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Michigan Mountain Mayhem Gravel Grinder

Team Bikeman - Race Reports

At the beginning of the year I'd set a couple of goal races, these included ICEMAN Cometh, State CX Singlespeed Championships, and the Michigan Mountain Mayhem Gravel Grinder - 100k of northern Michigan biggest "lumps", along with mostly gravel and seasonal roads. I'd won the singlespeed class last year and placed 20th overall and wanted to repeat and perhaps break into the top 15. This race has a big cash payout so attracts many of the cycling royalty from the Midwest and beyond: Brian Matter looking to repeat last year's win along with Laura Van Gilder looking to squeeze a big payday into her year.

It'd rained continuously over the past five days and race day was no different - it rained non-stop during my four hour drive. Northern Michigan is mostly glacial sand and the result of the incessant rain could mean well drained hardpack or slop, and with 100k to come, I pretty much expected everything. It stopped raining about ten minutes before race time so I raced back to the car and adjusted my attire, missing my call-up as last years winner, but was able to squeeze close to the front.

The local PD controlled roll-out which meant I had the opportunity to find Matter's wheel knowing that good lines and perhaps keeping out of danger of early race jitters may be the result. Of course the blacktop was wet and wet feet and arse - my most hated aspects of cycling - occurred within the first five minutes. The first of the dirt meant lots of dodging pot holes, muddy spray, sandy mouthfuls of grit, and scrambling for wheels. Sure enough, within eight miles a separation had occurred, and I'd made the first 25-30 rider separation, and no other fools in the group with one gear.

The first climb of consequence and a designated KOM meant a elevation of speed on Mount Bodawei. While my 42x17 gear selection was perfect for most of the course, it did mean I struggled out of the seat for long periods. A group of ten vying for KOM points jumped ahead but soon came back together shortly thereafter. Everyone knew that the three mile climb on Mount Mayhem would be a decisive moment.

I ate, conserved what I could, and followed wheels on Diablo's Mountain until Mount Mayhem as this would be an important and impactful point of the day. Then fireworks. I knew I had no place with the lead group but looked within and listened to my breath as my heart rate exploded - never ending turns in the road and a highly mental game ensued. The pack strung out and although I didn't have a 36x32 option like some, it did mean that the speed I maintained was pretty high as I had no spin option. Eventually a defined split occurred: those looking for cash and KOM points, ten racers or so, and the next group which contained myself and perhaps ten others.

With the two worst climbs out of the way, again it was about eating, conserving energy, and staying in contact with the fastest of the group. With my gearing it meant the downhill sections were difficult. Some technical sandy, rutted seasonal roads were fine, but once we hit the long straight hardpack downhills, all I could do was freewheel, be prepared to lose contact and plan to regroup on corners and hills. A separation occurred on one downhill followed by a somewhat steep, loose gravel climb and I couldn't rejoin the main pack of five or so. Others strung out behind me and as luck would have it a "sag wagon" was doing the rounds of the course that meant that the pack ahead had to slow their pace, get into single file on the narrow road and a fortunate draft allowed me to reconnect - "very fortuitous" as one of my race colleagues pointed out at the end.

I stayed with the group, racers came and went. We picked up some from the front group but eventually six of us remained together, unfortunately three were from the same team and they were ready to implement race strategies. This meant rolling pace changes, "games", and keeping my brain turned on was essential. I was wet, my drivetrain was sandy, I had crap in my teeth, but I was having fun. I knew, from years before, that the last three miles were way more difficult than the course map indicated. My legs were feeling a little crampy, I had "gel gut" and on the last climb I popped. I lost contact as the pace elevated on the climb and simply I needed to survive - my top fifteen placing was racing up the hill ahead of me.

There's a very definite possibility that I would not have been able to match any sprint to the finish anyway, so I slowly managed my cramps and survived the climb. I TT'ed solo to the finish and managed 17th overall and repeated my win of last year. My average speed was over 1mph quicker and I was happy with the day in the saddle. The Schwalbe G-One's were flawless and running them tubeless meant I rolled down the rocky, rutted descents with much greater confidence than last year with tubes. Their wide profile was excellent through the deeper sand sections and allowed me to drop others. My Kona Major Jake was stiff and compliant as usual. Top step Team Bikeman.

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