Utah Gravel Grinder: The 2018 Wild Horse

I originally wrote this piece as a recap of my one and only attempt at the Wild Horse Gravel Race in Utah’s Cedar Mountains, at the request of the promoter Chris Magerl, who was going to submit it to Cycling Utah, or whatever they call themselves these days. I don’t think it ever got published*, so I thought I might as well post it here, in case anyone is looking for beta on that ride. Here goes:

May 8, 2018:

Although this was my first Wild Horse, it had always been on my radar as a ride I wanted to do. I would say it delivered on my expectations of being bumpy, sandy, windy, and at times lonely, which means it was a perfect gravel experience! The views on the backside were pretty spectacular, and I had good company in my riding partner, Mark Currie, as we made our way around the Cedar Mountains. Ironically, we rode together for almost 4 hours, but probably only chatted for a total of 4 minutes. The pace we were riding wasn’t a real chatty pace.

As far as how the race unfolded, the first few miles seemed a little nervous in the group, as everyone was bouncing around looking for the smoothest line. This is often the challenge in gravel racing; wanting to be near the front but not on the front. It’s a trade between the road racing mentality of being glued to someone else’s wheel to catch a draft, versus not being able to see the sharp rocks that might quickly end the day. After a few miles, it seemed like riding side by side with Mark at the front was the best deal, and we half wheeled each other into a pretty big gap at the base of the first climb. That was the last time I saw another rider until we started catching some of the Little Wild Horse riders on the way back.

Our riding styles complemented each other fairly well. I drifted ahead on the climbs, mistakenly thinking I was going hard enough to challenge for the KOM (turns out I didn’t go quite hard enough). Mark was much better on the downhill and turny segments, the net result was a pace that kept us in front. We made a really quick stop at the 2nd feed, barely enough time to slam back a half of a Coke and fill a water bottle. Both of us had hydration packs, so we didn’t linger more than a minute before we were back on course. As confident as I was on the climbs, the last climb at about mile 65 was where the lights went out for me. I went from having a small lead that I thought I could stretch out to the finish to getting passed by Mark’s steady pace all the way to the top, and then watching him recede into the horizon while it seemed I was going backwards. The last 3 miles for me seemed like a bad dream as I hemorrhaged time and motivation and the only thing that kept me going was the old mantra of “the slower you go, the longer it takes.”

As far as equipment goes, I rode the same rig I rode in last year’s Dirty Kanza 200 (206, actually), Crusher, and RPI: an Open UPPER with a single front chainring. A little bird who raced last year, who may or may not be named Jamey Driscoll told me to run my 650b wheels with fat tires, which was good advice that I ignored. Instead, I rode Gravel King 700c x 43c tires with waaaaay too much pressure. I should have stopped to let some out, but I doubt the winner would have waited for me!

*Correction: apparently it did get published, but I still can’t find the link!

Thomas Cooke riding an OPEN U.P.P.P.E.R. during the 2018 Wild Horse gravel bike race in Utah's West Desert.
Photo by Pete Vordenberg, who was the only person standing at the top of KOM 1.

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