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2023 Badlands Gravel Battle Race Report - 120 Miles

Updated: Jun 2, 2023

The following is the race report Mike Gavelis wrote after winning the Badlands Gravel Battle Medora Gravel Race 120-mile distance. As I fell asleep the evening before the race, thunderstorms brought heavy rains. Between the lightning and thunder claps I reflected on my victory last year on the 80 mile course where we had to ride on soggy wet roads after rain fell for most of the day. I was happy when I woke up to blue bird skies as I knew the gravel roads would dry quickly and there would be a repeat of last years road conditions.

Start and Finish area

The race started with a bit of anxiety after volunteers from the race came around after we had all lined up to inform myself, and many other riders, that the timing chip needed to be on the leading edge of the bike, not on the front of the bike. I had mine neatly zip tied to the head tube around my aerobar and under top tube container. After getting lent a knife I easily cut the ties but had to loosen the bolts for the top tube case to get the ties off then managed to tie off to the brake lines with a minute to spare before race start. Luckily it was a long neutral roll out so managed to settle in and get my focus back to the task at hand. 120 miles or what I like to think of just under 200km of gravel racing.

Cyclists at the start of the Badlands Gravel Battle 2023

The plan was to stay relevant early on and make the main selection which wasn’t made easy with multiple people attacking up the first climb (they must have watched the start video from last year and saw how I took off up that climb lol). Things quickly settled into a rhythm and the lead group slowly dwindled down to about 8 of us mixed between racing the 120 and 80mile events. I started to put in some efforts on the short rolling climbs to the first aid station and managed to make a gap with 2 of the 80 milers a few times but we were always brought back. This would continue past the first aid station where there was no stopping and all the way to the second aid station where the group was split.

Curving scoria roads in Medora, SD

Some stopped to refuel while one rider went and rode up past the aid station to the end of the road. He wasn’t happy as we all just turned around after quickly refilling our stock but that’s what the volunteers told us to do. It was a steep climb out of aid station 2 and this made our group splinter. Eventually it came back together somewhat but then it split again as the pace picked up. I again found myself in a break with the two 80 milers and that’s where I had my first and only mechanical of the day around kilometer 80. Coming down a steep hill I hit a rougher patch and the bump was enough to drop the chain off and I had to stop. Luckily no damage was done and I calmly and quickly got the chain back on. Funny that the day before in the Giro Primoz Roglic had the same mechanical in his time trial with the same 1x Xplr setup…. By this point 2 other riders zipped by me one of my competing 120 milers and another in the 80 mile event. I knew I had to dig deep to get back to these two riders and that’s what I did. I pushed up every small rise and took the descents a bit faster than I’d normally do to gain back some time. Just before the turn into the 62 mile aid station I had managed to catch both of them and we formed a group of 3. None of us needed anything from the aid station and we all continued on. We managed to catch one of the 80 milers, Logan a fellow Canadian from Manitoba, up the road who had fought through a bad cramp (he managed to get second on the day in his event, awesome work) and we all settled in rotating pulls for the most part however I noticed my fellow 120 mile competitor wasn’t taking any. Was this part of a strategy or was he suffering?

Badlands Gravel Battle scoria gravel road

Every little rise I I would put a little more effort in and noticed he would drift a little back so I figured I should really put him to the test. There was one bigger rolling climb before the split of the two events around the 70 mile mark and I pushed hard up it. I instantly had a gap and that’s where I knew this would be my race to loose. I continued to push and eventually over the next 20 miles to the next and final aid station I couldn’t seem him behind anymore. By the aid station I needed a restock and grabbed my bottles and restocked my gels. I also chugged a full bottle of water and I was glad that I did because with 60 km to the finish it was a long ways between stations. The final stretch was a lonely one and not without challenge. There was a short stretch of freshly laid scoria. It was only a few km’s, thank goodness, but it felt like forever. If it wasn’t for that section, there might have been a chance at getting the course record as I was on pace for it but I conceded that today wasn’t the day for it.

Once I passed the fresh scoria the main goal was dodging cattle in the free grazing area all the way back to the interstate. I had a good view of the road behind at the on ramp and still saw I was in the clear. I still pushed on but at this point I was getting excited. I crossed the line at 6:56:56 which turned out to be a winning margin of over 16 minutes. It was awesome to see my teammate Sarah at the finish line to celebrate with. Not that I knew at the time, but she had set a new female course record on the 80 mile race! Overall it was a greatly run event, lots of happy volunteers and just a great atmosphere. Thank you to all the volunteers and race director Nick for a great event!

2023 Badlands Gravel battle 120 mile podium

Author: Mike Gavelis - 2023


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