Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Almanzo 100 Race Report

I traveled down to my hometown of Rochester, Minnesota on Friday night to spend some quality time with my folks and to partake in a unique gravel road race the following day…It would have been a perfect couple of dayz had it not been for the fact that the Cable Classic was also on that same Saturday. The Cable Classic is one of my all time favorite races, plus it is always a place to see many old friends, but I figured that since I had signed up for this new and novel race down in Rochester many weeks before without checking to see if there were any conflicts, I should stay-the-course and follow through on my commitment. Plus, I wanted to show my support for Chris Skogen, the young race director; for I knew that he had invested considerable time and effort into making the Almanzo 100 a first class event. It is really important to me (and for you too!) to give all the support I can to these local grassroots events, short of helping to organize them.

Digression Alert!!! Note—there is a wonderful grassroots movement afoot with these endurance cycling events!!! Just off the top of my head, this new age of enduro-cycling opportunities (just in my own back yard) include the Arrowhead 135 out of International Falls, the Red Ass 300 near Winnipeg, the new January event in Northern Iowa put on by Lance Andre, the early April 100 miler gravel event near Red Wing, the Classic Trans-Iowa in late April, and now the second running of the Almanzo 100; all are fairly new local events created by visionaries; these races are all physically and logistically challenging while each is unique and varied in approach and terrain—please support these races as they represent the very best in amateur cycling!!!

On a personal note—To be honest, I am drawn to these kinds of races partly because, given their extended length and the often tough weather or course conditions, a normal but well prepared aging amateur can have a chance at finishing among the top riders as peculiar circumstances (such as powerful winds) are sometimes such as to prevent the stronger more talented riders from simply riding away as they do in regular cycling events. Case in point, given a regular mountain bike race in Minnesota or Wisconsin the likes of Jesse Rients or Marcin Novak would beat me by twenty minutes or more, but in a long long enduro-race there are so many more variables that if I enjoy a little bit of luck and the stronger younger guyz have a little bit of bad luck anything can happen; essentially the longer and more dicey the conditions the less pure speedy talent acts as the sole dictate for the outcome. Of course, really fast guyz don't race these obscure events currently, but I would wager that more and more top riders will be drawn in as these long races offer the inescapable urge to test one's meddle against the unknown. I can totally see guyz like Todd McFadden, Doug Swanson, Jan Rybar, Mike Bushey, Mike Haag, and other tough guyz coming over to the Dark Side in the next few years and when this happens these events will really take on a new dimension...

…So, in any event, coupled with the fact that my good buddy Dave Pramann was signed up for the Almanzo 100, I decided to go with the SE Minnesota gravel road Hondo over the NW Wisconsin 25 mile classic single track. I guess it was a pretty good dilemma to be stuck with given my love for bike racing. Friday night, my parents and I watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding as a kind of motivational prelude to my sister’s upcoming July wedding. While my dad made me some delicious waffles on his new deluxe waffle-making machine, I obediently followed my pre-race routine of ingesting with gusto the age-old recuperative elixir of fermented malt and barley hops…hitting my old bed, the bed that I slept in as a wee child, I dreamt of the great socialistic equalizers of pristine loose gravel, rainy skies, and fierce headwinds…

Come morning, although the sun broke early into my blessed childhood sanctuary, moments later, empowered by my dad’s famous rich blend of dark roasted coffee and chicory, I was heartened to feel the powerful winds as I loaded my trusty Knobby X Kelly onto the rack of my car. The start was at Bicycle Sports, a small bike store near to my old high school, John Marshall. Back in the day, the store was called Northwood’s Outfitters.

