Preview: The Mid South
It's not just a bike race. It's a vibe.
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If you haven’t yet made it to the state of Oklahoma, may I suggest that the Mid South weekend is a really good reason to get there.
The long weekend “weekend endurance festival” kicks off Thursday in Stillwater, with a ‘Denim Ride’ followed by the Mid South IPA release party at Iron Monk Brewery. Both are apropos for the bike race that doesn’t want to be seen as just a bike race.
For ten years now, race director Bobby Wintle has been adding fun flourishes to the gravel event — like adding a 50k running race or having a legit music festival alongside the sports — to create an early-season spectacle that somehow manages to appeal to everyone from the pointy end to DFL.
Read also: Looking for the Spirit of Gravel?
Everyone wants to be at the Mid South. Those who can’t (me) have major FOMO.
This year’s event promises as much radness as ever, beginning with that Denim Ride (p/b Salsa Cycles and Ripton & Co) and continuing through the weekend with two shakeout rides on Friday, an amazing weather forecast (!) for Saturday, and Sunday post-race offerings of yoga, a hangover ride, and $3 tickets to the Oklahoma State baseball game.
This year’s bike courses are new, while the running route stays the same. 110 badasses are doing the Double this year — running 50k on Friday and riding 100 miles on Saturday!
Read on for a course preview and a few riders to watch — although EVERYONE gets a hug from Wintle at the finish. That’s the Mid South way.
The 100-mile course
In his ten years at the helm of The Mid South, Wintle has never pre-ridden the entire 100 mile course. He’s always gone out before the event in a car or Jeep, and he’s ridden many sections of each year’s route, but the whole thing? Nope.
Last month, he and Indigenous artist and advocate Yatika Fields pre-rode the entire route, which is new this year. They liked what they found.
The first excitement of the 100-mile course comes at the Wild Horse Creek crossing around mile 12.5. “I’ve seen people ride through it, but I wouldn’t call it rideable,” Wintle says.
This year’s 100-mile route has 6,600 feet of climbing, nearly a third of which is before the first aid station at mile 34.5. It’s more up to Perry, the race’s midpoint. For those on the party bus, there are plenty of spots for food and beverages in this little town. Support crews are allowed in Perry.
From Perry, it’s a surfy ride to the northern edge of Lake Carl Blackwell. “Some of the best miles of the entire course are in this sector,” Wintle says. There’s a Chamois Butt’r party stop at mile 67, after which riders enter a section called “the panhandle” — “these roads are very cruise-able when dry, but are open to the wind.”
After the aid station at mile 80, riders are in for a treat with the much-anticipated Lake McMurtry singletrack. Then, they’d better hope the winds aren’t out of the south or east, because it’s all that all the way back to Stillwater.
Both the 50 and 100 mile courses pass through the tribal lands of the Osage, Quapaw, Kickapoo, Wichita and Kiowa nations. Observant riders might notice the resilient scrubby Post Oak and Blackjack Oak trees clinging to massive sandstone ledges exposed by the sunken and shaded roadbed. Countless Eastern Red Cedar, a species that has become dominant in the area with the elimination of natural of prairie fire, are also visible from course.
Miles 15-30 offer opportunities to sight both Northern Harrier and Redtail Hawk.
The Mid South is known as much for the riders that come in well after dark as the ones that blitz 100 miles in five hours or less. In that spirit, there is no pro category. However, there is definitely a pro race.
A good showing of gravel’s fastest will toe the line on Saturday, some looking for early season racing but all looking for a good time.
Men’s defending champ Cole Paton will not be in Stillwater this weekend, but last year’s 3rd-5th place finishers (Adam Roberge, Brennan Wertz, and John Borstelmann) will.
Payson McElveen (who won on dry dirt in 2019 and mud in 2020) is returning after fracturing his right hand and collarbone in the 2022 edition.
Other lightning-fast men racing include Ted King, Pete Stetina, Ryan Standish, Ian Lopez de San Roman, Alex Howes, Travis McCabe, Griffin Easter, Cullen Easter, Chris Tolley, Kerry Werner, Innokenty Zavyalov, and my personal pick for the 40-49 men, Ben Delaney.
2022 Mid South champ Lauren De Crescenzo will be back to defend on Saturday. I anticipate her fiercest competition will be in Paige Onweller, who won Big Sugar in October, ex-EF Education-TIBCO rider Emily Newsom, as well as other retired pro roadies Ruth Winder and Whitney Allison.
However, watch out for Mazda Lauf Factory Racing’s Marisa Boaz, ultra-endurance pro Cynthia Frazier, and Amity Rockwell, who will be back in Stillwater after a lot of time getting super fit on skis this winter.