Race Report: Rule of 3 Gravel w/ Caro Poole

This is the Rule of Three.
Before I dive into my race recap, it’s important for everyone to know a little bit about what makes Bentonville so special and why cycling here is unique. For starters, the open road is just outside your doorstep. Whether you’re on a road bike, a gravel bike, or a mountain bike, you only have to travel a few minutes from your home to hit miles of tarmac, miles of gravel, and miles of single track. So why not incorporate all three into one race? When Sam Pickman (Engineer at ALLIED CYCLE WORKS), Andy Chasteen (Photographer, Content Creator, Legend), and Lauren Pickman (Secretary and Director of Programming at Women of Oz), first came up with the idea, I don’t think any one of us locals, or even them for that matter, knew how quickly this event would grow and appeal to the gravel-riding masses.
Leading into registration, I absolutely knew I wanted to do this with a team. There were several categories to choose from: single woman, three-women team, and co-ed team. I wanted to do this as an all female team with local women. So the question became - who do I want to race 100 miles with? Or, should I say, who do I want to suffer with over the course of 100 miles including 20 miles of single track? Immediately I thought of Ashley Patterson. Ashley just so happens to be one of those people who is gifted athletically. She’s strong, she can climb, she can send on the trails, and she also happens to be a really fun person (bonus!). I hit her up and asked her to join my team, she said yes, and then I asked her about our third. Ashley suggested Gabbi Adams. Yes. Let’s do it. Gabbi, who is also local to Bentonville, has won the SS category at Midsouth in 2016, Gravel Worlds SS in 2016, and Unbound SS in 2017. She is so modest no one knows about her accomplishments, so I’m going to brag for her. Then we had to pick a team name. #dinnerby5 seemed appropriate because apparently we’re all grandma’s and we eat early bird dinners and go to #bedby9. We would later discover that there was a competition for best team name... we did not win.
A week leading into the race, apparently Bentonville decided to become Portland because it just rained on and off every day. Every day I rode through a cloud of mist and as the big day was approaching we were getting a little concerned about the single track being a mudfest. And by “we” I mean “I” because we all knew that I was the weakest link going into the single track. The course comprised of a total of 100 miles with over 10,000 ft of climbing (don’t be fooled by our computers). The first 6 miles were gravel and tarmac. At mile 6 we would enter the first trail head until mile 11. Following we would ride 55 miles of gravel and tarmac and then enter the largest section of single track at mile 75 until mile 88. The remainder would be gravel and tarmac to the finish. So the great debate for everyone was what bike to choose? Gravel or hardtail? Flat bar or drop bar? Which tires? Will our side walls hold up? And of course the rain didn’t help with all of these choices. We chose gravel bikes. We knew we would be faster on the gravel and the tarmac, and honestly Gabbi and Ashley have zero problems sending it through the trails on any bikes.
