The Almanzo 100. The "fun gravel ride" that always turns out to be one of the hardest days of the year on the bike. The Almanzo has been on my bucket list since last year when I came up a little short finishing second to a well deserving winner that survived a solo break from nearly mile zero. As some have mentioned no one thought the weather could be worse than in 2016 but it certainly was. On my drive down to Spring Lake I watched the temp reading on my car drop and the rain commence. I'm usually one of the last to back out of an adventure but asked myself are you really going to spend the next 5+ hours in this? I decided I would give it a go but knew I was not prepared for 40 and rain so I stopped at a local store and bought some latex gloves to wear over my shoes and gloves as you can see here.
The Race. The first few miles were pretty tame this year in comparison with last. I think most of the contenders were a little nervous to push the pace and be in a small group for the remainder of the day battling the elements without a place to hide. The amount of sand and water that kept spraying me from the wheels I was drafting was so ridiculous that I couldn't stop laughing at the situation. At one point I turned to the rider next to me and said "this is probably not appropriate but I feel like Helen Keller out here." I couldn't see a thing and my windproof hat that was full of water was acting like ear plugs. While we were riding in a pack there was almost no talking as no one could hear or see each other to even know who they were talking to. Eventually Colin Catlin got antsy and started pushing the pace over the crest of some hills a little to see who was interested in forming a break. One of the times Eric Thompson joined him and they started to establish a little gap that made me nervous. I tried to jump across hard as not to bring along any passengers to the break. However, Adam Bergman and Drew Wilson managed to make it across as well. I surveyed who was all in the break looked backed at the gap and realized that if we peddled hard now we probably had the winning move established. I yelled for Colin and Eric to peddle hard "this is it boys, peddle!" I felt a little bad as some guys I know were trying to come across the gap but it is a race in all. The five of us rotated for some time and got a sizeable lead that was not going to be brought back. At that point everyone turned from friends to foes again. Adam started it off attacking the group around mile 50. Drew reacted soon after and before I knew it there were two riders up the road. Adam followed not far behind by Drew. I looked back at Colin and Eric to see if there was any reaction. To my surprise Eric was gone. He must have flatted or had a mechanical because he was there one minute and gone the next when the pace was steady. With only Colin with me we started working together to bring back Adam and Drew. We agreed that we didn't need to bring them back unless they made contact with each outer as we knew the two of us rotating were using far less energy then the solo riders in the distance. However, once Drew caught Adam we no longer had an advantage and the chase was on. Colin and I made contact with the leaders just after checkpoint 3, I believe around mile 75. I knew there was a set of climbs coming up and decided it would be a good time to counter. I didn't really plan on going solo and was hoping someone would join me but by the top of the maple road climb I managed to get a sizeable lead and decided it was worth it to give it a go. I went 100% all in at the point. I knew I was either going to win the race or end up 4th. From mile 75 to the finish there are not a lot of straight sections and therefore had no idea how big my gap was. I kept checking over my shoulder every straight stretch expecting to see them closing in on me. My other big concern was that I had made a rookie mistake. We had been racing for 4+ hours at this point and I had only eaten a fig bar and drank half a water bottle. I knew it was a matter of time before the bonk was going to hit me. I literally said out loud to myself hey dummy why haven't you eaten more you going to pay for this in a few miles but for some reason I still didn't grab any food. My hands were just to cold I couldn't convince myself it was worth it in the moment. The river crossing which I had admittedly complained about a little before the start was a non factor at this point. I was so wet and covered in mud that if anything the river actually helped clean off my bike if anything. However, navigating the rocks in road shoes was pretty comical its to bad no one was there to see. The final climb Oriole road is 10% for half a mile making for a real challenge. I paper boyed up the climb just trying to keep my cadence going. It was at about that point that I started to truly crack. I had about 7 miles left and was starting to get the dreaded foggy feeling where you don't really think anymore just peddle along numbly. It was also about that point where the route crosses over itself for the first time. I only had the bread crumb trail on my Garmin and had a few seconds of anxiety as I stopped at a cross roads not certain which way was to the finish and which way was back to the start. I managed to choose the right path and what seemed like an hour later rode the last two miles to the finish. While it was fun to finish first, Almanzo is not about winning and loosing. There is no payout and no podium, Almanzo is about going out pushing yourself and finding your own limits. I was really impressed by the number of riders that took the start in the harsh conditions and even more so by those who stuck it out and finished late in the day. DFL>DNF>DNS.
Right after the race with my eyes still swollen from all of the sand in them that I picked out for the next several days.