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  • Céline Oberholzer

Texas Gravel Championship Race Report

Updated: Aug 6, 2019

I competed in my first ever Texas Gravel Championship in Rosebud, TX on June 29, 2019. Special thanks to Gritty Teeth Racing for hosting this event. Continue reading below for my full race report.

Photo by Venny Jane Photography

The Start

My mind started ticking off the reasons why I would not succeed.

I have only been training for a month and a half.

I am new to gravel racing.

I am new to racing in general.

Holland Racing's Christie Tracy will be there - the reigning Texas Gravel Champion - along with Bicycle Heaven's Jenny Park - who had just slaughtered the P/1/2/3 field at SA Rad the weekend prior - and so many other impressive and intimidating women.

The women I am lining up against are stronger.

The women I am lining up against are more experienced.

I took a deep breath and heard Conor’s voice in my head, “Have fun. Go fast. Stay kind.”

The negativity melted away. I could feel my heart beat against my chest, adrenaline pumping in my bloodstream. I was on the start line, right behind Christie and next to Jenny. I made the decision to start near them to watch what they do, learn from them, and try my best to stay with them as long as I could. The 100.8-mile route on my Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt was glowing up at me in the early morning light, ready to be diligently followed for the next 5+ hours.

The first mile was a neutral rollout, and I made sure Christie and Jenny did not slip away from me in the sea of male competitors.

“Go, go, go!”

We hear the race director cheering on the peloton at the 1-mile mark. The race is on.

I was swallowed up in the wave of men. I saw Luke Gentry – single-speed extraordinaire – , maneuvering through the peloton with ease as he moved up in the field. I sat tight, content to stay on Jenny’s steady wheel.

Eventually, as the gravel became less smooth, and potholes made themselves known, some of the men struck me as skittish when faced with the technical appetizers. My sense of self-preservation kicked in and I felt an instinctive nudge to burn a few matches to move up ahead of the squirrelly riders.

Several incinerated matches later, I found myself next to Luke. His familiar face, extravagant mustache, and cheery demeanor brought me a sense of calm. Moments later I heard the sound of carbon and steel clashing with gravel. One of the guys lost control of his front wheel and turned perpendicular to the oncoming peloton, taking out not only himself but about a dozen riders behind him.

“That’ll be a field split,” one of the racers next to me commented.

I was thanking my used-up matches, now just spluttering ashes a couple hundred meters back. I held on to the lead group for the first 15 miles before I knew I needed to do some damage control.


The Damage Control

I sat up and watched as the lead group of men rode away. I swallowed my pride as I watched Christie and Lisa Houser, a Crush racer, go with them. I reminded myself to ride my own race, and that meant starting to ride my own pace. Another little group went by with Alicia Danze, on Ultra Violet, and Stephanie Ledford, on VIM Racing. That puts me in fifth. I reminded myself once again: ride your own race. I knew if I tried to go with them, it would not end well for me. A few minutes later, my heart-rate was back under control, my breathing steadied, and my legs were once again willing. Just in time.

A little group composed of a few guys, Jenny, and one of her Bicycle Heaven teammates caught me and I was able to latch onto their train. We remained together for many miles, and I stayed tucked behind the group, much like those little fish who coast along next to bigger fish, sucked along by their draft. It was not long before we hit a technical section and we dropped Jenny’s Bicycle Heaven teammate. Shortly after, an unexpected rough patch sprung up on us, and I hit rim about four times. I swore and held on tight, maneuvering my bike through the craters littering the road. I internally thanked Teravail’s Light & Supple Cannonballs for indeed being supple and, to my astonishment, staying perfectly intact. I also gave an internal shoutout to All-City for manufacturing my Cosmic Stallion, a bike that knows how to take a beating and then rears for more.

Moments later, I saw Conor Steward on the side of the road.

Before I could stop and ask if he was okay, he yelled, “Hammer on, baby!”

Yessir. The technical sections resulted in a bit of scattering regarding our group. I turned to Jenny and let her know I was okay with letting the men go and would be happy to work with just her.

She considered my suggestion, but encouragingly said, “Let’s try to stay with them a little bit longer”

I tucked in behind her and she began towing us back to the guys. When I could tell she was beginning to suffer, I slid around and in front of her so that she could recover a bit in my draft. I looked back a few moments later and saw that she had let a gap open up. I eased up, waiting for her. The guys were not far up ahead now. I looked back again. Her body language told me she was cracked. I hesitated, looked back one last time, and then rode up to the guys by myself. They, too, seemed to be suffering. They sat up as we crested a climb, one rider looking at another to take the lead on the descent. I knew it would not be long before Jenny recovered and was able to latch on to the group again, so I made my move and pushed down the descent.


The Comeback

“That’s our ride,” I heard a guy in an Elevate kit comment.

I smiled, happy to feel good enough to contribute to the group that had been dragging me along. I checked my Wahoo map. We were about 50 miles in, which meant we were only 6 miles from the aid station. It seemed the Elevate racer and I were the only ones who felt motivated to get there… It was not long before, one after another, the men from the group dropped. Eventually it was just me and Elevate trading turns until we rolled into the aid station together.

I gave Robert Steward a wave and he got my nutrition ready. I slammed the rest of my custom Infinit GoFar blend from my Osprey Pack before shedding the 2L pack and handing it to Robert. He traded me for a 1L Camelbak, 1 bottle of custom Infinit GoFar, 1 bottle of custom Infinit JetFuel, and a shot of pickle juice. I was ready to hammer on!

