Twilight of the Gods: By Luke Francl

The Minnesota Ironman bills itself as the season-opening cycling event. The Ragnarök is like that, except 3 weeks earlier, 10 miles longer, with 5000 more feet of climbing, no support, and on gravel. And, oh yeah, it’s free. For the Upper Midwest’s growing gravel racing community, this is the Spring Classic.

When registration time rolled around, I was nervous about sending in my card. Would I be ready to ride that far, that early? With only 105 riders drawn, I doubted my number would come up. But on the day the list was posted, there was my name. Well, sort of. “Luck Francl” isn’t my given name, but I sort of liked it (and took it as a sign I need to improve my penmanship). Of my usual riding companions, there was no one…

Time to get serious about training. I checked Marla Streb’s One Hundred Days to One Hundred Miles out of the library and left it on my nightstand for 9 weeks. Also, I participated in the Winter Bike Pub Crawl. (OK, in March I started getting out on the bike for real, and I also signed up for a spin class.)

Race day arrived with good weather for biking, mid-50s and cloudy without much wind, but a chance of rain later in the day (important for slowpokes like me). The group roll out led to the first hill, Lehrbach, and the race was on.

The roads were excellent in general, with some big sections of smooth, hard-packed clay that’s a joy to ride on. Even some of the minimum maintenance roads had less potholes than your average Minneapolis city street. The course apparently has about the same amount of climbing as the Almanzo 100, but much of it was front-loaded, leading some nice stretches where you could focus on pounding out the miles instead of coughing up a lung.

Image from the Ragnarök site.

I got dropped from the main group right away and spent much of the race riding alone (you don’t know humility until you get passed on a climb by a singlespeed). Riding alone made me focus on getting the job done. I stopped less than usual.

I made it to the checkpoint at Zumbro Falls at 11:00 and stopped briefly for lunch and a water refill. Then there was a long stretch of riding alone. I felt better after lunch but could feel myself wearing out. I started thinking about getting a new hobby.

At about 50 miles I caught up with some riders on a climb and we fell in together. Company made the miles melt away and kept my pace up. We hit the second checkpoint in Lake City 45 minutes before the cutoff time and then stopped at a gas station in Lake City (corndogs and real bathrooms!).

Out of Lake City was some blessed pavement, followed by Heath’s Hill, a muddy, rutted minimum maintenance road that turns into a steep climb. I couldn’t ride my bike through the mud and ended up walking up the hill.

As we neared the top I heard cheering…a rouge checkpoint! Chris Skogen and friends had camped out on the top offering refreshments. “Do you want a beer?” Hell yes!

Image via @Almanzo100.

There’s a limit to how fast you can drink a Budweiser after you’ve biked 90 miles. Ugh. Chris pointed out it was 5:15 and if we wanted to finish we ought to be getting along. I dumped the rest of my beer (forgive me, Beer Gods…) and got back on my bike.

Something in the beer (or maybe the clock winding down) gave me a second wind. With two hours to go and 20 miles to cover, time was of the essence. After a beautiful paved descent we turned on to a smooth, flat stretch of gravel. I suddenly felt great, like I could bike all day. As the odometer rolled over 100 miles, I took note of my time, over an hour better than my (DFL) Almanzo finishing time last year and a personal best. Yes!

The last section of the course covered the same roads we’d ridden out of town. Going back up Orchard and Lehrbach was killer, but bombing down the final descent to the finish was awesome.

The race organizers did a great job putting on a fun, painful event. With winning time of 6:40 and the majority of riders finishing in under 10 hours, I appreciate that they stick it out at the checkpoints for those of us that are riding for the challenge of finishing. Also, the ever-suffering support crews deserve a thank-you for taking a whole day sitting around waiting for us to show up…just in case something goes wrong.

I’ve posted some photos from the race on Flickr and the race organizers have an album on Picasa. For a ride report from the front of the pack, check out Little Guy Racing and Charly Tri.

_______________________________________________________________

Congratulations Luke!

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