From Shadd: I’ll start off by saying I really, really, really, like riding bikes but more than that I would say that racing them is even better. I am racing for the Steve Tilford Foundation Racing Team in honor of my teammate and world class bike racer, Steve Tilford.
I realized from the start list that it was going to be fast and furious from the gun with well known riders who can absolutely hammer that distance. The race did not disappoint. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 700-800 riders rolled out of Emporia, KS at 7am to start their individual gravel journey. I had two goals for the race, finish on the podium in the overall classification and to win my age group. The race started fast as expected as we rolled through relatively mild gravel for the first hour.
Looming at approximately the 30-mile mark was what I would call a technical wagon trail where there was only a small strip gravel/rock on either side of the road. Some of it was washed out with ruts and other parts had super sharp large rocks. This is where the riders in the know were jockeying for position at the front end of the group. It reminded me of Paris-Roubaix where riders fight for position before entering a technical section of pave to keep clear of the mayhem. Super freaking exciting. Loved every minute of it. I was roaming in the top 10 leading up to this section, so all good so far. We were absolutely flying when we hit this section. It didn’t take long to realize some people were riding faster than their skill level. Boom! Rider off the trail. Boom! Rider blows a tire. Boom! Rider crashes. So far steering clear of the carnage until the ultimate crash happened two riders in front of me. We were hauling ass. It appeared that a guy was wedged in a rut and tried to deviate his line and completely washed out his front wheel. This sent him off the bike and tumbling on gnarly rock. The guy behind him was on a point of no return and also crashed about a bike and a half length in front of me. Oh Fu..! While braking hard I got over the back of my seat bracing for impact when all of the sudden the guy landed under his bike and his rear wheel facing me ended up being my ramp out of danger. It was like slow motion kinda shit going on. One millisecond I thought I was going to crash and the next millisecond I was bunny hopping a guy and his bike. Effen A! Free and clear! This is where the beauty of racing took shape.
The remainder of the front group was the Who’s Who of the hard nosed: Stephen Hyde (my teammate and multiple Elite National Champion in Cyclocross), David Wiens (six time winner of Leadville 100), Tinker Juarez, one of my hero’s of dirt (pro mtn biker, pro bmx’r, silver medalist in the World Championships…and the list goes on), Nate Maddox, John Croom, Lauren Stevens, Chris Brown (3rd place overall 2019, 1st in age-group), and…me. Because of the crash in front of me I had to make a huge effort to bridge back to this group. After about 1.5miles of absolutely going all in I made it to the front. Now the real work started. With no time to recover I entered the rotation and we were free and clear and hauling ass. Smashing the hills and crushing the descents we were gone! Enter the song, AC/DC-Back in Black!!! This is what is beautiful about bike racing and the sacrifice I go through to be present. My teammate, Stephen was by far looking and riding the best. As the group hit one of the steep punchy climbs we dropped Chris Brown. The pace never let up. On another technical chunky climb Lauren Stephens disconnected from the group. Tinker was next to disappear and I believe he flatted while at the rear end of the group? Things were certainly looking good for the moment until they weren’t.
Approximately 10 miles out from the feed zone check point we flew through a quick down and up rough and chunky as hell section and Psssssss! Flatted my rear tire. Stephen heard this and held up and asked if I needed anything and offered to wait for me to fix it. That’s a solid teammate. I told him no, but thanks, and best of luck winning the race. It was hard to watch this group roll away with my chance to podium in the overall or better yet, take 1st and 2nd with my teammate, which was totally possible. The quick assessment of the situation yielded a cracked rim and slightly split tire near the edge of the rim. The first CO2 quickly shot sealant out of split in the tire AND the broken rim but stopped when at a super low pressure. Screw it! Jump on and ride until it goes flat again was my best plan. By this time Chris Brown and Lauren Stephen passed me separately and I told them both good luck and away they went. I nursed the tire through the remainder of the chunky section and finally got to milder gravel. I had to stop 5 more times to fill up the tire. If the tire and wheel could make it to the check point I had a fresh set of wheels waiting with my pit crew.
I was solo and hammering now and caught sight of Lauren who I was fast approaching. We linked up and started our rotation to the check point. My pit crew: Eric Nelson, my son Finn, Oona, Sarah Nelson, Liam Ellis were ready as expected and were so BOSS! As I entered the pit I see Finn with the 3-way, the others with wheels, bottles, and hydration pack. What a sight!!! It happened so quick. I was in and out of there so fast! After about a mile I rode back up to Lauren and we proceeded to restart the hammer fest. I caught a glimpse way up the road and it appeared that we were reeling Chris Brown back in. Eventually we did catch him and he latched on and we all agreed that we would hammer to the finish.
At one point I made the mistake of asking Chris how young he was and found out that we were in the same age group and that if we went to the line together one of us would be the winner of our age group. Well, this is where the race within the race started. He won last year and for certain wanted to repeat that so tactics were definitely going to be used. We exited the last section of gravel at mile 103 ish and rolled onto the pavement. That’s when the end-of-race tactics started. I was leading our group of 3 and slow rolled the road leading up to the final climb on the ESU Campus fully expecting to attack or be attacked. Sure enough, Chris launched a full assault from the bottom of the climb to just over the top with me in tow. I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to respond and not be stressed at all by the situation. I assume Chris quickly realized that it was now his job to get rid of me if he wanted to win the age group. We hit the final 300 meter finish line straight and I was locked on to his wheel waiting for the right moment to launch my sprint. Chris started the acceleration first with me tucked in his draft. I hit the gas and went around him in full stride for the line. I easily beat him in the sprint to finish the race in 5th place overall and 1st in my age group.
My teammate, Stephen Hyde ended up winning the race which was icing on the cake. All-in-all I could not think of a better thing to be experiencing on a Saturday in beautiful Kansas. Big shout out to my Coach, Adam Mills, of Source Endurance (www.source-e.net) for ALWAYS keeping me in top form. The training plan I was on in 2020 and into 2021 totally paid off. Being able to confidently go full gas from the start to finish of a 105mile race felt amazing. Happy Trails ya’ll.