The Dalles, Oregon. 9am. Sunday April 8th 2018.
- Brad Petersen Super Grinder – 105 miles.
- Travis Power Big Grinder – 74 miles.
- Dan Handorff Big Grinder – 74 miles.
We drove through an hour and a half of absolute demoralizing downpour to arrive in The Dalles, Oregon with nothing but a few drops of rain from partly cloudy skies. The neutral roll-out over wet pavement threw up a considerable amount of rooster tails and everyone in the pack bartered GU shots for wheels behind those few with full fenders mounted. Of the three of us, Brad took the lead, sliding through the pack like a wet fish in the hands of a toddler, wanting to be close to the front when all hell broke loose. I followed, doing my best to avoid the taste of the road in my mouth and thinking to myself, “5 minutes in and my kit is already dirty”. I looked down…no power numbers to my new wahoo bolt. Sigh, so much for pacing myself on power.
We hit the first climb at mile 5 and it quickly became apparent who was racing and who was there for the aid stations, scenery, and camaraderie of others. I survived the 3 mile ordeal and Brad found me a bit later after the first decent was like, “have you been here the whole time”? Yeah man, I’m sneaky like that! Kesselman was off the front already though!
The second gravel descent brought the first crash. Dude got a bit too far into a power slide and flipped his bike in the corner. We all kind of got hung up there though and it was a gentle reminder that gravel can be tricky. John Whethers had an early rear wheel flat! Suck! Brad and I kept at the front as the road pitched back up again 16mi into the race. At the end of the climb 2 mi later I had trailed off the front group and gaps formed on the downhill. The guys I were with just were not able to close them and so we hit the main climb at mile 19, apart from each other. I asked the guy next to me, “Are we finally on the long climb”? “I don’t think so, it starts at 20 and I only got 19”, he replied. Well…that’s unfortunate because that was already the hardest hour I had spent on a bike since cross season!
At the front, Brad got to experience the Decker Pain Train as Carl Decker (Giant factory racing) rolls to the front and kicks it up a notch. Brad hung tough, doing 375W over 20 minutes but the leaders, sans Kesselman, all got strung out. Just as things began to reach their breaking point, Matt, Brig and Carl stopped at the aid station for some refreshments. Brad caught up, and passed them, successfully closing that gap! I was a bit back back at this point, clearly not experiencing the NOX boosting effects of the celery I at that morning and I look over and who’s there but John Whethers. Dude patched his flat and came back so fast!
Soon it all came back together more or less and Brad was there, basking in the sun (wind) with the big dogs when his front tire punctured. Lieto looked over and a smirk appeared, or something and that was that. Eventually, I came around the corner to see black and neon hunched over a wheel, working on a new tube and a million ideas raced through my mind! I first thought to stop and help…but, then realizing I was not the stronger rider, I headed up the hill at a slow pace with thoughts that once Brad got back up to me I’d power him back up to the front. LOL what naivety! I must have been suffering from extreme oxygen debt to even think that!
Once Brad caught up, halfway up the final pitch I hit the gas and carried us to the top of the crest. Felt good until it didn’t because that 30 mph wind (or more?) came whipping over the top of the ridge we were on and even though we should have stopped climbing it felt like we hadn’t! I quickly found out how spent I was and instead of dragging Brad back, he began dragging me! I hid behind him like a little puppy, sheltering myself from the wind, and trying to find something left in my legs to help out. I’d stick my wheel into the wind and try and pull through, only to get blown back into his wake. We laughed a bit at the conditions. Yelling at each other this and that like we were in a night club with music blaring. The gorge wind tunnel was in full effect.
The truth though was Brad was in full on diesel mode. All the climbers were getting blown around while he just laid the watts down. He ended up pulling me to the group that I left when he flatted and once on the pavement they all hid behind him as well. We gobbled most of the leaders of the big grind up on the top stretch into the wind.
Brad told me Kesselman and maybe others were opting for the big grinder instead of the super. Oh great, I thought. It was an even sadder moment though when I had to leave Brad for the turn onto the big grinder course. I yelled something stupid like, “HAVE A GOOD RIDE BRAD”! I don’t know if he heard. I could barely even hear myself say it.
I settled into the group and we headed down the next gravel descent. I was about mid-group and the wind was blowing at us from the left. My 38mm tires felt like big sails in it and even at my weight I had to concentrate pretty hard to keep the bike headed straight. Suddenly, John loses his front wheel to a gust, tries to save it, flips and takes a huge hit to the back of his head, body. I hit the brakes and go by, looking back at the wreck and quickly deciding to stop. Others blew by and I turned to see if he was ok. Another guy had stopped as well. John was on his back, his helmet crushed and seat bent all up. The other guy asked if he was ok to which he replied, “no”! We helped him to the side of the road and pulled his bike away as well. I check my phone for coverage, 4 bars, could make a call if needed, then, realized I had no idea who to call. I stayed with John for about 2 minutes and eventually another John showed up and said he was his friend. I felt like things were under control and Whethers seemed ok so I decided to take off. Maybe I could catch group?
