Gowdy Grinder – A Race Review

I should have known how my race would end when I missed the turn off Highway 210 for Curt Gowdy State Park.  Or maybe I should have known when the friendly folks working the number pick-up table couldn’t find my race number, despite the fact I was “on the list.”  Or maybe I should have known how the race would end back on April 23 when my pre-ride was cancelled because the trails were covered with snow.  These are just a few of the signs as to how my race would end right up to the seconds after the race director yelled “go”.  However, this post is intended to be more of a race review than the excuses for my 8th place finish in the Advanced Women category.  On some level, they do go hand-in-hand.

I left the house very early on May 13 for the drive from Arvada, Colorado to Curt Gowdy State Park in southeastern Wyoming.  My race started at 11:01 AM, and I planned to arrive before 10.  I was grateful to have left enough of a cushion in my drive time to accommodate the missed turn off highway 210 which added about 30 extra minutes to my drive.  The signage within the park directing race traffic was obvious and easy to follow.  Because the number of race registrants is limited to just 325, there was ample parking as competitors arrived and departed throughout the day.

This race is self described as a “bare bones” race and as such, there were only a handful of tents setup at the Aspen Grove Trailhead, making it easy to figure out which one was the registration tent.  Despite a thorough search, the registration volunteer was unable to locate my number and waiver.  The race director quickly got involved and reassigned me to another number.  This left me with about an hour to kill before start time.  I busied myself with applying sunscreen, suiting up, checking tire pressure, taking in some calories, and a half-hearted warm up on and off the race course.  The Advanced Women’s race consisted of two loops, one ~5 mile loop, and another ~8 mile loop.  The two loops overlapped in part.  My goal was to finish the race in under two hours even though I’d never ridden the trails before.

The start line was situated on an uphill jeep trail so as to thin the flow of racers before arriving at the single track on top of the hill.  I was thrilled that mom’s were called up to the front of the 10 person peloton.  That thrill quickly passed when I realized that I was the only mom.  I knew all those other women had spent less time in a hockey rink and more time pedaling their bikes than I had.  I was even less thrilled when I got passed within the first 5 pedal strokes after the race started.  (audible sigh)

Because the April snow had foiled my plans at a pre-ride, I was very concerned about how I would find my way through the race course.  The Gowdy Grinder was quite possibly the best marked mountain bike race I have done.  There were signs at every fork in the trail as well as ribbons tied to tree branches.   Despite all this great signage, I made a wrong turn during the long loop of my race.  (I’d give specifics on exactly where this happened, but I neglected to turn on my Garmin at the start of the race.)  I back tracked and found the turn.  I’m still scratching my head as to how I missed it given the great signage.

At some point into the second loop I began to recognize the terrain from the previous loop and I knew I didn’t have too much further to go.  The terrain at Curt Gowdy was an interesting mix of flowy single track and funky rock formations that were incorporated into the trails.  It was more technical than I had anticipated, but very fun riding nonetheless.  I uncerimoniously crossed the finish line in eighth place of 10 racers and went directly to my car to change.

At the food tent, the race crew actually made sandwiches for participants.  Being that I am responsible for the cooking at our house, I was beyond thrilled to have someone build a sandwich for me.  It was quite possibly the best turkey sandwich I’ve ever had!  They also had the best macarons west of Paris.  These alone would draw me back for the race next year! Thanks Pedalhouse and Laramie Racing for a fantastic experience!

Boulder Roubaix

There’s a race in Europe called the Paris Roubaix.  It is known for being brutal due to a combination of potentially treacherous Spring weather conditions, the distance (~150 miles) and the cobblestones.  Colorado has its own “mini” Paris Roubaix.  It’s called the Boulder Roubaix.  I couldn’t find a lot of history about the Colorado race, but what I do know is that it is held every three years in the Spring in Boulder County, Colorado.  When I first joined the cycling team, I remember hearing about the race in 2012 and had not seen it on the race schedule again until this year.  For that reason alone, it was a must do!

It had been recommended that I swap out the skinny 23 mm tires on my road bike to a slightly wider tire of 25mm.  This was to provide just a little more traction on the gravel sections of the race.  The race flyer also suggested doing a bolt check before the race…that’s something I had never seen mentioned on a race flyer before.  So I checked the bolts on my bike and ensured everything was tight and ready for bumps.  Because Boulder County, Colorado does not have any old cobblestone roads like in Europe, we would be spending roughly half of the 18 mile course on paved roads and the other half on gravel roads.  On a pre-ride of the race course in the days before the race, a team mate and I found the gravel sections to be surprisingly smooth.

On race day Saturday, April 11, I lined up at the start line with three other team mates under blue skies and sunshine.  Our race category would be taking two laps for a total race of 38 miles.  Our strategy was pretty simple: not to get knocked over on the bumpy sections and to stick together.  We intentionally dropped to the back of the peloton after the start because we didn’t want to be going through the first few corners with the group.  We didn’t want to risk being crashed out in the first few corners of the race, which were on a bumpy gravel road.  As we neared the first paved section of the race, I could see the peloton ahead of us and knew that it would be difficult if not impossible to catch them once they hit the pavement and went even faster.

Our strategy of sticking together also slowed down our progress because with varying fitness levels, you can only go as fast as your slowest rider.  We ended up dropping one of our own teammates near the end of the first lap.  There were a few gals here and there who jumped on to work with us rather than finish the race solo.  For the most part, everyone took their turn at the front of the pace line (pulling). Those who didn’t were dropped or shamed into doing their fair share.  For those of you reading who are unfamiliar with pace lining, the rider at the front of the pace line does most of the work while those following are able to rest and refresh their legs. The pace line goes faster than an individual rider because as a rider fatigues, she pulls off the front and tucks into the back of the pace line.  The next person in front of the line has fresh legs, sort of.  Occasionally, a pace line ends up with someone who wants to rest their legs and not take pulls.

As our group approached mile 33, I told my team mate it was time for us to break away.  We were approaching a prolonged climb and I thought we would be successful here in dropping the rest of the group.  Unfortunately, she didn’t hear me, so I soon found myself in a solo break away.  I kept looking back expecting that she would bridge the gap, but I didn’t see that happening.  So I was on my own for the last five miles.  I crossed the finish line at 2:03.  The race leaders were about ten minutes faster.

There were many lessons learned from this race.  One of the most important is to not underestimate your competition.  We had anticipated the peloton would blow apart much more than it did.  In reality, the top ten finishers must have worked together and ended the race with a sprint finish ~ or so it seems based on the results.  The race course itself was well marked with lots of mile markers and volunteers at every turn.  It was a very well run race and seemed very logistically organized… kudos to the promoter!  As for the gravel roads, I can’t say they’re my cup-o-tea.  Then again, I have three years to forget them before the race rolls around again.

Boulder Roubaix