I rolled out of the aid station alone. I put my forearms on my bars, getting as aero as possible, and pedaled on.

It was not long before three guys in Sugar kits caught me. I seized the opportunity and latched onto the Sugar train. I leeched off of their draft for a while. The miles flew by and we caught two riders on mountain bikes. The also latched on and soon our whole group was taking turns, ravenously eating up the miles. I took my turn and when I looked back to give the elbow flick, I noticed the Sugar riders had dropped. Soon enough, it was just me and one of the racers on a mountain bike. The two of us traded turns and eventually we picked up Alicia.


Photo by Venny Jane Photography

We kept on hammering and soon enough we saw Stephanie, who was sitting in 3rd place up the road.

I turned to the mountain biker, who had become my ally, and said, “let’s go get her”.

To my gratitude, he was all for it and get her is what we did. Coming up on her, I hopped on the front and set the pace at 20+ mph so that she would not have an easy time latching onto our train. To her credit, she hopped aboard! We all took turns before eventually dropping Alicia. The race for 3rd is on.


The Race for 3rd

I started taking shorter pulls, testing Stephanie to see if she would pull through. To her credit, yet again, she did. Eventually, we came up on a climb. My competitor put in a dig to see how I would react. I stayed steady and she sat up. I pedaled past her and saw that she did not try to grab my wheel. With 20 miles to go, I made another move.

Unfortunately, I was not paying attention to the route and realized we had a left turn coming up at the last second. My MTB ally, unbeknownst to me, had followed my move and was right behind me when I skidded to slow down to make the turn. He crashed into my rear wheel and went down. A lapse in concentration on both our parts, but I suppose that is not all that surprising 80+ miles into a gravel race. I halted my attack to make sure he was okay. He waved me on, so on I went.

The gap between my competitor for 3rd and myself steadily grew larger. However, I prefer to be chasing than to be chased. The battle for 3rd may have been over then and there for all I knew. But an internal battle began the second I launched that attack.


You Are Your Own Worst Enemy

Every climb. Every laborious, dreadfully slow, soul-sucking sandy section. Every pedal stroke into a taunting headwind. Doubt seeped into my mind. She’s going to catch you. And you just ignited every match in your box. Another voice countered. She has to climb every climb, too. She has to maneuver through every sand pit, too. The headwind is slowing her down, too. So, I focused on pedaling smoothly and steadily. I rolled past the last aid station with a full bottle of Infinit, telling myself it would be enough. With the sun beating down on me with brutal enthusiasm, I questioned myself the second I passed that aid station. The heat became my biggest threat. I focused on exhaling the heat from my core with every breath. I made myself continue to sip on my Infinit nutrition, my Camelbak having long since been emptied. Every now and again, I peeked over my shoulder.

Shit.

The dot in the distance that was my competitor for third had come closer. She’s going to catch me.

I made the decision to enter preservation mode. I backed it off so that I could try to recover. I needed to prepare for her closing that gap and countering. But all I could think about was how hot it was getting. All I could think about was the pickle juice in my Camelbak and how I could not reach it. I turned a corner and saw a tree up ahead and eagerly pulled over and entered its shade. If she catches me, so be it. I need my pickle juice or I quite possibly might die out here. I fumbled with the Camelbak, ironically in a desperate attempt to be efficient. I chugged the pickle juice and tucked the empty bottle back in my pack. I glanced back to the corner where I had turned and did not see a rider. Could it be that she will not catch me after all? Encouraged, I got back on my bike and continued.

Not long after, I heard the sound of someone else’s bike crunching along on the gravel behind me.

Shit.

I glanced back.

It was not Stephanie.

“Can this be over yet,” a male voice complained.

I chuckled, knowing he felt as horrible as I did. God, what I would give to go back to that shade tree, dig a little hole, curl up in it, and stay there forever. I had nothing left. About 10 miles to go. And there was absolutely nothing left. The two of us stayed together. I tucked in behind him and occasionally came around front. He dropped me a couple times going up climbs, but he would always look back, see I was not on his wheel, and wait for me. Is he an angel?

“I am going to die out here,” he whispered
“At least you won’t be dying alone,” I said, trying to be reassuring.

I’m just as likely to perish out here. And no. We were not being dramatic. Temperatures had flared up to 110*F. Even heat-trained Texans are challenged by those temperatures combined with exposed road conditions.

Photo by Venny Jane Photography

The miles slowly dragged by.

Finally, single digits.

For all I know, he may not even have been giving me a 2% draft, but the psychological draft was all I needed to believe I could finish this.

I ran out of water with 3 to go.

2 to go.

1 to go.

"What was your name?" As the finish line approached, we remembered to introduce ourselves.

Seeing the grid of Rosebud on my Wahoo was everything. My spirits lifted.

We were going to make it.

Kyle and I rode through the finish together.

He took 3rd place in his category, and I took 3rd place in the women’s open.

After I crossed the finish line, I collapsed under a tent. Conor came to my aid and poured water over my head and body and tucked ice into the back and legs of my bibs. My skin tingled with relief. I focused on breathing. Luke took one look at the cracked expression on my face and handed me frozen pickle juice. I slurped it eagerly. Texans know how to cool off and hydrate, I’ll tell you that. When I had cooled off enough to stand up again, I was directed to a water hose and rinsed off with the cold water. There are few feelings in life as incredible as cold water on your sun-baked skin. As I was hosing off, I let myself celebrate.

.

.

.

3rd place. I smiled to myself. I left everything out there. I had fun. I went fast. I stayed kind. I could ask for nothing more.


Photo by Venny Jane Photography

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