Guest post by Kevin Gambill after his epic performance in the 2016 Bike Sebring 12-hour event.
Last year’s Sebring race had a cold and windy start, 36 degrees if I remember correctly. I stood in the hotel lobby as long as I could before heading over to the starting line minutes before the 6:30 AM start. This year was a welcome change with mid 50s and a light wind to start. We had beautiful sunshine all day with temps topping out in the 70s. It was a little windy later in the day, but pretty close to ideal conditions.
Just prior to the race start there was a moment of silence for the passing of Scott Luikart and Claudio Clarindo. They were both highly accomplished cyclists and fixtures at UMCA and RAAM events. My thoughts were with their families and friends and I couldn’t help but think how lucky we all were to be out there on a beautiful day doing something we loved.
The race started right on time with the large group of recumbents, trikes, HPVs and standard bikes getting off the line without incident. Last year, the first few laps around the track seemed like total chaos to me, but with the benefit of that experience it all felt a bit more orderly this time around.
As we exited the track and set out for the century loop there were several of us hoping for at least a small group that would work in a pace line deep into the race, but that never really materialized beyond the first hundred miles. There was an eleven rider lead group at the century turnaround point including six recumbents. Jesse Groves (the eventual century winner) and Jim Verheul (12 hr) made a quick exit from the turnaround and we didn’t realize they were in front of us for several miles when we noticed Jim was not in our pace line. With maybe 25 miles left in the century, Jim Parker and I ended up in a three person group with a rider on an upright TT bike. The three of us traded one minute pulls for the remainder of the first hundred miles (I think the course is actually 101.5 miles). Jim and I reached the century finish more or less together, two seconds apart.
Unfortunately for me, Jim was done for the day with a 2nd place finish and the upright TT rider had fallen off the pace. I checked my Garmin before heading out on the 11.7 mile loop and I was right around a 24 mph avg, feeling strong and relatively fresh.
I caught up with Jim Verheul about halfway through the first 11.7 mile lap and was hoping we could work together and possibly find Larry Oslund to join in the fray. Jim burned a few extra matches on the century and wasn’t quite ready to head off guns blazing in a two person pace line. Jim ended up finishing second overall in the 12 hr with a gutsy performance. We didn’t know it at the time but Larry had wrecked a few minutes behind us, dislocating his shoulder after blowing a tire.
At the conclusion of that first 11.7 mile lap it was shaping up to be a solo time trial for the rest of the day, so I continued to push the pace as best I could. As the miles started to accumulate I settled into a groove, pedaling hard through all of the downhill sections to keep the speed up. I was only losing maybe a tenth of a mph off of my average speed from the century every couple of laps, which was encouraging.
After about 200 miles I started doing the math on what I needed to do to take a run at the overall course record of 271 miles. I had a couple of tenths on my avg speed left to burn and still hold on to a 23 mph avg., which translated to 275+/- miles. I still felt strong but knew the bottom could drop out at any time. In my short racing history I have had a tendency to cramp late in races and that was on my mind. I think I completed my last 11 mile loop and was waved onto the race track with about 30 minutes left, which theoretically gave me enough time to fit in three 3.66 mile laps. The first two laps went by uneventfully at a steady pace.
With one lap to go I got excited and started picking up the pace. About two minutes in my hamstrings cramped in both legs…..the immediate reaction was to slide up the seat and straighten both legs. Looking back at the data I coasted with zero cadence for about 90 seconds and slowed down to about 6 mph. At that point I figured I was done and whatever mileage I had in the bank would have to be good enough. I settled back into the seat and started pedaling slowly and it seemed the cramps had subsided, so I steadily got back up to speed and was doing 24-25 mph down the backstretch. At the time I wasn’t sure how much time I wasted fighting off the cramps but it seemed like forever in the moment. I was relieved to see the clock on my way in with about 35 seconds to spare. So, after about 273 miles the last 3.6 were definitely the most eventful, capping off a 276.6 mile total.
The Vendetta performed flawlessly all day. I was lucky not to have any significant mechanical issues or flat tires. My wife Gretchen did a great job crewing, keeping me fed and hydrated. She would run behind me at a pretty good clip to exchange my empty bottles with new ones and whatever else I needed.
I never had to stop through the feed zone all day which may have been the difference between squeezing in that last track lap or not. Thanks to Kristy Halvorsen for reloading me with fresh bottles at the century turnaround.
For anyone interested in equipment:
Bike: Cruzbike Vendetta V20 with an M5 carbon fiber seat.
Components: Shimano Di2 electronic
Crank: Shimano Ultegra 175 with Q rings
Handlebar: 3T Ergonova carbon with the drops cut off
Wheels: Zipp Firecrest 808’s with a Wheelbuilder disc cover on the back wheel.
Pedals: Shimano Dura Ace
Bottle Cages: Bent Up Cycles seat bag with integrated bottle holders.
I’ve only been involved with the ultra racing scene for about a year but it was great to see many of the faces and great people we have met during that time. Jim, Maria and Lucia Parker, Larry Oslund, Ben Tomblin, JV and Kristy Halvorsen, Rubin Randall (cheered loudly on every lap including the occasional high five!), the Schlitters, Rich Pinto and his cow bell, and new Cruzbike racers Hardy and Paul.
Maybe next year we will get that 275+ mile pace line we were hoping for…
Race report by Kevin Gambill.