Pancakes with Fruit

Race Report: The Leland Kermesse

by Mark Swartzendruber in Road Cycling, Train With Grain

Disclaimer: (Feed)Zone exists in a world of hyperbole and the lines between fantasy and reality are smeared like the finger-painting of an artistically challenged 3 year old. All stories are mostly accurate if not actual…

THE LELAND KERMESSE

Ergo

WHAT A MESS

The Feed(ZONE) wishes to thank the fine people of the Flantlandia Cycling Association for organizing, hosting, marshaling and all other duties involved with putting on a truly unique and wonderful bike race that is NOT another industrial park crit.  The weather was not your fault and no one who raced the Leland Kermesse this year and suffered mightily should be dissuaded from participating next year.

Spring time in Chicagoland is not as described in the folk lore “in like a lion out like a lamb”.  Spring in Chicagoland is an epic struggle between competing air masses, pressure zones, jet streams and gulf moisture; none of which are willing to surrender ground to the other.  It is violent, hostile, nasty and ruthless.  You may be enjoying a bike ride at 10:00 a.m. with 70 degree temps in a gentle breeze and sunny conditions only to face riding back from your turn around point into the teeth of a bitter north wind with thunder snow whipped into your face with an ambient air temp of 40 and a wind chill in the 20’s.

I knew the weather forecast for the race:  50 degrees, partly sunny following a morning of diminishing rain fall and windy conditions were predicted.  20 mph WNW wind with gusts to 35 said accuweather.com.  I predicted via Facebook that I would dish out some pain at the race.  I was about to find out that pain would be all mine.

I got to the race venue in Leland IL, about 90 miles due west of Chicago.  Middle of Nowhere in La Salle County,  Leland is a town of 950 with a high school, a grain elevator and a Casey’s General Store.  I drove to registration at the Village Hall, a 400 square foot, 2 room metal shed on the outskirts of town.  The weather was indeed quite nasty.  The rains had diminished and the wind was as predicted.  The partly sunny skies were actually quite overcast but the temperature was indeed 50 or close to it.

Riders from the early wave of racing were finishing.  The winner of the Cat 5 race came to his car after finishing his race.  “It’s brutal out there” he said.  I laughed to myself as he said this.  Of course it’s awful.  You’re a lowly newbie but congratulations on your win.  Winning the Leland Kermesse will either help build you toward being a real bike racer one day or it will destroy your desire to race and turn you into a Century Clubber.

The Leland Kermesse is the best attempt we have here in IL at duplicating the small Belgian races that blast off every weekend in the Flemish countryside.  The roads are rural, the towns are small, the pavement is often cobbled, crusty or just plain farm roads. And, the racing is legendary for being brutally tough.  The Leland Kermesse captures this well.  The roads are essentially flat with small rises and false flats and each 25k lap includes about 8k of what the locals call “aggregate” roads.  Aggregate is not gravel, although there is some gravel.  It is a compacted mixture of hard packed clay and sand with some rock tossed on top from time to time to replenish what the tractors and combines take with them into the adjacent corn and soy bean fields.  When it’s dry these roads are dusty and when wet, the roads are slick and soupy.

The kid had clearly spent too much time following wheels, but he won his race and Druber tosses out large props.

After taking the photo above, I returned to the warmth of my car.

15 minutes before my race was scheduled to begin, I returned to my car from my 10 minute warm up ride and put a mid weight wind jacket on over the Patagonia Capilene base layer, arm warmers and mid weight wind vest I had underneath my long sleeved jersey.  I also, put my thermal leg warmers on over the light weight knee warmers I was wearing.  The temperature was dropping.

As the combined Master 30+ and 45+ and Women 1/2/3 fields rolled out, the jockeying for position and shelter from buffeting head wind began.  When the neutral rollout ended, the attacks followed immediately.  The Van Waggoner team had 4 guys who were bound to split the field early on and they were attacking and forcing the pace for the first 5 miles in the cross winds and head winds. I for the most part was taking a passive role. Those guys were in the 30+ field and I had most of the 45+ guys sitting near me so I just figured on letting the 30+ guys beat on each other while I watched it happen.

Upon hitting the first tail wind section the race surprisingly began to shred.  As the pace was amped, the guys who’d been struggling in the cross wind were allowing small gaps to form.  I closed down across a couple of gaps as we turned into the second strong cross wind section and found myself with only one 45+ contender in the group.  One more short tail wind section preceded the first section of Strade Bianche and as we turned on to it, I was blasted with a wind gust that pushed me off the clay road into the grass and nearly down into the ditch running alongside the road.  As I righted myself, I was gapped from the leaders with the 45+ rider ahead of me.  Knowing that this would be the race deciding section, here only 6 miles into the 100k race, I buried myself on the slick, muddy clay road passing the 45+ rider and 3-30+ riders on my way up to Paul Swinand who was riding away up the road in the fierce cross/headwind.  Paul and I had broken away in this same race together last year at the exact same time in the exact same section of road.  If you look back through my archives on Trusport you’ll find the report.

