When I first heard about the Zionsville Harvest 50 it sounded like a great idea. Here is a 50 mile gravel race that is a few weeks before the Gravel Grovel. I figured at the very least it would be a great training ride. I heard that it was not very hilly and figured that would play in to my strengths or to be more accurate, have less of my weakness. I am not really sure I have any strengths. I do tend to hold my speed better when it is flatter. I can climb, but I don’t currently climb at the speed that I need to be able to keep up with the faster guys.
As I looked in to this race there was something that was a little concerning to me. The race route was not going to be marked. The plan was to get the route uploaded in to my Garmin so I had something to follow. The problem with this plan is that I had never tried it. I had the route loaded and selected, but when we started it just didn’t work. I am not clear on what I did wrong, but I am sure I did something. I will have to figure that out a little sooner next time I need something like that.
I signed up thinking that it would not be hard to find someone to ride along with me, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. The weather was going to be cool and a good chance of rain. This in itself would not have been too much of an issue for me. When I add the solo 3 hour drive time to the equation, it was not sounding like such a good idea. But, since I had already signed up, I figured I might as well make the trip and get a good ride in.
I made it there early enough to have plenty of time to get ready and sign in. It was not easy figuring out what to wear. This time of year is always difficult because so many things play in to how cold it will really feel on the bike. Looking at other riders didn’t really help either. Some were bundled up like it was going to be -30 degrees and some guys were riding around in shorts. I went with the shorts and knee warmers figuring that covered the important parts. It turned out that I made a good enough decision and was fairly comfortable for the whole ride. Some places were warm and some were cool. I could not have asked for anything better.
After a few announcements the neutral roll out took off. We rolled down the road a little ways before ending up looking at a double track trail section. They let everyone regroup before sending us on our way. Silly me, I thought I might actually be able to hang with one of the front groups. I have done ok on some group rides and figured just maybe for a little while. That little while was very little. The front took off pretty fast and before I knew it my heart rate was out the roof. I should have known better with it being cold and the lack of the warm up.
I backed off my pace and grabbed on to any wheel I could find. I was hurting, but improving some. The plan was to stick to whatever wheel felt right and try to not do anything silly. I started to feel a little better as I jumped from wheel to wheel. After I found some guys that seemed to be about the right pace, I would take my turn up front and next thing I knew I was all alone. This happened several times as I was just trying to return the favor. I am not sure if I pulled harder than they did or if they just didn’t like holding a wheel on the gravel.
Some groups would stay together longer than others, but it never seemed to stick. A big group came rolling along and I jumped on with them. There were some familiar faces in there and they were much stronger than I expected to be able to hang with. I was not doing badly, but the back tire was going low again. This was more evident on the road sections. The group also got split up on one of the road crossings that looked to maybe also be a water stop. We kept going but I finally had to pull over to shoot some air in it before I really flatted or wiped out from it being so low.
It didn’t take very long, but I was all alone to try and figure out a new plan. To my luck I was following some riders up ahead and next thing I knew they were heading toward me. I guess they missed a turn and we had to go back for it. This let me hook up with a rider that I had been with earlier. He put in a good pull so I went to return the favor. There were three other guys just up the road. After I bridged up to them I looked back to see that the other rider was no longer on my wheel. I felt bad that I dropped him since he had done a lot of work for me up to that point, but not bad enough that I dropped back for him. It seemed like two of the guys I was with knew the route. This was a good thing since my plan was not working.
This section was fairly tough with the wind and the deeper gravel sections that the group was split up. Where there were 4 now there was just two of us off the front. We took turns pulling and just trying to keep moving as fast as possible. I was starting to struggle some again, but not bad enough that I was dropped. After a few sections of road we saw two riders up ahead looking like they were not sure what direction to turn. We yelled up ahead what was to go and with the traffic we all ended up being together. In this duo was a People’s Brewing single speeder that I knew and felt better actually knowing someone in the group. But, I was surprised that I caught him and figured that he could leave us anytime he wanted to.
Somewhere along the way we dropped the fourth rider and we were down to only three left. The miles were adding up and I knew we had to be betting close to the end. This point in the race it was very nice having someone that knew where we were going. It would have been a mess trying to figure out where we were on the map and where we needed to go. At one point I was pulling and thought the navigator was on my wheel. Turns out it was the People’s guy and we dropped the other guy. He was nice enough to yell at us and we had to turn around and catch back up to him.
I was feeling better than I was earlier and felt like I could have dropped our navigator at any point. I told the other guy that I was not going to challenge the navigator because without him I would have been much farther back and probably still looking at a map. The route was starting to look familiar and not long after we hit the double track, I popped out and jumped on the pedals like I was doing a break away. I only did it for a few seconds and then sat up and said, just joking. I am not sure what he thought since he didn’t really say much. I squeezed back in behind him and rolled across the finish line in 9th place for masters 40-49. As it turns out, the guy in front of me was also in my age group, but even if I knew that I would not have passed him at the line. I was way too valuable to have someone know the way.
The route really didn’t have much climbing at all. I normally would have thought that would be a good thing, but this race was no joke. I was hurting bad when I finished. Maybe it was that I just really pushed myself, but the truth is that we were on the gas for the entire race. Late in the day I was begging for another road section or a climb just so I could coast some. It was either the wind or deep gravel or probably a little of both, but even when drafting off of someone you could not really coast.
I will say they did a good job of having people directing the racers earlier in the day. I am not sure if that continued all day since I was no longer in contact with the front group. I am glad that I kept in contact with other riders and at least a few of them knew where they were going. I would like to thank Tim Cassidy and Nebo Ridge bicycles for putting on this race. I enjoy the gravel stuff and glad to see more options popping up. I hope to make it back again next year.