I’m not so great at race reports…. while superkate is the best. So go read hers first for a real review 🙂 I’m skipping a few AR reports, but they’ll happen. Eventually.
As usual, this ended up much longer than I planned. There are just so many fun things I want to tell you! But, spoiler alert, I won, Bob Jenkins is awesome, Cedar Cross is soul-crushing.
As you may have heard, one of the most awesome races around St. Louis is Cedar Cross, the result of lots of work and beers from the legendary Mr. Bob Jenkins. Last year, this was my first century race. And also my first gravel race. And also my first singlespeed race. Obviously, I’m no expert on racing (the wisdom a year brings!), but I was pretty excited to have some people to say hello to, and to finally be going into a race with an idea of the carnage that was about to take place.
Last year, I was quite worried about the day. So worried, I made my dude peat ride a gravel century with me on the singlespeed so that I could be sure I would make it. This year, well, I’ve been racing my way in shape, and it’s definitely the most fun. I always feel unprepared going in to races, whether or not it’s true (it usually is). But, cedar cross is about the most fun you can have… I mean, they have a beer stop! And, we get to stay with Peat’s friend Nick, who happens to run Red Wheel Bike shop (this year’s lucky host, and the best bike shop in Jeff City!) and makes some awesome little pork cutlets (what propelled me to victory last year). Anyway, when I found I’d have the weekend ‘free’, I signed up. Within about 30 minutes, I got an email from Bob:
Yeah, I can’t think of any other race where you get a personal email from the race director thanking you for signing up. I should also mention, this year Bob decided to make it a celebration of the ladies, a true estro-fest if there ever was one. We’d chatted briefly a few months ago about prizes, and what prize purse would, in his words, ‘get a bunch of women out trying to rip each others’ legs off’. Well, he also named the categories aptly, and I signed up for the ‘Alphagina’, the greatest category I will ever have the honor of racing. As the year of the woman, there were only to be prizes for the ladies.
Peat and I took off Friday night and got to Jeff City in time to catch Nick’s (3 year old) son Wyatt up and hunting firewolves and other backyard sneakies. After much hanging out with Nick and his wife Jess, more of the SS contingent showed up in the form of Adam, Lurch, and Eddie, who claimed floor space in the basement. Beers were consumed, general merriment ensued. Soon enough, it was time for bed!
We got up bright and early in order to make it to the shop by around 7, for the race start at 8. Incredibly unfortunately, Nick (as the host of the race) had to leave super early, leaving us pork-cutlet-less. Not to be put out, we filled water bottles and had snacks, then drove over to Red Wheel for coffee, donuts, and hellos to all our friends from the area.
We geared up and lined up, then Bob made a few announcements – Nick’s dad would be out on course as usual with beer(!) and hot dogs, Luke’s son (I think) played a righteous version of the national anthem on the electric guitar, and Bob told everyone that there’d be a $500 payout for the winner of the Alphagina category, and a $100 payout to the winner of the ladies open. Whaaaaat?! I laughed, tried to forget about it, and reminded myself of my lack of training – it’s a $30 race with some awesome people, and singletrack on cross bikes. Sure, worth some effort, but mostly worth finishing. Still, there was a little voice in the back of my head saying it’d be pretty nice to win some cash (oh, and peat mentioning it’d be nice to win back some gas money). At the same time, I knew superkate has been DESTROYING her training for dirty kanza, so we’d just have to see how it all played out.
After announcements, Bob ripped his shirt off and gave us a show, then Chuck led a neutral rollout through town and down a super awesome pedestrian bridge. Watching racers going through 4 levels of a big spiral ramp was so cool… I tried to take a picture while riding. It didn’t really work out.
