Thursday, May 24, 2018

2018 Cheesehead-Roubiax ride report. Gravel in Wisconsin!!!

So I am on a road trip and had the sense to bring 2 sets of wheels for my Bacchetta CA3. On one set of Flo30s is a pair of 28mm Continental GP4000S2s. On the other set is a Panaracer Gravel King in 700x32c in front (almost exactly the same size as a 28mm Continental), and a a 700x32c Vittoria Voyager Hyper in back. These are about the biggest tires you can fit in a CA2/3 with X-eyed brakes. Why did I do this? Wheels take up space in a small car.

Gravel!!! I have done a few gravel roads over the years in Florida, and other places. I like it! Less traffic, and you have to pay attention more to the surface you are on, so it keeps you focussed.

So being in Wisconsin for a while, I was bummed to miss the Dairy-Roubaix. I did however have time for the Cheesehead-Roubaix! Its a 63 mile ride with about 10 miles of gravel. They rate the gravel sections just like the cobbled sectors of Paris-Roubaix, one through five stars, five being the hardest. I used google street view to get an idea of that I was in for. Sure enough, the 4 star and less sections looked just like pea gravel and hard pack. Rough texture but pretty well groomed. The first section was the only five star, Lovers Lane. This was a mile of washed out jeep trail, with sections of deeper loose gravel, big drop offs in the washed out areas, and a serious grassy crown between the deeper wheel ruts. Its mostly uphill too with 2 steeper sections. Here is what it looked like in the rain last year.

Tuesday before the ride I drove out with the CA3 and my MTB to scout the worst section. I rode in on the MTB first. Easy. Only issues I needed to worry about were: having enough speed to steer well on the bumps next to the washed out sections so I did not fall into them, picking the best line through the ruts, staying clear of the deep gravel, and of course not pinch flatting on anything. So I got back the car and switched bikes. It was all pretty uneventful on the CA3, except the top where it was hard to find firm ground next to the deep gravel in the tire ruts. I settled on the far left edge and made it without putting a foot down. Alright then. If I have the choice of riding 63 miles with 53 miles of road on the bent vs the MTB, the bent is way faster. I figure I can deal with the gravel.

Event day!! Now here is the really cool thing about a lot of gravel rides. Many are not sanctioned by any governing bodies, so ride the bike you want! Yeah, I got some looks at the start. Many have no entry fee, but donations are accepted (and really recommended if you want to support the event). Turns out there were 300 riders, so they decided to start in 2 groups. I was ready to discuss or accept any assignment directed at me specifically due to the bike, but there were none. Instead, all USAC category 1-3 riders where asked to go to the front group, so I did that. My plan was to try to get to Lovers Lane in front of the front group, or at least in a small group. I wanted to have line choice, and impede as few others as possible if I did not. Well, I tried to get away, but with all the little climbs, and a group of 80 or so chasing, that did not happen. As I recognized that we were close, I slowed and motioned all the group by me. As we turned right onto the gravel I suddenly realized that I was not in the right spot here either. I was already passing people again! On the double track I was just rut hopping from one side to the other to keep advancing. About half way up I had passed about 12 and was riding on the crown to avoid some rocks when a DF rider 2 bikes in front of me crashes and flips his bike sideways in the road. I dive for his bar and get by the guy in front of me, and the bars, or so I though. My bike magically shifted into the 11t cog! I get off and realize that something must have hooked my rear derailleur cable housing and pulled it out of the chainstay stop. It took a minute to get going again. Well, not as bad as a flat. I had to walk the gravel on the last pitch too, as the 80 riders in front of me had scattered it all over, and there was no smooth line. Maybe I should have stayed at the front of the group, or the middle?  Here is a sequence of me before the crash:

So, time to chase. I was now farther back then I should have been. I got groups together a few times, took long pulls on the flats, then they would all launch past me on the climbs, doubling or tripling their power outputs. 5 minutes later I would be riding past the strongest one of them. My pulls were appreciated though. I did this a few times, and had a nice group of 5 together when we passed the rest stop. Lots of riders there. I was all set with 3 bottles, so I kept at it, alone. I was making progress on a group of 8 or so in the distance. I turned onto a sector of gravel and watched them crest a hill. I crested the hill, and they were no where to be seen. In the distance, I saw a rider stopped. So I went all the way too him. He did not know the course either. Just as we were laughing about this, we see the next group of 20 or so make a turn North just past the crest of the hill! We back track and chase. Its hard to paint turn arrows on dirt I guess, and there was no sign. My Garmin was not being much help either. I missed a few more turns, passed a few single riders and smaller groups and eventually got caught by 2 if the 5 guys I was with before the rest stop. They wanted to know how I made it through Lovers Lane. I still had an arm covered with cockleburs to show for my efforts. I told them that they were seriously messing with my aero, and that all I had. We had fun for the next 10 miles to the finish.

At the fire house, the crew had lots of options, brats being the most important in Wisconsin. Everyone was just throwing them 10s and 20s instead of the prices. This led to a good donation amount. I came to the food line just in time to hear the 4 guys in front of me asking did you see what happened to "that guy" to each other? Yep, "that guy" was me. We had a fun talk. I was talking to another few guys later, about tire choices. Nice talk. As I am riding away I hear one of them say,"That guy is nuts!" Nuts, but I sure had a fun ride! I think I finished in the top 15% or so. Not bad considering my fitness and the challenges.

So what did I learn? I don't know that it would have helped much on Lovers Lane, but on the other sections I would have been faster on even fatter tires, with less air. I had to back off the power several times due to fishtailing, or my front wheel bouncing around too much. I had mine at 60f/55r. Now knowing that the pinch flat hazard was not big, I could have gone lower with the air. I really want to get up to about a 40mm tire. Word is that is the fast size for Dirty Kanza/DKXL and a few other events. That is not going to fit my CA3 without voiding the warranty by removing the whole area around the rear brake bolt, and a different fork that is going to elevate the front of the bike a bit. I am still convinced that if its dry, tread on the tires is not required. Hoping to try some 36c Challenge Strada Bianca's or something bigger soon. Here is a review of them and the front tire I was using. I'll be looking for something as fast as a Compass Pass tire, but more puncture proof. For a frame and fork, if I want to keep running 700c tires, and I want to because they will roll better, I need to look beyond Bacchetta.

Addendum 5/25/18: Just realized that BelgianWerkx who puts on this ride is also a sponsor of the JBVCoaching CX team! Yes, I am a bit disconnected, from CX.

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