April 15, 2013

Tour of Hermann Gravel Race 2013

Photo Credit - Dan Singer

Gravel racing seems to be a quickly growing bike racing event.  Just a couple years ago, I had never heard of gravel racing, now these races are popping up all over the place.  Being an adventure racer, this type of racing caught my eye, because in adventure races, we do a lot of gravel riding.
Chuck and I had been watching this sport grow from the sidelines, but last summer Chuck started building a gravel bike, you might have seen his gravel bike build posts.  Well, as soon as he finished his bike, I of course did not want to be left out, so I started shopping for a gravel bike. Chuck built a true adventure bike, so it’s a bit heavy, and like a tank, it can go anywhere.  Me on the other hand, I was thinking about trying some cyclocross this year, so I went with a gravel/cyclocross bike.  It’s much lighter than Chuck’s, and since I’m not as strong as him, it helps me keep up.

Chuck and I showed up about an hour before race time, did all our pre-race rituals, checked-in and picked up our schwag.  We both got a bottle of wine, Chuck picked red and I chose the sparkling grape juice.  I don’t drink much wine.  We also got a jar to fill with gravel, which was kind of cool.

Photo Credit - Dan Singer

We rode over the bridge and out of town, and then turned on to the Katy Trail.  For a few short miles we were on the flat trail, and everyone just took off, I on the other hand hung back, I was almost last at that point, but I knew it was going to be a long day and I just didn’t have it in me to ride fast that early.  I have to warm up for a long time, I’m more of the endurance rider and less of the sprinter.  Chuck was pretty far in front of me, but when I made it to the turn on a paved road section he was waiting for me.  I told him not to let me ruin his race, so drop me and go on, but he said this was just training for him, not to worry.  I do worry though, I don’t want anyone holding back just so I can stay on.  He stuck with me though, the good thing was as the day went on I got stronger, so I didn’t slow him down as much as I thought I would. 
We soon hit all the gravel roads, the rock on the first lap, was mostly small and only deep in spots, most of the time we could pick a line that wasn’t too bad.  The hills on the other hand, SUCKED, they were so steep and so long, but every hill we rode up we would see someone walking, I would think to myself, “you will not walk this hill, even if this bike falls over, you will not walk this hill”, and I didn’t.  Chuck of course made it up all the hills too, there were even a couple hills I beat Chuck up, not many, but a couple.  The down hills were probably more treacherous than the uphills.  They were so steep and the gravel made it really sketchy coming down.  My max speed on the downhills was 40 mph and Chucks was over 41 mph.  On one hills we both hit some deep gravel and started fish tailing.  I think my life was passing before my eyes at that time, but somehow, both of us kept our wheels on the road.  I was so scared that I was shaking at the bottom of the hill, but not to worry, there was another uphill right in front of us, so I was quickly in oxygen debt again and didn’t have time to start crying. 

Photo Credit - Dan Singer

I wish I could explain how big these hills were, the pictures just don’t do them justice.  I was thinking, that riding hills is much easier in the dark because you can’t see how big the hill are, you just keep grinding away until you come to the top.  Chuck and I discussed how we had ridden to the top of the LaSalle Mountains in Utah during the CPT National Adventure race championships, it took us over 6 hours and it was uphill the entire time, but we did most of it in the dark and I think that is what helped us make it to the top. 

We finished the first lap, and refueled at the Adventure Jeep, we probably wasted a little time, we were taking off layers, eating, filling water bottle and packing our pockets with food.  We headed back out for loop two which had longer steeper hills and deeper bigger gravel than lap one.  

Lap 2

I felt pretty good though and I think Chuck was in good shape too.  We were somewhat worried because we thought the cutoff to start lap 3 was at 3:30, but at the start of the race, the race director said it was 2:30, I was thinking he probably just said that in error, but we knew we wouldn’t make it back by 2:30. 

Right from the start of the lap, it was uphill and it seemed to last forever, but it was a paved section of road so at least we wouldn’t have to worry about spinning tires.

Photo Credit - Dan Singer

After the first hill the roads turned to gravel and it was a chunkier, thicker gravel than what was on lap one.  It reminded me of the gravel that you see in a river bottom.

Photo Credit - Dan Singer

The gravel went on and on, the downhills were getting tougher and tougher, plus I was so tired from the uphills, I just didn’t have the strength needed to really control my bike, so I just started loosening my grip and hoped the bike would take me where I wanted to go.  We stopped at the top of a hill where we rode through a small town, and grabbed some food from our pockets, and took off more clothes.  The day was getting warmer, but the wind was making it cool on the downhills. It was really a hard day to dress for. We looked at our watches and the mileage, and knew that we would not make it back by 2:30, but maybe we could be there by 3:30.  We hoped that 3:30 was the cutoff for the third lap. 

Photo Credit - Dan Singer

Once we were back on the road we started passing people, some were just slowing down, others were having mechanical problems. No one needed help, so we just kept riding. As we rode into Hermann, I knew it was going to be really close to the cutoff, but didn’t know just how close.  We made the turn to ride the last hill into the chute and as we were just about to the top we heard the announcer say, “we have just reached the cutoff time”.  We finished in 6:30:30, just 30 seconds too late to start the third lap. 
On one hand I was upset because I wanted to do the full 3 laps, on the other hand I was secretly glad because I was so tired that the last lap would have been brutal.  The good thing was, when we rode back to the jeep there were racers everywhere who did not go out on the third lap, so we didn’t feel like real losers at all.  We stopped and talked to our friend Wendy, who is in great shape and she made the decision not to do the third lap, so now we felt a lot better.  Chuck made a good point too, we could still walk after the ride and we had a really fun time with good memories, so maybe not riding the third lap was a way of keeping the memories good because I know I would not have finished that last lap with any good memories.

Photo Credit - Wendy Davis

So our first gravel race went really well, we both want to do more.  I do need to have my brakes looked at and Chuck needs to learn that it’s ok to drop me, but all in all, it was a beautiful day, spent riding bikes with good friends, you really can’t ask for more than that.  

Oh, and one last thing, I love my new Cannondale SuperX, I will have a bike review coming soon. 

Thanks to the race sponsors for having this race, and having such great support out on the course, I think I saw the race truck about 50 times, it was always around when someone needed help.  Like the guy on the ground that looked like he broke his collarbone. See neither Chuck nor I broke anything and we didn’t have any mechanical problems, well Chuck dropped his chain once, but I don’t think that counts.


  1. Sounds like a great day. I rode pavement Saturday and overdressed. I decided to just sweat it out and call it training for the warmer weather that must come at some point. Did you stop and pick up some gravel along the way?

  2. Sounds like a good time. Maybe I'll come out of retirement from bike racing and do one of these races. I had a great time in Wisconsin so I'm not feeling like I missed out though.

  3. great report - thanks for making the trip to Hermann