The start was unrushed, social, and fun as the big pack of over 50 riders rode easily while laughing and joking through the city and out past the old state hospital and up the same gravel roads that I use to ride my Schwinn Continental on way back in the 1970s. The course was not nearly as hilly as the Trans-Iowa, but thankfully a significant headwind precluded any real serious “break” attempts. In fact, the general consensus seemed to be that everyone was pretty content to just sit back and ride together. On one occasion fairly early into it, I got Dave and Terry Brannick to test the waters with me, but Dave indicated to me that it was too early to try anything, so we fell back in line where the pace was quite manageable. Climbing out of a beautiful river valley associated with the Whitewater River, we dropped a couple of guyz, but heading into the 65 mile mark and the checkpoint, the lead group was essentially intact comprising a fair number of riders (maybe nine or ten riders? maybe even eleven or twelve?). Prior to the event, I had conveyed to Dave that I thought that the required stop at the single checkpoint represented the crux of the race in that it presented a real opportunity for us to gap the rest of the group.
The plan that evolved was for Dave, Terry, and I to check in, get Cue Sheet #2 and get out of Dodge as fast as possible. This of course required that we have enough nourishment on board to go the full distance. The hope was that this strategy would catch the others off guard and thus provide a window of opportunity for us to gap the pack. In the planning, we had hoped that someone would be there to hand off a few water bottles and as it turned out Terry’s girlfriend fit the bill perfectly. It worked like clockwork with the added bonus of having Joe Meiser break with us. Joe Meiser is the same guy that had wheel problems at the Trans-Iowa (T.I.). I am quite certain that had he not experienced a blown rear wheel at the T.I. that he would have challenged for the win as he is very strong and steady and also a great guy! As the four of us bolted out of town, I kept looking back as I knew that Jesse Rients could catch us if he started out after us, but every time I looked back all I saw was gravel and so with about ten minutes out from the checkpoint I knew for certain that we had gapped ‘em!!!!! Given the headwind and the loose gravel; it was obvious that one of the four of us were going to win it as there was no way that the chase group would be able to catch us with just 30 miles left…Dave and Terry conducted the break-away, coaching Joe and mostly me on the proper techniques involved in pack riding efficiently against the wind.

I was pumped and having a great time, but I was pretty sure that I was not gonna win!!! In fact, I was totally content to ride it in and take fourth place, especially due to the fact that my mtb 38 front chainring would certainly preclude me from challenging for an all out sprint with the three riders on a flat asphalt finish. In an effort for self-determination, I did make a half-hearted effort at a break just outside of town on a long hilly tar section, but to no avail. If I could offer just one suggestion for next year, I would advise having the finish outside of town on a gravel road where the lead riders can set-up and conduct a true sprint finish. In any event, we entered busy Rochester together and casually rode through downtown towards the finish in heavy taffic. During this period, given the lack of any traffic control, I made a call for reason advocating for a four way tie...but this appeal apparently fell upon deaf ears, because as we got closer to the finish the pace quickened, but it was stop and go as we had many stop signs and even a couple traffic lights to negotiate.

The end was anticlimactic as the pseudo-sprint for the finish was contrived and therefore rather hesitant as there was a lady crossing the street and a stop sign all within about 60 feet of the finish. Terry out sprinted the rest of us, but I'd like to think that had it been a true sprint, the old man Pramann would have won it. But really no one cared and the post-race festivities were great as Mr. Skogen had a cooler full of Summit Beer available and freshly baked sweet breads. Plus the four of us got to pick and choose from an assortment of really nice cycling products. I immediately spotted a wool Surly jersey and with everyone’s approval I grabbed it and was happy… so it goes!!!!

Thanks again to Chris Skogen for a great opportunity.

1 comment:

  1. I was driving up woodland ave yesterday near the UofM and when I stopped at the stop light I see this green Kelly bike ride by 5 feet in front of me. Some silly looking guy with a grin on his face and a reflective slow moving vehicle symbol hanging off his back. These Duluthian riders are so silly.
    I saw Ross on the big climb today cheering me on. I would like to see him to dress up like a giant carrot(That means dying his fro green and wearing a blaze orange jump suite) and run up the hill in front of the peleton.