5 October 2013

5 October 2013

The Oregon Coast Gravel Epic

Also known as ‘yes you really should have trained for this‘ and ‘remember to eat and drink. Really

Epic is one of those rather overused descriptors these days, but Steve Cash and his team at Dark 30 Sports put on an event that definitely lived up to the name. It would have been even more epic (but considerably less fun) had the weather been wet, but fortunately we had clear skies and sunshine out at Waldport on the Oregon Coast.

My season more or less finished three weeks ago, and although I had the best of intentions to get a few long, hard rides in before today, a combination of low motivation and terrible weather precluded that; I will know better for next year…. The main talk in the run up to this ride was what sort of bicycle would be the best choice for a 73 mile course, mainly on gravel roads, with over 10,000ft of STEEP climbing and technical descents. It was pretty great to see everything from road bikes (or perhaps bike? Mine may have been the only one), through cyclocross, touring bikes, mountain bikes and even a 4.8″ tired Moonlander. Not too many events attract such a diverse mix! I have always been pretty comfortable on a road bike for riding gravel – though I decided to put some slightly bigger tires on this time. I got a set of 28C Hutchinson Secteur tubeless tires. But then realised that all my race bikes have straight chainstays and the tires wouldn’t fit (I more often build with s-bend chainstays now, to give more tire clearance) – except for my FRC, as the folding design spaces the chainstays wider. I mounted the tires on a set of Kinlin rims – not technically a tubeless rim, but the tires actually sealed up more easily than some dedicated tubeless rims I have tried. Clearance at the seattube is tight, but just enough. I also added a compact chainset – I’ve never run one before – to give me a low gear of 34×26.

The start was at 8am, meaning I left the house at 5am for the drive out. It was chilly, but the sun was coming up. About 120 riders took the start, split between the 73 mile Abomination and the 37 mile Son of Abomination. We had a neutralised-but-fast start behind Steve in his van – Steve had to step up as lead vehicle after one of the moto drivers didn’t make it. His off-road descending skills driving the van in the woods were impressive! Any hope for a steady start went out when the Canadian ‘cross guys took off as soon as we hit dirt. After a few miles of some intensity we had three of us in the lead – myself, Joe on a 29er and Rob on a ‘cross bike. Chasing Steve’s van down the tracks was entertaining, and I was having a great time with the wider, tubeless tires. With 75psi I was able to rail the descents at the same speed as Joe who had front suspension and 2.1″ tires. After the first four mile climb there was a great switchback descent where I had both wheels in a somewhat-controlled slide on every corner. Rob was taking it a bit easier on the downhills, so Joe and I started the second four mile climb at 17 miles together. I didn’t intentionally ride away, but trying to keep bottom gear at a comfortable cadence meant that I did. We were treated to incredible vistas – at one point there was a lake of blinding white fog sitting in the valley as we dropped down towards it. I was still on my own after dropping down and onto smooth paved road for a six mile section. Where, retrospectively, I should have taken more opportunity to refuel…. At mile 35 I started the third climb, which was ten miles long, and knew I had overcooked it on the first half. I backed off a bit and tried to settle into a maintainable rhythm. Joe caught me about four miles later, and I slotted onto his wheel to get what draft I could. But I knew I was in trouble. I held on until mile 43, just two miles from the top of the climb. Then I really hit the wall – I was seeing stars and pedalling squares; I haven’t bonked that hard in a very long time. In fact the last time was halfway up the Galibier during La Marmotte Sportif in the French Alps. I watched Joe ride away, then ate a gel and finished off both bottles – I would have to try and hang on to get to the final aid station at 59 miles. Fortunately it was mostly downhill, and I was very grateful to get there and fill both bottles. Feeling slightly refreshed, and hoping to keep the cramps at bay, I started into the final four mile climb. Which seemed to go on for far too long, but at least after cresting it was only ten miles to the finish. I was cramping badly in the last three miles on the road. Fortunately the spasm passed just before Rob appeared out of nowhere behind me and immediately accelerated past. I was able to get on his wheel and we were eying up a possibly sketchy sprint finish following a sharp downhill bend when he took a wrong turn at the last marshall. So I was able to roll in for second, 12 minutes behind the victorious Joe.

All in all a great day out; a bit disappointed to lose after being alone in the lead for twenty miles, but good motivation to prepare better and return next year. The bike worked great – the big tires were a revelation. The only thing I would change is to add a 28T rear sprocket for one gear lower.

And now it is time for the off season 🙂 Many thanks to Steve and his team for a very well run race – if you have a chance to ride a Dark 30 event then I’d recommend it.






  1. It’s good to know that all I need to do to my new English Road is put on 28mm tyres before taking to the gravel, and great ride.

  2. That was a superhuman effort on a road bike. I rode my cross bike with knobby 35s, and even that had me wishing for come 2.1s. And a granny gear. Looking forward to next year though . . .

  3. Hey Rob,

    I just stumbled on to your blog through the dark30 sports facebook page. Anyways, I enjoyed the write up and still wish we got to have that sketchy sprint for second! Great to meet you and I look forward to racing you again in the future, next time hopefully I won’t make a wrong turn…!



  4. I enjoyed your review of the race. I’m curious what pressure you ran on those sectur tires. thanks.

    • 75psi. seemed to work pretty well, could have probably gone down to 70 I think.
      Thanks, Rob.

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