The Texas Chainring Massacre, hosted by Spinistry Promotions on January 23rd, 2016 is a gravel grinder featuring a unique combination of dirt roads and desolate country roads that are both scenic and challenging. The route begins and ends in the “civilized” part of the Dallas-Fort Metroplex near the town of Valley View, Texas.
This report comes to us from Bob Cummings, team leader of the Panaracer/Stan’s NoTubes p/b Bicycle X-Change Elite gravel cycling team, headquartered in the Flint Hills of Kansas, United States. 2016 brings a new look and new sponsors to Bob’s team. Working closely with Panaracer, the team will not only race many of the premier gravel events in the USA, but also assist with the development of new and existing tyre models.
The Texas Chainring Massacre has been on my to do list for the last couple of years. Until this year, there has always been a conflict. The 2016 event date fell perfectly on our team’s calendar, prompting teammate Rob Bell and I to make the trip to the Dallas area. Possessing zero knowledge of the course, things would be a relative unknown for us. However, conditions on race day were perfect, boosted by the confidence we have in our Felt F1x gravel bikes fitted with Panaracer’s Gravel King tubeless tires and Stan’s Avion carbon wheels.
In the past, I’ve road raced a lot in the state of Texas. On every occasion the competition has been seriously tough; for race day, I was expecting no less. Spinistry Promotions is clearly working hard at promoting gravel events in Texas, particularly if the number of riders in attendance was anything to go by.
As expected, the race started out fast and furious with riders in the 100-mile group strung out for some distance. Out of character, I started the race from the back, forced to answer the last-minute call of a nature break. Consequently, I was forced to burn energy, jumping and closing many gaps as I made my way towards the front of the race.
After a few miles, the “head” of the race separated itself from the rest of the field. Between breaths, I recognized some top level road racers in the leading group of 20 – 30 riders. Mat Stephens of the Elevate Pro Cycling team was present, along with a teammate. They would be riders to watch.
Teammate Rob and I wanted to keep the pace high in the hopes of thinning out the group. To make this happen, we took turns turns rolling off the front of the field. The front group was having none of this, shutting everything down within the first 15 miles. However, this is where fortunes changed for us and the race.
I was surprised by the size of the rocks that were strewn along the gravel roads of the course. Riders were flatting everywhere. I’d been expecting chip seal pavement and gravel roads with the odd section of deep gravel, filled with small to moderate sized chunks. Rather, golf ball to baseball size rocks lurked on some of the roads, laying in wait to damage a tire casing and ruin a racer’s day.
I’d returned to the group after attempting to break their will again by riding off the front solo. I was expecting Rob to counter my move, but that never happened. Looking for Rob among the throng of riders immediately surrounding me, he was nowhere to be seen. Drifting to the back, I still couldn’t find Rob. A fellow competitor mentioned that Rob had experienced some sort of trouble, and was off the back.
As I sat at the back of the group looking and waiting for Rob to return, Mat Stephens made a move and rode off the front solo. The pack seemed to be content with this latest development, but kept Mat close and within reach. I thought about jumping to bridge across to Mat, but the pace was continuing at a steady rate, and I wanted to give Rob as much time as possible to chase back on.
The 50 Mile Checkpoint
The midpoint of the race was drawing close, and Rob was nowhere to be seen. If Rob didn’t show soon, I would be forced to push ahead to chase Mat, who at this point had ridden a little out of sight. I made a rapid stop at the checkpoint and exited as third fastest from our 15 person group.
When I caught the two checkpoint leaders, one of them asked if I had remembered to roll across the timing mat at the checkpoint?! Because I was running late to the race, I missed the pre-race announcement and the requirement for rolling across the timing mat. That was a serious error on my part! Not leaving anything to chance, I made the quick decision to turn around and correct my mistake.
When I finally got back onto course, it took only a short while before I caught and passed the third placed rider on the road. The second placed rider was a different matter. He was rolling a very hard tempo, which required 20 miles of serious chasing to make the catch. Suffice to say I was aggravated, knowing that first time through the midpoint checkpoint I was almost alongside him. Sitting on his wheel briefly to recover and refuel, it wasn’t long before we began working together in a two-person rotation – until he lost my wheel and drifted off the back.
I was alone, again. The only company in my solo pursuit of Mat was the catch and pass of riders from the Texas Chainring Massacre short course. But it didn’t matter. This was Mat’s day, and I didn’t see him until I crossed the finish some three minutes behind him. While I recorded the fastest split for the last 50 miles of the course, the deficit was simply too big to close. Regardless, Mat had ridden a great race, worthy of a hearty congratulations!
Third placed rider for the 100 mile course, David Piercey, finished approximately six minutes behind me, followed by a six-person group of riders some 15 minutes later. To my surprise and delight, Rob was in that group and lead out the sprint to grab fourth place!
The first race of the season is always a learning experience. I chose the Panaracer Gravel King 700c x 32mm tire for the Texas Chainring Massacre. In hindsight, a better choice would have been the 700c x 40mm variant. There was enough rough gravel sections and large rocks along the course to make this the better tire choice.
Tire choice is what unraveled Rob’s race. He was secure in the lead group when one of those large rocks mentioned earlier, was kicked in front of him, cutting his 32mm wide tire. The tire was damaged but sufficiently sealed by Stan’s Notubes sealant to get him rolling. However, the tire needed topping up on several occasions, exhausting Rob’s supply of Co2 cartridges. It didn’t help matters that Rob forgot his hand pump! Luckily for Rob, a friendly fellow competitor stopped to assist.
After my race, I too realized I had made another mistake – I had raced without any backup tubes. I guess that’s what they call knocking the rust off!