Michael’s Cascadia Recap

Cascadia Super G: A First Gravel Race Report | Belief

Nervous startline chatter leads to sizing up the competition.  Teammates snapping last minute photos reminds me that this is FUN, why so SERIOUS.  The Off-season training will finally be put to the test in “real” competition.  “I should stay within myself, ride conservatively and wait to see how I feel before I make a move.  This is my first real gravel race, after all.”  The start whistle blows.

After a 2-mile slow rollout the pace went BANG and I realized that this was going down. Now.  Teammates and I jump into the speeding freight train of bike and rider and off we ride, up the first of several beautiful, painful, gloriously gravelly climbs.  

My plan going into the race was to stick with the leaders as long as possible, focus on hydration/nutrition, try not to flat or crash, and enjoy some incredible scenery along the way.  It was mission mostly accomplished across the board (minus the crashing part).  The first climb (5% grade/600’) detonated the group of 100+ riders, and I found myself with a selection of about 15, including a few teammates.  15 turned into 7 turned into 4 halfway up the 2nd climb (9% grade/1,300’), and I realized just 10 miles in that I AM ALONE.  There are 3 riders up ahead, and a smattering of riders and teammates behind.  I make the most logical decision my oxygen-deprived brain can think of at the time…put my head down and go as hard as I can for the next 2.5 hrs.

Something changes when no one is there to help you trade pulls, encourage you or offer you a gel or swig of water.  BELIEF.  I remind myself that I am strong, have trained for this, and can do it.  I push on through an awesome 9 mile rolling descent, passing riders left and right from the earlier start.  Big ring rolling gravel descents are just the best!  I am hyper-focused and loose at the same time, at times studying the geology of individual rocks and at others feeling like I’m riding a roller coaster on rails. I look to the right and see a rider repairing a flat and note the jersey.  I’m now in 3rd place on the course…a Podium is now within my grasp with 25 long miles left to go.  I start to believe.

The next climb hits me hard.  7.5 mile Cat 2.  2,044 vertical feet at an average of 5% and pitches of 15%.  This one hurts. Bad.  I go deep, concentrating only on putting power through my pedals.  One turn at a time. I chug down the last of my bottles. Its’ ok, I’ve got one more aid station to refill.  Approaching the crest of this beastly climb I catch my 2nd place competition and make a move to put some time in on the descent.  My lead is short-lived as I hit an off-camber left hander with a snow drift that sends me into a tumbling, cramping heap.  I assess the situation, finding some road rash and bent bars.  I chug down the last of my bottles and get some relief. Its’ ok, I’ve got one more aid station to refill.  Down the hill I roll, making another catch-and-pass, this time staying in control.  2nd place is starting to look like a reality. 

With 12 miles to go I stop for a final fluid refill.  Why do I need so much hydration, this is my 4th bottle!  I hear a whoosh…and there goes my competition, hammering past the feed.  “I’ll just have to catch him again” I think.  Freshly hydrated I jump back on the bike.  A few miles later and with a handful to go I regain my 2nd place position and don’t look back, eventually putting 4 minutes into my demoralized catch.  While I was quite a ways off of first place (over 7 minutes!), it felt really great to know that I left it all out on the course.  I learned a lot and had a ton of fun with teammates, saw some good power numbers, and  took in the beautiful scenery along the way…definitely a race to repeat.