A new addition to the ABA racing calendar is always welcome in my books. Especially when it’s a bit different from a standard XC mountain bike, cyclocross, or road event, I’m typically keen to give it a try. Anyone that had the pain and pleasure to experience the Kettle Cross bicycle race will tell you what a unique and great event it was, and it also was able to attract a large number of cyclists not part of the regular licensed racer crowd. This is a win in my opinion, since it gets those who cannot be coaxed to line up to an ABA race to come out and see what it’s all about.
Sadly, the Kettle Cross is on hiatus this year, but the Deadgoats threw in a late edition to the calendar of a comparable flavour – the Ghost of the Gravel road race/fondo. Promising to be something completely different and targeted at racers and non-racers, and also an area I haven’t had a chance to cycle through, I signed up and put some 28mm slicks on my trusty Van Dessel FTB cyclocross bike as suggested by the race organizers to tackle the various types of road surfaces and 1500 m of climbing.
The 144km route was a challenging, yet enjoyable and very scenic mix of rolling pavement and gravel/dirt roads that looped through the foothills northwest of Cochrane via Water Valley and Waiparous Village (Strava route here). 28 mm slicks were perfect even along the wet dirt roads, and none of the climbs were too steep or long for my single ring cyclocross 40/11-32 set up to manage comfortably. Two neutral feedzones were provided at 70 and 94 kms, which were well stocked with basic cyclist-style energy products like Clif bars, bananas, and water or Gatorade. Weather was a mixed bag on the day, starting out on the meagre side with rain and strong winds and audible cursing by some, but there were eventually a few sunny moments in there and luckily some sweet tailwinds most of the way home. I started the day off with a rain jacket, which I was glad I packed, and it was shed and re-donned during the day with the variable weather conditions. I’ve left the rain jacket in the car one too many times, and now don’t mind dealing with the extra pocket bulk in exchange for the chance to stay a bit warmer when the rain hits. The roads were essentially quiet, with the exception of a few over-aggressive redneck Alberta land trains, appropriately named by Katy Curtis, who couldn’t get their ATVs and dirt bikes to the various trailheads along Highway 40 fast enough. I’m sure most of them had never witnessed that many spandex-clad men in all their lives and were concerned if they didn’t drive fast enough away it may affect their masculinity somehow.
Interestingly, although not really pushed heavily by organizers as a race, the event was part of the ABA Road Cup points series. Unfortunately for me, this made the start way too fast on a day that I was more interested in a pleasure cruise, and after a few kms of trying to sit in riding a tempo that clearly wasn’t sustainable for 144km and getting constantly sprayed with water and road grime on this particularly rainy and windy day, Katy and I settled into a much more enjoyable and civilized pace that allowed for conversation and to enjoy the magnificent views. We happened upon more than a few riders along the way who had cracked from starting too hard, and even witnessed one overly dramatic bike toss at a feed zone. There were a fair number of DNFs, which I will tentatively blame on the weather conditions and under-preparedness, but for those that stuck it out, finishing times ranged from 4:30 hours for the Cat 1/2 winner to around 7 hours for some. This made it hard to coordinate any of the podium presentations, and maybe next year it would be worthwhile to reverse the staging and start the slower groups first so the race ends more or less at the same time of the day for everyone.
For a first time event, it was well organized and attended, and I hope the Deadgoats bring it back next year so a few more Edmonton riders make the trip down and try something different out. It’s the kind of riding that we certainly don’t have around here, and an event like this makes it easy to get a flavour and taste for long and epic gravel grinds.