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Cow Pie Classic 2021

by Michael Green • August 19, 2021

Cow pie makes you think of many things, but a 100k gravel race wasn't my first thought either, more on that in a moment. Beautiful, cobbled downtown Ionia, Michigan was the where we'd be starting and finishing today's race yet because of overnight storms there was a delay as the race director was re-established the route to avoid blocked roads from fallen trees and flooding. So we waited, some what socially distanced.

After half an hour or so, we were off. I'd chosen to race singlespeed and anxiously perused the rear dropouts of the bikes around me trying to determine my foe as I moved closer the the front. I didn't really know what to expect from the race but wanted to sneak into the front groups and hold on as long as I could. The group was large and spread across the road as we left downtown and into the farmland of the lower peninsula and soon onto the gravel back roads. The pace was more than manageable on singlespeed, casual and chatty would be an appropriate description. I'd selected a 42x15 gear ratio knowing that the the rolling course will be mostly flat but did contain the local legend known as Welch Wall.

Without warning the route turned right and into a farm field with a rough track established by little flags. The bumpy cow pasture, complete with fresh cow pies, was causing havoc throughout the peloton that existed prior to the turn. Through the slippery minefield of a cow pasture, along a muddy two track in woods, back through a pasture into a barn and back onto gravel. The last ten minutes or so had blown everything apart. Uneven fields, the afore mentioned cow pies, wet grass and mud had definitely established this race as a classic. I felt fortunate that I had some cyclocross skills in by pocket and was happy to jump off my bike and run as my gearing ran out and others slid in the mud ahead of me. I maintained my position as best I cold.

As we turned right onto gravel I could see the first group of ten to fifteen or so just 50 yards ahead - there was no way I'd catch them alone. I sat up and looked around me trying to determine who was around me and who may be interested in trying to bridge to the other group. We established a group of five and started a pursuit. I was struggling to contribute and pull with the group because of my gearing and the speed yet had made it clear with the group that I'd do what I could and when I could - but we weren't going to catch them, instead our group had expanded to eight as some were spat out of the front group and joined us. There was no way a singlespeeder was ahead of me and felt my confidence rise.

And there we were, pushing the pace as much as possible with an ever shrinking spot on the horizon of the front group and no one behind us. I was barely hanging on at some points, yet had felt that would be the case as I preplanned my day. I was expecting to finish alone, perhaps being spat out by a group when 120 cadence just became too much. I decided to share the pacemaking on the front on any incline including Welch Wall - I struggled up the hill but so did everyone else. Only they were spinning a somewhat easy cadence in comparison, while I stomped our of my seat and onto my pedals.

The course was well marked and the turns were easy to navigate!until the reroute. Here, the directions were non-existent. I had NOT learned from my past experience and downloaded the route and was reliant on others when we missed the unmarked turn. We joined some from the group ahead of us and we literally stood in the middle of an intersection trying to get an idea where the heck the course was. As it happened, no-one was picking up a GPS signal and the whole group was at a loss. Everyone's computer was re-routing and we were lost. I tried my phone and like others, no signal - only later would I found out I'd take 70 artistic photos through the material of my pocket.

The group decided to call a truce and just ride south until the route could be found. As it happened, we were close to Ionia and retraced the route we'd left town on to the race end. We missed 10k somewhere, I was first singlespeed based on speed but eventually excluded from the results because the group cut the course. Average speed for the day was 20.5mph for close to two and a half hours - pretty decent for one gear, damp, heavy roads and big tires. A great workout and fun racing. Bummed with getting lost and NOT downloading a route for the second time this year. I REALLY won't make this mistake again.

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