May 5, 2016/ Guest
Guest post by Larry Oslund after his 2016 Calvin’s Challenge overall win in incredibly difficult riding conditions. At the end of the report, you can find a full description of Larry’s kit, his Vendetta setup and his nutrition strategy.
For days before the start, we all earnestly watched the forecast for any positive change, but it never came. In the morning, winds were forecasted to be 10 mph, progressing to more than 15 mph by the end of the day. The rain forecast was equally dire. It was to fall beginning between 9 and 10 a.m., increasing in intensity into the afternoon including possible thunder storms in the late afternoon. As you’ll read, the forecast was right on.
RACE DAY EVE
I rose at 5 a.m. Friday and finished gathering equipment and packing the rental van my good friend Gary (BenAero) and I had picked up the night before. Andrew, a good friend from church, showed up at 6 a.m. We loaded his stuff (including his Cruzbike) and the rest of my stuff and headed off to pick up Gary on our way out of town. We drove and drove and arrived in Springfield, OH at about 2 p.m.
After registration, we met up with the other Cruzbike racers who had arrived early, Kevin Gambill and Joe Weissert, and rode for about 20 miles together practicing drafting and checking out the road surface on the 7-mile loop. Next, it was time for a light dinner then back to our hotel rooms to put the final touches on our bikes and support strategy. Ben Tomblin, the fourth Cruzbike Vendetta V20 racer, arrived late, so we didn’t see him until race day morning.
FIRST 50 MILE LOOP
All of the 2016 racers gathered at the Calvin’s Challenge start in Springfield, OH at 6:50 a.m. on Saturday April 30, 2016 and listened to the race instructions. I turned my camera on, put my headphones in and started my Garmin. We were cut loose at exactly 7 a.m..
Kevin, Joe, Ben and I had a loose plan to stay with the lead group for the first 50 mile loop, then to take off and work together for the rest of the race, if possible. It was a chilly 43° F, but no rain. We all hoped the day’s forecasted rain would not develop. Last year the pack took off really fast at about 25 miles per hour, so I took off at about that pace. All of a sudden I was alone. I could not even see anybody behind me. I eased off and eventually Kevin caught me and we slowed even more to let the pack catch up. This year the main pack just did not seem to want to ride much faster than 22 mph for some reason. We had hoped to break the record of 270 miles, but we would have needed perfect weather and the help of a powerful lead pack of riders. It seemed we had neither. Kevin and I talked about taking off together or trying to conserve energy riding with the pack. Ultimately, we decided to hang with the pack for the first two 50-mile loops.
SECOND 50 MILE LOOP
After completing the first loop and rolling through support, I again gapped the field. After about 5 miles, Kevin caught up and we decided to keep going since the lead pack had no taste for the weather. Around about 10 a.m., it started spitting rain on us. Wind also picked up. It was a tough cross wind which made drafting difficult and ineffective. We tried both end-to-end and echelon formation riding but got little benefit.
The rain also slowed us down and made for very poor visibility. At about mile 11 in the second loop, Kevin dropped his chain. I coasted to wait for him then we continued on together. We rode together like this for the rest of the second loop. We passed the school at 101 miles and found out we were about 3 minutes ahead of the rest of the lead pack, which I think was about 10 people. Ben was the only recumbent left with them since Joe had dropped behind slightly to continue the race solo.
THIRD 50 MILE LOOP
Kevin and I just kept trucking. By the time we started the third 50-mile loop, it was raining quite hard and our visibility was even worse. It was hard work now, lots of rain and wind against us. The Calvin’s Challenge 50-mile loop has more than fifty 90-degree turns in it. With the rain, we had to slow and sit up, pedaling through the corners carefully to make sure we didn’t slide out on in the rain, gravel or cow poop.
We moved into the last half of the 50 mile loop, which not only had its quota of turns, but was also riddled with potholes. The difficult, technical riding included navigating those turns and potholes through my slightly fogged and rain-splattered visor and required constant focus to avoid mishap. It also meant going all out was out of the question. Maybe taking my visor off would have helped, but it’s hard to know. Kevin flatted in this horrible pothole-riddled section of the course around mile 35. We were going along at about 22 mph and he was behind me. Suddenly I heard a thump and hiss. A second later I heard him skidding down the road. It took me about 100 yards to stop. I turned and rode back to ask if he wanted me help him change his tire. He told me to go on ahead. I hoped he could do quick change and join the pack that was chasing us about four or five minutes behind. After the race, I learned the flat and subsequent skid also tore a wire loose rendering his rear derailleur useless. Kevin was out in the cold and rain for more than 20 minutes, which was long enough to get him close to hypothermia. He was out of the race. It was very hard to ride off without him at that point, but that was the agreed upon plan, so I did so, reluctantly. After finishing the last 15 miles of the pothole-ridden back loop, I came to the check-point, alerted Gretchen (Kevin’s wife and race support) to his flat, took on new fuel and water and kept riding.
