Apex Cycling Pushes to Amazing 240 Mile Victory
One of the great joys of my job as Vice President of Sales and Marketing is getting the opportunity to work with all of our amazing sponsored athletes. This mean that I get to share with them in the excitement of each of their many successes. I love every time that I receive an email from one of our athletes about their latest race, and the post below is no different. We are proud to sponsor the guys on the Apex Cycling race team, which has been putting in many fantastic performances this season. This past weekend, they continued that streak at the DAMn 2019 gravel race, a 240 mile gravel race spanning an entire state. The following post was sent to me by Chris Stevens, one of the team members pictured here. It’s a fantastic recap of their experience, and a glimpse into what it is like to race for 240 miles against stiff competition. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into Apex Cycling’s success.
The DAMn 2019: Thomas's Greatest Day
By Chris Stevens
I hope by now most folks are aware of the DAMn and how it works through social media channels and other outlets. I will try to spare too many details, but still hit a few key points. The DAMn is a gravel event roughly 240 miles point to point across MN from Gary, SD to Hager City, WI. There is NO gps navigation. It’s paper cue cards that you receive only at the designated checkpoints. Therefore, no planning ahead route wise. I love the cue cards. Thomas seemed to agree.
For me personally this was intended to be a huge big day with the intent of still trying to win and defend the title. I wanted to do that without going toooo hard. I had a big ace in the hole this year with Thomas. Last year I raced solo most of the race. This year I raced solo for about 15 minutes total. More on that below. I came to the race in a state of very deep fatigue. It was as deep a state of fatigue as I’ve ever carried. Ever! My main target is Gravel World Champs in a couple weeks. I was training through the DAMn and using it as a great opportunity to have fun, practice fueling and test equipment. We did all that and did it well. How tired was I? I rode my bike 702 miles last week. I had 1525 TSS for the week. For those that don’t follow TSS that’s the equivalent of riding over 15 hours all out. 35+ hours on my bike for the week. And I felt great and raced well!
Let’s get right into it. First things first. Planning to ride start to finish with Thomas doing a 240-mile race scared the heck out of me. He had a real bad day physically at Lutsen and we didn’t really know why. It just wasn’t his day. But this day was twice as long. We thought we knew what we needed to fix but weren’t sure. Thomas was also racing in much less of a state of fatigue so that would help. As it turned out this was about to be Thomas’s greatest performance. Probably by a lot. Maybe his greatest ride.
We had a fabulous support crew that never bobbled or panicked. My wife Amy, Courtney, Brad and Carrie Olek. We also had the ultimate chase vehicle in a big van courtesy of Sykl Power bikes. We arrived early, but instead of sleeping we just laid around and chilled. Last year I forced broken sleep and felt terrible the first 150 miles of the race. This year I only dozed off and felt like I was firing on all 12 cylinders right out of the gate. Lesson learned…maybe 😊
The theme for all these races is lack of pacing by the field. It amazes me how hard folks are willing to go the first portion of a 13+ hour race. This one was no different and I we were prepared with a plan to shell the field from the gun and get up the road quickly. What I didn’t know was how hard I was going to have to go to make that happen. Thomas and I got away fairly early after going hard to break up the draft fest, but we were caught at a football field long / ankle deep water crossing. That was fun and new this year! Nothing like riding ~230 miles with wet shoes! We chose to carry across and spare our drive trains. A few others rode it and that created a big gap to chase again. Most of the others in the lead group caught back up. Therefore, we had to attack the draft fest hard again and again.
This is where my 15 minutes of solo riding occurred. Thomas got a gap and rode away hard. I held up a bit to hold the field and then attacked them off bridging to Thomas maybe 45 minutes into the race. I held threshold for 15 minutes straight to catch back up. 15 minutes at Threshold in a 13 hour race…..genius! Ha. But that’s what it took to catch Thomas and the very very fast Madone he was riding. But we were well away now….so we thought.
Checkpoint 1 about mile 60 came and I was showing GONZO power numbers on my computer. I was afraid that I was over-paced, but more concerned about my partner after his deal at Lutsen. The good news is we left Check 1 before others arrived. We backed off. Our intend was to ride much more easily the rest of the race and just make it a solid workout. By working together, we could still go very fast. Unfortunately cue cards are fun and hard and we made a wrong turn by about ½ mile around mile 70. The chase caught site of us and we were caught by a bridging rider in “Joel.” If you want to google Joel you can see how legit this guy is. We didn’t know Joel at the time. It was 3 AM or so and we were frustrated from a wrong turn and frustrated to have a guy with us. We never said a word to him which wasn’t very nice. Instead we simply didn’t work with him and let him ride up the road. We came to a climb, attacked and he was well off the back in an instant. Hopefully for good this time?
