Saturday, February 25 marked the 4th running of the gravel bulls known as CIRREM. All weather leading up to the race (CIRREM is a 100k gravel race held in South Central Iowa, if you didn’t know) was optimal. The winter had been mild, the roads were a dry hardpack, almost like riding on pavement. By all accounts it was going to be a super fast race to the finish line. All of that changed on the Thursday prior. Momma Nature decided to treat CIRREM like she treats most yearly sporting events in Iowa..by showing her best at being worst. Wet snow fell, followed by a very sunny and mild Friday…a Friday which had participants frantically seeking out advice as to what tire would be proper for the unknown race conditions. Amid all of the Facebook speculating I decided to talk a bunch of trash then follow up the trash talk with taking a ride out to the country on the Vaya for a first hand look at the course. Wow. Incredibly bad conditions ranging from ice-filled ruts to snow drifts over the road to pure peanut butter mud and more could be found all within one mile. I turned back after a few short miles. Saturday was going to be rough.
I awoke early Saturday morning to finish race prep and found the Vaya with a flat rear tire. DAMMIT. This is a bad sign, but I got things changed out, finished cleaning and lubing the bike, packed my gear and headed towards the Cumming Tap. I drove part of the course, just to check the conditions…they were even worse. During the course of Friday it looked as thought the county had decided to plow the wet snow into large sheets of ice. Sweet. The Tap was alive with racers picking up packets, chatting, and grabbing a bite from Bob’s breakfast spread (btw, those mini bagels saved my butt out there). One of the things I really love about racing, and cycling in general, is the friendships forged with people of the same mind. It’s a great community and I am very happy/proud to be a part of the whole thing.
Nine am rolled around and I decided it was time to get geared up and check out the bike. Suited up, Camelback on, hopped on the Vaya and checked the shifting, made some small adjustments then waited for the start…or for the urge to drink some of that Four Loko I had stashed in the van…mmmm. 9:55 and everyone was in formation ready for our LEAD OUT? New for this year was a lead out start around the initial 1.5 miles. What? No holeshot? Okay, we wound our way south then up to cross G14 (where an SUV almost took out a few cyclists. I can understand how hard it was to see 100 people on bikes crossing the road. thanks for honking) and we were released to go north on 30th. Things were a little sketch on the north side of the hills, and when we came to the “wheel eating bridge” (come on, they are 10″ planks…just pick a line and ride it) many of the front of the pack stopped and walked, effectively inch worming the entire field and almost causing a few accidents in the middle of the pack. The turn to go west on Adams was icy, and I saw the first of many wrecks at the intersection. People were sliding out and crashing each other. Awesome. I rode on trying to get further up front to find a fast group to ride with. Mile 6…I went down pretty hard. FUCK! This is where the real cursing began as I realized my rear tire was a little to “used” for the conditions (and I had a brand new set sitting at the shop waiting for me). I was riding in BarMitts, which kept me from freeing myself from the bike. I went down elbow, shoulder, head. I got back up, dusted off and continued on with some sharp pains in my left elbow and knee. It’s okay, still in the “warm up” section of the race, everything will loosen up in a while. The ice was making it difficult to climb hills, I had to get all the way down in “easy peasy” to get any traction to spin up. Then, thanks to my gift of economical downhill gravity use I was in danger of smashing through other racers whom were insistent on braking all the way down the descents. This is a hard reality for me, I am just okay at climbing, good enough to get up the hills…but downhill I have a distinct advantage. If the road is clogged shoulder to shoulder with people braking I cannot take advantage of the momentum while going up the next hill. This is also a symptom of riding alone almost all the time. If I rode/trained with other people, I would have known what group to get in with at the starting line instead of searching out from the back of the pack. I will work on this racing error in the future.
