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Iowa Gravel Classic: By Matt Denis

Posted on July 14, 2021 at 8:05 PM

Iowa Gravel Classic 7/3/21


A highlight of last year’s pandemic-ravaged season was the Iowa Gravel Classic: because it actually happened, sure, but also because it’s a beautiful course in Whiterock Conservancy, full of rollers, B roads, and strong racers. In that 100km edition last year, I also managed to overzealously attack my way out of a podium spot, and so I arrived this year with some vengeance on the brain. A year wiser and more mature, and knowing the race was 100 MILES this year, I vowed to keep a lid on the attacks and let the race come to me, trusting that I could win late from a small group sprint.


We rolled out at 7:00 AM and got a preview for the entire course in the first five miles. A section of B road, followed by endless punchy rollers. The first hour of the race was relatively tame, outside of the occasional surge up a steep part of a climb, or an elastic-stretching attack out of the tight turns onto the rough B roads. Above and Beyond Cancer (ABC) had two riders in the race: Adam Ventling (last year’s winner), and Hayden Warner, who I knew from the Colfax Gravel Race earlier this year was full of watts himself. I kept an eye on those two, figuring they would be the ones to dictate the shape of the race.


Around mile 35, we approached a section of B road that had been highlighted by the organizers as being particularly rough. As the group was still 15 people strong at this point, I used the hill preceding the section to stretch the pack out so that I could be first onto the treachery. Cyclocross wizard Brian West followed me, a gap was opened, and we dropped into some gnarly territory at about 30mph downhill. Following Brian is an exercise in Go Fast Don’t Die, but we both stayed upright, jumping from rut to rut to avoid large rocks. On the first steep uphill pitch of the sector, I looked back to see that we had about a 30 second gap at just about exactly the same time that Brian flatted. With a mile of rough stuff to go, I stayed on the power, thinking that while I wouldn’t commit to the break (there were still 62 miles to ride, after all), I would ride my pace out of the B road and give them a tougher time catching up. Maybe ABC would have to use up one of their riders chasing. For the next 10 miles, I rode tempo, and the gap hovered at around 45 seconds. Another 10 miles of tempo later, it was over a minute. Turning off of a tailwind section on a wide paved road, I found the steepest, rockiest set of climbs on the day, gave it the beans, and could see on the other side that the chase group had completely fractured. With 40 miles still left to ride, I finally started to believe that the move could stick.


In a solo break that long, you go through a month’s worth of emotions in a few hours. I was elated at how good my fitness seemed to be; paranoid that someone was chasing hard and closing the gap, always in the valley of the roller before where I couldn’t see them; panicked that the grabs in my legs would turn to full blown cramps; baffled at how slowly the final 20 miles were ticking by. By the final 10 miles, I was fully convinced that the miniscule amount of energy I had left would still be sufficient to take the win. I rolled home 4:00 ahead of second place, wrecked but happy to have had the legs to take my first win in a very long time.


The moral of the story, obviously, is that maturity is completely overrated.




Distance 96 miles

Climbing 7600’

Time 4:59

Avg Speed 19.4 mph

Avg Power/NP 248/285

Avg HR 161

Lessons Learned from Last Year 0



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