The gravel race season is nigh. As you read this, I am on my way to the first big dog of my 2020 gravel campaign: The Mid South. February in NorCal has been the driest on record, and while we’re already discussing fire season, for a bike rider it’s been pretty damn nice.
I recently competed in the local Grasshopper race and took my first win of the season. It always feels good to get the monkey off the back, and show I’ve done some winter homework. It didn’t come easy though; I had to scrape, claw, and fight with all I had due to the stacked and sold-out field. The Grasshoppers are a big thing now! For us Sonoma County locals it’s funny to see our local early season adventure series getting write-ups in international media.
We also couldn’t be prouder, given the chance to showcase the two-wheeled nirvana that is NorCal. More proof that a part of the cycling world is craving these authentic, original experiences right now; bringing gravel to the fore.
Mid South however, is one of VeloNews’ Monuments of Gravel, and for me, the first objective of the 2020 season. A massive 3,000 person gravel grinder in Stillwater, Oklahoma. I, like most out you, am a Mid South virgin, and have been trying to do as much homework as possible, picking brains about gearing, and eavesdropping on tire choice/psi conversations.
I’ve heard Stillwater’s backroads can be pavement-fast hardpack or, with a little precipitation, a derailleur-ripping peanut-butter-mud fest. What I’m most excited for is the vibe. Bobby Wintle, aka the Minister of Stoke, is the event promoter and one of the wildest personalities I’ve met. We got to know each other well in Arizona this winter and I know with him steering this boat, the dial will be turned up to 11. There will be rock concerts, after-parties, and a lot of hugs and high fives.
Which brings me to the coronavirus. The WorldTour events are getting canceled left and right, and sensationalism is here. If any demographic has the best odds at staying healthy, I feel it’s us nerdy bike racers. It’s been ingrained in me my whole career to shy away from every single germ, lest one ruin my stage race, and I know all the pro hacks:
- Knucks, not handshakes
- Neurotic levels of hand sanitizer application
- Using knuckles, not fingers, to touch things like elevator buttons
- Copious ingestion of Emergen-C and Zicam
You’re welcome to use any and all of the above, free of charge.
At The Mid South, Bobby is known for giving EVERY finisher a hug, a long-held tradition. I asked him if, with the virus hysteria, he’s gonna shelve it for the year. His response was a resounding “Hell, no!”
[Editor’s note: The Mid South just announced Thursday morning that the famous Wintle hugs have been canceled this year.]
However, I have a new goal for The Mid South. I need to win it so that I am, selfishly, the first (clean) hug. How’s that for motivation! If not, I plan on buying a plastic kiddie pool, gallons of Purell and taking a hand-sanitizer bath in the parking lot. Stillwater, let’s get ready to rumble!
In other news, probably the most entertaining thing that’s happened thus far is the launch of this fun project, in collaboration with two of my partners, about “Answering the Call” as a Privateer. Grasshopper Adventure Series founder Miguel Crawford is a Privateer. Bobby Wintle is a Privateer. I, too, am one. And if you’re reading this, you probably are, too. We’ve planted a flag and pursued our dreams. We seek “stories ‘n glories, in equal measure.” I’m sure Stillwater will provide one or the other, and if I’m lucky, both. Let’s Privateer, together.