Stupor Bowl 19: Racer’s Recap
Stupor Bowl 19 is done and gone, the Speed race came down to an epic dual between myself and Ben Hovland. It was a heck of a battle, but young legs and hunger bested my veteran cunning and Ben emerged victorious. Having just won the All City Championship he now holds the made up, though coveted, title of “fastest guy in town.”
Here is his Stupor Bowl story in his own words and photos from his handlebar mounted GoPro. He sent it over to have it published, and I decided to add my own story to his. I think it's interesting the way our recollections both dovetail and diverge. All love and respect to Ben, you're the Champ, enjoy it, and much thanks to the organizers and everyone who came out. It was a great Stupor Bowl.
Boom Island rollout
Ben: This photo was taken mere seconds after the start and mere seconds before I wiped out on the bridge to Boom Island. The le mans start launched riders from the northern end of Nicollet Island. Many of the speed and stupor contenders headed north first, either to Sheridan Park or Grumpy's Northeast.
Jeff: Having seen Ben scamper down the stairs and slip out and crash, it was obvious what was up, this dude wanted it bad and was all nervous energy. He was the local favorite going into the race, and along with David Smith and Max was most likely going to be the stiffest competition out there as I went for another podium.
Ben: Here is David comically trying to keep his feet dry. Mine were already soaked from the snowy start. En route to Sheridan Park, we rode through the Greco property, site of the 2014 Minneapolis NACCC. Bike selection: I rode my Korean steel roadie with 700x25 tires. With the exception of my wipeout at the start, it proved the right choice to tear up the wet, slushy conditions. David rode fixed on his All-City Big Block, and Jeffrey was on his Mr. Pink with 700x32's.
Jeff: there is a well known and obvious shortcut through Greco to the park, but many riders pealed off, this left me wondering if the gate was shut and they knew something we didn't. Luckily for us, they just weren't that good at routing.
Ben: Jeffrey and I battled the entire race. Heading north on University Ave, I heard him shout “Hey, watch this!” And he tapped on the window of the car next to us, exchanged a nod with the driver and left me gritting my teach as he sped off down the street latched on to the rear wheel well.
I'm not very good at skitching, so I put my head down and upped my cadence. For all the energy Jeffrey saved on his skitch, I had to pedal that much harder, tuck that much lower, and stay focused on chasing him down.
Jeff: From the very outset I decided that I was going to have fun this year, to not take it so seriously, to not slip into prick mode, to just experience the glory of one of the greatest races in all off alleycatdom. I was chasing Ben down University and saw my opportunity to take the express route and use my smarts instead of my legs. I hopped on the car and was yelling at the driver to “go.” Ben yelled at them to stop so he could grab on, but he didn't make it and I was off. I got a little too caught up though and over shot the turn to 22nd and ended up being third into the next stop.
En route to the Shithouse
Ben: Stupor and speed racers overlapped routes between the first few stops.
Ben: The sketchiest road conditions were on our way to the Shithouse on 22nd. Riding through the melting patches of snow required complete concentration; you never knew when you'd hit a hard patch. If you weren't ready, your front wheel would catch awkwardly on the denser snow and cause your entire body to lurch uncomfortably. I had to keep telling myself: weight back, arms loose, power forward. Just like riding sand in cyclocross.
Lots of action at the Shithouse
Ben: Jeffrey, David, and I arrived moments after Max, who can be seen sprinting toward the backyard in the center. I caught a glimpse of courier and all-around fast rider Matt Allen riding away on the left, and was mistakenly under the impression he was ahead of us through the next few checkpoints. So much of the mental game of an alleycat is keeping an eye on your opponents.
Ben: The lead pack of David, Max, Jeffrey and I stuck together as we headed South from the Shithouse toward Alchemist Printing. Stuck in front of the pack, I tried playing cat-and-mouse down Stinson Blvd, swerving from side to side trying to force someone to pull through. No one took the bait.
To drop my rivals, I figured I had to attack early and frequently. I knew my best chance was to force everyone else to chase me going south into the headwind and avoid pulling others as much as possible.
Jeff: Immediately after the Shithouse I decide to start fucking around a bit with my rivals. I was in the lead and grabbed my bottle, took both hands off the bars and took a drink. Ben took the bait and immediately started attacking, taking David with him. They got a bigger gap than I wanted, but I was confident that I could pull it back by the next stop, hopefully using less energy than Ben.
