From the course description: The route will take riders on the gravel and dirt back roads to the southwest of Des Moines. Hills for days, winding roads, beautiful landscapes, covered bridges, you will see it all. We have hand picked our favorite roads for your pleasure. We promise you will not be disappointed.
I can verify that description. Hard but great course. I started off at the back of the field due to last minute bathroom break (it happens!) and messing with a cycle computer slow to pick up satellites. It was a cold morning start with a creek crossing a couple miles in which left everyone's feet wet and prime for freezing. It went little descent, then blind 90 degree turn, then water crossing. I, like many others, came in hot off the little descent right before the blind turn & water crossing and nearly crashed ... into the back of a big group of people stopped in front of the water. Luckily I did not crash, but others did.
I was pleased with myself when I unclipped one foot and rode through one-legged only getting one foot drenched! But just before that, there was a blind 90 degree turn.The course wasn't overly technical by gravel/off-road standards but country gravel roads can always surprise you with soft spots, deep gravel, off-camber turns, loose dogs, etc. I worked my way up through the field, to what I thought was the second big group, assuming that a group of fast folks had gone off the front early. Probably 5 miles in, or less, the first big climb shredded that group and I never saw another group over 8 riders, and usually just 2 or 3 folks.
My buddy and I found a couple other guys that looked strong and tried to settled in to a group. That group joined 4 other guys after a few miles then 2 crashes within 5 miles broke up that group. The first crash was my buddy. Caught a soft spot in the rode. I waited for him then burned too many matches bridging back up to the group. Then another guy crashed in a loose gravel corner and the group was down to 4. At mile 50, I thought I had done too much, too early and tried to work the nutrition and hydration. Right then we hit a 4 mile patch of really soft gravel, and the 3 of us spilt up. A guy with good MTB background floating off in front of me. I just tried to keep him in sight. After the gravel I bridged back up to him and rode a couple miles into the checkpoint at 62 miles with him.
I slammed a Coke, ate a banana and jumped back on to group up with 3 other dudes. We rode to about mile 70 or 75, and lost half our group. I was hurting at mile 77 and told my new-found partner he would probably be dropping me soon, but I hit the nutrition and hydration hard again and found a second wind. Plus he lost a little steam around mile 80. We struggled in, but other were struggling worse, as we passed another 3 or 4 guys before the finish. There were many tough short hills, including one a mile from the finish. You knew while grinding up it, the race organizer was laughing to himself when he added that beauty at the mile 99 point. I finished way off the winner, about 53 minutes back at 6hrs 11min. It was the first year, but I predict this race will grow. Good post-race. Long, hilly gravel racing is so much different than most road racing. It really fits the cobbled classics or even triathlon mentality: you push the gravel yourself, climb the climbs yourself, work the nutrition and hydration, more pacing, less strategy. No free rides, as PJQ would say.
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