Over a thousand cowboys and cowgirls put on their Texan spirit going for a loco ride in the Heart of the Wild West. This is my story from the 150-miler race.
We are in the heart of the heartland. The land of the free. The land of opportunities. In central Texas. The Wild West.
The morning sunbeams make their way over the endless fields, setting the stage for a day of adventures. We are on a Ranch outside Hico. Hico is the claimed home of the legend Billy the Kid, a well-known outlaw. I am not here to do anything opposed to the law, but I am, as the rest of the 1,100 registered for one of the distances, crazy, or loco, as the Latin American would say. I’m doing the La Loca, the 150-mile course. And yes, there might be little sense in riding hours on the never-ending gravel roads with the burning sun and chasing dogs in the Texan countryside. Of course, not everyone would understand the logic, but I look forward to doing this.
READ FIRST: Gravel Locos 2022
It’s 7.30 AM. I’m lining up with household names in gravel. Last year’s winner was Jasper Ockeloen, the Unbound winner Ivar Slik, and ex-World Tour pros Laurens ten Dam, Nicholas Roche, Ted King, Ian Boswell, and Thomas Dekker. Several American gravel favorites too. Payson McElveen, Adam Roberge, Dylan Johnson, Alex Howes. That only some of the men. Pro women are here too. Laura King, Alison Tetrick, Carolin Schiff, Marisa Boaz. It’s packed.
It’s a chilly morning, about 15˚C, but it will be hotter. I’m shivering. But I know it will be hotter, so I have three bottles on my bike and a Camelback with two liters of water.
Fabian gets up on his pickup truck and starts to talk into the mic. He is the race’s promoter and has done a great job putting it together. In just three years, he made the event from scratch, from a small event in central Texas to one of the most prestigious in the country.
The race has been raising money for Hico Volunteer Fire Department, funding a new truck and a firehouse in Hico. The risk of grass fire is significant here, so his and his team’s effort can be life-saving. Racing for a cause gives the event another dimension which I love.
After the National Anthem, we get going.
I’m riding on the road shoulder to reach a good position before the gravel. We still have the official car in front, and the race is neutralized, but the speed is high. The gravel here is solid and fast. Due to heavy showers last night, it’s not dusty, but somewhere it’s a little soggy, and there are also a few puddles. A rider before me splashes and squirts water over my legs and bike. Then it’s settled; I need to wash my bike after the ride. Which is no surprise. My Felt Breed Carbon will get dirty today.
I run Schwable G-One R 45mm on my front wheel and RS 40 mm on my rear. The added width gives me great control, and I move around some riders in the corner on the loose gravel. Suddenly I find myself in the front.
The next second, the car horns and accelerate. Race is on.
I shift to a higher gear and put some power to the pedals into the little hill. I feel good, and at the top, I turn my head to see where the others are. They’re behind! I have gotten a good gap, unintentionally.
So, what do I do now?
We are 3 miles into the 154-mile course. We have a long day ahead of us. But sitting up makes my effort worthless. I decide to get into my TT position and ride steadily. Strong but steady. The sweet spot. 300w.
The gap increases, and I get excited. Soon I have 30-45 sec on the rest of the peloton. The photographers in the official car get some good shots of me. It might be more of a TV breakaway than something that sticks, but I feel good and ride hard yet comfortably.
It’s fun, but I know it won’t last, so I am not giving my all.
I lead the race when passing the first aid station at mile 19. People are cheering me on. Taking charge in a race with many strong peloton riders is exciting.
Then, at mile 25, the fun is over. I’m caught by a fast-moving peloton of about 40 riders.
Then next miles, it’s a constant variation of speed in the peloton. There are some sneaky moves, and once some riders get a gap, they start pushing the pace, so the rest of us have to chase them down.
Puncture! At mile 30, I realize my rear tire is flat. I jump off the bike and look for sealant coming out, but I cannot see anything. So, I try to inflate the tire with a CO2 patron; it seems it’s holding air! Good news!
I still lose about 30-45 sec and must start chasing the group. So I get back into TT mode, and a few minutes later, I make my way back.
Around the same time I get to the back of the peloton, a group is getting away from the front. Nobody reacts at first, but it could be a decisive move with riders like Laurens ten Dam and Nicholas Roche there. Finally, we start chasing. Hard. The chase continues for about 10 minutes until we close the gap. It’s quite an effort. I’m not getting much of a break today.
A few miles later, we hit some steep kickers. I remember them from last year—200 meters with about 15% average. I start to struggle. Maybe all my excess weight of water and bottles play into account? Or my recent efforts? We are more guys struggling who have to give a gap to the first riders.
At the top, I realized my rear tire was almost out of air again. Shoot.
This time I’m not going to stop. The aid station is about 3 miles away, so I’ll be rolling on the airliner. Probably faster than stopping. Several dropped riders pass me, and they return to the front group.
