By Rob Stanley
Dirt, gravel and bumpy pavement are not what one conjures up when thinking of a bicycle road race, but Spring Classics are different. The infamous Koppenberg Race in Superior, CO this last weekend comes at you like a lion, with a long gravel section, dirt climb of 17%, bumpy pavement, wicked crosswinds, tight turns and finally some smooth pavement to finish. Born from the Spring Classics in the Flemish hills of Europe, this race has the essences of the old country, we just need the cobblestone to complete the experience.
Us old guys in the Senior Men’s 55+ did 3 laps of the 5.5 mile course. We started behind the Juniors. This was a bit of a controversy and discussion on this subject with the officials was engaged in at the starting line. This discussion played out in the race. I had a good start and was in the top 10 going into the gravel. Road bikes on gravel tend to be a little unstable and not all of the riders race cyclocross, so keeping your eye on the guys next to you is essential. Cyclocross is racing, in the fall, on what amounts to a road bike on dirt with obstacles to make you get off the bike and run. The bike handling skills learned in cyclocross are well used in a Spring Classic.
We passed several juniors on the fairly wide gravel road and I moved up to make sure to be near the front going up the dirt hill. This hill is short but steep at a 17% grade with ruts from the last time it was wet. There are undulating bumps toward the steeper section with some loose sections. I was near the front going into the hill, but the juniors in front of us were going very slow up the climb and clogging the best two lines. Someone in front of me came upon one of the juniors too hot and dismounted to avoid a crash as did the racer directly ahead of me. I had to do the same as there was no room on ether side of me. I pushed my bike around the backup and did a cyclocross mount back onto my bike. This is done by pushing the bike while running and launching yourself onto it like a young John Wayne would in a western landing my rear on the saddle of my steed ready to chase the bad guys. By the time I made it to the top of the hill about 15 riders had a big gap on me. All I could do was go into time trial mode and try to catch them.
I passed a mass of juniors with one of them crying on the side of the road because he crashed on the gravel. Maybe he crashed because the flying pack of 55+ guys passing him or due to the fierce crosswind and loose gravel. I passed my 10 year old neighbor, who won his age group, on the drop to Marshal Road. He was spinning out the junior gearing like mad on the undulating pavement. Spinning out is when you are going so fast in your biggest/hardest gear that you can not engage the gear. Juniors have a set lower geared bike that makes the racing more strategic and competitive. At the finish of the first lap, I had closed the gap some but all was lost when we turned into the wind. The advantage the pack has of multiple people sharing the wind drag allowed them to pull away from me. It was training time for my main sport cross-country mountain bike racing. In mountain bike racing you always feel like you are racing by yourself as the advantage of drafting is not as great in that sport. Just before the hill, I was joined by a pack of men from a different age group wave that started after my wave. The aerodynamics of pack riding finally allowed them to catch me. There was 4 of them and it was tempting to draft behind them, rules state that it is not allowed to draft off a different age group when racing. I did the climb among them but did not draft behind them after the climb and they pulled away from me. Some of the guys that had been dropped by them started to draft off me despite the rule. I raced them the rest of the way.
On the last lap I came up on a group of 3 dropped 55+ racers from the original lead pack and passed them up the dirt hill. I found new power and passed some of the stronger racers I had been dueling with. One of them coming with me. On the last paved climb I caught one more in my age group but made a bad turn onto the finish straight. I just managed to keep in front of him for 11th place out of 40 racers in the Senior Men 55+. Gasping for air I rode my warm down enjoying the sun, festive venue and muscles well used.
What I learned in my first race of the season:
I am in good shape for this time of year. The juniors should not start in front of us. I need to be the first up the hill. Spring Classics are very fun.