For some reason the descent felt good despite knowing I could crash into a ditch and severely hurt myself. I thought people were behind me but when I looked there was nobody in sight. This let me open my mind to what was in front of me without worrying about what was behind me. I averaged 30mph down the descent and gave myself hope that eventually the front group would cool their jets and I could catch them. I passed one person just prior to the aid station, he looked cracked and didn’t even try to get on my wheel. Could I catch others?
I hit the aid station quick, although my bike wouldn’t fit under the dang stand, oh what the heck. I overheard the lady say that only 3 or so riders had gone though…how is this possible I thought? Slammed PBJ and Nutella graham cracker sandwich, filled the bottles, grabbed 2 GU. Was NOT stopping again. Off I went.
My soul got crushed not 5 minutes later at mile 42 when the gravel road pitched up like 9% into the sky. I could see another rider but just could not close any on him! I did the ole, shift to an easy gear maneuver, then realized I was already in my easiest gear. I guess this is what it is like after hammering yourself for 2 hours 45 minutes straight. Then after a short reprieve it got worse.
I didn’t really notice the climb at first because the guy I had come up on, Aaron, thought we were on 8 mile road and it sent me for a loop. I tried to remember the profile but didn’t recall another long climb. We chatted and I began to realize I was going really slow. Maybe this was a climb? I was laboring a bit when he asked if I thought 8 mile was actually 8 miles long. I was confused as this was not 8 mile rd. Either way, I hoped we were not on 8 mile because I really didn’t want to climb for 8 miles. After a few more chats I came to understand that he was not racing, but just out for a ride with friends (who were nowhere to be seen). When he had introduced himself as Aaron I thought, wait is this Aaron Borrill, a guy I follow on instagram? So I said, Aaron Borrill? And he said yes, however, now that I see him on instagram there is no way it is Aaron.Borrill because that dude lives in South Africa! Holy confusing times.
Anyhow, I ended up dropping him. I seemed to be closing to the group ahead of me very briefly, but once I crested the final portion of the climb I could not see them. I stopped to zip and then kept going down the other side, not to see another soul until after the 60mi aid station. Pleasant ridge was fun. The wind to my back made a huge difference in morale and the miles began ticking off more quickly. There was a little kicker thrown into the middle of that extended my gap to the others.
Eventually, I hit Japanese Hollow and the sweeping pavement of 8 mile road. The wind was at my back and 42×11 felt pretty easy to push. I seemed to remember the course going steadily downhill all the way to the finish and I started feeling really good because A.) Nobody had caught me and B.) the hard parts of the race seemed to be over. Little did I know that 8 mile road eventually heads into a wind tunnel and even though you’re going downhill it feels like you’ve hit a wall. A massive wall of wind.
Medium grinder riders started popping up in front of me and I wanted to rest on their wheels but each time I approached it felt like they were standing still! I went by one rider and yelled, “Heckuva way to end a ride huh”? He yelled something obscene back. I kept catching people but they were all medium grinder riders. If you opened your mouth just right your cheeks would flap like a dog with their head out of the window going 60mph down the freeway. It was hilarious!
I fought those final miles on 15 mile road. I thought about taking a picture of a flag standing on end but declined. I didn’t want to stop pedaling. At this time I had another though that whoever settled The Dalles must be even less creative than me, can’t even name streets anything interesting, heck, can’t even name then after presidents at least. I got a “good job” at the finish line and headed into town. Felt good to be done. Cramps were there but not debilitating. It was a good ride.
I finished 10th in big grinder, 4th in my age bracket (men 18-30). I was 7 min off the lead, 2 min off the podium. Dang!
I waited and Brad finally came in with two others. He worked hard to bridge up to them but said he got ANOTHER front flat. Tubeless man, you need to go tubeless! I had a beer while he pounded a burger. We chatted about the race, enjoyed the sun, and hit the road home. He ended up finishing 6th, 13th overall for the super grinder. Great result considering the 2 flats.
In his words…
The hardest I’ve ever had to ride and mentally persevere to finish a bike ride.
Actually no, that title belongs to last years race in Bend.
Gimme a one liner summary…
Sailing a bike race!
When he got home his rear tire was flat…tubeless man, its time.
Dan was a bit worse off. He had three flats, the last of which left him hanging for support. He broke a tire lever too changing one of the flats. Luckily, another rider was able to lend a hand and he was able to avoid a DNF for the day, finishing 35th in the big grinder.
As he put it…
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…many lessons.
Well, thats a wrap for the first race of the season. Shout out to Chad and Breakaway promotions for the work put into the race. Chip timing provided super fast results. Totally dig the after party at Clock Tower Ales. The Dalles is beautiful. I really should have taken more pictures but for now hit up insagram #gorgegravelgrinder. I probably would have had I felt like the wind would not rip the phone out of my hand!
See you next time!
Bonk Collective Racing