Ragnarök 105

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I have been looking forward to this race all winter.  I didn't have much of a plan going into last year's season and did a lot of the same ol'-same ol'. It was a good season in the end, but I was itching for some new challenges.  When I stumbled across the 'Rök and it's rally style, tulip instructions- I figured I found something cool.  I ended up signing up for most of the Almanzo Gravel Road Series. 

Still, I went into yet another race feeling kind of down.  I've been putting a lot of effort into getting the miles in I need, often neglecting a lot of other things I should be doing (my house looks like a hurricane ripped through a bicycle shop, then drank a few beers and piled dirty dishes in the sink.)  A lot of these miles have been in some pretty miserable conditions.   Furthermore, I'd just laid out a significant lump of cash to fill out and improve the gravel road racing bike arsenal and none of my fancy new toys had arrived yet.  Physically- I was feeling great, but mentally- I just couldn't get my head into it.  

Once I got to Frontenac State Park and put a healthy dent in a 12 pack of Grain Belt, I was starting to come around. Red Wing was for more scenic than I figured it would be, and the weather was turning out to be downright pleasant.  Everything was lining up for a perfect day on the bike.

When I got to the start location the next morning, I parked right next to quite possibly the only WRX wagon as ratty as mine sporting oversized mudflaps and equally brimming with bike shit.  I had apparently found my peoples.  Sure enough, it didn't take long to find the source of all the rally influence on this event- one of the organizers was Larry Warrington, a long time rally competitor. Mingling about that morning introduced me to a whole cast of cool folks. See, nobody turns on the TV and sees a bunch of Pros slogging it out on 100+ miles of dirt with nothing but themselves to rely on.  As such, most of the people at the start line had arrived there on their own, not trying to emulate some preconceived notion about what a bicycle race should be.  The bicycles they rode reflected this. Every kind of frame, wheel, tire, gearing and brake configuration imaginable.   Sure, there was a definite spike around the cyclocross variety of bike, but as the dude on the Pugsley showed- this was all about the rider, not the bike.

So- great weather, 105 miles of great roads ahead and surrounded by some cool people.  Let's do it! 

Now, you probably have some vision of a bunch of beer swilling hippies wandering about the backroads and comparing notes on long reach caliper brakes.  Such was hardly the case, there's some very fast people in the field and they wasted no time getting down to business in the King of the Mountain competition. See, 105 miles is just too easy- the organizers also saw fit to offer another competition over the 8 biggest climbs over the first half of the course.  Actually, I think the organizers just needed an excuse to hang out at the top of some of the plentiful hills just to see the look of agony on our faces as we crested the top. 

Us mere mortals (and beer swilling longhairs) knew our biggest battles of the day would be mainly with ourselves and the course. As such, we hung back in packs and kept it mellow, enjoyed the company and cracked wise.  Now I'm still very much a newbie to this whole bike racing thing and as one who's discovered the joys of wheelsucking, I do so at every opportunity.  Except on this course, I was noticing something- my abilities were not totally in sync with those riding at the same speed as me.  They'd bomb the downhills way faster than me, and I'd be left struggling to catch up, only to hit the next uphill where I'd slow way down so as not to completely ditch them.  But I still couldn't couldn't hang on to anyone faster up ahead.  I was beginning to suspect I might be better off on my own. 

So at the halfway break, I took an abbreviated stop and ventured out on my own.  I was sort of expecting my old pack to catch up with me eventually, but just out of Zumbro Falls, I had the road to myself.  And a beautiful ride it was, along the river and up a two track.  And then?  Sheer misery.  Miles 60-80 were the toughest part of the course.  Gradually going uphill that entire distance and just getting blasted by the wind.  Granny gear territory.  Occasionally, somebody would grind their way up to me and I'd ride with them a bit, but we were going so slow and the winds so strong that drafting didn't really seem to do much. Conversation and riding side by side seemed to help the miles go by a little quicker. 

Finally, at mile 80- we were out of the wind and it was no longer a gradual uphill. It was one steep mother of an uphill- and you could see the whole thing winding it's way up the side of a hill.  Demoralizing as all hell, right?  Well- the weirdest thing happened here- I just got to work stomping my way up that thing and by the time I reached the top- I felt great. Totally rejuvenated.  It's like that climb cleared all the pain and misery out of my legs.  And every time it would creep back in, we'd hit another climb and I could clear it all out. 

As such, I rolled the last 25 miles into town with a smile on my face for an 8:04 finish.  38th out of 76 who managed to complete the thing.  And I missed winning a fancy HED wheelset by one place. This race is definitely on my must do list for next year.  I'm looking forward to riding with these folks again at the Almanzo 100 in May and if the course is even half as good, it'll be a great time.    

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