The best thing I can say about the West Side Dirty Benjamin gravel road race yesterday is that it was the best day I’ve ever had on a bike.
Without exaggerating at all, I’ve never ridden with so much ease, with so much speed, or with so much fun . Though I don’t know my final finishing place yet, I rode the full 107 miles in 6:26:53, averaging 16.8 mph – an average speed I would have had a tough time maintaining over 50 miles, much less twice that distance.
Throughout, I kept waiting for the other cleat to drop – for my strength to fade, for a bonk to sneak up on me, for the sun to cook us, for a headwind to kick up – but it never happened. At times, I felt like I was in someone else’s body, someone with better legs and bigger lungs than mine. Every time I asked my body to go a little faster, to push a little harder, to extend my pull at the front of the paceline for a another few tenths of a mile, it did!
So what accounted for this?
- Training, for sure: I didn’t ride my legs off in the month since the Almanzo, but I did get in some solid rides and I took a lot of time off. And the Almanzo is no joke in terms of building fitness.
- The course: mostly flat, with long stretches of good firm gravel, some significant sections of pavement (not my favorites, but great for recovery at speed!), and some funky bits like singletrack sections at the start, after the checkpoint, and in the middle of a half-developed subdivision later. Great changes of pace!
- The conditions: cool, not too windy, with intermittent rain to cool things off.
- And most of all, the riders: I rode every inch of the course within a few feet of my pal David, with whom I’ve logged some great gravel miles since March. He and I are pretty compatible in terms of fitness, so we worked very well together. And we were lucky to hook up with some good groups, which made a huge difference. In a paceline, you can hammer at 18mph and feel like you’re hardly working. Plus, they’re awfully picturesque. (Yes, the guy pulling is not wearing a helmet).
For another, 100-plus miles is hard no matter what. Around mile 70, after a short stop at the first checkpoint, I started feeling a familiar hollowness in my chest and some twinges in my thighs. But then I ate a fantastic Probar and drank 16 delicious ounces of lukewarm, extra-strength coffee. In minutes, I was good to go again, right up to the finish line, a hard left hander into the excellently-named Schimelpfenig Park in Chaska, Minnesota, where awaited a great organic bike stand
and pulled pork sandwiches with a cold cheap beer.