Up until last year, people referred to the Oregon Triple Crown’s Gravel Epic ride as the “blood road” as only the Ho-Chi-Min-Trail could compare to as many man eating craters. This year was different.
Pam Power, Brian Hunter and I sat on the start line, the weather was a perfect 50 degrees without any wind and pure sun. One person said, “I really feel sick to my stomach” in anticipating the ride. “That’s a good omen” I said, “Worry if you don’t have any anxiety or nausea”.
Mike Ripley gave his normal speech and we thanked all of the volunteers. “This year, 90% of the potholes are gone”. People thought he was joking, it would take thousands of hours to fill all of those craters. But magically, he was right—they were fixed and it was a very, very fast course.
This year I’ll be 50 and I have no illusions. I will never be among the top three racers after three grueling races (okay, I was 3rd overall 2 years ago, but I’m older now) Everyone needs a carrot, and/or a time to beat. So, I came up with mine: His name is Mr X. (Scott Carroll)
In every long grave/road race, the chaff and the wheat separate 75% of the way through, like riders find themselves riding together. This was the case for Mr X who beat me handily last year due to an 20% grade with baby-heads and my poor choice of gearing. For the past 3 years we somehow filtered out to riding beside each other at the end of long races. Mr X is a Zwifter and I’ve studied his power online. Thanks to social media, I know what he does, where he lives, how many kids he has and what his favorite flavor of ice cream is. To him, Zwift rides are equivalent to the real racing world. Whenever he places well in a Zwift race, he takes a photo of the leader-boards as a kind of bragging rights ego-feeder and puts it on Strava. I knew his FTP, down to the digit. I knew he had poor form—non-aero due to hours of riding upright with no incentive to be aero. I knew how long he could hold his top power before fading. In the back of my mind, I didn’t truly think I’d see him out there, he just became a figment of motivation. Everything I wasn’t—A good descender, high power, huge ego.
At mile 46, exactly 75% of the way through the race, Mr X appeared like a gorilla in the mist. There were 3 riders in our pod and he happily blended with us for an aero advantage. “He y’all, lets work together” he said happily and we all dropped like stones onto the deciding…….Smith river road.
It was here that I studied his form, his breathing, how much fluid was in his water bottles, and where his threshold was based on mine. There was one climb left after the last aid station and now was the time to make my move. Gently at first, I took longer pulls at the top of rises, just starting to gradually take his edge off. One of the other riders was clearly a good climber and on one rise, we dropped him for a minute.
(I pack a piece of duct tape in my jersey because 80% through each epic ride I get too chatty and would be much better off keeping my mouth shut instead of socializing.)
Before I knew it I said, “Hey, my name is Dan, what’s yours?” He looked at me, “I’m Ben, a School Counselor from Salem, nice to meet you. “Hey Ben, listen to me carefully” I said, “we have one chance”. He looked at me and nodded.
The podium has been been established by the 8 riders in front of us, we’re going for the age group podium and since you’re half my age, I think we can work together. “Sounds good” he said. I continued, “That guy back there is Mr X, his FTP is 320 and he descends like a stone, we have one chance so listen to me carefully” He nodded and said, “What is an FTP?” I said, it just means he’s got gorilla legs that can rip ours off, he’s a Zwifter and his hour of power is nearly over.
This is how is going to work, I said. Just after the last aid station, there’s one big climb left. We need to hit that climb like we’ve never climbed before. If he’s with us at the top, he’ll win. Other riders from the smaller ride will be blending in and slowing traffic.
You are a goat, Ben. I need to you give it everything you’ve got and if you distance me don’t look back. “Sounds good” he said, “But I have one problem—I’m out of water, I need to stop at the last aid station”. Bullshit, I said. I’ve only emptied one of three water bottles and have two left. Take my full water bottle, it has 500mg of sodium and 240 calories of chocolate heaven. Here’s a picky Bar….. Every second counts, don’t stop at the last aid station, it will give him the advantage.
So, we exchanged bottles and he looked at me like I was a millionaire who was giving him my last dollar. The climb began and we took off like birds. Suddenly, he let out a screech and I knew what it was, his legs were seizing up. I offered to stop and help if I could but he told me to keep my advantage and “Climb like you’ve never climbed before” So, I did. It put around 11 minutes on Mr X when it was all said and done.
Back at the finish, we did a cheers with our Podium glasses, he thanked me again and promised to keep in touch.
It was a good day for the Bonk Collective with three out of three podiums!