Checkpoint 2 came. 120 miles and still GONZO power numbers. I was real happy Thomas seemed to be having a great day. He was eating more than he’d ever eaten and we were still peeing well at 6AM. No hydration issues. No fueling issues. The machines were firing on all cylinders. I even took a quick moment to get a cool shot in front of the HED truck. Unfortunately for me Andy from HED wasn’t ready for us with Crepes so only Thomas got one. I settled for PB and J. We rolled from Check 2 with a sizeable lead and again knocked back the power. We rode and rode. Some hero gravel, some so so, a big minimum maintenance climb that reminded me of about 20 climbs at Dirty Kanza with huge rocks. And of course, some fresh / soft grade that made things hard.
Around mile 160 Thomas looked back and there was group of 4 in site. We couldn’t believe it. We were still holding very respectable power. They were gaining on us. We couldn’t believe it. So about 160 miles here we were back at it. No relenting. They disappeared off the back yet again. Jeepers though so much for that “training day” and keeping things under control.
And it got worse quick. About mile 182 or just before Check 3 we made about a 1.5-mile navigation error. Proper navigation is part of winning this event. No excuses. This error allowed the guys to not only catch us but 2 to pass us. Thankfully it was individuals instead of a cohesive group so we picked up one guy before the checkpoint. Our main competition “Joel” had 5:13 into us when we left Check 3. We had to grab fuel. We had to lube chains. There was nothing we could do, but let the clock run and see what happened. About 50 miles to go and we were down 5:13. Thomas was still firing on all cylinders, but for how long? He was untested over this duration. But no sign of cracking. Could I keep going at this pace?
We were in disbelief. How could this guy put 5 minutes into us so fast? Thomas suggested we just “do us” and ride it in at a reasonable pace and see what happens. Once we got back to it, he must have changed his mind as he took a few hard pulls. I think we both felt like we could crack anytime. That said I swear every sip of the Perform / Sustain mix was an instant lift and made me more focused and determined. It was getting hot. The climbs were getting big. We were now 9+ hours in. Just about when real doubt set in, I heard Thomas mumble “we aren’t here for you to get 2nd.” That was the spark that really lit my fire and clarified our mission. We were only about 15 minutes clear of Checkpoint 3 and the “just do us” turned to “full kill” just like that. I pulled, pulled, and pulled. Aero bars as much as possible. Holding wattage that scared me a little, but I hoped would get me to the end. I told Thomas at one point I felt like I was chasing a unicorn that would never appear. Thomas was heating up and just starting to falter, but still riding strong. My mind was playing games with me over and over. Could I hold up? I was well over pacing my original target. I had ridden my bike almost 500 miles for the week before the race! Could we do it?
Just as we arrived into Cannon Falls or roughly 220 miles the tiny dot on the horizon suddenly grew larger. Someway, somehow, we counted to an only 45 second gap. Another navigation error and we rode 3 loops around 1 roundabout…lol…..stupid stuff right? I read x3 as 3 circles when it meant go through 3 roundabouts. That 45 seconds grew a bit, but we had a long climb out of town. Joel looked back and saw us. He knew it was a matter of time and I was ready to do whatever it took at that point. We caught him about 2 miles later, attacked hard and there was no response. I swear I teared up a bit right there. I was physically and mentally trashed with an hour of riding to go. Thomas was also deteriorating quickly. I had no idea if I could go another 5 minutes without cramping. The hardest part of the course was still ahead. The unrelenting big rollers.
We got through the rollers easily with no Joel in site behind. We got to the official finish line so early nobody was there! We rolled through town easily and cruised into port. Somehow, I still felt like I gas in the tank. Thomas had just ridden 13 hours. Hard. Perfect fueling. Perfect hydration. Easily his greatest performance. Probably by a ton. I saw the data on my computer and in Training Peaks. He had a mind-blowing day. Simply amazing. I rode 25 watts more than my race winning pace from 2018 on a very tired body. How good I felt after all that still amazes me.
We celebrated with our 12” custom made donuts, took cold showers and ate. Our plans for everyone getting together diminished quickly as we had a tired support staff and BRF teammates that didn’t make it on this day. They will be back for #unfinishedbusiness.
Again……Thanks to Thomas, my wife, Courtney, Brad, Carrie. It was certainly one for the ages. I rode harder than I ever have for that long. I fueled as well as I ever have. Would you believe I took in 30 ounces of maple syrup during the race? Well I did. 30 ounces of maple syrup, 12 servings of Sustain, 2 servings of Perform spoon fed throughout. Obviously, a couple Cashew Blondie Kakookies and 8 of my Apex breakfast bars. Nearly 10,000 calories burned.
A crazy day indeed and nobody does it like Trenton. Trenton gives the event a sense of family. It’s an incredible experience. Midnight start, cyclists of all kinds, gravel. Not sure what more we could ask for.
Up next. Gravel World Championships. Lincoln, Nebraska. We’ll be tapered, better prepared, better equipment yet! Can’t wait.
– Chris Stevens