It was 19 degrees at the start. The gravel roads were packed with snow and ice. At least a couple riders had flasks of whiskey. There was much talk of what conditions on the singletrack climb section would be like. (Deep snow.) And then, off we charged for the 2019 Old Man Winter Rally 100k.
Much like cyclocross, gravel races can be run in virtually any conditions. While the bulk of gravel events take place in the summer to fall, a few early-season races tout the unpredictable weather as a selling point.
For instance, Rasputitsa in Vermont in April can offer a lovely day out on the bike. Or it can be a Russian-winter-like slog through mud, snow and ice.
Who would put on such a race?
Rasputita promoter Heidi Myers can rattle off a list of reasons for holding a gravel race when snow is possible. “The finish beer is colder. The worse the conditions, the more the adventure,” she said. “No one ever claimed cyclists were sane.”
Josh Kravetz started Old Man Winter Rally outside of Boulder, Colorado, as a ‘rally the troops’ event in early February to get out for a big winter adventure ride, thus the rally title.
“But…this is Boulder, one of the fittest cities in the world, so naturally it gets competitive for the boys and girls at the front,” he said. “Although we have a huge prize purse — almost $5,000 cash for the top five — the event experience is maximized for people who just want to ride. We have really well-stocked aid stations and the after party has bottomless s’mores, bonfires, cold Sufferfest beer, and lots of vendors with contests.”
Who would do such a race?
U.S. Olympic mountain bike hopeful Erin Huck has won Old Man Winter multiple times. “My favorite thing about Old Man Winter is that it is a fun way to mix up winter training,” Huck said. “The route is a lot of fun, with some paved roads, dirt roads, and a short trail section that usually involves some hiking. The after-party post-race is great with food and beer.”
Gravel racer Alison Tetrick was quick to rattle off a list of reasons for racing events like Rasputitsa in the snow, including:
- “Good practice channeling inner happy and warm thoughts, like raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.
- If it was easy, everyone would do it.
- Shivering burns more calories. It is like cross-training on your bike.
- You make the best of friends when trying to stay warm.
- Tackling tough conditions makes you mentally tough.
- Snow is cold on the outside, but bourbon can warm you up on the inside.
- Slipping and sliding through snow, ice, and mud, allows you to ‘let go’ and go with the flow. It allows me to address my control issues.”
Old Man Winter has 50k and 100k options, plus running events on the same day. The 50k is timed straight through, and the 100k has two timed segments. Kravetz says safety and the ability to regroup are the main reasons for not running the 100k as a straight-ahead race.
While many riders come out to complete the course instead of compete, herd mentality can take over, Kravetz said.
“On the 50k course, I think about half of the riders set out to ride fast, however the energy of the event is contagious and I think a lot of folks end up riding faster than expected,” he said. “The 100k course is a bit different and a lot of folks are not used to riding four hours with 5,000 feet of climbing in winter. So I think some people are thinking of OMW as a kick start/butt kick to the season and they’re in it for the adventure, stories, and memories.”
This year, elite gravel racers Colin Strickland, Amity Rockwell, Pete Stetina, and Ian Boswell are slated to be among those taking the start at Old Man Winter.
Mountain bike racer Ryan Petry said his favorite thing about Old Man Winter is “how it throws everyone out of their element.”
“Being in February, the course is completely unpredictable and it doesn’t necessarily suit any type of rider. With all of the unknown variables, I feel like the most important thing to ensure a successful day is to focus on rolling with the punches, making some friends, and taking advantage of the fun after-party.”
VeloNews will be participating in and covering Old Man Winter on February 9. Follow Ben Delaney on Strava.