Flèche du Nord

For several years now, there have been some Upper Peninsula “Spring Classics”.  Modeled after the more famous races in Europe, the Ronde van Skandia and Fleche du Nord encourage U.P. cyclists to get off the trainer (or the couch), ride in some brisk spring weather and get their legs back under them.  I haven’t ridden the Ronde, mainly because it’s a long ways to go down to Marquette and it’s always really close to the end of my semester — in other words, just when I am getting horribly busy at work.  I missed the inaugural Flèche du Nord due to travel and the next because I was serving as the head coach for my son’s baseball team.  The undying winter has pushed the baseball schedule off, I wasn’t traveling and couldn’t come up with any other excuses.  Saturday morning found me shivering in front of The Bike Shop, waiting to roll out on a 70.2 mile trek over gravel, snow, mud and lousy tarmac.

I may look thoughtful, but I'm just cold. Photo courtesy Adam Griffis.
I may look thoughtful, but I’m just cold. Photo courtesy Adam Griffis.

 

The first 15 miles were just soft pedaling along and chit-chatting with various riders.  After our first foray onto freshly graded gravel, we all stopped for a restart of the real “race” part of things. It must be noted that there were 6 people who didn’t stop quite as long.  Two guys just kept pedaling.  After 6 minutes had passed, four more of us — including me — were getting cold just sitting there and started slowly rolling down the road, keeping ourselves warm.  I don’t know how much longer the rest of the field waited before rolling again.  Something like 5 miles on, the first fast guys came through.  At first, I tried to hang with them, but my legs and body knew I couldn’t possibly keep up that pace for another 50 miles.  I started to drop back to some of my previous “breakaway” companions, but as soon as they went by, one of them got a flat tire on the nasty gravel we were riding over.  Within another quarter mile the other guy dropped a bottle and I never saw him again.  Just before I went through the nastiest of the conditions — a big snowy mess — the next group came through.

Is this a cyclocross race? Photo courtesy Adam Griffis.
Is this a cyclocross race? Photo courtesy Adam Griffis.
This is a road bike race in mid-May? Photo courtesy Adam Griffis.
This is a road bike race in mid-May? Photo courtesy Adam Griffis.

I didn’t recognize most of them (they had come up from Marquette), I did recognize one whom I knew to be exceedingly fast.  I made it my goal to stick with this group, even if I hadn’t necessarily earned my way in.  One rider was having an issue getting clipped back into his pedal after the snowy nastiness and I held back to help pace him up to the the other three guys.  For the next 25-30 miles, we just rolled through the paceline, chasing the two guys who never stopped and the two other leaders.

The paceline. I'm already "stretching the elastic" in the middle. The eventual winner is in green and black. Photo courtesy Adam Griffis.
The paceline. I’m already “stretching the elastic” in the middle. The eventual winner is in green and black. Photo courtesy Adam Griffis.

I felt somewhat disingenuous.  I had not ridden my way into this group legitimately.  I decided that I could still earn my place by being a valuable, contributing member to the pace line.  I think I did my job.

When we reached Eagle Harbor, we finally had the leaders in sight.  Then we started up the Eagle Harbor Cutoff Road and my time with the fast guys was over.  5 solid miles of threshold climbing.  20+ minutes of heart rates near 168 bpm.  I watched my whole group just ride away from me.  I started feeling like I had always been climbing this hill, in the whole history of forever.  Providing the Lord tarries (as some churches would say), I would be climbing it until I shook off this mortal coil.  When I finally reached the top, I was all alone with 17 miles of strength-sapping rollers to finish my trek to Copper Harbor.  With my nose in the wind, sweat dropping off my cycling cap despite the 41° temperatures, I willed my legs to keep turning over the pedals.

This picture captures how I felt those last 17 miles. Head bowed, just trying to turn over the pedals.
This picture captures how I felt those last 17 miles. Head bowed, just trying to turn over the pedals.

Eventually I climbed the last pitch to the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge.  I unsteadily rode into the drive way and nearly fell over when I got off my bike.  I really needed to sit down.  I was tired, dead tired, but pleased.  Did I belong in that fast group? Maybe not. Did I still earn every meter of that 70.2 miles? Absolutely.

Cooked.  Photo courtesy Adam Griffis.
Cooked. Photo courtesy Adam Griffis.

Everything in my equipment was perfect.  The Tricross is just a gravel monster.  When I bought it, the Tricross was positioned as a multipurpose cyclocross and “freeroad” bike.  Specialized has since split off the ‘cross stuff into the Crux, but maintains the freeroad designation for the current Tricross.  If I spent more time riding gravel, I can’t think of another bike I’d seriously consider.  (Maybe the Kona Rove.)  The 25c Bontrager R2 tubeless ready tires were excellent.  I could air them down to closer to 85-90 psi and roll comfortably over the gravel while still cruising over the tarmac with comfort and speed.  I had two bottles of Skratch Labs hydration mix (and guzzled down a third when I reached the finish) which kept me from bonking or even having a dehydration headache later in the day.  I fueled with savory rice bars.  Everything was great.

There’s lots of reviews I’m ready to do on some of the newer bits of equipment.  I can say that all of it is very good.

And so kicks off my 2013 cycling season.  I think it’s going to be a good one.

 

Many of the pictures in this post came from photographer Adam Griffis.

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