May 19, 2019 - It lives there beacuse the desert hasn't killed it. Strade Boro Gravel (I guess sand is kind of like really fine gravel, right?) Race Recap
The 2019 Strade Boro was the inaugural edition of a 100 km gravel race that started and finshed in Statesboro, GA. As that is about 3 hours drive from my place (and my wife was not convinced by my argument that an overnight in Statesboro would be akin to hanging out at the Biltmore or Broadmoor with the 5 kids while I raced), I found myself up and on the road early Sat am. I had everything packed or laid out the night before so all I had to do was load a cooler with drinks and ice (in the garage so as not to wake up the herd) and pull my overnight oatmeal (craisins and almond milk) out of the fridge.
The drive down was most notable for some real radio dead spots where variety got real limited and rarely strayed into anything that I could tolerate, a section of abandoned elevated highway over the swamp where a whole flock of white crane like birds made there home, and a bunch of small towns that had now decaying buildings/businesses and downtowns. While the latter had a lot of character, they had, when replaced at all, been supplanted only with generic strip mall shops with neither architectural nor commercial appeal. Strip mall shops must be cheap because when you compare them to the architecture of the now largely abandoned mainstreets, there is no contest, yet strip malls propagate.
Occasionally distracted by the above, made it down to Statesboro by a few minutes after 0800 for a 0900 start. Had plenty of time to check in, tie on the race number (why in 2019 is there any race that is not running an aerodynamic race number off the rear seatpost? While the handlebar placards are fair in that every one has to use them, they are just mentally a downer even before you feel headwind hitting them). Got the kit on and everything in the pockets or cages and rolled up for the pre-race instructions. The only thing I remember at this point is, "There is not much sand, and what there is you get through pretty quickly." The first picture is me off to the side thinking whew, that was the one thing I was worried about given the lack of rain. SPOILER ALERT, the most inaccurate pre-race instruction I have ever received!
We rolled out to a neutral start and after the vehicle pulled away, the front group accelerated and there was a pretty early split. We rode a little bit longer after splitting and made our first turn onto the dirt. In the front group, I vowed to keep the little powder that I might have somewhere in me dry, so I put myself mid back of the front group in anticipation of waiting for things to start to work themselves out later on. Probably no more than 5 km into the dirt this turned out to be a mistake as I did not anticipate the depth of the first sandy section, and buried the front wheel in a heavy spot while in too big a gear. I tried to get started again, but couldn't find solid enough ground to get any momentum for a while, and that was the end of my day in the front group.
I did not have a good feel for how many had gone away and just talked myself into the fact that on a hot day in the Georgia sun and so early in things, if I just kept up a good pace by myself, I'd be able to pick people off as they fell out of the lead group. Half of that was right as I kept catching people in 1s and 2s and would pass them. The other half, the one about keeping a good pace, not so much. Unfortunately the early sand section only foreshadowed what was repeated over the next 80 km over and over again. Apparently in between 1 week earlier (when the course had last been pre-ridden fully) and race-day, the County/DOT had come by and graded much of the course - covering the various hard pack wheel tracks in variably heavy sand. Not only was I not riding my bike way too frequently for a BIKE event, the time walking provided no sense of recovery - only more fatigue, heat, shoes full of sand and frustration. By the midpoint the sun and repeated dismounts/portages had fried my normally even demeanor and for several in a row, before my foot would hit the ground, the relatively quiet backroad stillness would be assaulted with a F*&K! to release as much exasperation as I could. Although earlier I assumed it was a relative weakness in the sand that had dropped me behind, as I went on, there were way too many sections where I could not find a set of wheel tracks without accompanying footprints.
At some time past midway I came up on two riders who were riding near each other if not really together. I wasn't sure if I wanted to get in with them and try to get any benefit from drafting (which was greatly diminished because of all the sand sections) or just keep on riding and move up another couple spots. I decided to just ride my own pace and see how it shook out. As I passed them, one guy immediately cracked and drifted rapidly back and the other and I traded pulls when we could. It soon felt like he had more than I did left, but he was willing to pull more as his navigation was done and just rolling with me would probably get him in sooner anyway. We hit two or three more "beach" sections and I finally gave him the next couple of turns to make and told him I just needed to stop for a minute. I found some firm dirt under a tree and took off my helmet and just got a little cool breeze as a result. A little while later, I decided if I wasn't going to pull the pin on this and call support, I might as well get back on the bike and finish this thing out.
I am not sure if he stopped as well, but I ended up catching the guy I had been riding with within 5 or 10 km. As I hit 15, 12, 10, and 5 km to go, I played various mental games telling myself that the last 3 km were near town so were likely all road (no sand) and to realize how quickly each of those distances go by in a normal setting and at some point the sand has got to come to a relative end. Thankfully, the last 10 km or so was mostly road or hard packed dirt where I did not have to dismount and on some level lived up to the mental gymnastics I was doing to convince myself to finish this thing. We rode in together and finished. I had no idea how far back I was since I had gotten detached so early. I cleaned a thick layer of sand off with a two bottle shower (I had on speedplays and at least a couple times after walking in so much sand, they did not disengage as quickly as needed and so I spent a lot of the day with a layer of sweat adhered sand covering my extremities). I sat down and had a cubano sandwich from a latin food truck that was catering the event. I didn't think much at the time, but people did seem to be coming up to me and congratulating me disproportionately for what seemed like a plodding ride. When my finishing companion later asked when the over 40 podium was going to be, it made me think maybe I had done a little better than I thought. I asked about the over 50 results and saw I was 4th on a 3 person podium and mentally estimated finishing somewhere around 20th or maybe a little higher. It wasn't until I got home and started seeing the strava posts of a couple people that I recognized that I realized the guy I finished with had finished 5th overall and I had gotten sixth overall despite being only 4th in my age group. My age group as it turns out was a little on the strong side going 1,3,4, and 6 out of the first 6 overall.