Take 100 miles of backcountry dirt, gravel and paved roads in one of California’s least-populated counties, add in some elevation, wildflowers, perfect spring weather and fundraising for the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship to support local trails, and what do you have? The first-ever Lost and Found Bike Race, a 100-mile gravel grinder, held an hour north of Lake Tahoe in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.
While the ever-growing gravel grinder crowd’s attention may have been on the 10+ hours of grueling gravel miles in Kansas at the 2014 Dirty Kanza 200 bike race last Saturday, some racers on the West Coast congregated just outside the little town of Portola, California on the shores of Lake Davis, wondering what lay ahead for them at this first-time event.
Sure, there were a few pictures on flickr from a November 21, 2014 course recon, and a course map and profile, but for the gravel enthusiast, details on the types of roads and gravel were limited when the race became official and registration opened. Any tire and bike choice felt like a gamble.
Over two hundred racers brought out their road bikes, cyclocross bikes, hybrids, mountain bikes and gravel bikes, hunted for wider or narrower tires, slapped on sunscreen and hoped for the best.
Race Day Reunion
Three racers who lined up at the front of the start line didn’t have to gamble on equipment choices: Chris McGovern, Jared Kessler and Kenny Burt had done plenty of homework in learning the course. Months ago, in the middle of a snowy day with temps that never climbed above 32 degrees, the trio scouted the roads, and bet that cyclists would come out to support a fundraising event in a remote county of California at elevation.
At the start line, the three knew what lay ahead, and they planned to be in contention for the title on the course they helped design. The only wrinkle was the appearance of Brent Prenzlow, a decorated Southern Californian cyclocrosser who was in the middle of a vacation. Prenzlow figured a 100 miles of NorCal dirt would be the perfect centerpiece of a relaxing two-week stay in the mountains.
One hundred is a favorite number for Prenzlow, as just a few years ago, Prenzlow won his 100th Elite cyclocross race. Before the start of Lost and Found, he was hopeful to be in contention, and described his simple game plan. “I hope to follow [course designer] Chirs McGovern,” Prenzlow told Cyclocross Magazine. “He probably knows every pebble out on the course.”
Jared Kessler—a NorCal racer who has reached high levels in almost every form of racing, including downhill, gated racing, cross country, road, cyclocross and even freestyle BMX—wasn’t planning on following any wheels. Even though he was lining up for his first-ever gravel grinder, Kessler knew the course, knew his main competition, and had the extra motivation of some time pressure to finish the event. The next day, Kessler was scheduled to defend his title in the Auburn criterium, and didn’t want to be out all day in the hot sun.
All 222 racers took to the course at the same time once the gun went off, but half of them, including this author, were merely hoping to survive a 60 mile (or less) ride.
Barrelling down the pavement, a peloton quickly formed, and podium hopefuls and racers with road racing instincts drafted and pacelined their way down narrow country roads towards the upcoming mysterious dirt and gravel challenges. Holeshots might be irrelevant in gravel events, but contenders never want to be caught behind a cloud of dust and slower racers or pushed into poor line choices.
As soon as the pavement ended, and the doubletrack dirt roads started, carnage ensued. Soft, sandy sections stalled unsuspecting racers, and the inevitable collisions happened. Ellen Sherrill, the silver medalist at both the 2013 SSCXWC and 2014 Singlespeed Cyclocross Nationals Championships, was caught in the melee. Sherrill was racing her Rock Lobster cyclocross bike hoping for the win, but her crash, followed by four flat tires, ended up pushing her out of contention for the Pro Women’s title.
Click Next Page to read how the 100-mile race played out.