About the Race
The Dirty 40 was the 5th race of the American Ultra Cross Series, held in beautiful Derby, Vermont, very close to the Canadian border. The second edition of the race took place on August 30, 2014. While advertised as a 60 mile race with approximately 40 miles of gravel roads, in reality it is a 70 mile race (113 kilometres as I prefer) with about 55 miles of gravel. I found this out first hand courtesy of my course pre-ride, or tribal knowledge scouting as I prefer to call it.
My race video documenting the experience is HERE.
I must give kudos to the Four Seasons Hotel in Derby, where I’d based myself for three days leading up to the race. Uber convenient location to the race, beautiful surrounding scenery, and comfortable accommodations were perfect. Because Derby is so close to Canada, people have no excuses to make a trip by bicycle or car, over the border. Just don’t forget your passport! Here is what I got up to on Thursday and Friday, before the race.
I’ll spare readers the details of my hotel room / chow ritual, but I arrived at the race nice and early, and scored a primo parking spot. Because hardly anyone was around, the race timing chip collection was a breeze. The timing chips for this race attached to your bike’s quick release, which was a doddle. The chip was numbered, and synchronized with your race number plate, mounted on the front of your bike.
Time to Race!
Over 400 cyclists from California, Connecticut, Georgia (Brian Rogers), Indiana, Massachusetts, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Ontario, Pennsylvania, Quebec, Rhode Island, Vermont… and two guys from Florida; Gainesville (yours truly) and Vero Beach respectively.
The race neutral start was unique to Vermont. We were rolled out the first two kilometres by a local bloke aboard a vintage tractor. It was the possibly the slowest neutral race start ever, but also the most laid back. No pushing and shoving in the bunch, and I had plenty of opportunity for a chinwag towards the front of the bunch, with whomever was nearby.
That First Paved Climb
Having ridden the course in it’s entirety a few days earlier, I knew what to expect. The first climb, Bates Hill Road, is an utter bastard, and not ideal for one who relishes a nice warmup. The blokes on the front flew up it, whereas I groveled up best I could, heart rate somewhere in the low 180’s. The average gradient is somewhere around 13%, lovely.
As predicted, and will be amply demonstrated by my forthcoming race video, this climb blew the bunch to pieces, with groups of riders forming all over the place. Thankfully I wasn’t alone in the heavy breathing department. I heard all sorts of grunts and groaning in front, beside and behind me. These events always bring out the best in people 🙂
Find a Group and Stick with It
That is always the plan, but these plans don’t always work out. Invariably, any group I was riding with early on were going too hard for my liking. I am always fearful of blowing my legs early in a race, so generally I ignore what everybody else is doing, and tap out my own tempo.
I spent the few miles early on riding with my mate Scott Bond, out of Indiana. I’m pretty certain he didn’t relish the flat out start either. On the positive, we are both good descenders on gravel roads, and made up a good amount of time whenever the road tilted downhill. Eventually Scott dropped me and my Florida based legs, so once again, I found myself in no man’s land, tapping out a solitary tempo.
Much of the road surface was super hard packed, as I mentioned in my ride preview. Within the first 20 miles, there were a couple of loose sections, one of which came at the base of a short climb, just after a right hand turn. How convenient. I *was* almost completely over the worst of it, when my 28mm tyres (tires), lost traction, and an emergency clip out was required. Thankfully it was only a short trudge uphill, and relatively pleasant, compared to some of the UltraCX races I’ve appeared at.
Somewhere close to the first aid station, I ran into (caught by), the tandem duo of John Bayley and Pamela Blalock. Their tempo on the flatter roads was perfect, although I felt a little guilty drafting behind them, only to lose them on any steep uphills. On the flipside, they were descending a good margin faster than me, so it equalized for a while. Their tandem bicycle, a Seven titanium model, was absolutely beautiful. I gained additional motivation to stick with them on the downhills, just so I could continue ogling their gorgeous bicycle. If you haven’t figured it out from their jerseys, one of them was Irish, namely John. John and I shared several expatriate conversational moments on the bike, which made the miles go by that much quicker. From hereon, John and Pamela are known as the Paddy Express.
Gary Evans was another regular during my Dirty 40 race. Gary is another of these 55+ blokes who kicks my arse, and makes it look easy. I’m assuming he’s not someone who makes excuses with the age card. Gary and I spent much of the day yo-yoing back and forth between various groups, or riding solo in no man’s land. ‘Twas a pleasure racing with you Gary.
Westmore-Cole Road Climb
This was the Queen climb along the course. Approximately three miles in length, and about two thirds of the way through, it’s timing was good for me. My legs weren’t totally blown going into it, so I had plenty of petrol in the tank to tap out a JOM tempo.
I believe the course caught some people by surprise. Not counting the Single Speeders (crazy buggers), I did see a few overgeared folks, who were likely grinding their kneecaps to dust, pushing a bigger gear at an uber low cadence. Ouch.
