2017 Ruts N Guts
Friendsgiving with the Doggos
After the mud of Indianapolis had been washed away and bikes packed up, I headed back to Dallas for Thanksgiving week. I spent most of the week dog-sitting the family pups and enjoyed some hours in the Metroplex after a month on the road.
Thanksgiving was a great day with friends and it of course began with a bike ride. Our motley crew rolled out to the back roads north of Denton to make room for pie and all the fixins. It was a solid few hours on the bike and a good way to burn some calories before our Sides-giving feast. As is the case around the holiday times, I'm pretty sure I ate so much that I could have skipped the next few meals (just kidding, I did not skip any meals!).
The holiday week also gave me a chance to reset at home and catch up with some of my road teammates that were in town. The constant stop and go nature of cyclocross is both mentally and physically exhausting. Having a chance to pedal some steady hours on the bike and spend time with friends was the perfect way to fill the cup back up. With two UCI races left in 2017, it came at the right time before the final push of the season.
Saturday - All the Sand. All the Ruts (25th)
The annual Ruts N Guts race in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma is one of my favorite races of the year. Held at the South Chisholm Trail Park, the race has definitely come into it's own in the past couple of years. From my first year at the race where a Gator tractor led out the elite field, to last year's edition as a C1, the quality of the field has increased year over year. The secret is getting out, Ruts N Guts is a legitimate contender as one of the best races in the country.
The 2017 course was similar to that of years' past. With uphill and downhill sandpits, several creek crossings, and lots of turns, this track requires you to be on your toes for the full 60 minutes. After Friday's pre-ride I was feeling good about the race and had my lines dialed in. How those lines would compare to my competitors though, remained to be seen.
The field was stacked. So stacked that my eight UCI points barely put me on the third row of the start grid. The race started fast and furious down the long straightaway. We came in so hot to the first turn that many guys were putting a foot out to ensure that they could make their way around the corner.
I was on a good start and held my spot (-ish) in the field as we barreled towards the first pass of the sandpit. As you could probably guess, the race descended into chaos, as riders and bikes became tangled throughout the field. Riding was impossible, the only option was to run to safety and remount on firm ground. As the lap wore on, I was riding steady and found a solid group to follow. By the end of the first lap, I was in the top 20 and feeling comfortable in the group.
The race was splintering all over and small groups of three and four riders were forming around the course. The downhill sandpit continued to give me grief and I kept losing the wheel trying to navigate the ever-shifting ruts beneath me. Eventually the elastic broke and the gaps were too much to close with the mistakes that I was making. I kept pushing and made it to the lead lap, in a small group with my friend Josh Whitney (Evol Racing).
Josh and I have clashed the past few years, and this time would be no different. Riding together for the last lap, we each took turns accelerating. In the closing third of the lap, I hit a dip and my bars rotated down just enough that I had to back off to make sure I had not done more serious damage. I tried to close the gap to Josh's wheel but unfortunately we were riding at the same speed and I was left to cross the line in 25th.
Sunday - Gut Check (22nd)
Saturday's disappointments at the races was washed away by some good times at dinner with friends. Waking up on Sunday my mind was clear and I was feeling fresh and ready to go for the last race of the weekend. The course changes, in addition to being reversed, included two additional sets of stairs. I'm not sure if it was real or imagined, but lots of folks who I chatted with preferred the reversed direction of the track. I was indifferent on the matter, but as I took my pre-ride laps I felt like I was capable of having a good ride.
The field was unchanged from the day before but as the whistle blew, my perspective on the day did shift. I had a slow start and quickly found myself towards the back of the group as we barreled towards the first corner. Not panicking, I was patient and chose my spots to accelerate and move up as best as I could. The twisting nature of the opening half lap made it difficult to pass without chopping people's wheel. The problem with that approach is that you inevitably cause both you and the defendant to slow down. Rather than waste that energy, I chose to put my efforts in on the straights and steadily move my way up.
Again the pace was high and the race was fracturing after the top 10 riders. More riders came to grief through the sandpit and still more on the downhill exit. After chatting with Amanda Nauman (SDG-Muscle Monster) before the race, I actually had good confidence and technique to tackle this feature. With my eyes on the exit and a few hard pedal strokes I was able to "rip" - a relative term - the downhill sandpit better than those around me. Each time we passed through, I made a point to get to the front and clean this section ahead of my competition and push the pace on the ensuing climb to the finish.
Riding the flat sections hard, I was able to move my way up in the field and was riding in a group of 18th-23rd. However, it was not to be my day as some stomach cramps hit me mid way through the race. I don't often think about quitting, but this was definitely an instance where I thought about walking off the course. Slowing to a crawl for about a lap and a half, my outlook was a bit bleak with four laps to go. Somehow I managed to find to put it behind me and pick up the pace again, picking off some of the riders that had passed me. Though I wasn't able to get back to my original spot, I was able to finish on the lead lap again and felt proud of how I was able to rally from a bad moment.
Bike racing is hard.
Any cyclist will tell you that.
And it's not the most rewarding sport in the world.
Countless athletes put in the work day after day, year after year, only to be kicked in the teeth. It's a sport that takes more than it gives. But, if you can find the little glimmers of hope, the bright spots in the dark, you can muster the energy to get up and give a little bit more. This weekend, and even this season as a whole, has been a lesson in patience and commitment. It hasn't been easy, but each battle prepares you a little bit more for the next one. The 2017 edition of Ruts N Guts was one of those battles. But the ups and downs will no doubt prepare me for the next and final UCI race of the year - the Resolution Cross Cup.