I got in with the Mables for a few miles, they were riding a conservative pace in a group of about 5 or 6. I sat back and rode off the back of their group, not to draft, but for pacing. Dave went down, then a we saw a few more crashes. My knee and elbow were feeling sore, and my goddamn camelback feed tube was a little iced up (whoops, my bad again) so I decided to stop and have a little snackiepoo. Goodbye Mable group, but I figured I would catch up with them somewhere on Old Portland road and this hydration issue would become a real problem in the next 10 miles if not attended to. Hopping back on the bike, I felt refreshed and totally jacked up on the Caff thanks to a power gel. THEN GUESS WHAT HAPPENED?
I had been having trouble with the icy road conditions all day, but was holding a 14mpg avg with stopping, etc. I felt that it was a good start and could be improved upon in the time when the sun softened up the top layer of permafrost and the roads became peanut butter. Then it happened…Mile 17 I went down like a _______(enter your own joke there). Hands caught in my Mitts, I took the spill at about 21 mph on my left side, landing “chicken wing” style with my arm tucked into my ribs. I bounced on the ice and felt a snap in my rib cage. NOT GOOD. I got up, “focused” my bike, aka threw it into the snowy ditch, and checked myself over. Yep, all there…and the rib thing didn’t seem to hurt, not any more than my knee. I pulled the Vaya out of the ditch, straightened out the stem, apologized for the abuse, and took of again. I felt like I was getting so far behind, and also thanks to the gel, that my adrenaline was rushing and I felt little pain. It was a pretty easy 5 or 6 miles to the first really bad hills, and I was hell bent on making some time before the climbs. I made the right onto OPR, blazed down Cemetary Hill aka “The Wall” (thanks for not making us ride up that this year) and hit my top speed of 41.3 mph. I passed a few folks and headed towards the first of many bullshit climbs…then it happened. at mile 21.85 I got out of the saddle to climb and almost fell off my bike. Ribs decided to let themselves be known, and I stopped. If I couldn’t climb out of the saddle then the race was over for me. I stopped, took stock of the situation, almost cried (the thought of breaking ribs just two months away from TIV8 was a bit too much to think of) and decided since I didn’t know the extent of the damage that I would drop out, get a sag, then go get examined to make sure I wasn’t putting myself in danger of collapsing a lung or further injuring myself. The rest of the field that was left passed me by as I made the call back the the Tap. Nick Larson stopped and gave me some ibuprofen. This race was over.
Hector from the Tap found me perched atop Cemetary Hill (I got bored and walked a little), scooped me up and drove backwards looking for anyone else in trouble. Not one rider was left behind me. Nice job. We got back to the bar and found the others who had gotten injured and were forced to drop. That ice was a real MF out there. Took down a good amount of racers.
I ate some BBQ, then decided to just hang out with some friends from out of town that I never get to see. These ribs would make it a few more hours on their own, and every beer helped nurse the pain. Actually, seeing good friends is what really nursed the pain.
Things loosened up out on the road and everyone from first place on down was covered in mud. Awesome.
I think I made it home eventually? Sunday I took a trip to the hospital where I was diagnosed as having bruised ribs. BEST NEWS EVER as I was waiting to make the call on the next two upcoming races. I am still able to ride and still in the game.
What did I learn from this year’s CIRREM?
Do a better job at choosing tires, in fact I am ordering some 38c studs for next winter… just in case
If it is anywhere near 32 degrees, put the feed tube warmer on the GD Camelback. Duh.
Even if I can’t hang with the lead group, at least start with them so I am not stuck behind people.
Bar Mitts probably saved me from a broken wrist or collar bone. If I had been able to get my hands of the bars faster it could have been a disaster.
Never forget your flask. I forgot mine, it’s always good to have on hand in case you have to wait for a sag.
Other than the wrecking and positioning I had the proper nutrition before and during, and was dressed perfectly for the temperature. I wasn’t riding a borrowed bike this year, which was a big plus, and had no major mechanical problems aside from a little shifting issue here and there.
Overall I would say it was a good run, and I wish that I had been able to finish the ride. It was great to have the opportunity to see some good friends, I can’t wait until next year.
Until We Meet Again, CIRREM…
if you made it this far, go grab a brewski…you deserve it.