Red gravel, red power numbers. The Mid South Gravel was a killer of an event, on and off the bike. Stillwater sounds like a sleepy town, but the gravel community stirred the water this weekend, making it a race to remember.
Oklahoma might not be a place most people go to visit. It's known for oil, farmland, tornados, and cowboys. Still, in the US, most riders also know Oklahoma for the Mid South Gravel Festival. Three days of activities, music, beer, coffee, expo, and other festivities. And racing, and what a race it was!
I had quite a tough day under the Belgian Waffle Ride in Arizona. My legs were heavy from the start, and I never felt good. Unfortunately, the upcoming days weren't much better. Though, on Thursday, things started to happen—first, a shout-out to Leandra at Elite Performance Chiropractic in McKinney. I had a 30-min massage session Thursday morning, which was a game changer. She renewed my legs, opening them up, and I felt so much fresher afterward. Definitely, something I will recommend if you are in DFW.
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On the other hand, the same morning, I started having a little sore throat, and through the day, it got worse. While staying in Dallas, Corey and I decided to drive to Stillwater Friday morning. Better to get another good night of sleep at home, prepare everything beforehand, and make the trip efficient. We prepared bottles, made rice cakes, packed the car, and drove to Stillwater, arriving Friday at noon.
The music played as we walked through the expo, meeting friends and fellow riders. Some quite famous riders go to Mid South to win, others more to be part of the festival. We met Vittoria Tires, a team sponsor for Team Cadence Cyclery.
Nick at Cadence had once again worked on my bike, ensuring it was top-notch. This guy knows what he is doing. We swapped to 46T chainring and Vittoria Terreno Dry 38mm this time. I had success which those tires for last year's Gravel Locos, and as the conditions were looking dry and fast for the course, they should suit the race course well.
With our common ground, it was nice to catch up with Vittoria. They even offered to help us, providing bottles midway during the race. Corey and I then made a small recon of the single track of the race. The forest trail was about 1 mile and came 10 miles from the finish. We wanted to know what the last part of the race would be like.
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After the ride, we made it back to our Airbnb. We got a room at an impressive ranch with a cowboy theme as an excellent way to prepare for the coming day.
– Can you hold my bike?
It is 15 minutes before the 100-miler, and hundreds of riders are already lining up. I refuse to think I am late to the beginning, but I understand many like to get early at the start line.
I ask Alex Hoehn, as I know him well from last year's Big Sugar Gravel if I can crunch in next to him in the field. I lift my bike over the fence and barely make room for it between riders.
– Don't worry, Alex says; the first 7 miles should be a neutral roll-out, so there's is no need to stress.
I use all my flexibility to climb the fence and get on my bike. It's a lovely morning, about 60ºF, and the sun is up. The buildings around us make shadows and shelter the wind. It's forecasted wind today, up to 18 mph (8 m/s - 29 km/h). It would be interesting.
One thing I like about gravel racing is the stress-free start of the race. You don't have to be on your toes from the go, but you can get into it and race harder exponentially throughout the race. Well, it used to be, at least, gravel racing seems to be more competitive than it was. At least compared to crit racing, you must go all out from the gun.
I slept well but am a little stuffed, and my throat is still quite sore. But at least I still have energy and no fever. How will my body react to race intensity and riding for 100 miles?
The roll-out is on a wide road, but after 2 miles, we hit more minor streets, and the peloton starts to split. Unfortunately, I'm too far back and already have to close gaps.
– Neutral start? I think to myself. It must be wrong. This is not an easy start.
We head south, facing the wind. The first 100 riders are all together.
A mile later, we come to a right turn. I wish I had paid more attention to the map. I am in about 50th place but should have been top 10. As we turn, a quick shift also happens in the group. In just a moment, the relaxed atmosphere in the peloton changes to chaos.
Payson McElveen passes riders on the side of the road, pretty much in the ditch. I'm behind ex-world tour pro Kiel Reijnen. Some rides can't keep the speed, and gaps open in the crosswind.
It doesn't take long before some riders already got a gap. It could be seven riders, and I see another 5-6 are chasing them.
– Man, I need to bridge up; I am at the wrong place!
I must do something, but I don't feel I have too much to give. Up a climb, I try to jump to a few chasing riders. I make it up to them, but the group is still up front. We are just off the blocks, but this is a crucial part of the race. I team up with two other riders and chase as hard as possible.
The two groups up the road as connecting, but the speed is still high. Now the road turns, and we are again facing the wind. Finally, after chasing for more than 5 minutes, we made it. The only problem is before we get our breath back, we make another right into the crosswind. Some riders in the group sprint up the climb and the three of us are again left behind.
– Typical, if I just had a minute to recover, I would have made it, but now I got to chase again!
Behind me, more chasing riders are catching up with me, and we gather a group of about 15 riders.
– Water crossing! someone screams.
It's not a surprise. The promoter has been talking about this river from the start. People have been publishing stories on Instagram about riding across the river in the last few days. The best way seemed to go on the left side and cross just a tiny section of the rider. A few riders try to ride across the deeper point. They just make it!
In my group, most people want to try to go left, but the narrow path there makes a line, and I have to dismount. It's faster to run and carry my bike across. Also, I have MTB shoes, which are suitable for running, and now I don't get the sticky mud all over my bike.
The Mid South is known for the mud. The mud here is particularly sticky, and a few years back, many riders had to abandon the race as they couldn't get their wheels to spin due to mud! However, the rest of the course is dry, so we will have a different problem today.
