By Dan Pedroza
Over 400 cyclists from all over Texas gathered together on April 2, 2016, for the 3rd Annual Castell Grind gravel grinder, this year dubbed The Pain Train. Growth in participation numbers wasn't the only change for 2016, though. For the first time in its short history the promoters of the Castell Grind finally ordered sunshine and clear skies despite chilly temps of 39 degrees at the start.
Weather did play a role in this year's sufferfest with rainfall during the week leading up to the race day. The first six miles of the race were riddled with wet sand, which meant thicker and stickier sand on arguably the toughest uphill road in Texas, Keyserville Rd. Racers were darting left and right looking for the smoothest packed section of dirt. Slower riders were carrying their bikes, running and walking through the deepest pits. Thankfully the multiple water crossings were not overflowing to allow for safe passage. (/foreshadowing) The real beauty of this event lies within the first few miles of the race. There is no time to sit in and warm up or bring your heartrate slowly up to speed. No, this is a sprint from the get go. Racers will redline after the first two miles and if you're not gasping for air, you're not in contention. Those with the strongest lungs and heart were those that would contend for the win. It's similar to racing cyclocross, but for three hours straight.
As this group of 6 riders made it to the halfway point they had over a minute lead against their 7-rider chase group led by 787Racing's Robert Biard and last year's 5th place finisher, Team Super Awe$ome's Rey Madolora. There wouldn't be another chase group for a good four minutes. The pace was hot and heavy and the chase groups were dwindling. Team Yacht Club's Daniel Curtin stated that this year's course was tougher than he remembered at the inaugural race back in 2014 and even tougher than the HTFU Roubaix which was held the week previous. Was Curtin fatigued by the HTFU or was he still stung by the fact that the #letdanielwin campaign had fallen short? /end tangent. Back to the race.....
One mistake by a rider is often forgiven. Twice bumbled? Not so much. With approximately 15 miles until the sprint finish and the lead group still working hard to fend off the chasers, another turning point emerged. In what may prove to be the bonehead move of the year #BMOY, Ray Frias made a fatal mistake. Ray reached into his jersey back pocket fumbling around for a Gu packet for a quick burst of energy. Instead, he managed to grab his teammate's set of car keys along with the Gu packet and dropped them on the course. Dozens of thoughts ran through Ray's head. Knowing Ray, it went a little like this:
"AAARRGHH!! Do I hitch-hike back home and go for the win? Do I go back and pick up the keys and hope that BCR will wait up for me like they did before? Did I leave the stove on in the kitchen this morning? Does this race kit make my butt look fat? Man, I could sure go for a double Big Mac with cheese right about now! Dang it, think, Ray, think! What do I do?"
Meanwhile, BCR's thoughts were a simple, "Sorry, not sorry. Bubye!"
Compared to the 2015 finish times, the leaders were almost two minutes off the pace. 2015 had the top eleven finishers all finishing under 3hrs. and 8 minutes with all riders separated by a mere five seconds. Larger trains simply move faster! 2016 would be a struggle for the top three to break the 3hr. and 10 minute barrier. Martin, Brown and Statman would each share the load by themselves heading into the final quarter mile sprint. In the end it would be Bayou City Racing's John Martin who would prove the strongest, just out-reaching Brown for the win.
Complete 100k Results can be found HERE.