Pro Gravel

Big Sugar Gravel

25/10/22
Jonas Orset

Last race of the season and this one was a big one. 100 miles. Rough roads. Stacked field. Full gas all day. This was Big Sugar.

Set up

What: Big Sugar Gravel
Where: Bentonville, Arkansas.
Date: October 22nd 2022
Start time: 07.30 AM

Distance:  104 miles - 167 km
Route link: Komoot link
Route description: Shorter hills, rough gravel roads, some asphalt
Weather: Sunny, windy. Temperatures 60-77˚F (16-25˚C)

Team: Team Cadence Cyclery
Support: Kent Erik Harridsleff

Bike: Vielo V+1 (Team bike)
Head unit: Stages Dash M200
Tires: Specialized Pathfinders 42mm
Helmet: Met Manta
Shoes: Fizik Terra X3
Chain lube: Muc Off
Nutrition: Squeezy Sports Nutrition
Pre race bike fix: Nick at Cadence Cyclery, Andy Heuser
Coaching: 101percent Coaching

READ FIRST: Belgian Waffle Ride Kansas

READY: Bike and equipment all set for Big Sugar. Photo: Kent Erik Harridsleff.

Background

It's been a long season. The first event was in ice cold conditions during Arctic Everesting.

I had a few Norwegian races before heading over to the boiling heat in Rio Grande early May. From there on it has been lots of crazy days on the bike, and epic suffering in adventurous places. Like Unbound in Kansas, or The Rift in Iceland.

The last months has been followed up by charity rides with Break the Cycle 200, Nesfjellet Gravelduro, and the UCI Gravel Series in Halmstad and Ranxo.

ITALY: World Championship in Veneto. Photo: Lars Tore Markussen, edit: Hanna Ersvik.

The season was the crown with the World Championship in Veneto, Belgian Waffle Ride Kansas before now wrapping it all up with the Life Time Grand Prix finale, Big Sugar.

In between the races I had many days with cycling schools for kids for Green Cycling Norway and coaching with 101percent.traning. You can say it has been a hectic year of cycling activities, but I loved it. Either way I guess it's time to step back, relax, absorb it all, and get my hand on some administrative tasks waiting for me – before planning next year.

After arriving the US I went up to Kansas to race the Belgian Waffle Ride, and Kenny and I spent the midweek in Dallas. I joined the local cyclocross race Creek Cross, placing 2nd.

Then on Thursday we drove the 6 hours up to Bella Vista, outside Bentonville, Arkansas. I had a nice shakeout spin and chat with Dylan Johnson Friday morning. You should check out his Youtube channel.

Now all ready for the last kick of the season.

Big Sugar, let's go!

The clock is 7.25 AM. We are about to start. A women sings the American national anthem. Her beautiful voice light up the streets. It is sunrise, but blinking bike lights are mandatory and seen on all riders. A flashing, party-ready field of more than 1000 riders are rolling out of the town.

I start my bike computer, but cannot get my map up. I gotta ride one-handed the first mile while syncing the route from my phone. Not ideal with people all around, but I've done worse. Finally, I get it loaded to my computer.

There's a field where not all riders seems confident riding in a big group, so I make sure I make it up to the front to stay out of problems.

EARLY BIRDS: The creative and eccentric town of Bentonville is ready for Big Sugar. Photos: Kent Erik Harridsleff.

Once I get up, Lachlan Morton set the pace. 400 riders follows his wheel, but the crosswind is making the peloton stretch out. Lachlan isn't getting nowhere, and sits up. We are just 3 miles into the race when we hit a small climb. My Vielo bike is stiff and I'm excited. Maybe my caffeine tablet also is kicking in. I attack.

Okey, I know we have more than 100 miles to go, but why not, racing hard and aggressive is fun. At least as long as you are fresh.

Nobody follows and I find myself in the first break of the day. I feel good.

I ride about a couple of miles before the front of the peloton is making it up to me. It's fine, I didn't dig deep as I was expecting riders to jump across. When they do, I make sure I stay on the right side of the road to get into the echelon. It's windy. Splits are being made in the peloton. I stay in the wind shield as they catch me and stay in the first group when we turn into gravel.

The start is intense. Hitting the rough gravel bikes are drifting through the corners, brakes are screaming. No crashes, but there are some close calls. I am in the top ten and feel confident.

Bang! I hit a pothole. My bike makes it, no flats, but something is odd. I soon realize my saddle is down a few inches. I can keep riding, but I don't feel strong anymore.