I caught up a few blocks from the stop, having to bury myself more than I liked to grab Ben's wheel. He started weaving around from side to side trying to shake me loose, but there was no way I was going anywhere. My strategy was pretty clear, I was going to ride this young buck till he was used up, then bury him when we got back to traffic in MPLS. The route made it pretty obvious that having somebody pull me around the vast distances of the St. Paul and South East stops was the way to go. This is a marked shift in my alleycatting as I have never ridden wheels and have always just attacked, attacked, attacked counting on my speed and strength to leave everyone wasted in my wake. Riding solo and off the front has always been a point of pride. Now that I'm a bit older, and all these young dudes have coaches and are actively training all year (I don't train, I just ride) that just doesn't work like it used to. It's time to get smart.
Alchemist Printing Company
Ben: After a bit of confusion, David was first in and out at Alchemist but took a longer route to Witch's Hat after Sporty's. David's error allowed Jeffrey and I to break away from the main pack, and we stayed away until the finish.
Jeff: After Sporty's we never saw anyone else on the speed race, I was out front, caught Drew's wheel (he was racing Stupor) and we were off. Ben closed the gap as continued to do all day, and we went to the Witch's Hat together. I sucked his wheel as it was uphill and into a headwind. Although I must say, Ben's a significantly smaller person than me and has an impossibly flat-back low aero tuck, so I pretty much had to be in the drops to really get a good benefit. I left Witch's Hat first but took a crap route on the sidewalk and Ben got his first real gap on me of the day, attacking into a headwind of course. I was able to pull it back by Turf Club however and I knew he burned up a bunch of energy in what seemed to me a foolish gambit. This is when I started working on him. “Hey Ben, you've got to race smart, I know you're strong, but use your head. What are you doing attacking me into a headwind and uphill? We've got to work together, I just care about getting on the podium (which was totally true). Are you drinking? Are you eating? Are you taking care of yourself? Smile. This is supposed to be fun, you don't look like you're having fun, are you having fun?”
Ben: I accidentally switched my camera off between Sporty's and the Wine Thief. Jeffrey and I drag-raced down University Ave toward the Witch's Tower and then the Turf Club. He caught up in the headwind going south on Snelling, and got stamped at the Wine Thief before me.
Ben: I took Fairview to Ford Parkway after Wine Thief, and Jeffrey took Cleveland. Was surprised to see him turn in front of me on Ford, and I had to dig hard to chase him down. Upon making the catch, he asked me if I was eating and drinking, asking things to try to get in my head and psych me out. I bluffed, and told him I was even though I had been out of water since the Shithouse. Poker face all the way.
Jeff: I knew I took a crap route after Wine Thief but luckily grabbed another skitch heading toward Ford Parkway. It was a white minivan and my computer hit 35. I was hanging on for dear life on the slippery streets keeping an eye peeled for potholes and ice while the young girl in the backseat was taking photos of the unwanted cling-on with her iPhone.
I was stoked to get to Ford Pkwy first, but saw Ben cannonballing down the hill at incredibly high speeds. He promptly caught and passed me.
Ben: Attacking over the Ford bridge back into Minneapolis. I was nervous about my chances of dropping Jeffrey as we rode toward Sunrise Inn, so I put in an acceleration over the bridge and was rewarded with a handful of seconds.
Jeff: At this point I was already feeling burned out after only 12 miles of racing.
Ben: I had a gap of about 15 seconds at Sunrise Inn, and maintained the separation to Adrian's. I pushed on alone, pushing as deep into the red as I thought possible without blowing up.
Jeff: The next stretch was along the Minnehaha Creek heading toward Adrians. This was the same section I blew up and blew my race last year. Bad memories got in my head and I ended up putting along at 16-17 miles an hour. Damned tired.
I saw Crihs at Adrians and he yelled at me to go get Ben, I exclaimed “the kid's too strong!”
Ben: Booking it north on Chicago Ave, I hit 30mph a few times with the strong tailwind. I felt collected and confident on my way to Eastlake Craft Brewery, since I've lived in this neighborhood for the past few years. No stressing about the route, from here to the finish it was straightforward hustling from main drag to main drag.
