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Cinch Cycling Gravel Clinic

Leanne Gould | Published on 11/17/2021

It was a beautiful, crisp, fall morning. Layers to keep off the chill knowing that soon we would be grateful we had SAG support from Henry Zuver and Charlotte Sprague when we peeled off the arm warmers and jackets and didn’t have to stuff them into pockets already filled with bananas, power bars and fig newtons. As the sun shone through the trees beginning to don their colorful coats, we readied our steads and took that last sip of coffee. We gathered around Lauren De Crescenzo, greeting old friends and new with long overdue hugs and smiles. Lauren, winner of the 208 mile Unbound Gravel classic and 165 mile The Rad Dirt Fest, was relaxed and grinning, leaning against a borrowed MTB, still nursing a broken collar bone. Lauren’s coach, retired professional road cyclist and Tour de France alum Tom Danielson, now owner of Cinch Cycling, joined the group of 20 riders and gave us a primer of all things gravel. Proper hand position: on the hoods, in the drops, when braking. Tips on nutrition, descending, and an overview of what the day had in store. The ride began in typical Silk Sheets style but soon we were on gravel, the Dirty Sheets route, looking for our first training spot, a descent with a left-hand turn. Trust the bike, start wide and cut the corner across the rough stuff, always looking for your line.

We continued our ride past the barns made colorful with hex signs and barn quilts bestowing good luck, protection, and strength. Little black calves playing in the field made it difficult not to stop for a photo op. But we were on a mission. This was a gravel clinic and we had skills to hone, no time for dilly dallying. When I heard Lauren was leading the clinic, I hoped she would be riding a fat tire tricycle so I would have some remote chance of keeping up with her. But the pace was enjoyable and so far, no gnarly, two-inch rip rap or muddy clay like I experienced in middle Georgia. The twenty-mile loop selected by Michelle Hollberg, for the benefit of Lauren’s collar bone and those new to gravel, skipped the technical section at the back entrance to the park where mud, a creek crossing, and rocks provide a bit of a challenge.

Our second stop was at the bottom of a long, gentle hill with a hairpin right turn. There, Coach Tom set up the traffic cones “University-style.” Get in your drops, brake before the turn, take it wide, no braking in the turn, lean the bike, knee out to the right and your “crack,” as Coach Tom called it, on the left edge of the seat for balance. The line formed up the hill, and down we came hoping we didn’t embarrass ourselves by riding into the grass like our friend the “Track Man” who unknowingly came up behind us.

Task mastered, we searched for yet another hill to practice braking on the descent and out-of-the-saddle climbs. We continued past a group on horseback and, hill found, we gathered at the top with instructions to begin braking when we reached a cone at the bottom. Use the front brake with back brake only if necessary, stop the bike completely at the second cone, or at Lauren who “became the cone.” The idea of using primarily the front brake was new to me being a road cyclist first before turning to gravel in 2020. But it made sense as gravel is more forgiving and the front brake more powerful. Line formed again, down the hill and back up, the gearing hard enough to stand and not spin in the loose dirt. Thankfully, the road was fairly hard-packed so not much different than climbing tarmac. Calling the day a success, we made our way back to the park, water bottles depleted, thinking about lunch and guzzling a Coke – it was 2 o’clock, but our bodies where still on day light savings time. Great day, great ride, and a great group of women to share the adventure with. Who could ask for more?