The Leland Kermesse was one of the hardest things i've ever done on a bike. there are two things that truly define the race: wind and gravel. both were in ample supply today.
the race was slated to be longer than last year's edition, with the Cat 4s doing 100km (approx 62 miles). last week's Hillsboro-Roubaix was the same distance, and i wasn't about to make the same mistake and not finish this one. all the preparation i made to do a very proper warm-up went to pot when we finally arrived, after a few detours. when we stepped out of the car, a cold northerly wind belted us into shivers. i registered as quickly as possible, got my bike set up and determined riding the trainer would have been far too uncomfortable. i spun up and down the roads leading into Leland for a while and lined up with the 4's sooner, rather than later. i had a decent spot behind Hemme and Ben. soon enough, we were off.
the course started off on some very fresh tarmac, some of the nicer surfaces i've ever been on. the wind came at the peloton from the side, and i thanked myself for choosing shallow-section rims for today. the deep carbon riders were waving side to side in the crosswinds, but everyone managed to stay upright if not quite in the right lane. i held ground in the top 1/3 of the field and filled as much space as i could, determined to not be on the wrong end of the accordion around the turns. we made a turn north and the pack buckled under the headwind to a crawl. i stayed in the field and did my best to keep my legs fresh for the inevitable attacks.
a few miles in, we took our first left turn onto the gravel. most of the transitional areas between gravel and pavement were extremely soft and deep, sending many of the first riders into disarray. an Iron Cycles rider lost his footing ahead of me and the field carved through the squishy gravel around him. as i passed, i suddenly saw, out of the corner of my eye, another rider heading nearly perpendicular to my direction. i tried to avoid him but we collided, sending me down across the gravel and into the grass shoulder opposite where i entered the road. another rider, with little steerage or brakes, crashed into my bike and into me, with one XXX rider attempting, but failing, a bunny hop over my body. i stood up, bruised, but surprisingly not broken. the Specialized Tricross i set up the week before was still in seemingly perfect shape so i picked myself up and kept going.
the rider who ran me over picked up and we worked a bit through the punishing wind and gravel, back onto pavement at the always-welcomed flag of the flemish lion and what seemed to be a nice respite ahead on a southbound turn onto more gravel. we cornered, and suddenly were at breakneck speed with the tailwind. we were behind the main field by no more than a half a mile. then, i glanced down at my stem and realized i didn't have my Garmin unit attached anymore. not wanting to sacrifice an expensive piece of equipment for a race i was unlikely to win, i turned and headed back to find it. i passed Joe from Super Ape, who had just flatted, and he informed me that the pit truck had seen it and picked it up. In turning around, i lost any hope of regaining the field! somewhat dejected but not willing to quit the race i headed back down the road.
i caught up with a few riders who had not hung on, and we worked a bit down the road into the second lap. through in the second lap, everyone dropped from us except Daryl from Cuttin Crew. we paired up and echeloned for quite a ways, picking up Ben VC, who struck a pothole and very nearly ruined his rear wheel. Ben eventually dropped on the mechanical, but Daryl and i kept it up, enjoying the ride and putting in the effort that the race deserved. the second lap fell, then on to the third, then onto the fourth lap. we exchanged electrolyte pills and what meager calories we had, and kept cranking.
the road was largely empty, save for some packs from other fields that had the benefit of more than just two people. we kept our distance, knowing that as long as we finished we'd be ahead of much of our race— if only because we finished. the war of attrition saw dozens of riders on the side of the road or dropping out. i needed to finish the race and do it as strong as possible. the old rally racing adage "Press On Regardless" kept turning over in my head. i kept my legs turning the pedals and after a while they were doing it on their own. i could feel them, but only in a detached sort of way.
after the most grueling gravel-into-headwind section on the fourth lap, we started catching more and more Cat 4 riders. up ahead were Jeremiah and Isaiah from Half Acre, Avi from Cuttin Crew and Lew from Rhythm Racing. we charged together into the southbound gravel. i could feel my legs ignoring the pain and some new life entered them, knowing that the end of the race was so close.
we turned left to head to the finish, and despite saying earlier that i didn't want to sprint, i asked our small group if they were in for a good finish after all, and we leaped to our feet. i took the sprint from Isaiah by a bike length and pantomimed a winning flourish across the line (to some jeers as well as cheers). i was spent, and was at odds between just crumpling into a ball of pain or spinning out as best i could. after a quick moon pie handup from Heenan (i think, i was dizzy), i fortunately decided to spin it out.
after that i collapsed. it was not only one of the hardest things i've ever done but one of the most awesome as well. i survived the war of attrition for 38th out of 95 starters. 28 out of those 95 didn't finish.
Flatlandia put together a race truly deserving of the word "epic" that i am sure to remember the rest of my days.