|Posted on May 15, 2021 at 6:55 PM|
Silver City Century
May 8, 2021
If you’ve ever lived in or driven through the Midwest, you’ve seen a town like Silver City, IA. Blink-and-
you-miss-it, stripped of everything but the essentials: post office, bike shop, bar. At 7 AM on a typical
Saturday, it would be empty and quiet. On May 8 th , it was full up with over a hundred cyclists set to
contest the first round of the Iowa Gravel Series.
I’d made the trip the previous afternoon with two teammates: Jeff, a tried-and-true diesel who loves the
smashfest racing of gravel; and Jason, owner of Ames Cycling center, experienced racer, Ames Velo
Home Town Hero sponsor, and shadow bike mayor of Ames. We prepared in the only way we know
how: staying up late shooting the shit, laying out a rigid schedule that would have us on the rollers
warming up by 6:15, and then failing to execute any part of it. After a quick warmup on the road (we
were on the bikes by 6:45), we set off at the head of the group. We’d reconned the first six miles of the
course the night before, so we knew the start was crammed full of steep rollers. We stayed at the front
expecting the pace to be high. For the most part, we were wrong, with all the contenders more or less
waiting for someone else to lift the pace. After some feeler attacks, a two-man move rolled clear around
mile 13, containing Hanwei Wang of GP Velotek and Jason Simpson of Sakari. Several in the group
seemed worried that we’d let Hanwei sneak away to a quick gap of 30-45 seconds, though none were
worried enough to hit the front themselves to chase him back. Jason had a full three teammates in our
group as well, doing all they could to disrupt any attempt at organization. The result was that Hanwei
and Jason were quickly out of sight, and the rest of us resorted to the two-speed strategy of haymaker
bridge attempts and soft pedaling that, while great fun, isn’t great bang for the buck, gap management
wise. Still, I knew the race was long, the course was dynamic, and there would be chances later in the
race to make a difference. The pace settled a little as we made our way through rain-damp B roads,
more rolling hills, and the occasional two-block downtown, battered the whole way by steady 20mph
At the 30-mile mark, with the pace slowing a bit and the gap to the break stuck at around two minutes, I
made my move. Laying off the group on a descent, I carried my speed as the group bunched up in the
crosswind, and put in a big attack that finally snapped the elastic. I settled in, keeping my eyes peeled
for the pair up the road. Once I could see them, I used landmarks to track my gap to them, and after 10
miles, the bridge was complete. Simpson was long past the point of playing poker (“have fun, boys!”)
and left Hanwei and I to duke out the final 20 miles. I quickly saw that I had a decision to make: with an
hour of racing to go, I typically would have worked with Hanwei to consolidate our gap to the rest of the
field. However, I’d made the catch at the beginning of a 7-mile section of B road, littered with tight turns
and punchy climbs. Thinking it might be my best chance to get clear, I hit Hanwei with a series of attacks
that looked initially like they would come to nothing: the dude did not lack for strength and toughness.
When I finally got clear, I knew that if I could avoid catastrophe, I could cruise in for my first win of the
And then I ate a three-course buffet of catastrophe.
With 13 miles to go, I knew I’d be making a U-turn off the gravel, and onto a section of grass that was a
mile and a half long. Having ridden extensively on the prairie paths of the Ames Velo Crushed Rock
Classic course, I thought I was prepared for this. I was not. The section was the topographical equivalent
of riding a mechanical bull. A quarter mile in, my fears had evolved from my ability to maintain my gap,
to the potential deflation of one or both tires, and finally to the deflation of one or both testicles.
Luckily, I found a smoother, faster line in a rut on the side of the path, and while I still had to contend
with craters, the sporadic abrupt disappearance of the rut, and the 50km riders who were riding the
same section in the opposite direction, I managed to limp out of the section with gap, tires, and
That’s when the cramps arrived.
We all know the despondent feeling when a twinge, becomes a grab, becomes a full-on triple hamstring
knot. I had enough mobility to unclip and shake/punch the leg into functionality again, but I knew I’d
have to be very careful in the final 30 minutes to avoid further setbacks. All the while, I could see
Hanwei grinding away behind me. Luckily for me, the huge tailwind and constant rolling hills played to
my advantage. I could dig up the climbs and use the descents to freewheel, massage my legs, and take
on fuel. The gap came down, but I was able to hold it at 30-40 seconds without putting my muscles back
into the danger zone. I was home free. Glory, fame, and a post-race pork tenderloin sandwich at the
aforementioned bar my just desserts.
And then it got majorly embarrassing.
The final three miles of the race were on the historic Wabash Trace bike path. Because it’s a narrow,
multi-use path that couldn’t be closed, we’d been told that those miles would be neutral. The order in
which we got onto the path would determine our placing. As I approached what would be the final
intersection, my Garmin told me there were 3.4 miles to go, or 0.4 miles left to be raced. It also told me
to turn right, while the only sign on course pointed to the left. I slowed and considered this dilemma. I
knew that the Trace was 0.4 miles away. To my right, I could see for about a mile and couldn’t see a turn
onto the Trace. To my left was a short, steep hill. The Trace, I imagined, would make itself visible at the
top of the hill. I turned left and crested the hill to find no sign of the Trace. Turning around, I saw Hanwei
smoothly make the right turn I’d forsaken. At that point, there wasn’t enough road left; all I could do
was cruise in for the defeat I’d snatched from the jaws of victory.
My own idiocy aside, the Silver City Century was a welcome return to racing for me. The legs were good,
the course was dynamic, and I still had that pork tenderloin afterward.
Distance: 62.8 miles
Speed: 19.1 mph