Going from one of my best to my worst race during the longest half an hour ever. It was so much gold in this race, but more of all I will remember it for the unbearable heat that almost took me out. This was tough, this was loco, this was great, this is Gravel Locos.
150 miles - or 250 km on gravel should get most people to reconsider what they are doing. On top of that, when you’re somewhere in the middle of Texas, with temperatures well above 44˚C / 110˚F it’s a good time to second question how smart it is to line up. Totally loco.
Especially since it's just 6 weeks ago I did the coldest and northernmost Everesting ever – The Arctic Everesting. Quite a contrast!
But when the event is located in the most amazing historic Western town, you’re in the VIP group, and you’re about to meet the best gravel racers in the country, it’s not possible to decline the opportunity to go to Hico.
READ MORE: This is Gravel Locos
The start of the race was rather tragic as we were told one of our fellow riders and participants, had been shoot and found dead in Austin leading up to the event. Such sad news. My deepest condolences to her family and near ones.
The race had also a strong social aspect, raising money for the Hico Volunteer Fire Department to extend the fire station in order to accommodate all of their fire trucks.
We rolled out of Hico 7.45. The first 8 miles were neutralised as the organiser didn’t want to let us go before the whole field had passed a river crossing. I knew the start as I rode a good part of the first 30 miles on yesterday’s VIP warm up ride.
When the race leader Fabian let us go, Peter Stetina went to the front to set the pace. I also wanted to stay up front to make sure to avoid accidents and potential splits.
The first 20 miles were rather controlled. A few time the speed increased, as some riders wanted to loosen up their legs, but a group of about 60 riders, of the starting 1500 riders, were still in the front field.
Going into the first hill I saw Ian Boswell had gotten a gap and went to close him down. I passed him and a pretty steep climb started. I pushed on and was joined by a group of 5 riders. We kept the speed over the top and work well on the following gravel road. Unfortunately, the peloton didn’t want to let us leave, and after about 5 miles we were all together again, as it continued to the first water stop at 56 miles.
The organisers had set up mandatory 2 min stop, which worked great and gave the whole group time to refill bottles. The clock showed 10 am now, and the temperature was rising.
The next part of the course was rather fast, with solid gravel roads and some asphalt. We kept a high speed in the front and eventually riders started to loose our main group.
We came into some really steep kickers around mile 80 and for the first time the front of the group started to split. I was a bit to far back and just barely made the split, staying on the wheel of Dylan Johnson. We were now down to about 20 riders.
The heat started to get tough and some riders showed weakness. At the time, I still felt strong. We were closing into the next mandatory water stop at 106 miles.
– What’s your name?
It was Ian Boswell, the last year’s winner of Unbound Gravel and five year pro in Team Sky.
– I’m Jonas. From Norway.
– You are riding strong, always in the front of the group.
The short chat with the prominent rider gave me lots of self-esteem. It was true, I had been staying mostly in the front or near the front. I wanted to be in the head of the race, rather than tagging along. I tend to race better when I am offensive, even though I might save a bit more energy hiding longer in the back of the group.
But I had made the split and soon we were down to 15 riders in the first group. I was pretty happy about finding me with all the best pros in gravel.
After the water stop it didn’t take long before Laurens ten Dam started to push up the hill. Race is on.
It lasted for about 10 miles and I followed most of the efforts. All 15 riders in the front group still together.
Just before we came out on the asphalt and things calmed down, we hit a longer gravel climb and I didn’t manage to close the gap to the first 11 riders going real fast up the hill.
I can still feel the annoyance thinking about how close I was.
Then the race totally changed for me. I regrouped with a Tyrel Fuchs from Phoenix Rio Grande, and we started team time trailing. Not sure if we would catch up, but at least we could stay away from the chasers behind. Not long after, he flatted!
I continued by myself.
At that time we came into a really hot stretch. Miles and miles on a dusty gravel road, more or less all straight, slightly uphill with a minor headwind. I pushed on to a pace I knew I could hold for a long time, potentially to the finish. But the heat started to take a toll on me.
Being out there on the prairie, with no one to see, except some cattle and rusty farms, and with temperatures rising to the 110˚F or 44˚C, my water running out and nowhere to hide from the sun, I couldn’t keep up the pace.
It got worse. I started to fear for having a heat stroke. I was totally overheated and I couldn’t keep up my speed. The lower speed also gave me less cooling from the wind.
I looked for help. Praying to God I for help me overcome this. At this point I didn’t care about the race, I just wanted to get to the finish.
I passed a farm, and was thinking to knock the door to ask for water, but as I didn’t want to take the risk of getting shot or chased by an angry dog, so I kept riding. Then suddenly, as a miracle from above, the second group caught me in a good pace. I pulled myself together and accelerated on their wheel as they were passing me.
The group had some solid hitters, such as Dylan Johnson and Ted King.
The increased speed gave me more cooling, and now I had something more to concentrate on than my own hot misery.
I stayed mostly on the wheel, but eventually took some turns as I again started to feel a bit better. The group of 9 went down to 7, and I managed to hold on.
The last 10 miles I was again starting to struggle hard, but knew it would be so much easier to get to the finish if I just could stay in the group. I was now just in the back and had no intention of sprinting at the end as I was more than grateful to stay in the group to the finish line.
Then finally, we arrived Hico. The group sprinted for 11th, I sat up and passed the line as 17th.
You find the results here.
What a day. It took me about 30 min to cool down with water in the shade before I was able to talk or think clearly. One of the volunteers handed me a cold coke, which is the best one I ever had. So good.
I was chatting with my teammate Corey who had troubles in the heat and had to pull out of the race, before rolling back to the hotel for a shower. I was totally destroyed, but still pretty happy about the race.
When I eventually got cooler I went over to the VIP dinner to sum up the ride with the other pros. Stories were many, and the atmosphere as good as the Texan barbecue meat.
Driving back to Dallas with Andrew Bailey we missed the night party in the park, but I heard it was awesome. What a way to wrap up what had been a unique and super cool event.
Thanks to Fabian and the rest of the Gravel Locos staff and volunteers. This one will be remembered!
Get your photos from the event on Velophoto.tx!