There is the aid station. The peloton is filling their bottles and stacking up with snacks. I head over to the mechanic to fix my tire. He is helpful, and as he looks at my tire, I fill my bottles and take a leak. When I return, the mech says I need to put in a tube. A tube? It will take minutes! I don’t waste any second questioning it, and we’ll start taking off the wheel. The peloton is collectively beginning to ride on as I am left in the gutter.
A few minutes later, I am finally good to go. Of course, it will be hard, if not impossible, to chase them back. But I’ll give it a go.
The sun is shining, and it gets hotter. The Texan prairie is green and pretty. The flowers are blooming. I’m flying across the fields. But it’s a patience game; it’s still a long way to go. I just got to keep moving. It looks like my tracker is standing still. It’s moving so slowly.
I’m with Griffin. I caught his group, and we dropped the other riders. It’s nice to be two sharing the workload.
There are no signs in Gravel Locos, so you need to follow your GPS unit. But what if it stops working? I had that fear yesterday as I packed my stuff for the race. Finally, I accepted the added weight and carried a spare unit.
Is my tracker still on 75.8 miles? Hasn’t it been like that for a while? Are we moving so slowly?
As the road turns to the left and the unit shows I must take a right turn into the field, I understand what’s happening. My head unit is frozen!
Griffin leads as I desperately try to reset my unit. It doesn’t work. Nothing works. But wait, I did bring the spare head unit! I am trying to change units while riding. It’s a little tricky, but I make it without stopping. I got the new unit on and finally got my route back on. My tracking starts from 0, so I must calculate the remaining miles. I’ve done close to 76 miles, so 79 miles should be where the finish line is.
I’m taking the lead and getting into my TT mode again. Griffin excuses himself for not contributing more, but I’m glad I’m not riding alone in the prairie. The stretches are getting longer, and the distance between farms is increasing.
There are some cattle out here. There are also some eagles watching us from above. But no riders to see.
After what felt like hours of nothing happening, within minutes, I passed finally caught a rider, then passed Nicolas Roche and Innokenty Zavyalov on the side of the road with their own punctures. Not long after, we make it to the aid station at mile 101.
– How far behind are we? I ask the support crew in the aid station.
– Not far, 2 minutes behind the next group, they answer.
It’s like putting gas on the fire for me. So let’s catch more riders!
Griffin has to calm down, but I catch another rider taking his place on my wheel.
Whoa! I maneuver to the gravel road’s other side as a snake is in my lane. So my fellow rider doesn’t make the turn and accidentally runs over the snake! The snake seems fine, but it’s a good reminder we are out in the middle of Texas. You don’t want to be bitten here!
The rider tells me he has cramps and has to slow down. A turn later, two angry dogs are waiting for us. They start chasing us, and I accelerate. Soon the dogs are focusing on the rider behind me, and I hear him screaming in pain as he makes his cramping legs sprint to get away from the dogs. Welcome to the Wild West, and get into my TT mode to eventually catch riders up front.
– Come on, Jonas, get up there! I tell myself.
I take another Ryno Power gel and make a last effort. I have been trying to close the gap to three riders in the front for more than 5 miles now. I just saw them on a long stretch, but it’s hard to catch them. I need to. The headwind is mentally draining. This is where I bonked in the heat last year. It took me from the 11th to the 17th.
Now I am in the same situation facing the headwind and heat alone. I need to close that gap and get some rest!
– Rider’s coming! I scream to a rider up the climb as I go full out. He has been doing a shorter distance as we, from the 150-miler, are approaching the finish.
We are 3 miles from the finish line, and I try to drop the riders around me. I finally managed to close the gap to the others in the headwind. We had been working well together for 20 miles but were still fighting to the positions coming to the finish.
Ironically I realized it is the same climb, but from the other way, as the one I attacked in the beginning. So now I am again attacking, but now only a few miles to the Mustang Hill RV Park, where we started and will end the race.
I get a good gap on the others but ride hard in the wind toward the line. I look back. Yes, I will make it.
Soon after, I make it onto the asphalt and the last meters to the finish line. I can hear the music a long way and the speaker cheering. I’m sprinting across the line. There! I made it!
Reaching the line after over 150 miles (250 km) out on the Texan prairie is a great relief. They tell I’m 19th. All my hard work chasing back seems to be worth it. The top 20 in this peloton is a great result; without technical issues, a full 10 would be within reach.
But right now, the fresh barbecue, the cold drinks, the gathering with fellow riders, the memories and stories are more important than the result.
Right now, I’m so tired I don’t feel like ever doing this again, but something tells me I will be back.
This was loco. Just how I like it.
COACHING: Help me reach your goals
Gravel Locos was a crazy race last year where I races with the best, but the heat got to me in the end. It was more than 100°F / 40°C.
I hope to come back to revenge my race, and I am glad to be an ambassador of the race with many well-known riders.
I am not expecting too much result wice, as I arrived Thursday night from a long trip from Norway, and it's hard to know how my legs will respond to 150 miles - 250 km in the Texas prairie. But I expect a fun race and good preparation from Unbound Gravel later this month.
FIRST READ: Gravel Locos 2022
READ MORE AND REGISTER: Gravel Locos website (External link)