FOURTH 50 MILE LOOP
I was really hoping that I wouldn’t have this section to write! Race organizers said that if conditions worsened, they would open the 7-mile loop early. I was really hoping for that. The 50-mile loop with the cold, rain, wind, tight turns and potholes was just horrific and the thought having to do another one solo was demoralizing. My heart sank as I passed the check point and saw that the 7-mile loop wasn’t open yet. I gritted my teeth and took off again, settling in for another two and a half hours of torture, this time lonelier. Each lap it rained harder and was windier. But I just continued on, consoling myself with the fact that I was in the lead. I also knew that one little mistake could change that in a heartbeat. At about mile six, my chain flopped off because of the big bounce I took going over a three-foot cut in the road filled with gravel. I coasted to a stop and put it back on. I was on a hill when this happened and had to walk to the top to start again. Another minute or two of buffer lost between the chase pack and me. I just got moving and kept plugging along. Later, when crossing over a railroad track around mile 30, one of my water bottles popped out of my tailbox and my chain fell down to my lower chain ring. (Note: this happened because I didn’t have a front derailleur to change between my large and small chain ring. I found I never used it, since I ride in the big ring all the time and I often accidentally drop it into the lower ring because of my handlebar setup. After this race, I’ve decided I’ll put the derailleur back on to keep the chain from jumping off.) I was faced with the decision to stop to fix my chain or to ride in the small chain ring for 20 more miles. I decided to ride in the small ring until the check point.
Riding in the small ring limited my top end speed to 25, but I wasn’t planning to go much faster than that anyway because of the conditions. Finally, I made it to the checkpoint, grateful I didn’t have to do the 50-mile loop again. I stopped in the support area and Gary put my chain on for me. The crew told me that I was at least 10 minutes ahead of anyone (maybe more) and with that info I decided to slow it down a notch and ride at a really comfortable sub 20 mph pace for the 7-mile loops. It was still cold and rainy, but there were only two and a half hours left in the race. I could do this! The bad weather also made for lonelier crewing and less cheering. Usually, in good weather, lots of people are in the support area cheering riders through the check point. In weather like we had, everyone stayed inside and dry, only venturing out when the crew’s rider approached for support.
Finally, it was time for the 7-mile loop! It’s really nice, because, well it’s only 7 miles long. You get to see the smiling faces of your support about every 20 minutes. Plus it’s not as lonely as the long loop because racers aren’t as spread out as they are on the 50-mile loop. After my first 7-mile loop, I asked Andrew to heat up my chocolate milk for the next loop. I was craving something warm. I couldn’t feel my fingers in my open-fingered gloves. The crew told me that Ben and Joe where just one minute ahead of me. Encouraged, I kept going and caught them. I rode with Ben and Joe for one lap then pulled away and continued onward.
Another 7-mile loop and I got my “hot chocolate”. I took one long drink of that liquid pleasure. So good and warm! I just kept pedaling and doing laps. It had also stopped raining for a few minutes but the horizon was totally black. It was so black and ominous, I looked for tornados. Suddenly the wind started swirling, changing directions and picking up speed. Not a tornado, but the bottom just dropped out of the clouds. It rained so hard that it hurt and swore I even felt a little hail hit me. If it got much worse I was going to have to take cover. The hard stuff lasted about 15 minutes. The road had was more puddle than blacktop. I just kept riding and it kept raining.
Suddenly, at about mile four of my sixth 7-mile loop, a young guy passed me going about 22-23 mph. He said something like, “good job” as he passed and gapped me pretty quickly. I wondered if this was just somebody a couple laps behind me sprinting out his last twenty minutes, or had I been caught since I’d been easing off the last two hours? I didn’t know, but thought, I’ve suffered too much in the last eleven and a half hours not to stay with him and try to beat him at the end, in case he’d caught me. So I picked up the pace and stayed with him for another 7 miles. We were riding around 23-24 mph now. As we passed the checkpoint for the final time, he was in the lead. My crew was shocked, as was I, but that is one thing about the short loop – nobody really knows who’s in the lead. There is no live feedback of your position.
