After a day of digestion I’m still completely clear on one thing: the Royal 162 is a beast of a race. After few hours of much needed sleep on Friday night we were crushing some continental breakfast and terrible hotel coffee by 6am. The consensus was to wear kneewarmers, armwarmers and vest for the low 40 degree start.
The start was as tame as I expected. Easy rolling out and warming up the legs with a fairly massive group.My teammate and brother Jesse put in dig on the first significant climb which thinned out the herd to around 6. I was surprised by the small group this early in the race. Again, we rolled at a casual pace and eventually the chase group caught on.
The decisive moment came at a u-turn climb off of 241st Ave just outside of Preston, MN. Jesse and the eventual winner from Iowa City rallied the climb as I hung on for dear life. The race was shattered. We kept the pace high over the top as the rest of the racers disappeared in the distance. For the next 70 miles we would take turns pulling, enjoying the scenery, and chatting about various topics.
At just around 100 miles Jesse and I were both out of water. We made the decision to stop at a bar for water as our breakaway companion soldiered on. We made the break quick and were back on the road after about 4 minutes. For the next 15-20 miles I pedaled almost as if death was sitting on my shoulder. I was in a dark place as Jesse pulled me back onto the Almanzo course. My legs felt lifeless, my neck and back were wrenching on my nerves and I urged Jesse to continue on in pursuit of the leader. His encouragement was appreciated but not enough to keep me rolling at his pace. I think I’d found my perfect pain. As the blazing pink BKB vest disappeared over the hill in the distance I hunkered down for what I expected would be a forty mile death march.
Largely to my surprise I felt my legs turning over a bit quicker as we turned out of the head wind. A little skip was returning to my step. I glanced over my shoulder to see a couple of Almanzo riders gaining on me quick. As they overtook me I latched onto their slipstream. Without a doubt this was my saving grace. For the next ten miles I got a free ride on this freight train rolling 20+ mph. As I was starting to feel a bit crunchy from the pace I could see a pink swatch growing closer. Could it be? Indeed. Jesse and I would continue on together from Forestville, still in pursuit of the leader. For the last 40 or so miles we would alternate feeling solid and feeling terrible, 10 miles at a time. We switched pulls and offered encouragement to keep the pace as high as we could. Time was running out. The last 30 miles was really uneventful. Just a couple of brothers riding through a haze. As the miles ticked off our spirits and motivation rose. Each mile was a mile closer to rest. It was also a mile less to catch the leader. We started throwing out the what ifs. What if he stopped for water? What if his wheel exploded? It wasn’t to be. His crazy strength reigned supreme as we would roll into the finish 5-10 minutes back. A bit under 9.5 hours.
It was a heck of a way to spend a Saturday. I won’t soon forget about this one.
Photo copyright: Craig Lindner