The Grind: Old Man Winter Rally rallies gravel racers with new format

Groups of 10 or fewer to take the start at intervals over the course of nine days.

The Grind is a weekly column on all things gravel.

Last year, Old Man Winter Rally drew 1,200 people to its snow-covered start line in Lyons, Colorado. This year, organizer Josh Kravetz is hoping for 1,000 people to show up over the course of nine days to race his event in a very socially distanced format.

More than 650 people have signed up already, with prize money still on the line, support available on two weekends, and the course open for RideWithGPS competition at any time between February 6 and 14. Old Man Winter Rally features 50km and 100k bike courses with long timed segments, a 10k run, and a run/bike combo.

“Initially in November we launched with a two-day format because Boulder County was limiting events to 175 people in one place at one time,” Kravetz said. “The plan was to do run events on one day, bike on the other, with rolling starts. Then we opened up registration and had a ton of people sign up, then Boulder County went to level red, which meant no more than 10 people in one place at one time. So, we worked with the county to figure out a way to host the event in real time and in real life but spread out.”

In 2020, some 1,200 people raced Old Man Winter Rally on bike or on foot. Photo: Eddie Clark

Many gravel events this year have put dates on the calendar only to postpone, cancel or move to a virtual format. Promoters are coming up with new ways to engage their riders, despite the need to postpone or cancel. Most recently The Mid South launched a race-from-home event where riders complete a specific distance at home for a chance to win prizes. Other races have done virtual events on Zwift or on social without timing.

“I’m not that into virtual events,” Kravetz said. “The whole, ‘ride wherever you are, whenever you want. To me, that’s just a bike ride. What I love about events is the community, the excitement to look forward to on a certain day. So I wanted something that people could look forward to, be on the real course, and be with friends. So we came up with this nine-day format.”

In this format, racers sign up for a slot, with only 30-40 people going off per half hour in a rolling start. When riders register, they pick a day and a half-hour slot time. Per Boulder County regulations, no more than 10 people can ride together.

Last year the event was called off by State Patrol a few miles after it started, which of course prompted some good-natured internet heckling. “Old Man Winter called off for… winter?

Old Man Winter Rally is still offering $3,500 of prize money, with winners determined by the cumulative lowest times over the timed segments, which will be tracked via RideWithGPS.

RideWithGPS has a new event feature where registrants can upload from any GPS device and appear on the leaderboards.

“You can do the course multiple times, and your best time on each segment shows up,” Kravetz said. “So you could do one segment one day, and do the other one another day.”

On the two weekends, the race will have two aid stations and the course will be fully marked. Kravetz also will have roving tech support and EMTs on course. During the week in between, these things won’t be available but riders still can compete on time.

“This format is feasible for this course because it’s accessible,” said Kravetz of the area, which is just north of Boulder, Colorado in the Front Range. “It it were a remote destination, it would be trickier.”

Some years are dry. Colorado local and current US national champion Alex Howes has often raced OMWR, and is expected to take a socially distanced start this year, too. Photo: Dejan Smaic

The county is not requiring police supervision at intersections, so Kravetz has modified the timed segments for safety. Instead of the first segment starting at the start line in Lyons, it begins after the last stoplight that the course crosses. It ends before a steep (and potentially icy) paved descent into Boulder. Then, after a neutral section through west Boulder, the second segment begins at the start of another climb. Still, about 88km of the 100km course is timed.

Kravetz is also planning a third fall-back weekend in case State Patrol again deems conditions unsafe.

“The cool thing about this format is the flexibility,” Kravetz said. “You can do the first segment, stop for lunch in Boulder, and then decide if you want to race the second segment or come back another day.”

Instead of a big post-race party, OMWR is giving racers tickets for a meal and beer at the local Oscar Blues Brewery.

Kravetz is hoping to hit 1,000 registrants by the time the first race day happens. His Gold Rush Bike Rally — to be based around Gold Hill, Colorado, just west of Boulder — is slated to happen en masse this September.

The Rowena climb is the crux of the course. Photo: Dejan Smaic