Cone Azalia: Report and Video!

Warming up

Warming up

Kevin Krol went to Michigan last week to race the legendary Cone Azalia race. It’s billed as the “Paris-Roubaix of the Midwest,” with long stretches of gravel roads over a ten-mile circuit.

Kevin’s race went well, despite a poorly timed flat tire. I won’t bother with more details– his writeup is great and gives a good feeling of what the race is like. Complete with two videos at the end to really show what it’s about…

From Kevin:

This race, while sounding intimidating, has to be on the to-do list of anyone wanting to do a bike race that isn’t just about the race.

The roads were as bad as they were purported to be, but once you got used to it (meaning one lap in) it wasn’t so bad. unless you had a flat, like I did, while leading the race……
Let me set this up -10.1 mile circuit done multiple times depending on your Category (3 laps for us Cat 5’s). Nearly 4 miles of dirt and gravel road split between two sections each lap. And where it was paved, a lot of that wasn’t in that great a shape either. Lots of gravel – some small, some larger. Lots and lots of chuckholes – but the tapered kind that you find on an old dirt farm road, not the cravass you’d find trying to ride on say, Lake Road in Rocky River. And two sets of railroad tracks that crossed the two north/south stretches of the course. Tons of flat tires. More tons of water bottles strewn everywhere. It’s kind of funny after the fact, and was one of the more unique race experiences that I’ve ever had.

About 40 riders started the Cat 5 race and we were the 5th or 6th race off on the day, and it was perfect racing weather, unless you wanted it to be like its namesake race, Paris-Roubaix, and be cold and raining too.
Speed was fairly high off the gun, around the first corner and were were at 26-28mph. Over the first set of train tracks and you are welcomed with 2.5 miles of potholes and gravel. It’s hardpacked and rideable where car/truck/tractor tires have compacted the dirt for the last 70 years, when you can find it. This first dirt sector was a little unnerrving as you could hear multiple tires puncturing and people were darting all over the road to find a good line.

I was making my way toward the front of the pack as we turned onto a paved road knowing I wanted to be at or near the front thru the next sector (about another mile and a half of larger gravel), as I thought it would be easier to negotiate and we also had a paved section after that with a slight tailwind – perfect to set up an attack! Well, I was on the front as we entered the second sector and all of a sudden I hear my rear tire puncture. Damn. It was impossible to control the bike so I tried to ride it for a few yards while the twenty or so guys on my wheel passed me and eventually got off and started changing it. There were at least 4 or 5 other riders of various categories within a hundred yards doing the same thing. A Cat 4 guy next to me got his changed and the follow vehicle happened to pull up and they had a floor pump so we both used it and I got going about a minute after the other guy. I can’t tell you what went thru my head during the 3 minutes it took me to change my tire, but when I caught up to Cat 4 guy, all I was thinking was “hey, this could happen to 15 other guys on the next two laps….they could get stopped by a train….”

Cat 4 guy was from Wolverine Cycling Club – same club that turned out American legend Frankie Andreu. The 4’s started 3 minutes ahead of our race and he was able to latch on to my wheel as I went by and we were working pretty effectively with from about mile 6 on lap one, all the way until the end of lap 2 (mile 20). At one point he sat up as I came around him and asked me “What are you, a time trial specialist?” I said no – triathlete. He laughs and says “wow, cuz you’re ____ing hammering for a Cat 5 guy!!” We were at a constant 25 most of lap 2, a little less on the gravelly sectors and around the dirt corners.
My compadre’s pulls as we neared the start of lap 3 were getting shorter, but I thought if we could keep it up, I could still pull back a lot more time. Well, I cross over the start/finish line to start my last lap and I hear from behind me “Have a good rest of the race!” Dude just bailed.

Riding solo the start of the last lap could have gotten to me, but at least I didn’t have to worry about maneauvering around in a pack. I just had no clue where anyone was. I could see people up the road, but could have no way of knowing. Was starting to feel the effects of my efforts during the two gravel sections on the final lap (which also had a slight headwind), but was still able to motor on the paved stretches. I still caught a ton of people. On the last gravel sector I could see there was a train going thru on the next paved section so I gave it everything, hoping that I’d catch whoever was stopped by it, but by the time I got there, the gates were already up. I also passed the women’s leaders (who started 2 minutes behind us, but I was passed while changing my flat) on the run in as well, but never caught up to any of the leaders from my race.
The last stretch was eastbound on a paved road, and they closed the final kilometer so that racers would have the whole road to sprint. Very cool, but I wasn’t going to need it. I turned myself inside out that final mile and a half doign about 28mph into the finish, and just trying to pass as many as I could and limit my losses.

It turns out that I had a monster race despite flatting then riding with only one other rider, and then riding solo. If I lost 3-4 minutes on the wheel change, my lap splits, riding as I did, put me right there with both the guy who won the race (he must have broken away on lap two and they could not organize to catch him at the end), and the pack of 10 who were racing for second. It would have been a perfect scenario for me…..

A ton of fun, as much of a crap shoot it is for whether you’ll come out of this race unscathed or not. A can’t miss is the huge Cabela’s store for all your hunting, fishing and hillbilly needs just a few miles south on the way home.

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One Response

  1. Nice effort – you really need to upgrade to Cat 4 (or even 3). Racing with the 5s is much too dangerous, especially on something like that!!

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