The Old Man Winter came about due to the new trend of “Gravel Grinders” that is sweeping the country. The idea is simple: we ride our bikes on all kinds of terrain, and races should do the same. I wasn’t sure if it really was a race until I saw the $1000 put up for the winner, and that every self-centred bike rider (me included) in Boulder was lining up to do it.
The course started at Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons, then traced a dirt road route south to Lefthand Canyon where the course climbed on road for about 10 miles to a small section of Jeep road called Rowena. This was the crux of the route, and even at only 2 miles long, it was the reason why only half the field were on road bikes, and the other half had chosen cyclocross bikes. From there, the course descended Sunshine Canyon to Boulder, and then went over two smaller climbs – Linden and Olde Stage, before hitting dirt roads back to Lyons. 62 miles, half paved, half smooth dirt, and a tiny portion of sheet ice, rocks and slushy snow. This little section would prove to be the decider.
The event started hard and fast. An immaculately organised start had us spinning down the highway behind a police car, before making a hairy turn onto dirt roads. Here’s where the only negative event of the day happened. The peloton cornered (still behind the police car) into the path of an oncoming horse rider. We quickly filed to the very right of the road, but not before the horse spooked, rearing wildly and coming to fall on the side of the road. When I last saw the rider, she was still on the horse, but she definitely had a scare. She’ll have a legitimate case to hate cyclists for the rest of her life, so I really hope the organisers manage to speak to her and hear her side of the story.
[Update: I got some info via twitter that horse and rider were both unscathed, and maybe it wasn’t as bad as it first sounded]
After that incident, the pack was nervous. What didn’t help was a crosswind approaching 40 mph. The road teams had the great idea of trying to isolate the less tactically aware, and formed echelons across the road, meaning it was a battle to even stay attached to the pack for about 10 minutes. Once Josh Yeaton (road bike) had successfully formed a solo breakaway, the pace eased significantly and the roadies were content to spin for a while. Here’s where it got comical. Michael Burleigh (also of Josh Yeaton’s Horizon Panache team) attacked hard on a dirt road, only to take himself out on a pothole and almost cause a pile up. Scary racing, and a reminder why my passion is firmly in offroad racing.
We climbed leisurely onto Lefthand Canyon, and then the inevitable attacks started flying. Sepp Kuss (road bike) was successful, and managed to bridge up to Yeaton at the beginning of Rowena. We entered the trail a couple of minutes down in a huge group of people.
The carnage was awesome. Everyone was off their bike and running the first section, but quickly the cross bikes came to the front. The trail had been ridden a lot before the race, which had left sections of sheet ice across the full width. Mitch Hoke (CX bike) took the front and was picking good lines, but a frozen rut flipped him across the trail and down the banking. The speed at which he fell was truly scary, with a 200 foot cliff off the edge. I was happy to see him grab a tree in one hand, and his bike in the other. Really close to being a nasty accident.
We caught Sepp and Josh towards the top of Rowena and passed them really quickly. By that point the CX bikes were the perfect choice. Mitch, Bryan Alders and I (all on CX bikes) came out the top together, and formed a group at the front on our way into Boulder. We worked together really well, and having ridden together a lot, we knew the pace we could hold for the next hour or so.
Sepp flew past our friendly bunch at the bottom of Linden (a five minute climb) and I joked “see you in Lyons” as he rode past. I didn’t think it would be true at the time. After Linden we had another 5 minute climb to do, Olde Stage, and then it was back onto the flat terrain. The wind was still flowing off the mountains so our path back towards Lyons was a series of tailwinds, crosswinds, and then headwinds. We pretended to be roadies – elbow flicking happened, smooth rotations, no silly attacks, and soon we had Sepp in our sights again. I think he knew we were coming, but he held us off for a long time.
The last turn put us heading west into Lyons. Headwind for days. Our little threesome of mountain bikers started to come undone. I was feeling a strange combination of completely numb, and surprisingly fresh. As it became obvious that Sepp was being winched back in quickly, I thought briefly of a suicide solo attack for the last mile, but my goal for the day had been to not do stupid things, so I sat up and waited for the fireworks. With no idea where the finish line was (it’s amazing how often that happens), our sprint started when we saw the banner. Bryan jumped first and by that point he had it sewn up. I didn’t even get into my large chainring, but managed to just hold off Sepp for second. Mitch rounded out the group, all of us finishing within a second of each other. The next group with Josh Yeaton and Colby Pearce (road bike) rolled in a couple of minutes down, certainly lamenting that the crosswinds had stolen some of their road bike advantage.
The race was organised by a company called Adventure Fit, which I’d never heard of before. I was really wary that they didn’t know what would happen when you put up serious cash for a race in Boulder, but it turns out they were totally prepared. The start-finish was so well organised, they’d stumped up the money to pay for police on all the important and dangerous turns, and had rallied a great community atmosphere around the event. With the exception of the unfortunate horse rider, which was nothing more than terrible timing, the event went off without incident. I really hope this can be the start of more races utilising the amazing dirt roads we have in Boulder. Adventure Fit if you’re reading this – let me know if you want ideas for future editions, I could think up some crazy routes!