I was part of a group of 12 – 15 cyclists, all of whom had been working nicely together, in the miles leading to this climb.
As soon as the climb started, I fumbled for the Go Pro on switch, and chucked the derailleur into the 29 cog. Immediately, the group fractured into pieces, with yours truly heading towards the back end of the group. For once I had tribal knowledge of the climb, and knew I had to pace myself wisely, else risk blowing the legs before the steep section towards the top.
Overall, the climb went well for me. The climb was far from easy, but I was ticking along in my 34 x 29 low gear. Heart rate averaged 174 for the climb, maxing out at 184 on the really steep sections. Maybe if I lived in a hillier environment I could climb better or faster? Regardless, I was focused on the descent, as I was certain I could catch those who had so unceremoniously dropped me at the climb’s base.
The top of the climb finally came, although I was greeted with a rather nasty headwind. This would hamper my descent a little, but I knew what lines to take, in order to bomb the descent as fast yet safely as possible.
Approximately half way down the descent, the Paddy Express tandem blew past me like I was standing still. I was clocking over 65kms/hr, they had to be doing at least 75kms/hr or more. My race video, when produced, amply demonstrates how fast this tandem team is on descents and flatter roads. Amazing.
The Last Third
Following the big descent, I spent a good amount of time riding with the Paddy Express tandem, catching groups of riders, courtesy of their awesome power. My legs were feeling pretty good, still with a good amount of energy to burn. I’d been hydrating and eating regularly, so everything was on par there. Speaking of hydration, I have to give the aid stations and volunteers kudos. The stations were stocked with goodies like Clif Shot Blocks, which are easy to chew and digest in a racing situation. The volunteers were on the ball with neutral bottle hand ups, which saved racers from stopping to refill. It should be mentioned that I stopped at both rest stops to refill, as I refused to toss my uber lucky, Australian themed water bottles. How superstitious of me. Thanks to Onion River Sports of Montpelier, Vermont for selling these to me a few days earlier. I should have bought more!
Another cyclist worthy of mention, is the German lady in the blue jersey, out of Montreal, Canada. Forgive me, I cannot recall your name, but you were amazingly strong on the climbs. Typically you would completely shatter my legs, only to be caught by me a little later on the following descent. I believe your race number was #414 (unidentified according to the race organizers). Enjoyed our conversation on the bike, especially hearing about your trip to my homeland. To the race promoters, forgive me if I’m wrong, but I believe this lady may have been in the 40+ women’s race, and finished at around 4:15:59. That would make her second in the Women’s 40 – 59 category?
Ten Miles to Go
The last ten miles were punctuated with a non stop series of steep climbs. Just when you’d get one under your belt, another would appear. If it weren’t for my pre-ride, I would have been pretty demoralized. With tribal knowledge in hand, I knew exactly how hard I could push myself all the way to the line.
The Paddy Express tandem was with me until about seven miles from the end, but the relentless series of climbs did them in. I truly felt bad ditching them towards the end, but wanted to pass along massive thanks for the help on race day!
Approximately three miles from the finish, I had the German lady in blue for company. There was one last and fast gravel descent remaining, which I bombed hard. Following that, a few nasty steep paved hills, before the finish line. On the last of those hills, German mystery lady in blue dropped me, hard. A stellar performance by her. So, I chugged in solo across the finish line, and took a bow, Michael Rogers style, as I crossed it. Hopefully someone got that on film / SD card.
I crossed the line in 4:16:49, with about 5,500 feet of elevation under my belt, and an immediate desire to get off the bicycle. I was happy with my result, and only seven minutes behind my UltraCX friends Brian Rogers, Stephanie Swan and Scott Bond, all who whom typically destroy me at these events. I believe Brian was on an off day and taking it easier anyway… his easy day is equivalent to me hurting myself. Bloody hell.
Post race, the food spread was awesome. Being of the vegan diet persuasion, I chowed down on the pesto pasta dish, which incidentally, was killer. If it had cheese in it, big deal. I was starving, and not interested in being known as an uptight vegan wank, on this day 🙂
I stuck around at the race for an hour, during which I thanked Heidi and some of the volunteers for the efforts, and chatted with several of my fellow bicycle racers.
THEN CAME THE POST RACE 500+ MILE DRIVE TO WASHINGTON, D.C.
I’ll spare the details of this excitement, but if you saw the driver of a white Toyota Prius with Florida plates at a New Jersey Turnpike rest stop, consuming copious Red Bulls, that was me. Multiple Red Bulls are not recommended.
Thanks again to the race promoters, volunteers, and my fellow racers. The Dirty 40 is an awesome race, I will return in 2015. I captured a lot of video courtesy of my Go-Pro camera, and hope to have that video produced ASAP… after I’ve returned to Florida… which is happening sometime on Labor Day.