After a little indecision about where to race this past weekend, I finally decided on doing a road race called the Fawn Grove Roubaix, near York, PA. The race was held on a 14.5 mile loop and had an interesting concept of combining fast paved roads with about 5 miles per lap of gravel roads. With a course description of some tough climbs also being included, I figured the race would be a good match to my racing strengths.
A couple of days before the pre registration ended on the race I talked with a racing friend, Blair Saunders, about the course, since he did it last year. Blair said that a cross bike would be best suited for the race because of the rough gravel road sections on the course. I told Blair that I recent sold my cross bike, so I would not have one for the race. He said that a road bike is not the best option because there is a good potential of getting a flat tire on the gravel sections of the course.
After discussing the course with Blair, I started doing some brain storming and decided to race my Salsa Mamasita at the race with cross tires mounted to my 29er wheels instead of standard mtb sized tires. I set up my wheels with Hutchinson Piranha Tubeless Cyclocross tires and filled them with 60 psi. Since I was not too sure about my bike selection, I packed my Salsa Podio Road Bike and took it with me to the race also.
On race day, I took my Mamasita out for a quick pre ride of the course specifically to checkout the gravel sections on the course. After I encountered the first section of gravel, I was pretty certain that the Mamasita was the best choice for the day. Like Blair told me earlier in the week, it is better to work harder during the race than chance getting a flat; and, after driving over 3 hours to get to the race, I totally agreed with his thoughts.
So, anyway, Blair and I lined up at the starting line with him on a cyclocross bike and me on a mtb with wide cross tires, while everyone else on the line was on standard skinny tired road bikes. At that time, I was definitely feeling like an outcast and a minority, since I was surrounded by road bikes. Things didn’t seem to get much better for me after the race started either, with the first section of the course being on fast pavement and having a couple of climbs. But, after entering the first section of gravel road, I was soon feeling much more confident about my bike choice and was happy I made the bike selection that I did.
I wanted to be one of the top riders into the first gravel section, so that I could stay away from potential crashes. I initiated an attack one climb too early, though, so I ended up entering the first gravel road about 15 riders back from the front. The race totally blew apart in the first couple of gravel sections. Tires were blowing, water bottles were flying out of cages and riders were drifting all over the place trying to find a good line. At the same time, I just smiled as my Mamasita picked a straight and clean line through the carnage.
My smile was short lived; however, because hanging with the faster road bikes on the paved climbs was intensely hard to do on my heavier bike with wider tires. Blair was in the breakaway group with me, but ironically he suffered a rear flat about part way through the first lap. Eventually, the breakaway group was whittled down to me a two other riders about part way through the second lap. The two guys I was with were absolutely hammering me in our three man break and on one road climb actually powered away from me. I had to dig really deep to bridge back up to them at the top of the climb where the pavement ended and another gravel road section began. I think the other two riders were pretty shocked that I latched back on to them after they had dropped me. From that point, I decided to save my energy a bit and not do much work in the break, so I could survive the fast pace on the road sections. I am pretty sure they understood my decision, especially since my high gear was only a 42x12 compared to their standard road gearing.
The three of us finished the third lap and the race together. I did not contest the sprint at the finish, since my two roadie friends did the majority or the work during the race…not that I would have been any match against them anyway. I was pretty happy with finishing the race in third overall on my Salsa 29er and I bet there will be some other riders making the decision to do the race on a bike with wider tires next year.
Happy Trails, Gerry