Ken Woods Memorial Road Race, Cannon Falls, MN
As we all know, Illinois doesn’t have road races anymore, so I decided to drive up to race in Minnesota’s season opener, the Ken Woods Memorial Road Race. I’ve been racing online with ATP for a little over a year, and one of my ATP teammates (and former captain), Sherry Berde Townsend, spent decades organizing women for the Gopher Wheelmen, which was founded in 1934 by Ken Woods. His legacy survives today in a vibrant racing scene in Minnesota, a scene which still includes road races!
The race is now put on by Midtown Cycling Club and the start/finish is sited at a small Lutheran church with ample parking and food for sale, the adjacent grounds providing a park-like setting for registration, staging, and podium ceremonies. The course is a 21 mile loop through rolling farmland, with a several minute climb peaking at 6.6% about two miles from the finish, The finish itself is on a false flat after a short roller. Each category completes 1-4 laps, and a feed zone tent one kilometer from the finish provides orientation for sprint timing.
I know Midtown’s founder Randall Huskamp a little, so after consulting with Sherry and Randall, I opted to register for the two-lap Women’s 3/4 in the morning and then, depending on how that went, planned to register for the one-lap Women’s 4/5 in the afternoon. The Women’s 1/2/3 was also scheduled in the morning with a start time which was to be five minutes before the 3/4 but our field was pretty small and theirs was even smaller, so they opted to lump us in with one start time.
I was nervous about that but lined up and stuck with my plan to ride smartly, putting a body between myself and the wind whenever possible, and to have a reason anytime that wasn’t possible. When a woman who I knew had done well in that race last year tried to get me to move over into the crosswind, I told her that I wouldn’t, but I’d make space so she could take that spot if she wanted it. When I found myself at the back behind some women who had struggled on the last climb, I pre-emptively passed them out in the crosswind, and, preserving my momentum there, may have attacked the field on the climb.
I took some brief turns on the front, but never moved that far back again. Another woman in my field spent more time on the front and I was glad I was immediately behind her when, shortly after we turned into the tailwind section, she took a swig of her bottle and then tried to sprint away. I closed that one down. When another woman raced away immediately following and she caught those wheels I told the field behind me that they needed to close that one. They did, and so it went, with attack and counter attack at 30 mph. I somehow made the first breaks and bridged a few that got away, and once they had whittled the lead down to six women and me, the same woman popped to the side to check and yelled “She’s still here! Go! Go!” to someone on the front. Sherry’s friend Bonny muttered something sarcastic about the 1/2/3s supposedly not changing the character of our race and then told me this was it.
I knew it wasn’t it. I knew that a very long downhill was just ahead, so although I chased them I didn’t do it that hard, and then the downhill came and I was in my drops, head down, even reminding myself to tuck my elbows in, and eating up the ground between us. My gravitational advantage had me coasting at 42 mph behind the field that was not going nearly as quickly. They were pedaling furiously, trying to make sure I never closed that gap, and I’m sad to say their repeated checks at the closing distance led to a disaster. One looked behind and ran into the woman in front of her, they both went down, and Bonny went right over them.
I braked hard and set myself up for a line through the wreckage, asking if they were OK as I went past. Bonny yelled “Just, go!,” from her spot on the ground, so I did. I never closed the gap to three 1/2/3 women ahead of me, but I kept pace behind them, anywhere from 400 to 800 meters back, and rode the next 26ish miles at around 230 Watts for the flats and 330 Watts for the uphills. One of them got away from the other two at some point but I didn’t notice; I just kept my head down, trying to make sure I wasn’t caught. I finished less than a minute behind the other two, and four minutes ahead of the rest of the field. I won my first road race!
By the 4/5 race in the afternoon I was marked. After I took my turn on the front they refused to come around. I dropped to 200 Watts or less just waiting for an attack that never came. I rode the uphills at 400 watts just to see what would happen. I coasted downhill. I positioned myself shunting them into the gutter on the crosswinds and doing basically no work for a long time. When someone finally did let me off the front after maybe 15 miles, I was one of only six. Every time I looked back it had seemed like the whole field was back there. I should have at that moment realized I was winning the war of attrition and should have done 300 watts to the end, but I was still waiting for an attack I somehow thought I needed to save myself for. It came at the end, which I botched completely, coming in 5th.
I definitely recommend this race to anyone who wants to try a road race. It’s an 8 hour drive, but it’s not that hilly, and the wind on Saturday which they thought was absolutely terrible, and which led to some racers quitting, was only 15 mph with 27 mph gusts. I told them all that was a pretty typical Saturday Morning Ride for Wild Card but I don’t think they believed me.