Jeff: I was back up to cruising at 23-24 down Chicago but was feeling like the race was over. I bumped a buddy going into the building and stopped to kiss him on the way out to make peace. Not stressing, and not going full speed. I knew second was locked up, and I was cool with that.
Ben: I retained the lead as I arrived at the Alt, but my gap had shrunk alarmingly fast. Jeffrey was already dismounting as I departed for Rock-It Bicycle Delivery HQ.
It was at this point I started thinking about the finish. Four stops remained, and I was hurting. As far as I knew, Jeffrey had me in his sights and was closing. My greatest fear in alleycats is losing focus. When this has happened in 'cross races, the results have been disastrous (think yard-sales over barriers). On the open streets with heavy traffic due to the Twin Cities Loppet events, there was no room for error.
Ben: Lyndale was hairy. I admit, racing alleycats can be problematic from a bicycle advocacy standpoint. Here I'm splitting the lane to prepare for my turn off Lyndale onto Franklin.
Jeff: I was having a blast cruising the bumper to bumper traffic down Lyndale. I was still racing but was definitely turned down a notch. I'm not sure how many Stupor Bowl's I have left and I wanted to enjoy it. No more burying myself, no more hurting. A beaten man, but I couldn't have given a shit less.
Ped Bridge of Doom
Ben: I held on to a slim lead between Rock-It and Mackenzie's. I made the worst error of my race on the way to Trash Bags when I overshot my turn and had to back track a block. In hindsight, taking the ped bridge through downtown was a poor choice. As I exited the bridge in this photo, Jeffrey flew by on the street in front of me. Damnit. At the second to last checkpoint I had lost my lead and was on the back foot. Stay calm, stay focused. Chase chase chase.
Trash Messenger Bags
Ben: Jeffrey's faster route through downtown landed him at Trash Messenger Bags HQ first. But fate was on my side and he entered the Modist Brewing door instead of the correct one on 3rd St. In those few seconds, the race swung back in my favor, and now it was mine to lose as I sprinted toward the ultimate checkpoint.
Jeff: I was really shocked to come into Modist Brewing and Trash Bags first. Wasn't expecting that, just goes to show that you should never stop racing. I went into Modist yelling checkpoint and got confused looks. I yelled out “Trash Bags” and they told me to go outside and around the building.Never having been to the new Trash Bags space cost me the lead and maybe the race, Ben was leaving as I was going in.
Ben: Hustling across town on Washington Ave is a classic play in Minneapolis alleycats. I lucked out with the lights, and hit nearly all of them on my way to the Hex.
In the past two years, I've had the privilege of trying many racing disciplines. From the velodrome to criteriums to gravel, I love testing my limits on a bicycle. Nothing, however, quite compares to the rush of flying through a city–the city in which I grew up–competing in one of the oldest, most storied alleycats in the country.
Jeff: I could see Ben up ahead but got caught up in a red light. I knew I didn't have the gas to catch up, or the heart to win a sprint. My head was screwed up from the disappointment of making a huge mistake at Trash Bags, and I totally thought the race was over and went to the Nomad to turn in my manifest. . I was real surprised when Ben wasn't there. They quickly determined that I had missed a stop, so I was off again to the Hexagon to finish up the race.
Ben: To receive our stamp at the Hex, everyone had to buy a pulltab at the bar and give it to the checkpoint worker (at one point, someone turned in a $200 winning tab). I was spent, and barely had the energy to stand in line and buy my pull tab. I doubled back north to the finish at the Nomad, wondering how far Jeffrey was in arrears.
Ben: Head down, hands in the drops, no brakes. Willing my legs to carry me back to the Nomad.
Ben: Two hours and 30.9 miles after the start on Nicollet Island, I presented my completed manifest to Collin and Kristian and claimed the Speed category win. Jeffrey rolled in less than two minutes later, having accidentally stopped at the Nomad before getting his final stamp at the Hex. Respect to Jeff for a helluva battle.
Jeff: I am completely at peace with second place. Ben was fitter, hungrier, and faster. Period. The kid wanted it bad, and I was just trying to nab a podium spot. I raced smartly, used my head (until the end) as much as my legs, and proved (as much to myself) that I am still a contender on the streets of this city. It's been a few year's since I've seen a Stupor Bowl podium and I am just glad to have raced well enough to have added to my legacy rather than tarnishing it. For the record, we had seven minutes on third place.
All photos by Ben Hovland