By: Christina Vipond
This was my first opportunity to race Hart Hills The Classic Gravel Road Race. I have never ridden this course in previous years and since it was a last minute addition, there wasn’t time for a pre-ride. That may have turned out to be a good thing.
I did look at the profile on Strava so I knew there was 3000 feet of climbing that included a long, steep climb about 40 miles into the 55 mile race. I did a quick look at the route but figured it would be marked well so no need to study or download it onto my computer.
I did a pre race ride the day before from my home and noted how hard the wind was blowing. The weather report indicated there would continue to be 10 mph winds with gusts the next day. Hills and wind, no problem.
Race day! I arrived in Hart around 8 am to get my packet and to get a good warm up ride in. I rode the finish of the course, which was pavement with some small rollers and downhill to the finish line, much better than a climb at the end.
The 55 mile racers lined up for a mass start at 10 am. The organizer, Raymond Passchier, was making announcements about how the rain did not help the road conditions as they had hoped for. He was also announcing sand at mile 23, a large pothole at mile 32 so stay to the left, and a couple of well marked areas of “rough road”. I was trying to keep mental notes. We started downtown, made a few quick turns, and we were climbing gravel in no time. The wind didn’t seem too bad and the temperature warmed up enough to be comfortable. Then the fun really started.
It only took a couple more turns and we were riding into a strong head wind. No problem, just stay on a wheel, there can’t be a headwind the entire ride. Another turn onto a seasonal road and the thought of “hang on, there is some sand”. I managed that area of sand and was thinking back to the pre-race course announcements, I wasn’t even close to mile 23 yet. Another turn and more sand, and wind, and climbing. Finally, a stretch of true gravel road with a break from riding through the sand, except now there was a cross wind that was blowing the bike all over the place.
I have difficulty grabbing food out of my vest pockets so I was told about the “lick em and stick em” trick for Clif cubes. I decided to try it for this race, two rows of cubes on the tube, ready to give a burst of energy. I quickly learned two rows is not a good idea, a couple fell off in the first few miles but overall the trick was working, at least for the first hour.
By the second hour of the race, the remaining cubes were coated with dust. The wind continued with strong gusts. The sand continued to be constant as well. I was riding a section of gravel road which was pretty much loose sand when I saw a man getting his mail from his mailbox. He looked at me and smiled. I told him I didn’t know I was going to have so much fun riding today. He responded with, “You are a long way from Hart”. This was followed by a short section of pavement which felt so nice to just ride without sand and gusting winds. Then I saw the sign for a sharp right turn. As I got closer, I saw it wasn’t just a sharp turn, but a downhill turn onto a washed out, sandy two-track. I started laughing and asked the volunteer “seriously?” He had a funny smile and shrugged his shoulders.
Somewhere during the third hour of the race, I crested a hill and saw a big pothole, there was no choice but to stay to the left just as the race director had announced. The wind was still gusting when I hit some rollers and barely felt like I was moving going downhill. I was pretty sure I was going to get blown back up. There was another sandy two-track that I was not able to navigate cleanly and had to get off the bike. I grabbed the tube, completely forgetting about the cubes and knocked the remaining 4 into the sand. There was a brief thought of “I should grab those” before coming to my senses. I was near the 40 mile mark and expecting to turn onto a gravel road for the long, steep climb I had noted from the road profile. I rounded a corner on the seasonal road and, of course there it was, not on a gravel road.
I had only 10 miles left and I knew the last few were pavement and downhill. I was excited to hit pavement with about 8 miles remaining. But there was that gusty crosswind and an open farm field, which put me in a complete dust out for a few seconds. A little more gravel and then pavement I recognized from the warm-up ride! I was ready for the downhill finish but one more gust of wind made me stop riding completely because it was pushing me into the lane of an oncoming truck, Mother Nature exerting herself one last time.
Three hours and 39 minutes of hills, wind and sand! Hart Hills The Classic Gravel Road Race 2021 was the most challenging course I have raced yet. It was also the course that made me laugh the most. Raymond and all the volunteers did a fantastic job. I know what to expect from this race next year!