The weather for this years Red Dog was just about perfect race weather. Overcast skies with temps in the mid 50’s to lower 60’s and light breeze from the west provided pleasant conditions all day long. 93 riders took the line in front of Red Wheel Bike Shop, just a few hundred meters west of the Missouri State Capitol building in Jefferson City.
Tradewind Energy, Dirty Dog Race Pack (DDRP,) and Move Up Off-Road (MOUR) brought large contingents to the race and their presence was noticeable in the early miles. It was fun to see that many riders riding down the giant spiral ramp to get down from the Missouri River Bridge to the river bottom. Fortunately, everyone made it down safely and collected back together while one of the race promoters, Josh Schrock, continued the neutral roll out.
The first 10 miles were pancake flat, river bottom gravel roads with a slight tailwind that kept the lead group of 20-30 riders at a respectable 20mph average. There were a couple of single riders that went off the front, but no major reactions from the group as a whole. A few steep climbs brought us out of the river bottom and into the magnificent tree lined gravel roads of central Missouri. The fall colors were in full effect, and for a moment I forgot about the inevitable pain that surely awaited me later in the race.
Occasionally a rider from Tradewind Energy would launch off the front, but the move was always covered by one of the Move Up riders. Around mile 10, MOUR teammate Justin Leopold took a flyer and within a couple miles he was well out of sight. As we turned left to travel the ½ mile or so into the first of two SAGs at mile 37, the group had nearly come together with only Justin Leopold climbing out of the park entrance with about a 5-minute lead. We all made a quick turn for water and a bite to eat before remounting for the climb back up to the main road. After leaving the SAG more attacks came with a few riders from Tradewind and Move UP going clear of the main field.
By mile 55 there was still a large group of 15 or so riders comprising the main field, but it wasn’t long before the détente was over and the pressure started getting applied. For me, the next 18 miles were the decisive ones of the race as I got popped off the back of a group of about 5 that launched ahead of the field. Fortunately for me, I had two strong teammates in Joe Kleidosty and Roger Williams to collect me up. After a few minutes of collecting myself, I was ready to put my head down again in an effort to keep Roger ahead in the Masters division.
Up to this point in the race the terrain had been rolling hills, with no major climbs we had to claw up. Miles 70 to 90 was where the real monsters were waiting. Things always get a little fuzzy for me at this point in races, but I remember at least 3 or 4 huge climbs on loose, chunky gravel that took everything I had just to stay on the bike. There were no shortage of people who blew themselves up on these climbs. The descents were not to be taken lightly either. The combination of steep grades, loose gravel, and hairpin turns made me pucker more than once.
Waiting for us at the bottom of the last descent was a very welcome sight – a surprise SAG with hotdogs! I desperately wanted to stop for one, but my desire to hold my position and finish the race was greater. With a heavy heart and one last longing glance, I waved and rode on to face the final 20 miles. I knew the final miles were flat as we were back in the Missouri River bottoms on our way back to the city.
I envisioned myself down in the drops, crushing the last part of the race. What actually happened is I took a detour into the pain cave and struggled just to hold the wheel of my teammate Paul Erickson who was kind enough not to stomp me even though he easily could have. We thought we were in the clear, checking over the shoulder occasionally to see if others were approaching. All of a sudden, two riders from Tradewind Energy appeared out of nowhere.
Apparently there was, let’s just say a confusing turn at mile 86 that many riders, including the 2 leaders at the time, missed. It may have been mismarked or more likely, put down by some bystander to throw people off, but that’s another story all together. Paul and I fell into line with the other two and we pulled hard into a slight headwind as the miles ticked off ever so slowly. With about 5 to go my batteries and spirit were spent and I had to let the other 3 go. Finally, I could see the airport and knew that all I had to do was wind my way back up the spiral ramp and cross the river. It really is an awesome way to finish the race, riding straight down a large avenue towards the huge Capitol Building.
The race was an amazing experience with a unique and challenging route, great SAG support, and awesome sights.
I’d like to thank Vie 13 Kustom Apparel for outfitting us on the Move Up Off-Road team with awesome kits. My Warnny is my new favorite piece of cycling gear!
I want to thank Don Daly and Josh Schrock for organizing another classic gravel grinder. These guys really are some of the best stewards that the local and regional cycling community has. As a side note, these guys also put on one of the toughest races in the country every April called The EPIC 150. If you want a challenge worth bragging about check it out at http://epic150.com/ .
Special thanks to Nick Smith and Red Wheel Bike Shop for opening up his shop to all of us and being a fantastic sponsor of the race.
Thanks also to James Froese for donating some of his beautiful artwork as a prize to the winner. If you don’t know, Mr. Froese is a huge supporter of central Missouri cycling and his generosity is above and beyond. Take the time and look up his artwork at http://jjfroese.com/wp/ .
Finally, thanks to all my fellow racers who were brave enough to toe the line for this late season gravel century. Your camaraderie, toughness, and support are what makes this sport so special.