Race Day. Ashley rode to my house and we left at 8:00am to meet Gabbi at the race venue only a 15 minute ride away from my house. It was raining, we arrived with speckles of mud on our faces and race nerves. We were only competing against one other team, ROXO Racing, a road team from Texas, but there was a heli ride on the line for the winning team. Teams were being called up and sent off in 1 minute increments. Our start time was 8:40am and ROXO’s start time was 8:41am. We discussed our race plan in advance and we knew they would pass us before the single track, but we were confident we would pass them in the single track. Afterall, these are our trails and we know them well (Gabbi and Ashley know them really well). Andy counted us down, and off we went! The first climb, Gooseberry, wasn’t even a mile away from our start and ROXO passed us. We were calm and kept moving and just reminded ourselves that we would meet again in the single track. Mile 6 we entered the Back40 for 6 miles of wet, tacky, and muddy single track. We were doing great and just like we guessed, we passed one of the ROXO teammates (you have to finish as a team). We planned for Ashley and Gabbi to lead so I could follow their lines. But then I crashed. I was watching Gabbi pop over a root and instead of looking forward I did the thing you’re not supposed to do and looked straight at the root. My front tire slipped sending me right into a tree and on the ground. My bars hit my left calf and the muscle immediately started to spasm. I also hit my knee on something and man that hurt. I got up quickly, took a breath, and rode it off. The rest of the single track was actually fine and we were out of there before ROXO could regroup. Boom, back in the front. While we were ahead of them, every single time we hit a checkpoint, they would just show up, what seemed like, out of nowhere. Our first checkpoint at mile 18, then at mile 37, and then finally at mile 55, the second to last checkpoint. This is where they passed us and then we didn’t see them for miles. From that point on until we reached the next trailhead at mile 75, we started to feel the toll of the climbs, the dehydration peaking in, the hot sun and high humidity. While we were grateful that the rain had passed, once the skies opened up, it felt like we were riding through a jungle. We stopped for water at mile 68 and hosed our drivetrains down. Conversations were not as frequent. We put all our focus on getting to the single track because we knew that would be the absolute hardest part of our day. We would be traveling over 1,000ft in 12 miles on all types of surfaces, up and down berms, bridges, slick rocks, chunky track sections, long climbs, long descents, etc.
We arrived at the last section of single track, I took a gel and we entered with Ashley and Gabbi leading, same formation as before. But man, this was so much harder. The fatigue and the stress of crashing was daunting. Trying to follow my teammates who were like gazelles floating through the trail was so hard. My bike was totally beat up from the mud and dust on the roads and I was having a rough go with my brakes. I rode a lot of it in the drops to squeeze everything I could out of my brakes, but then would have to shift to my hoods for leverage on the climbs... up, down, up, down, over and over again. And then, at about mile 80, I hit the deck hard. We were going down a dip through a little water crossing and it pitched us back up into a corner. I had no more brakes and just ate it into a rock wall and then fell over on the other side. I hit my left hip and also crashed on my right knee. The knee I had previously crashed on earlier on in the day. And then it happened... I just burst into tears hahaha. A really nice man that was riding behind me came to see if I was ok, but Ashley and Gabbi were never far ahead and Gabbi rushed over to make sure I was ok. I’m not going to lie, I omitted telling my team about the crying part, but damn, I was a hot mess. I knew I had to ride it off and just keep going. Afterall, this wasn’t about me, we’re a team and I wanted to do my best for them even if that meant walking the majority of the way. So I jumped back on my bike, and basically cried the whole way
We had one more checkpoint to go through before we exited the single track for good. And there she was, the purple-kitted ROXO teammate that we had originally passed in the first section of single track. Solo. We grabbed a few slices of watermelon from the last checkpoint and off we went, hoping to chase her down. The remaining 4 miles of single track was the longest 4 miles of my life and we never caught her, but once we FINALLY took our exit, I looked at Gabbi and Ashley and said: “let’s f***ing go”. For the last 13 miles I just sat on the front and drilled it. I was so determined to get us home and do my part since I blew it hard in the single track. When we descended the last climb we were feeling at peace knowing we did our best. We realized that we were about to turn the last corner into the finish line and be greeted by all our friends and in that moment, I know this is cheesy AF, but we kind of felt like automatic winners. There was something incredibly emotional and spiritual about that day. When we turned onto the finish straight, we were greeted by cheers, our friends, and a Rapha musette filled with a beer, a Red Bull, and a burrito. It was the best burrito of my life. And guess what guys, I checked the chip times and we came in three minutes after ROXO. We were so close!!!
Thank you so much to Lauren Pickman, Sam Pickman and Andy Chasteen for creating an incredible event. This isn’t just a race, there are many details I didn’t include, you’ll just have to come out and see it for yourself next year. This is The Rule of Three.
Credit to: Thomas Adams (@thechacobandit) for the photos.
The 2021 State Bicycle Co. Team is made possible by the gracious support of these companies: