A ride for most, a race for some, and a lesson for one
Having expectations and setting goals is sometimes difficult when riding a new event. “I just want to finish” or “I’m gonna see how it goes” is the usual way to approach the unfamiliar. To say “I’m gonnna go with the lead group” or “I’m expecting a high finish” brings failure into play. The Rock Cobbler dishes out uncertainty in buckets. It’s not a road race but it’s not a mountain bike race. And because it is new event, there is very little intel to go on. The course especially plays with your confidence. Even for those who had ridden Rock Cobbler 1.0, there was doubt. Version 2.0 would be longer and there was a possibility of mud due to some overnight rain.
At least there was no doubt as to who to try and follow. Last year’s winner Neil Shirley was in. Anyone with dreams of a high finish would be wise to get in Neil’s group and hang on as long as possible. Brent Prenzlow, a local ‘Cross god, would also be in the mix. The dark horse and for sure an ally would be my teammate, Bob Frank. If any of those three were in my field of vision, I figured I would be in very good company.
And that’s just where I was as we came off the first lengthy dirt section and headed for the first checkpoint. The Rock Cobbler riders had been shed and a group of 30 or so racers had formed. My confidence level was rising and my mind plotting. The idea was to reach the 8 mile climb just past the half way point with the fast group. No doubt the contenders would make their move on its slopes and the group would be fragmented. Hopefully I could find my teammate or an equal climber and finish the day in a chasing group. Yeah, good plan. Now, just execute it.
But what is that quote about best laid plans? Yeah, they often go awry. In my case I reached the first check with the contenders, got my card punched, turned to fill a bottle, turned around and saw the favorites had headed for the exits. A couple of us were scrambling. We came out of the checkpoint but we could not pick up our group who had disappeared into an orange grove. A wrong turn compounded our original miscue and for a few moments we stopped pedaling as we attempted to find our way back onto the Cobbler course. By the time we had sorted it out, the front of the race was gone and three of us went into grind and grumble mode. Our cadence slowed and our complaining picked up.
I was in full on curse mode. How could I let that happen? That was stupid! How many times had I seen it during pro race coverage? One moment of inattention can turn into minutes lost to the front of the race. In crosswinds or on cobbles, one of the favorites gets out of position or lets his concentration slip and bam!, he’s gapped and scrambling. I now knew the feeling.
Good thing for that 8 mile climb. It shut me up. The 45 minutes of mostly uphill served as a mental reset. It also provided ample time to formulate plan B. When the top arrived I figured sticking with my wrong turn compadres was the best way to salvage the day. There were still 40 miles to go, no sense in going alone.
Our threesome doubled in size as we covered the miles back towards central Bakersfield. We were a working group. That’s to say we were working to get in and save face. The racing had been gutted from our souls and our effort had turned more blue collar in nature. We were a paceline with an assembly line feel. And that was fine. It accomplished its goal. Six of us came in at right around six and half hours, all of us easily in the top 30. A sense of tempered satisfaction permeated our six-some as we pedaled back Lengthwise Brewery, where our day without blemishes had begun.
Six days after the Rock Cobbler 2.0 my head was still saying “what if?” and my legs were saying “what the F?” The Cobbler was both tactical and hard. It was a mind game and as well as a test of the legs an lungs. Yes, I was in physical pain and frustrated almost a week later but I was hooked on a new race and a new format.
I was satisfied with the choices made for bike setup for the Rock Cobbler. It is one of the attractions of riding or racing a gravel event, deciding how to equip your rig for the day’s challenge. The week prior I had ridden Old Cazadero and went with a 40mm tires and much sturdier wheels. The Cobbler was twice as long as Old Caz and not as technical. The possibility of mud never played out at the Cobbler so my tire choice was spot on.
Bike: Giant TCX Advanced
Drivetrain: SRAM 2X10, 50/34 crankset, 11-32 cassette, Red WiFLi rear derailleur
Brakes: SRAM Hydro Disc
Wheels: Stan’s Grail Team
Pedals: Crank Bros. Candy
Tires: Specialized Trigger Pro 33c Tubeless w/Stan’s Sealant, 60 psi
Bar Tape: Lizard Skins 2.5mm
Saddle: Fi’zi:k Tundra
Images: Derek Smith