The Almanzo 100 takes place this coming Saturday in southeastern Minnesota. It is one of many gravel races that have come to fruition in these parts and may have been the most influential in generating a 'Minnesota gravel scene'. A bunch of us are doing it this year. We've all chosen our weapons and have them dialed, semi-dialed, or in Joe's case...not dialed at all at this point!
The other day I was reading Charlie Farrow's blog and he had this bit about whether or not this was the Golden Age of Endurance Racing. It might sound funny at first, but in many ways I think it is.
Many years ago, and in what seems like another life, I promoted the Chi Chi's Salsa Series. It was Minnesota's off-road point series, and if I do say so myself...it was done pretty well. I've been out of that game for a long time now. Others put on the current Minnesota off-road series, individual races, road races, track events, alleycats, and what I'd call the newest development: gravel races.
Interestingly enough there was a gravel road race about 8 or 9 years ago just north of the Twin Cities. It was all gravel which was cool, but it used a multi-lap format. Laps of 12 or 15 miles or whatever it happened to be were certainly convenient, but it lacked a certain sense of adventure that today's gravel events entail.
These days, events like the Almanzo 100, Ragnarok 105, Barry-Roubaix, CIRREM/AGRS, Dirty Kanza, and Heck Of The North present racers (and riders) with a start line, some cue sheets, and a finish line. In between those points the riders pile on the gravel miles, sometimes with support, but often without it. You can find a great list of these events from all across the country at Gravel Grinder News.
For some folks these are true races. They fight to be in the lead group and battle for the win. They have the motivation, desire, and yes...FITNESS...to try to win.
For others, like myself, these are true rides. We get to spend a long day on the bike (which can be a rather rare occurance unfortunately) in a new area, just enjoying the ride, and working to finish.
I mentioned earlier that I thought the Almanzo has perhaps been the most influential of these rides in our area. It takes place early in the season by Minnesota standards...but not too early. It is free, despite being extremely well organized by a passionate promoter, Chris Skogen.
Two years ago, the Almanzo had 100 riders or so. This year it has some 450 registered. Still free. Still well organized. Still set up as a 'hey, you are on your own out there' type of ride. That's pretty impressive if you think about it.
Thanks Chris for really adding something to our cycling scene!
More than a few of us will be toeing the line on Salsa's this Saturday. Here is a bit from each of us about our weapon of choice, and what we're hoping to accomplish.
Kid - I've already said it above, but my goal is simply to enjoy a nice long ride. I might suffer a bit this year as I'm not sure how prepared I am for 100 miles of gravel. Two years ago I did this ride on a Casseroll singlespeed but this year I'm calling upon my flatbar Fargo with gears. I moved my lighter wheel set over to it for the event and have some brand spankin' new WTB Vulpine tires loaded.
Pete - Vaya with a 2x10 SRAM setup, 'chippers, Cane Creek Thudbuster ST. For me, this is a shakedown ride in preparation for the Dirty Kanza 200.
Tanner - Fargo singlespeed 32 x 16, purple ano accents, Woodchipper 46cm bar, WTB Pathway 700x38 tires. My goal? Take down Joe Meiser! ...or just finish.
Burton - La Cruz. Jandd frame bag to hold 80 oz of water, a proto of the Salsa bottle cage on the back of the downtube, and a well-worn Brooks saddle. Goal for the event: Do it completely self-supported, no drop bag, no stops for water. Eat real food. Finish under 7:30. Not wreck my lower back. And thoroughly enjoy myself...I don't get out for 7+ hours on the bike very often these days!
Rob - Chili Con Crosso with 35 SB8. Although I'm going to bring some different tires along and make a decision the morning of the race depending on how soft the roads are. I'd like to finish in the upper 1/3.
Joe - La Cruz Ti proto. It's been my go-to for every one of these races over the last couple of years. nice set of carbon clinchers laced to DT240 hubs. SRAM Rival. My favorite Salsa handlebar of all time, the Bell Lap. Ti seatpost with WTB SST saddle. My goal is always to finish. I'm planning on being in the lead group unless I have a mechanical or a flat that puts me further back. I'm thinking the lead group will be quite large with a 450 rider field this year. We may have to make an early move to get away and stay away.
To any readers who are riding a Salsa in the Almanzo, try to find me in the parking area before the event. I'd like to snap a photo of you with your bike for our website. -Kid