Calvin’s Crosswinds

The long winter and the long time since the last race left me, and surely most of my fellow racers, uncertain at the start of Calvin’s.  The familiarity of the race soon returned though, as the hiss of tires being inflated filled the parking lot and coolers began lining the bus circle.

The wind was already strong at the start of the race and promised only to get stronger as the day went on. After catching up with a few friends I hadn’t seen since the year before, I started working my way to the start of the race, pushing through the big blob of riders. I was next to Jay Yost, second place last year, and a good friend. With about five minutes to the start, I realized that I didn’t have my timing chip on my helmet. I rushed back to my car, hoping I hadn’t left it at the hotel, found it, slapped it on my helmet, and made it back to the start before the race got underway, though I did lose my position near the front.

Once the race started, I had to dodge around the big clump of slower riders to make it to the front group, which took a few miles. Unlike last year, I didn’t shoot off the front, but instead decided to ride with the group to get a better feel for who the strongest riders were. I knew Jay and Martin would be in the front group, but otherwise wasn’t sure who else was going to join the party.

A right turn around the 10-mile mark quickly blew the race apart. The wind shifted from head to cross and the previously tight group of 25-30 riders split into clumps of twos and threes. I had just come off a pull and was fidgeting with something or other when I saw what was happening. I quickly started accelerating as a coordinated group at the front was rapidly pulling away.

I told Martin to jump on as I rode by and started hammering, trying to catch up. After a couple miles, Martin and I managed to get back to the front group, where Jay had been all along. With us was another friend of Jay and Martin’s, Ryan, who was riding his first ultra-race, and three guys from the same team, one of whom rode in the front group for the first 80 miles last year.

We quickly got to work taking turns and the remnants of the larger starting group quickly faded away. Everyone was taking pulls and we were making good progress, despite the wind. We finished the first big loop averaging around 23mph.

Coming through the school, Jay, Martin, Ryan, and myself stopped quickly at our coolers, swapped bottles and started riding again. Despite the change being fast, the three other guys were already gone! We found them up the road a bit fiddling with musettes. They had pro-feed zone support and didn’t even have to unclip. As we caught them, though, I noticed the biggest of the three was breathing and sweating hard. It wasn’t long before he was gone.

Ten miles into the second lap, we made the right turn into the crosswinds. Soon thereafter, the group split. One of the guys in white exploded and his teammates decided to ride with him rather than join us. So the group was down to four at this point.

Along this same stretch, Ryan popped off as well. He had been taking hard pulls and burned out too fast. He caught back on a little later, after Martin and I stopped to pee — Jay has the pee-and-ride thing down, but I haven’t figured it out yet — but wasn’t able to hang on to the midpoint of the loop.

Shortly after the middle checkpoint, Martin wanted to let off the gas a bit. Martin races very carefully, the opposite of Jay and I’s balls-out go-til-you-blow style, and his heartrate was jumping above where he knew he could sustain for the race. Jay and I slowed a bit and we finished the second lap riding a steady pace into the strengthening wind.

The end of the second lap meant we’d knocked out the first century at around 22mph. More importantly, it meant it was beef jerky time. Every 100 miles, I eat a piece of beef jerky to get something other than Perpetuem in there. Plus, finding a nice piece of gristle to chew on can easily occupy the mind for a good ten or twenty minutes.

We hit the Turn of Doom as I was happily munching away on a particularly gnarly bit of jerky. I took to the front and started cranking away, both legs and jaws aching with effort. Halfway along the crosswind section was a short zig-zag with a slight uphill along the zig. I pulled until we hit the zig and then let Jay take over the work. The three of us were still together.

At some point before the checkpoint, while frolicking in the tailwind, Jay and I dropped Martin. We had hoped to ride together for the rest of the lap, so we could share the work going into the now battering wind, but sometime after the checkpoint, Martin dropped off, and we didn’t see him again until the short laps.

By now, the wind was really ripping. We churned along at barely 15mph in spots. Even at that pace, we zoomed by others who were clearly into the single digits trying to fight the wind. Jay and I made it through the rest of the lap together, but we slowed quite a bit in the wind.