Paul is a retail stock analyst for Morningstar.  He’s a guy who shows up on Bloomberg or CNBC from time to time telling you if it’s a good time to buy Target or Big Lots or Wal Mart and whether or not the retail sector is a fair value or over priced or expecting a slump.  He’s also a damn good bike racer. Has been so since the 80’s.  He’s chatty.  Talks about the kids, former races, basically riding with Paul, you catch an un filtered stream of consciousness as it pops into his head it pours out of his mouth.

Paul was not wearing a jacket or leg coverings.  His hands were covered with tight fitting neoprene gloves – The kind meant to keep your hands dry but not warm.  As I caught up with Paul, he was jabbering about getting enough to drink, how his hands were cold but not to bad, how was I feeling and I’d need to be sure and write something funny on Truesport – suggesting that maybe the funniest thing about the race was that we two roadies had dropped a team full of cyclo-cross racers on the first section of aggregate road and so on.

Trading pulls with Paul, the two of us had 30 seconds on our poursivants upon exiting the first section of aggregate road.  We beat it hard in the tail wind and jammed hard through the next 2 mile section of aggregate in the cross wind.  The narrow lanes of rideable road made drafting nearly impossible.  You see, to avoid the soft and sticky center of the road, you need to ride on the traffic paths left by cars.  In a cross wind, one rider would be on the smooth clay and the other rider would be in either softer muck or gravel.  Thus, on the aggregate in the cross wind, it was every man for himself.  Paul was having a much easier go on the slick roads than I.

I was feeling peckish – over dressed, which Paul mentioned between other verbal tweets.  “You feel okay? You don’t seem like yourself, I mean you’re not tearing it up like you did last year, you feeling a bit tired? Maybe all that riding in California has you tired but you’ll be better in about June.”  If I wrote this like Paul said it, it would be a single run on sentence with no punctuation and no spaces between the words.

When we exited the second section and turned right to catch that tasty to but brief tail wind, I unzipped all my layers and let them flap in the breeze. I was cursing myself for over dressing.  I began to feel much better as I cooled down.  Little did I know that on the very next lap, I’d be zipping those layers back up after the rain and sleet started falling and the temps dropped as the wind coarsened.

Paul and I buried ourselves into the mighty head wind after exiting the last 1 mile section of aggregate.  You all know my TT ability.  I am not kidding you when I tell you that the best Paul and I could do in the fierce head wind was about 16 mph and often it was 14.  I’ll insert my Garmin file link of the race here to show you.  Note how high my HR is at the same time our speeds are the slowest.  http://connect.garmin.com/activity/79744282

Less than half way through the race we had an insurmountable gap on our chasers.  Thus as the temperatures dropped, the rain and sleet began and our task ceased being riding hard to stay away from the other racers but going as hard as we possibly could in order to end the miserable experience we were enduring. The finish line didn’t mean victory; it meant an end to the most ludicrous and miserable way a stock analyst and a financial advisor could possibly spend a Saturday afternoon.  We both have hot wives. We both have nice homes. Paul has young children.  I have a dog and a well stocked bar at home and yet – here we were.

I began to get concerned when Paul stopped talking.  He was obviously suffering the effects of hypothermia.  His lips were blue and he couldn’t feel his feet or hands.  I was having lower back spasms and couldn’t feel my hands inside the rain soaked gloves gripping the handle bars as we bounced along the washboard surface of the aggregate roads.  “I’m miserable, I wish the officials would shorten the race” I told Paul.  His response after a long period of silence was “Wwaa webber ib turbull.  Khan fee faiche.  Khan see straight, ubber body numm”

And yet, in the last 5 miles, he was riding away from me on the slick, muddy clay roads.  Clearly he is one tough man, and clearly he wanted to get back to his car more badly than I wanted to get to mine.  In the end, he crossed the line as the 30+ winner and I crossed the 45+ winner with, what some said, about an 8 minute gap over the next finishers.

Frozen, delirious, caked in sand and clay from the waist down, we both rode wordlessly to our cars flopped out bikes on the ground, got in and turned on the heat and seat warmers vowing never again…until next year.

Only 3 riders finished the Pro 1,2 race.

About The Author
Mark Swartzendruber Google: Mark Swartzendruber
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