This past weekend served as my season opener as far as cycling races are concerned. The Speedwagon Classic is a Montana road race if there ever was one. Unsanctioned, largely unadvertised, more than half the course is on loose gravel roads. It checks off all the boxes. News of the race is spread largely by word of mouth.

Speedwagon is a training race, a testing ground for everybody to see how their spring fitness stacks up. It is held in the beautiful Mission Valley and put on by the quintessential mainstay of Montana endurance racing, Matt Seeley.

Missions
If you take a camera and wave it around somewhere in the Mission Valley, chances are you’ll end up with a photo that looks something like this. Don’t look up too much or you’ll slide out on the gravel and it will be unpleasant.

This year, we had the good fortune of having freshly graded roads for a good portion of the course. This meant, essentially, inch-deep gravel for about 20 of the 50 miles. Looking back, I would have been substantially better off on my cyclocross tubulars, but I had only brought one set of wheels, and my tire choice was the Challenge Strada Bianca, 700x30c, on my Rolf Prima Aspin SL wheels. I rode my trusty 2012 Orbea Terra cyclocross bike. Unfortunately, it is not made anymore, but certainly the fastest cross bike I’ve ridden.

The Strada Bianca is named for the white gravel roads of Tuscany, and they did surprisingly well on the soul-sucking gravel roads of Polson, Montana. After a paved roll-out, the Speedwagon course this year routed us onto a rutted two-track along a canal about five miles in, and that’s where the first mini-break took place. I only had two MBW racing teammates in the race, Luke and Peter, and after we made it through the canal section, I found out Peter had flatted in the first mile on the pavement. Luke and I both found ourselves in the front pack after the canal, which was still a pretty good-sized group (probably 15 or so riders).

At the next gravel section, though, things started to thin out. I found myself in a group of about nine, struggling to hang on through the rougher gravel sections, and relaxing a bit on the paved sections. Most of the field had opted for low-profile cross tires.

We made it past “Elliot’s corner” where Elliot Bassett slid out three years ago and I went down with him. Fortunately, we both finished the race, but not without leaving a fair amount of blood on the course. It’s at about mile 13, and is followed by a steep, rocky climb. That’s where the pace really picked up, and riders dropped off one by one. Through a gravel descent that was the fastest part of the course, past a couple 90-degree corners, and up the next climb, which was the location of the Apple Hill Prime, where two 20 dollar bills are held out by Matt’s daughters, and the men’s and women’s leaders have to grab them as they ride by. Toby got the prime, and several miles later, our pack had dwindled to five.

That was how it stayed until the final climb. Matt, Toby, Orion, David, and me. I did my best to hold on, and did get dropped in a couple of the looser gravel sections, only to bridge back up to the group when it got smoother. Matt joked about having a yo-yo as a prize for the rider who gets dropped and comes back the most, which I would surely have won.

In the end, we did hit the final climb, the one-mile slog up R.E.O. Hill to the finish, as a group, and Matt made the first move. Toby went with him, with Orion not far behind. David didn’t seem to have much left. I had even less. I watched helplessly as Toby made his move and didn’t look back, opening up a widening gap on Matt, who was being hotly pursued by Orion. In the end, Toby made it to the line with a comfortable gap, earning the win a year after a flat relegated him to third place.

Matt managed to hold off Orion by a bike length for second, and David and I grunted through in fourth and fifth.

Since most of the riders behind us had been riding solo the vast majority of the race, we had built up a huge gap on the rest of the field. Here are final results:

SpeedwagonClassic16results

And just like that, another season of racing has begun. Looking forward to it. Still working on getting my time trial bike built up, and then I can’t wait to hit the road on that thing.

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