gothenburg. His timing worked out perfectly, as he rolled into town just as I was finishing up my pre-race grocery shopping. Excellent...
As we pulled into the Gothenburg KOA, we knew we were in the right place... Photo: M. Quigley

Chad Quigley, Lace Fraley and I talk bikes and such. Photo: M. Quigley

We hit the road for Gothenburg around 11am and were one of the first participants to arrive on-site at the KOA. The DSG crew -- Chad & Merrie Quigley, Kyle Vincent, Matt Bergen, Lane Bergen, Bob Wieck, Paul Siebert and a number of others were on-site preparing for the onslaught of racers, and my recollection from the previous year was that the Friday night "meet up" was one of the most fun parts of the event.

Paul Siebert on the hammered dulcimer. Photo: Guitar Ted

At some point, Paul got his banjo out and started singing, I cracked a new bottle of Templeton Rye and we got the party started proper. I knew we had a race the next day, so I wasn't going full-throttle, but we were also in the midst of good friends we don't get to see all that often, so we had a little partying to do. It all worked out very nicely... Lots of fun and laughs were had and Paul even played his hammered dulcimer for us. It's a beautiful instrument I rarely get to experience, and I knew Guitar Ted would be blown away at Paul's ability to make beautiful music with it. Thanks Paul...

Guitar Ted and I were some of the last to leave the KOA, and after a brief stop at the local grocery store we were back at the Quigley's house, as we'd be staying in their beautiful home for the weekend. Chad and I hung out chatting out back for a few minutes, then I was off to bed for the night.

I set the alarm on my iPad for 4:15am and was quickly asleep.

The next morning, I awoke to a surprising amount of light in the room. "What time is it?" I wondered.

I grabbed my iPad... 5:02am

"HOLY SH--!"

I jumped out of bed and immediately started digging for clothes in my bag. I had less than an hour to get dressed and out to the race course. The thoughts rushed though my mind almost too quickly to comprehend, but somehow I collected myself and got everything together in-time. It was much thanks to Merrie Quigley, really, as the breakfast casserole she made enabled me to have a solid breakfast and do it in less than five minutes. That was key...
Looking over my shoulder as we rolled toward the hills. That's Iowa gravel vet, Jeremy Fry on my wheel. He was riding strong all day.

Fortunately, once at the race start, we realized nobody was in a particular hurry and we were running right on-schedule. The start rolled out super easy too, as I was leading it out and since I hadn't ridden any sort of warm up, I didn't want to pedal any too hard in the opening miles. I was content just to spin the legs out and as long as everyone else was cool with it, life was good.
Cornbread rides toward one of the cool railroad bridges on the south side of the course.

Of course, it didn't take long before the course itself imposed its presence and some climbs started thinning out the lead pack, which pretty quickly worked down to eight or nine riders. It eventually stabilized into a six-rider lead pack, which held throughout the first, approximately 95-mile loop of the course.

I had announced my intent to stop at the McDonalds in Gothenburg on my way out on the north loop to the others in the lead group as we were about 10-miles from finishing the south loop. Last year's race winner, Mike Marchand, had stopped there and still was able to pull off the victory, and I could tell my stomach was starting to need something other than the sweet foods I had with me on the bike.
Lunch... I only eat at McDonalds a couple of times a year and this was one of them. It worked well for me.

Once we checked-in at Gothenburg, all of us went and restocked our supplies. Todd Tvrdik rode up and checked on me at the McDonalds to see how close I was to leaving. As much as I wanted to roll out with him, I was only about half done and still wanted to eat... I had my priorities, so I wished him good luck and sent him on his way.

As it turns out, seeing Todd provided me with a spark that kick started me into action. I quickly finished my food and got myself back onto the road. He was about a mile in-front of me, as best I could tell on the slight uphill climb out of town. A persistent northwesterly wind made quick progress impossible, but I spent as much time down on my aero bar as possible in an attempt to pull distance back on Todd. It worked at times, but we played a game of yo-yo until just before the checkpoint, where (I came to learn later) he'd taken a bit of a break, allowing me to ride up just as he was leaving.
Todd Tvrdik leaving checkpoint 4 as I arrive. Photo: Matt Bergen

As checkpoint volunteer, Bob Wieck attempted to hand me a beer, I somehow resisted and while thanking him, also said "I've been chasing Todd since we left Gothenburg. I still have some work to-do. Let's save that for the finish line."

And with that, I resumed my chase, now significantly closer than we'd been since my lunch stop. I was confident I'd eventually get him, but also knew Todd wouldn't go down without a fight, so I needed to be strategic about my moves.

I didn't go after him immediately, instead choosing to pull to within 8-10 seconds, and just pace him, watching how he was riding and where he was riding well. We rode like this for perhaps 12 miles, and then there was a fast two-track dirt road on a ridge that led into a fast, loose and winding downhill. On the upper two-track, Todd surprised me by opening up the gap on me substantially, but then he stood up to stretch his back at the top of the downhill, allowing me to quickly catch back up.

I sensed this was the time, as I'd been riding well on most of the loose downhills earlier in the day, while Todd and I were both riding in the lead pack. I shifted into my largest gear and moved onto the left line of the two-track. We were flying at more than 30-mph and the loose talcum conditions made steering more of a vague dirt-track sort of experience than a definitive line picking exercise, but I bet I had 6-8mph on Todd when I went around him. I was at terminal velocity... I won't lie. It was sweet.

He actually said "Holy SHIT!" as I went around.

I said, "good job, Todd," and kept pedaling.

From that point on, it was a 15-mile with the wind time trial to the finish, and I'd swear to you that it was mostly downhill too. I gave it everything I had left and rolled into the finish at the KOA completely spent. Todd rolled in a few minutes later looking notably fresher. I think the margin was I simply wanted it more on that day. He rode fantastic and looked great out there.
Finishing a long, awesome day in the third-place position. Photo: Guitar Ted

We were credited with 3rd and 4th place solo, which was good for us, as the three winners came across the line together (very cool, IMHO) and so were all credited with 1st place. In reality though, I know I was more like the 5th place finisher, and I'm cool with that. It was a solid field this year and everyone who participated, and especially those who completed the event -- from the first to the last finisher -- deserve a hearty round of applause. I was stoked to win receive a generous third place prize package that included a Mountain Feedbag from event sponsor, Revelate Designs. Thanks to Revelate's Eric Parsons for sponsoring the event.

Thanks to the incredible terrain, this is one tough event, regardless of whether it's 180- or 150-miles! But it's also an event that's incredibly fun and inviting because of its people and its beauty, so I wholeheartedly recommend checking it out. Thanks to the entire DSG crew, but especially to our hosts for the weekend, Chad and Merrie Quigley, for opening their home to us and for their incredible generosity. I know Guitar Ted and I both enjoyed the time we spent with everyone. You can read his posts by the way, here and here.
Matt Bergen captures a good shot of the setup I used on my Singular Kite during my checkpoint four stop.

For the event, I rode my incredible Singular Kite (read my review on set up with a tubeless 43c Bruce Gordon Rock N Road in the front and a tubeless 42c Continental Cyclocross Speed in the rear. The tires worked perfectly and were a competitive advantage in loose, fast sections of the course, undoubtedly. The ability to not have to worry about flats is a complete confidence booster too. I appreciate the ride quality and clearance Singular owner and designer, Sam Alison has built into the frame and fork. It was the perfect ride for Odin's Revenge.

Thanks for reading!


Josh Lederman said...

Thanks for the really nice narrative. I agree it Odin's was a awesome event. Funny how each loop had its own unique challenges. It was fun chatting with you early on.

Where can I get some 42mm Conti Speeds? They aren't listed on the Conti site.

Thanks again, All the best,

MG said...

Hey Josh, Thanks for your kind words. It was great to see you out at Odin's. What an awesome ride!

I think Continental may have discontinued the 42c version of the CX Speed, as I have only been able to find the 35c version lately. I was fortunate to buy a pair, so I'm set for a while, but it's a bummer because it's a really good 40+c gravel tire. Never say never... Conti has a way of dusting off older designs/sizes and reintroducing them. Perhaps they'll do that with this tire at some point?

Scott Redd said...

Congrats on the 3rd place finish! It looks like the Kite was a great bike to ride in these varied conditions.

I went with hardcase 38s, which were magic-carpet comfy, and great in that loose dirt and fine sand, but dog slow and heavy everywhere else. But, like you said, it was great not to worry about flats.

Hope to ride with you again soon.

MG said...

Thanks Scott. It was great to ride with you too. Congratulations on your finish as well! I think anyone that completed the course really accomplished something. That was a tough one!

Tires are a funny thing... And also something nobody does exactly alike. Because while the tires on my Kite are much heavier than the 32c road tires on my Singular Osprey, on back-to-back rides on the same course, the Kite wins in both comfort and average speed. I don't have to work as hard with the large tires because the bike more easily stays on-line, especially in looser gravel. But even on smoother gravel, the Kite is still my fastest, most comfortable gravel bike.