2019 Skinny Tire Cycling Year in Review – Gravel and Cyclocross

With snowfall and bitter cold at the end of October it seemed that fat biking season was coming early. But we got a reprieve this past weekend with a glorious few degrees above zero and fast gravel. I think it might be the last time I ride the gravel bike until next year, given that we’ve got fat biking on the plan for tomorrow night!

So given that gravel’s done…. I thought I’d recap a few events from 2019.

The Shackleton – Early March
Six intrepid riders set out for an early season gravel ride. I’ve skipped this one before as it has been pretty chilly in the past, but this time it was nicely warm. The fun part of that of course is that the dirt roads get soft and muddy. I was sure someone (me?) was going to tear a derailleur off, but we managed just fine and I managed to ride some snowy sections that were definite improvements for my bike-handling over past years. Although only ~65 km, it was a big effort and that would be a bit of a theme for the early season rides…

RCC Gravel Roubaix – Early April
So, on the topic of long short rides… this one takes the cake! The weather prior to the race wasn’t fantastic – driving up to Craven, I was a bit worried about how to deal with the temperature and potential for rain. It rained just enough to keep the dust down (good) and I made the right decision to ditch my jacket (also good), but the wind was absolutely punishing (not good)! The course was a ~30 km loop with 2 valley climbs each lap and then an uphill finish. At the start, a friend of mine asked if I wanted to give it a go for the ladies win, and offered to work for me. It sounded like fun – I said I’d go as hard as I could!

Thankfully the first climb was neutral, and so I got a chance at hanging in. I went with a few surges, but I need to work on my high end because after a few moves, I was off the back. I called out to Adele to let her know and true to her word she peeled off and covered me. We worked together for a bit and eventually caught up with 2 other riders (Dane and Lou), and Adele rode up to them and asked if they’d ride for me. They agreed and suddenly I had 3 people keeping me sheltered in the brutal and unforgiving wind. We kept a hot pace (beyond what I would have expected for myself) and I got a nice mid-ride boost by Steve B who helped me over a roller when I was getting detached. After the final climb with about 5 km to the finish we were caught by the lady’s race favourite and Dane and I tried to chase her down but I just didn’t have the legs. I thought I’d tip over at the finish line, coming in for second with Adele not too far behind.

This was a major milestone for me. One of my goals for the season was to do both “long” gravel races, and it was also the first time I had really worked with a group through the entirety of a race. I’m used to being the protected rider, as Mike usually rides out front when we’re touring, but it was neat to work with people other than him in a similar capacity. And I was pretty pleased with my climbing – I wasn’t the fastest by any stretch of the imagination, but I stuck with it and chose good enough lines to make it up in scrubby conditions. I definitely felt like I had improved with loose gravel conditions after a winter of fat-biking too.

The 6th Annual FUNdo – June
Another wet day – this time wet enough that the race organizers decided to go with a shorter route with a bit more pavement and no dirt farm roads. I hung in for the long race, settling in with a small group for most of it. It was a really enjoyable day in the end… 2 laps of a 54 km route, and a reprieve from the last punishing dirt climb I look forward to every year. It had turned into gumbo and so we climbed the paved way up instead. I finished second out of three women and I’m looking forward to tackling the long ride again next year!

Cyclocross – Fall
I went for the long race in cyclocross as well! I had wanted to do the full 6 race Provincial Series, but I ended up working a couple weekends instead. I still managed to do the long race for the Regina weekend. It was fun, and looooooong. I worked SO hard and ended up being lapped only once by the guys each day. I’ve made some improvements from last year, but next year I’d like to maybe be able to hop the change rooms that are on the route every year.

Overall I feel a bit more confident on the gravel this year, and I am glad I made the jump for the long races. I’ve really upped the mileage on and off road this year. I’m looking forward to taking another crack at the long races next year. I will try and make it to at least one Saskatoon cyclocross weekend, and I’d like to head down to Wyoming or the Dakotas for one or two of those gravel races too. Here’s to 2020!