– Man, I'm in the first group, about to make the selection and now this?

I consider to ride on, but I realize I cannot ride like this the rest of the race. I got to stop.

Chasing on

I get my saddle adjusted and make sure I really tighten the screw. A bit more than I think is good for the bike. Anyway, I got to make sure it doesn't happen again.

More people are having difficulties. Some troubles with the speed and are left behind. Others are having punctures. The gravel here is different than in Kansas. It's stony, with pretty sharp stones. Some sections are also really rocky, and with a severe puncture risk.

I'm back on the horse, chasing down riders. I jump from group to group, eventually I find myself together with Alex Hoehn and soon Nathan Spratt and Chase Wark.

The course is crossing the border of Missouri and it's getting warmer. It's above 72°F/22°C

Just before the feed zone we catch up with Dylan Johnson on his MTB-Gravel bike, with 55 mm tires and suspension fork. He is of the opinion that wider is faster on the gravel. More comfort, less bouncing around. I like that he is innovative, curious and not afraid of testing. Most of the riders are on 40-44 mm tires. So far mine 42 mm Pathfinders have been good.

Feed zone is at mile 37. Kenny hands me a musette bag with bottles and I'm set for the next 36 miles.

QUARTET: The four of us are arriving the first feed zone. Photo: Kent Erik Harridsleff.

NEED COACHING: Check out my coaching service with 101percent Coaching

Catching riders

– You are 5 min behind! some people scream at the feed zone.

Okey, we are a bit behind, so we decide to work equally together. We may not make up ground to the first ones, but at least we may catch dropped riders.

And we are. We catch one after another. Some are just out of energy. Others having a mechanical.

Spratt is especially strong. He is pushing the speed. At times I have to really pull myself together to stay with him. But I take my part of the pulling.

There! Finally we see a bigger group up the road. We make up the ground, catching a ten-men group. I know a few of them. Strong riders. Instead of sitting in, we go up to the front to make the group speed up.

Some riders immediately drop. Not long after Spratt and Hoehn puncture over a river crossing. We are down to 8 riders, and I lead the group closing into the last feed zone after 73 miles.

ROUGH: The gravel was pretty rough in Big Sugar. Photo: Kent Erik Harridsleff.

Breaking down, arriving the finish

I am in the group riding for 22nd. Just before the feed zone I have to stop as I get a stick between my wheel and crank. It's a quick fix, but I have to accelerate. Just after the feed we start climbing a steep gravel hill. It's not that long, but I barely manage to hang on. Finally on top of the hill.

On the flatter parts I am fine, putting down power, but I struggle up every hill.

Still I hang on.

Then, with 20 miles left I get in real problems. In a climb I get dropped.

– I'm not going to give up. I fight my way back on the flatter section.

Then, in the next climb the same happen once more. Chase goes down in a corner! He's fine, but it leave me a gap to close. I just cannot before the next hill and the split grows. It's not a long hill, maybe a minute or two, but my legs refuse to go harder.

I am getting dropped.

FINISH COMING UP: Chase and I make it towards the finish. Photo: Kent Erik Harridsleff.

The next 10 miles are like a nightmare. I am out of energy, and the wind is getting stronger. It's headwind. I go slower and slower.

Finally, Chase are back. It helps me a lot to draft behind him for a bit. I try to take a few pulls, but there are not much gas left in my tank. But the few shared nice words really helps.

Into the last hill Chase attacks and I cannot respond. Which is okey. I roll into the finish a few seconds behind. 27th!

FINISHER: 27th in Big Sugar. Photo: Kent Erik Harridsleff.

READ ALSO: Unbound Gravel

That's it folks

That was it. Season is over.

I am totally toasted. But also happy. Even though running out of gas the last miles I can honestly say I did a good ride. I would have made the major selection in the beginning if my saddle didn't fall down. I am not sure how long I would have stayed up there, but from experience, being on the right side of the splits are half of the challenge. Even with the mechanical issue, I'm not disappointed as I gave it my all and those challenges are part of the gravel game.

I also had a blast racing Big Sugar side by side with the highest ranked riders in America, in the heart of gravel. Not only racing them, but also hanging out after the race getting to know more of the riders. I love to be part of the gravel community on the biggest scene.

So this was it, season's over. I'm looking forward to next year already.

SEE MORE PHOTOS: Album from Big Sugar by Kent Erik

DID YOU READ: World Championship in Veneto

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