Road season is winding down and ‘Cross season hasn’t quite started. What to do? A gravel crit! VeloWorks/Spokes, Etc. had a good showing including Tina Pai and Clay Moulton taking the top step of the podium in their respective races. Clay‘s report is below.
Men’s CAT4/5 Race Report
Course: A 2.4-km rolling loop on hardpack dirt and light gravel farm roads/doubletrack (and one short paved section).
Conditions: Dry and dusty with temps at start time about 78-80F
Field: 47 at close of pre-reg, with a few day-of registrations
This race is a first for MABRAland, basically a mashup of gravel-grinder, criterium, and cyclocross, but, run under USAC Crit/Road rules, free lap, etc. I reg’d early considering there were callups based on reg date/time. CX bike with 26-27psi up front, 28-29 out back.
The race staged about halfway through the course, so there was an extra half-lap until we crossed the finish line for the first time. I had a first row start position and quickly got to the outside for the first sweeping right-hand corner. A few of us had discussed whether we were going to treat the start like a CX prologue (pandemonium) or more like a crit, and decided to treat it more like a crit, i.e., not ramping up to race pace until we got the entire field through the first right-hander.
Once through the first corner, three of us at the front lifted tempo and settled in. I sat second or third wheel through the first lap as we gingerly picked our way through the slippery gravel corners. It quickly became obvious that there were no gains to be had in the corners, but one could quickly lose a bunch of positions sliding around in the loose gravel.
After the first lap, a Bike Rack racer and I elevated tempo to what I felt was right about my threshold, and held it there, stringing things out. About 1/3 through the 2nd lap the BR rider and I had put about 8-10 seconds on the field, and knowing it was easier to manage 2 riders through the corners than 32 riders, we decided to work together to see what kind of gap we could sustain.
The BR rider (Elliot Cheresh) and I traded pulls and after about a lap and a half had put about 30 seconds on the field. Elliot was dropping off my wheel whenever I got up front, so I figured his leash was a little shorter than mine. Once I came across the line for the start of lap 3 I had gapped Elliot and he floated back to the field. I figured I was feeling good, and put in another lap in lonesome land until I drifted back to the field near the start of lap 4.
I drifted back to find about 13 of us left. So, good odds. I floated to the back of the group and parked it for another lap to get my heartrate down. At the start of lap 5 I moved back up to the front of the group, and immediately 2 riders started to gap the rest of the field. I moved up on the front, soft-ish pedaled for about 8-10 seconds, then jumped to bridge, hoping i wouldn’t take anyone with me.
And it worked. There was a guy calling splits near the first sharp right-hander after the finishing straight, and by the time the three of us had gotten there we had already put about 10-15 seconds on the field. (in hindsight, i think this guy was totally bullshitting us, or at least, just throwing out wild-assed guesses about the splits, since we hadn’t been away from the field for a full lap for him to actually time the split… but, whatever…)
After another lap of really lifting tempo, it was becoming obvious we might make this break stick. Our friendly time-split guy called us at 30 seconds with 3 laps to go.
With 2 laps to go time-split guy called us at 1 minute. By this time in the race most of the loose gravel in the racing line through the corners had been swept away, and it was way easier to hold that line and power out.
I looked back and I think he might’ve actually been right; BIG BIG gap. We’d done some HARD work and with 2-to-go it was pretty obvious we had the podium wrapped up in the break. Also, looking back on it, if i were up front in the field, knowing the podium was in the break, I’d probably sit up and enjoy the scenery, too…
We all sat up a bit, and just worked together, taking short 10 second pulls. Now, one of the other racers in the break was on an MTB (and he was probably the strongest of us three, natch), but MTB gears won’t get you much over 25mph. Do the math on that one. On the finishing straight he was spun out when we made our first move, so, CX gearing versus MTB gearing was rattling around in my head…
The other rider seemed happy to take longer pulls, so I didn’t argue.
As we headed into the right-hander into the final straight (about 800-900m to the finish) the other (CX) rider started powering on. I hung onto his wheel as speeds crept up to 25-27, then 28, I could hear that the MTB rider dropped off my wheel just a bit; I looked back and he was spun out – pedaling like mad but he just couldn’t stay glued on.
As my “leadout” started to fall off just a bit, I quietly shifted up two gears into my top cog, and when he glanced back to his left I jumped to his right with about 75m to go and powered through to the finish with clean wheels.
Oddly enough, the MTB guy came around him and nabbed second!