THE LAST LOOP
I started formulating a strategy for what to do in the next 4-5 miles. We only had about 14 minutes to ride, so we could not complete another full loop. In this race, marshals are at each of the six mile-marker cone. As the clock winds down, a marshal will stop you if they don’t think you’ll make it to the next mile post before the end of the 12-hour race. If told to stop, you must stop and surrender your timing chip. They enter your name in order of your arrival. This way, they know who won if two racers end up with the same mileage. Knowing all of this, I estimated that we would probably be able to make it to mile marker number five before they told us to stop. So I just stayed behind until then. It was a challenge with the large hill and three or four turns we had to navigate on the extremely wet road, but I managed to close the gap each time we turned. Once we passed mile marker number four, I decided I’d try to sprint past him with about half a mile to go, not knowing whether he would be able to follow or not. As we approached that spot we were riding at about 25 mph. I shifted into a smaller gear and pushed on past him. He looked over and said, ”You got me!” I powered ahead to about 29 mph. I flew by mile post number five ahead of him, but the marshal said, “Keep going, you have time to make it to mile post number six.” Seriously! I had counted on only half a mile of sprinting, and now I get to keep sprinting for another mile! I did not know if my competitor was sucking my wheel or not, so I just kept going as hard as I could for the next mile. I felt pretty good considering I had been riding for so long and I felt no cramps coming on, so I kept powering ahead until I made past mile marker number six. They told me to stop. It took me about 100 yards to slow down. When I got back to the mile marker, my competitor was already in line to surrender his timing chip. This was when I actually met him and we chatted a little. After surrendering my timing chip, I rode the last lonely mile back to the school in the rain. I couldn’t wait to get out of my cold wet clothes and under a warm shower head.
My takeaways from this year’s Calvin’s Challenge are twofold. One, If you are going for a record you have to go as hard as you can all the time and can’t let up. Two, if you are going for the win, stay with the leaders all the time (even if it feels slow to you) because you really want to know where they are at all times. If it feels slow, you know you’ll be fresh when you need it and you won’t be surprised by someone you didn’t know was there sprinting by you at the end!
The final Calvin’s Challenge tally for Cruzbike: Larry (1st overall): 250 miles, Ben (4th overall): 235 miles, Joe (5th overall): 223 miles, Kevin: 151 miles. I think we likely would have been the first two overall finishers if Kevin hadn’t flatted. Way to go team! – Fantastic support by Gary, Andrew, Leslie, and Gretchen. Great event, as always, led by Larry Graham. Unfortunately, he said it was the last year he’d be hosting the event. We hope that someone else picks it up and continues.
Wheels: The plan was to ride Pro One Tubeless on 86mm CF rims with wheel-builder disc covers. Because of the wind forecast, I decided against a front disc and rode my 60mm aluminum rim with Conti GP4000Sii with latex tube on the front wheel.
Camera: VIRB with 2×6,000mah batteries to power it for the whole ride. I tapped up everything up for water protection.
Front Derailleur: Because of my handlebar setup, I chose to ride with no front derailleur
and my Di2 electronic shifting system.
Weight: My setup including 40 ounces of fuel and a little rear “box” to hold my tools and drink bottles brought the total weight to 32.25 pounds.
I wore a full length cycling pants, with crash shorts over them. I wore a long sleeve cycling jersey with a Cruzbike cycling jersey on top, which has pockets in the front. I wore regular no finger gloves but wish I had chosen full finger gloves now. I also used a nice pair of water proof shoe covers, but did not tape up the “air-vent” at the front, so water still got in.
Pre-Race Nutrition and Training:
During the 6 weeks before Calvin’s, I embarked on an experimental diet and training strategy. For the last 6 weeks I cut out all sugar and processed grains out of my diet. I attempted to only eat 50 grams of “good” carbs from fruit and vegetables, daily. For the first 4 weeks my training consisted primarily of low aerobic workouts where my heart-rate would not exceed 135 bpm (i.e. I could pretty much breathe through my nose and talk easily while riding). Then two weeks of sustained power building. The desired effect was to loose extra weight and to train my body to use fat as much as possible for my fueling needs. I lost 25 pounds, all while continuing to train, and I managed to ride several centuries without fuel during that time to test it. I like the results. If anyone is interested in this, please follow this thread on the Cruzbike forum.
Calvin’s was to be a testing ground for me and the progress of this new fueling strategy. I did not think it wise to ride the whole 12 hours without fuel since it was a big race, but I limited my fuel. During Calvin’s I only consumed 4 scoops of Infinit, and 2 scoops of Perpetuem, and one swig of warm chocolate milk during the entire 12 hours. That was only 600 calories, about 20% of what I consumed last year. I used about 6400 calories to power the ride. This is proof to me that my body has used this system very well to use my fat stores as fuel. (I’ve got a lot of this type of fuel to use!)
I would like to thank the Lord for giving me this cycling thing I love, and the time, ability and finances to do it, and also for keeping everyone safe, even in the light of the rain and accidents. I also thank my wife Gayle, for once again putting up with my passion (cough-cough-obsession), all my friends at church who continue support me and who are praying for my safety, all my friends at my work-place who support me. Special thanks to my good friends Gary and Andrew for making the trip with this year and providing un-equaled support, commentary and pictorial and video footage beyond compare. And lastly to all the organizers and volunteers that make Calvin’s Challenge a special event.
Guest post by Larry Oslund. You can find Larry on the Cruzbike Forum as LarryOz.