The chase is on again, but my chasing group is splitting up. This is because so many are about to feel the hard start and must slow down. Soon, I find myself with a heck of a strong rider, Luke Hall.
The sun is up, and the temperature is rising. It's already above 70ºF /20ºC. It feels like we are in the middle of nowhere on the longer stretches. It's a rural country road, and we barely see a car. A ranch here or there. It makes me think about the song from the award-winning Luke Combs. But there is another Luke who is pushing the pace with me.
We have been out there a long time. We see the group up front but can't close the gap. They are less than a minute ahead. But we are catching riders who puncture. Peter Stetina, Chase Wark, and Adam Roberge are some riders we pass.
– Keep riding. We are now within the top 15, I excitedly yell to Luke.
Just before the midway feed zone, we catch Dylan Johnson too. So now we form a three-man unit.
I get two bottles from Vittoria. My Felt bike takes three bottles, and I am now ready for the last half stocked up on water as the temperature rises towards the 80s (28ºC).
We don't stop but ride on.
– Look there! I scream with enthusiasm.
We see a group of riders up front. The first group has split in two, and we are about two catch the second front group. The surface is now for a change on the tarmac. 91% of the route is off-road, so it's a perfect relief from all the bumpy and loose gravel roads. The section also helps us speed us, and soon we are gathering with a group of 6, making us a 9-men group.
The return to Stillwater takes forever. The expense from the first part eventually caught up with me, and I don't feel as strong anymore. The miles pass slowly as we are on a rolling terrain, facing the wind most of the time. A few times, I thought about giving in and letting myself get dropped from the group, but on the other hand, getting to the finish line would be so much more challenging alone. Both fighting the wind but also mentally. Finally, we catch Kiel Riejnen, which is a motivation boost. He has some issues with his gearing but also tells us only nine riders are left in the front. That means I am now competing for the top 10.
I focus on drinking and eating my energy gels. It's hot now, so important to remember to drink. However, my throat is sore, and I don't like eating. I am not feeling usually, but I have to focus. Soon we are on the single tracks, and from there, I know the last miles back to Stillwater. I can almost smell the food trucks at the venue!
We are far off the first group. At one point, we saw them about a minute down the road, but eventually, the whole group got tired, so now we are happy to stay together. Nobody wants to attach the group at this point. We still have a slight acceleration into the single tracks.
Passing anyone is impossible, so getting in early in the group is crucial.
Dylan Johnson seems most interested in going fast on the trails and heading into the woods first with Alex Hoehn on his wheel. I go in third. We stay close, but there are small gaps between us. We are four riders getting out together, but soon we are five. Luke is gone, yet we keep pushing on.
The last ten miles have longer stretches, and some gravel is quite chunky. I'm looking for my last gel and realize I have forgotten my CO2s! I better not puncture now!
Just before we enter the town's last section, Luke is back. What a fighter; he never gives up. I'm happy to see Luke, but I also was okay with being fewer riders as we would sprint to the top 10.
The last mile is through the town, with traffic, pedestrians, and lights everywhere. Of course, you must be extra careful in the US while riding in traffic, but we also want to make it to the line.
We make a few moves I don't recommend anyone to do, but it all gets to the last stretch with a little kick to the finish.
As we hit the kick, the sprint starts. I want to be patient, as it is a long sprint, but just as I plan to accelerate, a car crosses the road just in front of us, and we all have to break and restart the sprint.
My legs are out of gas now. I cannot challenge the group in the sprint. Luckily, the working horse Luke is also out of gas. I beat him, placing me in 14th.
I am pleased about the top 15 when I have a cold. I should have made the first selection in the crosswind. Still, I had been working hard to chase back, and making the second group sprint for 10th felt like a victory. It's a massive boost to my self-esteem after feeling terrible last weekend in Arizona. Now I proved I am near to the best riders when my legs are better. So now the drill is to make my sickness go, and my legs feel good, and there should be more fun in store for the next upcoming racing block in April.
Thanks to Mid South for making a fantastic event. What a party! I felt sick but also had a great feeling on our drive back to Dallas.
Most of all, I have to shout out to Cadence Cyclery. I feel blessed to be part of the family. You guys are amazing!
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Mid South is one of the bigger Amrican gravel events to really kick off the season. Most of the better riders will be here, and everyone wants to prove they did an excellent job during the off-season to be at a higher level this year.
I had a solid race in Arizona last weekend and the race itself and the travels have been taking energy and left me with some fatigue and a sore throat. I had a great massage at Elite Performance Chiropractic on Thursday and feel my legs are a lot fresher. Hopefully, I can show my better side and hang one with the faster riders.
My last race of my first bloque of racing in the US this spring, and I hope for a good experience!
The course looks enjoyable, so I look forward to getting started!
Written by the organiser:
The first Land Run 100, now known as The Mid South linked 107 miles of red, rutted roads and featured more than 6,000 feet of climbing with Carney, Oklahoma as its halfway point. 121 riders braved the course that first year. In 2020, the event garnered more than 3,600 registrations for The Mid South 50K and The Mid South Double. Between the bike race and the foot race, entrants will be coming from 47 states, Canada, Brazil, Belgium, Denmark, England, and Australia. 2020 and 2021 each had different lessons for our team. In 2021 we adapted and collaborated across the industry to extend a safe challenge for our participants all across the US. In 2023 we’re taking these lessons and welcoming the entire gravel family back to Stillwater!