On the other side of the bridge, a leadout car was waiting to take us another half mile or so to the real ‘start’ of the race. I tried to pace myself, remembering how I cramped last year, but also hoping to finish faster than last year, meaning in the ideal world I’d be working on a 16 mph pace. Realistically, I was ready for that to be closer to 15, knowing last year I was around 14.7 according to Strava. Well, I also learned from last year that it’s way easier to ride with people, whether you’re drafting or not. It’s just fun, and that happens to be the whole point of cedar cross. As I was putzing around chatting, I was passed by SS buddies Adam and Zoll (Lurch), pumping the tunes! I stepped it up a notch and hopped on the train.
The three of us ended up riding the first 30 miles or so together, until Adam needed to stop for water at an old chapel. It was so nice to hang out and confirm each others’ route choices, and generally just chat. When we hit the chapel, though, I knew I had to boogie if I wanted a shot at the title. I also knew we were coming up on the second section of singletrack, where I’d take any advantage I could get (the first was through a field… thankfully uneventful this year and I even showed a few people how to open the gate instead of climbing over it! Less fun, but more fast. And less panic).
The singletrack was fairly rideable…. as much as singletrack is rideable on a gravel-geared singlespeed (for reference, and because I’m sure I’ll want to check and remember at some point, I went 42×18). I was stoked on everything I could ride, including hopping a few trees (my weakness). I was running tubes because this year, unlike last, I didn’t get to borrow peat’s fast wheels (turns out, he likes his nice things and was ready to destroy the course). I reminded myself to ride light, and that stopping to change a tire would take waaaay longer than slowing to walk a section. There were also a few pretty rough horsed-up sections here, although in hindsight they weren’t too bad (and most were rideable) compared to the later section. A quick sprint up the Jeff Yielding staircase of pain, and we were back on gravel roads!
Around this time, I started to get the warning signs of leg cramps… the twinge of pain suggesting I’m in for a ride. Now, that can sometimes be ok… but 40 miles into a 115 mile ride it’s fairly bad news. I downed some carborocket electrolyte tabs, ate some food, and realized I was nearly out of water. I figured the drop bags were in 10 miles, so I drank everything I had and hoped it’d be enough. I also started soft pedaling the hills instead of powering up them. Somehow, I made it to the drop bags where Noelle Case (the BEST CREW EVER) was waiting, as usual, with the tailgate down and water ready. I downed as much water as possible, switched my 2L water bladder for the full 3L, replaced bottles, stuffed my pockets and shorts with food, and headed off into the roughest singletrack of the day.
I thought this singletrack was rough last year, but this year it was worse than trying to cut an entirely new trail. The horse tracks were so bad, it was like trying to hold onto a jackhammer, while also riding through inches of muck. Uphill. I rode a lot… until I didn’t. At some point, it just made more sense to save the skin on the palms of my hands by walking over and through the massive post-holes. Post race, there was plenty of comparing shredded skin from trying to hold on to the handlebars.
After about 2 miles, I finally hit gravel again and (because I’d ridden the course last year) confidently turned left, followed by a quick right. Never has gravel felt so smooth. Unluckily, despite my quick fix of chugging water and snacks, I hadn’t drank or eaten much while working hard in the singletrack. And, I promptly cramped, for real, at the exact same place as last year. Ugggggh. There’s a gravel hill (ok, so it’s really not that hard) just after the singletrack that I remembered sitting down in the middle of, trying to stretch out my legs after miraculously unclipping. This year, I decided I’d ride the hill. As slowly as I needed to. At least at this point the cramps could be stretched out and weren’t full-bore in each muscle group at the same time, so I would pedal with my left leg until my quad and calf would cramp, then hope my right hamstring was done cramping in time to pick up the slack and start on the other side. It wasn’t pretty. But I did manage to get up the hill, and again drank probably 1.5 bottles of gatorade and ate a bunch of food.
It’s amazing to me how cramps can be fixed. One moment you think you’re going to die, and that your legs are going to fall off. You’re in total survival mode, hoping only to see another human with a cell phone and maybe some water to spare. Throw everything you have at it (food, electrolytes, water), and 10 minutes later you’re back in the game. I’d still prefer to never get to that point, but it is a little comforting to know that the pain isn’t, in fact, permanent.
