RACE REPORT (05jun2021): Spring Valley / Almanzo 100 -- Meteor Theory v. Heat Wave, Gravel v. Skin
MINNEAPOLIS, United States (GNN, the Gravel News Network) -- Gerasimos G.
"If nothing goes wrong, there's nothing to write about."
Quick Background on Almanzo (and Meteor Theory)
The Almanzo 100 was one of the first gravel events in the midwest to be attracting 1,000+ people. I did this event for several years in all sorts of weather (some race reports here in The Gravel News Network).
This year, the city of Spring Valley took the lead on the event, renaming it the Spring Valley 100. The date of the event, normally the first Saturday after Mother's Day (in May) meant the weather had varied from the 30s to the 80s, cold rain to hot sun, mostly wind and sometimes calm. This year was in June, yesterday, June 5th, and temps were in the 90s with winds gusting up to 25mph.
Perhaps it's also useful to briefly share the "Meteor Theory" that I apply in pretty much every event. It is a plan to go out hot, hotter than what can be sustained, and then slowly peel back -- like the edges of a meteor burning off as it enters the Earth's atmosphere. Decreasing speed, increasing suffering the whole way and hoping that the body only turns to ash as the finish line comes into sight. Sometimes the ashes end up on the side of the road, maybe sleeping. Most times it sorta works. Every time it hurts.
Where Is everybody?
Leaving Minneapolis around 5:00a, we hit Highway 52 southward toward Rochester, loosely saluting to other cars with gravel bikes on their racks. The start time, usually 9:00a, was moved to 8:00a so our ritual breakfast of silliness and chuckles was not an option this year. It was straight to the start line today.
|Hydrating on the Highway with Paul W.|
We rolled into Spring Valley like so many years before, but we were able to park right there on Broadway Ave. Something was different. Whereas in the past there were swarms of riders streaming in and out of the Community Center with their numbers, folks pulling bikes out of trucks, and bikes leaning up against brick walls, storefronts, and pop machines ... there were maybe 8 cars and there was no line to get race number. Where were all the riders?
The weather forecast was for low 90s and high winds. Definitely a tough day to be on a bike for 6-10hrs. I think I heard later that 350 had registered and 150 had shown up for the event.
Crazy hot weather, transition year, new name (third name in 3 years), etc.. I am certain this event will grow back to size in the next couple of years. There's hardly a better gravel route to be found -- natural beauty, grinding open spaces, epic climbs including the soul-breaking Oriole Road at mile 91. It's a spring gravel classic, so you can expect that the weather is rarely a friend. That's what spring racing is about.
You prepare in fear. Fear of not having the legs, fear of the conditions. And on the day, you show up and you get it done.
|Gravelleros Crew: Dan Gl, Gerasimos G (me), Randy MoFlo, Paul W, Joe Gears, CRo, Mike P|
As we lined up and I noticed the thinness of the pack, I realized that I might have a problem. I have, over several years, been quite loose in my navigational planning. I am often around plenty of other riders, there are usually such obvious tire tracks in the road, and I also (foolishly) believe that I know some of the turns (when in fact, so many of them just happen to look really similar to each other).
Slow rolling out of Preston without any other riders in sight, I decided to call my friend Michael who was up north at a lake to see if he could get on a computer, find the .GPX file, download it, upload it, share it -- all while I was riding along the highway and before I arrived at the first unknown intersection up the road. He navigated the multiple steps and horrible website designs and sent me the link. I pulled into the shade of a small cemetery (cemeteries are always cooler, someone said later in the day that it's all the dead people that lower the temperature).
With the rows of small green shoots emerging from the crumbled dirt, and the grasses on the side of the road waving me forward, I was rolling steady along a slight downhill with an intersection ahead. I could see another rider up the road after the turn, and I started aiming at the hardpack gravel on the inside of the bend. I came into it pretty hot and the tires slid out on some loose stones as if it was ice. I was down fast, hands first, sliding on the road with one foot still attached to the bike.
At mile 90, Oriole Road appears. Only a bit over a half mile, but at nearly 10% gradient and normally rutted with washout and larger rocks, it's nearly always a dismount-and-walk situation. The times I have managed up it on the bike have been either on a fat bike (gearing & traction) or when I was wearing road shoes because of the heat (and those things are terrible for walking).