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Gravel

The Grind: The Mid South cometh

The red-orange clay of Oklahoma is calling. Will it be a mudder this year?

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The Grind is a weekly column on all things gravel.

Updated March 3 after Colin Strickland and Payson McElveen registered.

The Mid South was the first legit gravel race I did. I’ve been hooked ever since.

That year, 2018, was a dry year, and the race — then called Land Run 100 — felt in many ways like a dirt road race, a ‘faux Roubaix’ like many of us in the U.S. had been doing for decades. Except… the start had more than 1,000 people, all rolling off the start line together at once, sent off by the start signal of promoter Bobby Wintle firing a canyon in downtown Stillwater, Oklahoma.

And while many of us had our heads down racing for the 100 miles, many more were out there to enjoy the day at their own pace. To use Selene Yeager’s terms, there were competitors and completers.

When we created the Monuments of Gravel concept in 2020, elite gravel racers and gravel race promoters voted Mid South one of the most prestigious gravel races to win.

Related: 2020 Mid South gallery

This year, some 2,374 people are registered for The Mid South across the weekend’s events, including 1,586 in the 100-mile bike race.

Among that number to be sure are plenty of completers, but the list of the competitors is pretty stout.

Ashton Lambie, shown here in 2020, will again take the start. Photo: Brad Kaminski | VeloNews.com

On the women’s side, the contenders include Emily Newson (EF Education-Tibco-SVB), Amanda Nauman (SDG-Monster Hydro), Amity Rockwell (Trek/Easton), Moriah Wilson (Specialized), Ruth Winder (Trek), Crystal Anthony (Liv Racing), and Lauren De Crescenzo (Cinch).

On the men’s side, some of the boldfaced names are Payson McElveen (Allied), Colin Strickland (Meteor-Allied), Ted King (Cannondale), Adam Roberge (Team TBA), Ashton Lambie (Gravelnauts-Lauf), Kiel Reijnen (Trek), Brennan Wertz (Pinarello), Tristan Uhl and Josh Berry (Giant), Ethan Overson (Cinch), Michael van den Ham (Giant/Easton), John Borstelmann (Abus), Fabio Calabria (Pirelli) and Jonathan Baker (Rodeo Labs).

Pete Stetina, fourth in 2020, is registered with the team name ‘Bobby [Wintle] is a Sadist.’

Notably absent is 2020 winner Hannah Otto (formerly Finchamp).

One big question at The Mid South every year: Will it be dry, or will it be a mudder?

The first year I did it, having heard many a tale of derailleurs, chains, and hopes torn asunder in the bright orange mud, I came to Oklahoma with the parts and the tools to convert my bike to a singlespeed. That was weird, and, thankfully, unnecessary.

When my colleague Betsy Welch and I did it in 2020, just as the tidal wave of Covid was sweeping the U.S., it was pouring. Our colleague Brad Kaminski sure got some good photos of that day, and Betsy and I did a video summing up our experiences with various gear.

This year I’ll be testing a slew of high-end gravel goodies: SRM power-meter pedals, Cadex AR 35 wheels, Specialized S-Works Pathfinder tires, and more.

My goals are a top-10 overall finish and an age-group win. I’ve been 11th and 12th overall, and second and third in the old guys, so hopefully I can improve that just a scootch this year. We’ll see what luck and the stacked field and the weather have in store.

In any event, I’m eager to be one of many, many fish swimming in the Oklahoma gravel school, rattling and rolling over the red clay hills outside Stillwater. And I’m also looking forward to seeing new and old friends over beers and food around town.

If you haven’t been, I highly recommend it. And so do the top gravel riders and gravel promoters — that’s why The Mid South is the opening event of the Monuments of Gravel.

Does your gravel race have its own brew? | Photo: Wil Matthews

The Mid South podiums of past years

2020 Payson McElveen, Colin Strickland, Jonathan Baker / Hannah Otto, Amanda Nauman, Kristen Faulkner

2019 McElveen, Ted King, Andrew Dillman / Nina Laughlin, Kae Takeshita, Amy Charity

2018 Mat Stephens, van den Ham, Brandon Melottt / Nauman, Takeshita, Dani Arman

2017 Rob Bell, Stephens, Joe Fox / Karen Pritchard, Andrea Cohen, Paulina Batiz

2016 Austin Morris, Evan Fast, Bob Cummings / Katherine Strempke, Kristi Mohn, Pritchard

2015 Bryce Hylton, Rick Moseley, Greg Gleason / Desiree White, Pritchard, Mohn

*the race was also held in 2014 and 2013; in 2021 it was canceled for COVID