Soon enough, I was rolling along and having fun, working hard but not blowing myself up, and around a corner there was a tent with a few racers and a cooler! I stopped in and Nick’s dad immediately asked what I needed and filled up a water bottle for me as a pounded a beer. It was ice cold and OH so tasty… it was even a fancy beer in a glass bottle! I was surprised, impressed, and ready for a nice cold beverage. I’d say I got that down in about 30 seconds, then hopped back on my bike for the roughly 5 miles to Ham’s Prairie.
At the gas station, I again saw Noelle and refilled everything I could. Despite being 80 miles into the race, it was still 35 (I told myself 40) to the finish, which is kinda a long way to go. I took my time and saw my friend Don, who I met last year at CCX, roll out towards the reactor. One big hill, a view of the reactor, and a screaming downhill and I was on the Katy trail, the ‘home stretch’. This section of the race is always sneaky – it’s flat, so you underestimate it. I could see Don and another racer up in front of me, and debated putting in the extra energy to catch them and work together. In the end, I decided a bathroom break was more important. About 5 miles down the trail, however, I saw them again, and then they stopped to check the maps. I was confident in the directions (after all the debating last year) and rolled by, and we all grouped up together to end up riding for the rest of the race!
We turned off the katy onto gravel farm roads, where the wind really picks up, and the gravel is big and deep (heh). The sun was hot, and we worked to just slog through it. It’s so straining to know you’re so close to being done, but that it will still take a long time to get there. After our second departure from the Katy, we saw another rider along the levee and slowly started closing the gap. When we finally caught up, we saw it was none other than SS dude Eddie! We all rode together, alternately pushing the pace a little (in the excitement of getting done earlier) and just maintaining in order to finish strong. Devin (the other rider) and I would hang out and let Don and Eddie cruise, just to see them slow down so we could all chill. It was pretty fun. Soon enough, we passed under highway 54 and wound our way back to the pedestrian bridge, through all the big trucks and boats from a fishing tournament on the same day.
Up, up, up and over the bridge we went. Looking at my watch, it was about 4:40 PM, and we’d started around 8:20 AM, so we were definitely going to finish under 9 hours!! So awesome. Once we hit town and main street, Eddie took off down the big hill while we just chatted and timed out the lights (and tried not to get run over). The three of us crossed the line together and I got the news (that I’d been guessing on since about Ham’s Prairie)… that I am the Alphagina!!! It was so awesome to have people to ride with at both the start and the end of the race, and SO awesome to have Noelle and Nick’s dad out there supporting. Oh, and winning $500 wasn’t so bad (moving is expensive, and Seattle’s far away… I definitely will put it to good use. Immediately).
I saw Peat hanging out on the pavilion having a beer, and went over to chat about our days and compare notes. He and his friend Jesse had been riding together but got lost after the last singletrack, probably adding about 7 miles (and a big hill) to their day. As a result, they lost the lead to a group of 4 dudes who made the right turn, but Peat and Jesse still wound up 5th and 6th.
Don, Devin, and I wound up 11-13th, I think, and I was maybe the 3rd SS? Meaning Eddie was 2nd, and we were basically just chillin together? That’s pretty freaking awesome, in my opinion. The second lady (on gears, in the ladies open division) came in about 30 min after I did (again, results aren’t up so I’m not sure, and I’d had a few beers so my memory probably isn’t all it’s cracked up to be).
As expected, it was an incredible day out on gravel, but the most fun was swapping war stories with everyone afterwards. Corey won an awesome Bad Mother Fucker wallet, the Sonas rode a tandem and are hilarious, and we stayed out late into the night cheering on riders and generally talking shit.
In fact, we enjoyed it so much neither Peat or I were ready to drive all the way back to St. Louis, so we crashed with Nick and Jess another night (well, after demolishing a pizza). We woke up to a true breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausage, pancakes, and coffee! These people are the best people. I will miss the bike community here so much… and I can’t wait to time my return visits so I can come see you all race and party it up!