Having ridden in half a dozen gravel century rides, we thought that we had seen it all… nope. The 2012 edition of the Westside Dirty Benjamin (WDB) managed to show us something brand new and really lived up to its name, it sure was dirty.
You might think, hey whats the big deal, you ride 100 miles on gravel, sure its tough but once you ride one why keep doing it? For those of us addicted to gravel racing Saturday was a perfect example of why each time is different and why we keep coming back for more.
The early morning in Chaska (8 am start time) started off with a bang, literally. With the full group assembled and ready for announcement one unlucky rider had his first flat of the day, before mile number 1 on the gravel. While he rushed to get his tube changed, everyone else listened intently to race day instructions and crowded the start line. The WDB always starts with a 4 mile neutral roll-out to get the riders from the busy roads of Chaska and onto the gravel.
This year, what happened before we hit mile 4 was nothing short of crazy (more on this in The Route).
From the moment that we had arrived for registration the skies had looked ominous but miraculously we were able to prepare free from rain. Then it happened. The moment that our tires hit the start line the rain started. For the reminder of the ride we experienced a wide range of weather, from moment to moment it felt like completely different days. As we rode it reminded us of this scene from the movie Forrest Gump, the quote goes a little something like this; “We had every kind of rain; little bitty stinging rain, and big ‘ol fat rain, rain that flew in sideways, and sometimes rain seemed to come straight up from underneath.”
The thermometer on our onboard bike computer read as high as 89 degrees and as low as 75. One moment it would be hot and humid in the sun and then you would turn the corner and would be met with a cool breeze and rain from the sky. From section to section you never knew quite what you were going to get, but when the rain came, it was refreshing.
The WDB is in a class by itself when it comes to routing. Lacking the long climbs and descents of the Ragnarok and Almanzo, the organizers of the WDB add sections that border on cyclocross and are guaranteed to get you dirty. At mile 3 the group was lead off the road and onto a section of single track that managed to thin the group out and included on dismount to climb over a fallen tree. We saw several riders hit the deck during this muddy sloppy section and from this point on, those in the lead group were gone down the road.
Thanks to a twisted sign just before the check point we saw lots of riders needing to take a U-turn and backtracking to get to their drop bags. The second section of off-road goodness came when leaving the checkpoint and included a mosquito filled woods romp and ditch crossing to get back onto the road.
Then comes the Braaaap!
For those riding in their first WDB you find yourself looking down at the ground and seeing Braaaap!!!! spray painted in the grass and wondering just what that means. But before you have time to speculate you are wheel deep in a section of mud. If you’re lucky you can dismount and stay relatively dry, but trying to you going again in the tall slippery grass is a challenge all its own.
We have seen about every type of gravel that there is on Minnesota roads; big gravel, compact gravel, extra dusty, kitty litter, but we’ve never seen gravel so fresh that it was being laid down in front of us as we rode…. check that one-off the list.
Thanks to everyone involved in the Westside Dirty Benjamin, everyone we met out on the course and congratulations to those who finished. As of the writing of this post the results weren’t up yet, but keep checking back here for results.