Starting the fourth lap, either Jay or myself was going to win the race. Neither of us would want to just ride it in together, as part of the fun of racing is actually racing and attacking and flogging yourself and everyone else. With this in mind, I started trying to plan where I would attack. Most important was making it fair, which meant not attacking after Jay had been pulling for awhile. Thus, I would try to simply ride off the front at some point. The best spots were on the second half of the big loop, into the wind, where there were a couple little rises. I climb better than Jay, so those seemed the best choice. As with all plans though…

We made the Turn of Doom for the fourth, and final, time. I was on the front with two or three miles until the zig-zag. I decided to pull the whole way as my legs were feeling good, thanks to the easier stretch of miles we’d ridden on the previous lap. When I hit the zig, I took the right with Jay on my wheel. With the incline and the wind, I pushed hard and was going maybe 16mph. However, Jay was going 15mph. As I made the left at the top of the incline, I had a small gap, so I decided to keep going hard and see if Jay would catch me.

By the time I turned left and gained the tailwind, I’d built up a quarter-mile lead or so. I dropped the hammer on myself for the remainder of the tailwind section, cruising along at 35+mph for some stretches. By the time I turned into the wind again, Jay was out of sight.

The wind was really roaring by now, though. After the race, we saw reports that it was blowing a steady 25mph with gusts up to 35mph around this time of day. As I rode into it, I barely kept 12mph at times, but still was blasting by other racers, so we were all struggling the same. One telephone wire caught a gust and started waving like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which was scary, as I’ve had a power line blow down and almost hit me before. Thankfully, it stayed put, and I rode on.

I finished the fourth loop in 9:58. I grabbed another piece of beef jerky for gnawing on and started onto the short loops. Seeing the time, I decided to try and ride six short loops, which would give me 244 miles for the day. First, I figured that would be enough to win the race. Second, that would be more miles than my first year doing Calvin’s, when I blew up and was riding in a paceline with old ladies, which would count as a moral victory, given the much tougher conditions this year.

Starting the short loops, I loaded up on bottles and didn’t plan to make any stops. There were only two hours left, so a couple bottles of Perpetuem and a bottle of plain water in a jersey pocket would be plenty. I had a gel or two as backup if my energy started fading.

The short loop divided nicely into two sections. The first half had some wind, then brutal wind. The second half had a little wind, then a great tailwind on the final stretch heading east along Possum Road to the school. I rode steady into the wind, then rode a little harder with the tailwind. It always feel like this approach is faster because pushing hard into the wind doesn’t yield much speed difference once you have that many miles in the legs. Newton could tell me the physics, but, mentally, clipping along at 25+mph is a morale boost for the inevitable turn into the headwind that has you struggling to hold 15mph.

The laps ticked down one by one. I mentally divided them into the headwind section and the free miles. Thus, I didn’t have 28 miles to ride, but only six miles of headwind. Then 4.5 miles. Then three miles. And then I caught Jay.

As I finished my fifth lap, I saw Jay just ahead. He rides really stretched out on the bike and in a burnt orange/red jersey, so he’s easy to spot. When I pulled up next to him, he spouted some profanity, realizing that he was going to come in second to me for our fourth race in a row  — Calvin’s ’13, Balltown ’13, Metamora ’13, and Calvin’s ’14. We chatted about how the race was going. I mentioned that I hadn’t really tried to attack, but just saw the gap and decided to try and make it stick. He wasn’t upset at all, happy to have had a good race against good competition.

We split apart in the final headwind section. I needed to push to make sure that I finished the lap to meet my goal, which I managed to do — barely — arriving at the school at 11:58. Jay pulled in a minute or two later, and I got to the business of waddling around for the next few hours, unable to sit down properly because my quads were so shot that flopping to the ground was all I could do.

In the end, I finished with 244 miles. Jay had 237 miles. Martin has 228 miles. We placed 1-2-3. Ryan put in 214 miles in his first 12-hour race with hard winds, which was a great ride. Everyone that rode the whole day had a great ride. The wind was mentally fatiguing in addition to being physically fatiguing. Something about slogging much slower than expected really drains the mental reserves and makes for a long, long day in the saddle.

I’m already looking forward to trying for the three-peat next year. Maybe I’ll finally convince some Ann Arborites to come down to the race, which will free me up to try and ride home from Springfield to Ann Arbor the next day.

As always, the race was fabulously run. Thanks to Larry, Christine, and all the volunteers that make Calvin’s what it is.

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