Pony Xpress Gravel (April 20, 2024)

After grabbing a number plate and a T-shirt:

— Hey, one last thing. Where should I put my drop bag?

— Umm, you can leave it right here, — says the volunteer, pointing at the corner of the registration tent, — but I can’t guarantee it will get to the aid station. So, if there’s something you really need, you better take it with you.

That’s a USAC-sanctioned event where, in addition to a registration fee, you actually need a license to participate. Hillarious, right? Well, not even close to how I was about to ruin the day for myself.

Well, now I have to make a decision: either I’m carrying all my drink mixes with me (2L in the bottles and 2L more in the vest), or I ditch the vest and grab some water and gels from the aid station. Given how reliable the aid station situation was, I went for a mule mode. Now that I don’t have to stop anywhere, it buys me some time, which I could now spend enjoying a smooth downhill into the wrong turn and a 15-minute-long grind back up. All for the better — more bike riding for me and two dudes who followed me blindly! Good times.

But all that is still far ahead. First, I need to dress up and toe the start line. I knew very well what the weather was gonna be like, so I came prepared: arm and knee warmers, torso base layer, wind stopper, even a skull cap. F**K! Gloves!

For a few minutes, I was determined to commit suicide out of negligence: start with naked hands and see what happens. But right after the anthem and a few seconds before the gun went off, I shoved the dignity deeply up my bibs and asked one of the volunteers if he had a spare pair of gloves. He and another gentleman kindly offered me their gloves with no hesitation whatsoever. I was insanely grateful at that moment, but only later in the day, I realized that I still wasn’t grateful enough. Even with insulated gloves, my pinkies felt frozen to death. At some point, I had to take my gloves off to check my fingers visually. I couldn’t really tell if they were still there or not. Fortunately, I had an opportunity to return the gloves to their owner at the finish line. We had a good chat, and I did my best to express how big of a difference his kindness made to me. DNFing would’ve been absolutely inevitable otherwise.

Go time

To be perfectly candid (I can’t get that phrase out of my head because Brooklyn 99 is so good), there’s not much to report here. I went pretty hard from the start, and somehow, the legs were there with me until the end of the ride. So, I just kept pushing all the way. Obviously, there were spots where I had to back off a little bit to recover, but I never felt like I was done.

The course is gorgeous. For the most part. County roads 48.8 and 29.1 are tough enough even when dry, but with all that Spring mud and what seems to be zero maintenance — it’s certainly a point where you can make up quite some time if you have what it takes. I rode that part more in the survival mode and even lost two spots to stronger riders (pretty sure I took those back soon after). In hindsight — it was the right approach, given how strong I felt for the remaining part of the race (still 40 miles to go, with some punchy climbs along the way). But besides that 10km (6 miles) stretch — the roads were silky smooth and dry. My fast-rolling tires felt right on the money.

Up until the 5-hour mark, the temperatures were still around 1°C (34°F). Only then, around 1 o’clock, did the sun come out to raise our spirits. And soon after we finished, the clouds came back, this time with some pouring rain. I can’t believe I’m saying that, but kudos to race organizers for an early-morning start that kept us out of trouble!


Often, after the race, I keep thinking that I could’ve done better (or just differently) here and there. Somehow, not this time. I feel like I’ve executed a nearly perfect race, and I don’t see what could I possibly improve besides keeping up the hard work. And for that wrong turn we took — I’ll blame the lack of course marking. That won’t hurt the race crew’s karma, given how kind they were to me that day.

PS: I dig that sweet number plate with the rider's first name on it, so I'll leave it here: