The 2015 Lost and Found gravel race was a resounding success. Come along for the adventure via our report and photo gallery below.
In 2014, over two hundred cyclists took a gamble and headed to the Sierra Buttes mountains in Northern California for the inaugural Lost and Found ride in an attempt to find gravel gold and raise money for the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship. Most were rewarded for their efforts, and left rich in experience and scenery and a new-found respect for the rocky, hilly Sierra terrain.
In the days and months after the adventure, participants recalled wild tales with friends and family, and shared knowledge of how best to prepare for such an adventure. And when registration opened for the 2015 Lost and Found event, the number of adventure-seekers more than doubled.
The number of professional cyclocross racers certainly more than doubled. Tobin Ortenblad (Cal Giant), Caro Gomez Villafane (Vanderkitten) and Emily Kachorek (Squid Bikes) committed to return, seeking revenge from tough rides in 2014. Other top cyclocrossers, including Ben Berden (WCup), Cody Kaiser (Lange Twins), Nicole Duke (SRAM), Courtenay McFadden, Anthony Clark (Squid), Scott Chapin (Santa Cruz), Lance Haidet (Raleigh Clement) and Gavin Haley (Hincapie), were intrigued by the tales of miles and miles of scenic roads and climbs, and packed their bags for the long trip to Lake Davis.
Scanning the bikes of participants on the start line, it appeared as if the average tire size and low gear cassette cog nearly doubled as well. Gone were most of the narrow 32c tubular and clincher cyclocross tires, as the smart money didn't bank on repeating Brent Prenzlow's tubular-laced good luck and careful descents, and certainly wanted to avoid repeating Ellen Sherrill's 2014 quadruple whammy.
Most bikes featured 38c or 40c tires, typically mounted tubeless on wider rims. Wide-range cassettes of 11-36 and 10-42 were commonplace. 2014 knowledge was shared, and racers this year came prepared.
Upping the Ante
Armed with course knowledge and better equipment, racers were better prepared this year to battle the course conditions and fellow racers.
What 100-mile Pro Men defending champion Jared Kessler wasn't prepared for was to defend his title while battling a virus. He initially hid it well. Ortenblad had Kessler in his sights, and didn't want to let the admittedly impatient racer escape this year.
[Continue reading the 2015 Lost and Found report via your arrow keys, swiping your touch screen, or via the slider's buttons]
"I was worried about [Kessler], he just went bananas over the first climb and ultimately dropped me [last year]," Ortenblad revealed. Instead, he was the aggressor this year. "I went hard over the first climb this time, because I thought if I went hard enough, I could keep them from attacking." It worked, creating a selection of just 10 riders over the top of the first major climb, and Kessler suffered and would eventually pull out.
Gone was last year's gentlemen's agreement among the leaders to stay together, skip the first two aid stations and stop at the third. In fact, coming down the first decent, when Ortenblad's saddle bag fell off, the gloves came off as well.
"My saddle bag fell off on one of the bumpy descents, and I stopped, and the moment I stopped, they all started going super hard," Ortenblad explained. "I caught them, and I kept going out of being angry, and Anthony Clark went with me..."
Meanwhile, 2011 Women's Elite Road National Champion and Women's Cycling Association co-founder Robin Farina (BMW p/b Happy Tooth), was attacking her first-ever gravel race. Fresh off of competing in the Amgen Tour of California stage race, Farina hit the first climb looking to test her competition, and by the top of the first climb, she had a gap. 80 more miles to go, potentially alone in the wind? No problem.
"I was going to ride this hard. I've been...looking for a good hard training ride today, and a race, so I knew going into it that I was going to give it my all," Farina explained.
Helene Drumm gave chase on the descent and rejoined Farina, but one climb later, Farina was on her own again, and would not see another woman for the rest of the race.
Crashes and Mechanicals: That's Gravel Racing
At the second aid station at mile 40, the leading men stopped and regrouped, but Clark was feeling good, and once back on his bike, he opened up a gap his companions. He'd ride solo for nearly 10 miles, before Ortenblad and Berden brought him back. The top three looked set, and unlike last year, there wasn't a tubular in sight. Ortenblad was running WTB Nano 40c tires tubeless, Berden was testing Kenda's new 35c tubeless gravel tire, and Clark was running Clement's LAS file tread 33c cyclocross clinchers with tubes. [See our profile of Ben Berden's Dura-Ace Di2-equipped Stoemper Ronny bike]
Just behind, Haley and Kaiser were chasing, but after the 40-mile aid station, but then disaster struck, and the group splintered.
Haley was riding second wheel in the chase of Ortenblad and Berden when suddenly he was on the ground. "We were coming down a descent...I just didn't see a bump and I hit it at very high speed," Haley explained. "My [left] hand came off the bars and gravity took its toll."
Haley ended up with a broken finger and badly separated shoulder, but had a chance to enjoy part of the race and the scenery. "It was the most beautiful race I've ever done," Haley told Cyclocross Magazine.
Kaiser waited to check on Haley, then rolled to the next aid station to alert the race staff of the crash. "We stopped to help him his out, and it seems like he broke his collarbone and hurt his hand pretty good," Kaiser revealed. "I waited there for [the rest of the] group to come back, but they didn't, so rolled I by myself and rode solo all the way to the final climb."
While Haley waited for assistance and Kaiser rolled on, disaster struck for Clark, just as he was rejoined by Ortenblad and Berden. "I just hit that frickin rock at 35 miles per hour, and cut the sidewall right open. I don't care what tire it was, it would cut open," Clark said. "It just blew my sidewall out, blew it out, like a one-inch gash. It stinks because that was the race. There was a huge gap between everyone else. I felt really good, but what are you gonna do? It was my own fault, next year I'm gonna run tubeless 40s out here."
Clark soldiered on, gambling on two miracles, wishing Ortenblad and Berden would run out of gas, and that someone at the next aid station would have a spare wheel or tire.
"I'll just get to the next aid station to see if I could get a rim," Clark recalled. "First aid station nothing, second aid station nothing. Thirty miles later [after riding on a rim], my rim started blowing apart. Thirty miles on anything will blow the rim." He'd pack it and find a ride back.
Show Your Hand, or Call a Bluff?
Ortenblad and Berden are a generation apart and come from different worlds. Berden, 39 years old, hails from Belgium and is likely racing his last year as a pro, while Ortenblad, just 20 years old, is a Santa Cruz native and still has a bright future as a professional racer. They've had dramatically different starts to the year as well, with their one shared race being the Sea Otter Classic cyclocross race, where the young Californian would beat Berden for the win, and lay the foundation for three victories in seven races this spring.
"We've been doing a ton of big, five or six hour rides," Ortenblad said of his training and his coach Chris McGovern's plan. "I've been doing more big, 120 miles days than I have in my life. I've probably done like ten big days, just getting used to putting in big miles."
Berden, meanwhile, had just been focusing on base miles, and hadn't competed since Sea Otter. "Sea Otter was my first race, I don’t like hills anyways, and I’m not in shape. I’ve only been doing base miles," Berden explained.
Berden is nothing if not a savvy vet, and knew he had to conserve energy and follow Ortenblad. "I just told [Tobin] that I was going to stay behind him," Berden recalled.
"[Ben] told me he wasn't going to attack me, and I'm like yeah, that's good, I don't have any punch either," Ortenblad said.
"But I was also kinda like, maybe he's just saying that, and I would be totally bummed as he rides away from me."
The Belgian wasn't bluffing, however.
"The last climb was really bad...Tobin went on the last climb, he didn’t attack, he just went," Berden admitted. "He was much stronger than me." Berden said the last 10-mile, 3000-foot climb even forced him off the bike more than once, only this time, for the lifelong cyclocrosser, there weren't any barriers, run-up or shouldering involved.
"Homie was motoring," California cyclocrosser Cody Kaiser said of Ortenblad. "I think I could have stayed a bit longer without the incident [Haley's crash], but I think Tobin definitely deserved it. He was on the front of that thing for 60 miles. I was impressed for sure."
It's Amateur Hour
While Ortenblad, Berden and the eventual Pro Women's winner Farina would have solo climbs to the finish, behind them, one Bay Area amateur, starting five minutes behind the pros, was ripping past nearly everyone else.
Just twenty minutes earlier, Matt Fox, a 29-year-old engineer at Tesla Motors from Mountain View, Calif., crossed the line after passing every single racer except Berden and Ortenblad, despite his five-minute handicap. In the process, Fox easily won the amateur category and his age group, but would have finished third in the Pro Men.
Fox is an accomplished former CSU collegiate mountain bike racer and dominant "B men" cyclocross racer, but with a more-than-40-hours-a-week job, he was lucky to integrate training for the event with his employer's climbing challenge, racking up over 100,000 feet of climbing in 22 rides. Not bad prep for a hilly gravel race.
The engineer put that training to good use on the last climb, putting in an attack and catching all but the top two men. Fox told Cyclocross Magazine that despite the impressive showing, it wasn't his smoothest race. "[I] went high speed into the bushes over the bars [around] mile 10, dropped my chain on every big downhill leaving me alone in the wind on the flat sections...I was just clawing my way back to the leaders for the first 75 miles," Fox recalled. With better chain retention (or a better mechanic), perhaps Fox could have even beaten Berden's time, just three minutes faster.
The defending champs would be wise to watch out for Fox and Friedly next year, even if they never saw them this year.
Doubling Down on Gravel
The 2015 Lost and Found Bike Ride had racers thankful to be done, but also looking forward to more.
"That was probably the hardest I've ever done. I've done a lot of hard rides, but that was hard." -Farina
When a 12-year road pro describes an event so emphatically, you'd be forgiven if you assumed she'd opt for more familiar events next year. When asked if she's planning to return, Farina replied, "Absolutely! I kind of wanted to see the vibe, and I feel like it's super supportive, it's a well-organized event, and I will definitely do more of these."
Farina wasn't the only accomplished road pro to sample the Lost and Found's dirt and gravel roads for the first time. Even George Mount, the first American to race a Grand Tour (1981 Giro) was lured out from the Bay Area, competing in the 60-mile version on an old Alan cyclocross bike.
Some are already coming back for revenge. "It was great man, you know next year I'm coming back and I want to win it," a disappointed Clark declared. Haley also pledged to come back with Haidet for some revenge, as Haidet flatted early on in the race and never saw the front of the race again.
With the victory, when asked if he'd do more of these, Ortenblad told Cyclocross Magazine,
"Yeah, I hope so. It's one of those things that you know is going to be really hard, but you also know is going to be really fun."
While most participants could only focus on the next pedal stroke and staying upright in an attempt to get to the finish, Ortenblad had time to contemplate his gravel future, and it's looking bright.
"I was kind of thinking about it while I was racing today that it'd be fun to do some other ones."
Gravel specialists have been warned.
Full 2015 Lost and Found Bike Ride gravel results are here. See our profile of Ben Berden's Stoemper Ronny cyclocross/gravel bike here. Stay tuned for more bike profiles from the event.