FoCo Fondo was a hoot! A massive kudos to Whitney and Zach for organizing a stellar event that appeals to the masses. More grassroots, less “racey” vibes and clear initiatives for bike commuting as well as empowering underrepresented areas in cycling (BIPOC, Non-Binary, Para and Women). You can read about those here: https://www.focofondo.com/leadership-program. I was truly impressed by their dedication to those initiatives and think FoCo Fondo is an event for anyone.
Now, I want to take some time and talk about how gravel events are changing and just my personal opinions on the matter. As an elite/pro racer, I actually favor some of the changes that are coming in gravel. I prefer more sanctioned events which keeps the events safer and fair when you are racing hard (road closing, more rules, drug testing, etc). I also prefer separate women’s starts when the field is large enough as well. I really appreciate and value the events that are prioritizing equal race day coverage and media for the female fields as well. These are all things that are important to me when I’m racing and my career depends on this. However, there is an entirely different side of gravel which is what drew me to this discipline in the first place. The community is inclusive, welcoming and quite frankly; we have fun. After racing some road this spring season, gravel feels more like home.
At times I feel I have this dichotomy of emotions. I like and want more racey and elite focused events, since these draw in my preferences as listed above and I lean more towards the performance side of racing. But then my soul needs the fun events that are more light hearted and aren’t as serious. You can make these events as serious or as not serious as you want - it’s totally up to you. I truly feel there is a space for both, and I hope riders can see that and respect both desires regardless of where you stand. This was just a thought I had out on course this past weekend and wanted to share. It was a good reminder to me to add in other events to my calendar to balance the intensity that my priority/performance based events bring.
So, now a recap to FoCo Fondo race day! This was a 118 mile race with about 7K of climbing with temps in the mid to high 90’s. The course had 4 “dirt selectors” as I call them, 2 MMRs (minimal maintenance roads) and the farm bog bridge section that we rode through twice. Otherwise, the course was pretty smooth gravel, aside from one pretty chunky long descent with a lot of ruts. In the first MMR, we had a group of about 6 ladies in the lead group of men. I entered I think the second female into this sector, and was feeling pretty relaxed. This MMR was pretty off-camber and I had ridden it on my pre-ride as well. I’m honestly not even sure what happened but my front wheel slipped and I went down. Thankfully my bike and body were fine, but I was off the way back of this group and then had to chase for about 35 miles. My early chase was mostly solo, but quickly other men started to join until we had about 10 guys in the group chasing the even larger group up the road with the top 5 women in it. Unfortunately, the group dynamic was less than stellar. In longer gravel races, it’s best to keep the pace smooth and often the group is faster and everyone is able to rest more and take even more pulls. The stronger can stay on the front longer if they want but in this group there were about 2 guys who were insistent on “hard 20s pulls” at the front which led to a surge-y type group dynamic that was anything but smooth. I’m not sure some of them understood the physiological demands of a 6+ hour race but alas, this is pretty common in combined fields. Eventually we caught up to the larger group right at the base of the climb and then we tried to push the pace up the hills to form other smaller groups. Leading into the farm dirt selector, I let Emily enter first which was a mistake on my end and she was able to exit this sector with several very fast guys into the flatter, more draftable section of the climb. This was the end of the race as she was able to ride away with a handy lead with that group and I was solo for most of the next 2 hours. I dropped the rest of the women in the group up the climb, knowing I wanted a good lead into that rocky descent as today was not a day I was willing to get sendy (I know where my priorities are this season). Cecily ended up catching me near the farm dirt section again; she stopped to get water from a random truck and then we both stopped at the aid station and agreed to work together in the remaining miles. It was really neat to race with another female and we held a solid pace just the two of us. I enjoyed that. Cecily wasn’t much of a chatter, so I had a lot of time to think on the ride and in this section I really reflected on the impact of males in our race. I’m learning to really enjoy the female separated starts and having a separate women’s race. So often with combined fields, it really comes down to what group of men you can get with. I just don’t enjoy racing in that way, even though there are times where I have personally benefited from this too. And even typing this, if I was in a position to get with a group of fast guys then I would still do that too, it’s allowed. It’s just this weird space of women’s gravel cycling right now that is hard to navigate. Some of us have even pitched the idea of a no draft rule for the elite women’s field. Now, you couldn’t really enforce this at the smaller, more grassroot events but at the higher level events with increased media presence it could potentially be enforced. I will be curious to see how this evolves and really hope to look back on this in a couple years and see the changes as more women continue to race gravel and speak on this.
Okay, so back to the race…end rant…So the last 30 miles we worked together. There was some tension about 10 miles to go when she dropped a bottle that a guy who we bridged up to had given her. She had yelled to let me know what happened, or to slow down, but I wasn’t about to slow or stop, we were racing afterall. So I kept riding and they fell back to pick it up. He bridged her back to me and then said he didn’t want to interfere with our race anymore so he accelerated and rode away from us. I really respected the fact that he recognized that, despite already interfering with our race in a way. Again, another example of how a male can impact the women’s race. Either way, I didn’t give it too much thought as I just wanted to keep things light hearted today and carried on with the day. There was a fun oasis section about 5 miles from the finish where you enter someone’s yard that they set up as more of a cyclocross section which was super fun! At this point, I really wasn’t enjoying the race as much as I would have liked to. I opted to take a beer hand up because….why not. I think I wore most of the beer, apparently I need to work on those hand ups. It was cold and although I am not much of an IPA or a beer drinker, admittedly it was surprisingly refreshing. From there, we continued to rotate pulls up until the last 2 miles then we both knew it was going to be a showdown for second place. As we entered the hill that was on the ramp, there was only a small shoulder so not a lot of space to move over to launch an attack outside of the draft. I figured it would be a good challenge for myself to launch an attack off the front, which is not usually the preferred approach. So I went to the base of the hill and did a long range attack up the hill and then kept a fairly hard pace to the finish to get second. Overall, I was happy with the effort. Grueling heat and tired legs from a 6hr ride on the Friday before the event; after all, Leadville (and my second half of the season) is calling…. I try to be transparent about some of these “training races” not to make excuses for any results, but rather to remind people that not every event can be a priority event in my opinion. It still means my effort is there and I’m certainly trying, but the pressure is not there for results and the focus is different. It’s a great way to get a solid workout on tired legs, an effort that's easier to push in this environment versus a solo training effort to simulate the same effort on your own. On these days, I try to find the joy in racing aside from the results and embrace the suffering. I often try to visualize my tired and sore legs rebuilding into stronger individual muscle fibers for later events. So there you have it - race on tired legs every once in a while, it’s good mental fortitude training and gives you experience that you can add to your resume!