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Return to Gravel – Long Live the King

By Terry Lazarou, HPL Cycling - April 28, 2024

The last time I rode gravel “competitively” was in 2018 when I participated in the Badlands Gravel Battle Race in Medora, North Dakota and The Dead Swede Gravel Race in Sheridan, Wyoming. On May 28, 2024, I remembered why Gravel Is King when I participated in the RCC Lumsden Roubaix.

I competed in the 2018 iteration of this race. Since then I have scaled back my biking and focused on short distance road, bikepacking, indoor trainer rides and running. I had lost the esoteric taste for that dusty, loose, and unforgiving riding surface that is gravel. I had also not kept up with my N+1 bike purchase commitment, having not expanded my stable with one of the new, technologically improved gravel bikes. Instead my “off road” riding continued on a cyclocross-designed 2016 10-speed Giant TCX SLR with mechanical disks brakes and tubed tires.

Still, vowing to return to the off road, I registered for the race put on by the Regina Cycling Club (RCC). I signed up for the Short Course 30 km ride, eschewing the two-looped 60 km ride – remembering that I was previously lapped by many Long Course riders.

My preparation plan was to ride many miles on dirt and gravel roads. In reality, I did a few, short road intervals and one 3km stretch of gravel several weeks before the race. Three weeks before the race, my toe and foot swelled to the point that I could not wear shoes. Although my fellow HPL Cycling teammate and occasional coach, Paul Cutting, called the condition “old man toe,” I will forever refer to it as “Toevid”. My doctor agreed that, although not the scientific name, it seemed appropriate.

I did clean and lube my bike chain. I figured that was important. Previous gravel rides were unpredictable at best and included sliding, bouncing, and losing traction. Coach Paul convinced me of the importance of lowering tire pressure from the 80 psi that I was running, to a “I-am-going-to-get-a-pinch-flat-as-soon-as-I-start-rolling-40 psi. It helped!

Who Has Seen The Wind

When race-day Sunday arrived it was cool and windy. The 32 km/hr wind resulted in just over 56 per cent headwind for my race. In these conditions, I usually suffer from what I call “Wind Tourette’s,” a condition that compels me to shake my fist at the sky and hurl expletives at it. Owing to the wind and 13 degrees Celsius temperatures, most riders, myself included, spent some time adding tights, arm warmers and other cold-weather gear. Puffy jackets were de riguer pre-race.

The starting point of the race was at RiverPark Campground in Lumsden, Saskatchewan. The parking lot was packed with more than 146 racers, volunteers, families, and a stunning, well behaved poodle. After not participating in organized rides and races for over four years, it was a delight to see many familiar faces – friends, competitors, and arch enemies. Riders came from all over Saskatchewan, including Saskatoon, Esterhazy, Prince Albert, as well as from Regina and area.

Seeing all these racers was also a little intimidating as many were sporting much newer and agile Grizls, Checkpoints, Cutthroats, Grails, Warbirds, Asperos, Diverges, and Revolts with transmissions and carbonated frames and tubeless 40 mm-plus tires. My aluminum 10 speed TCX, although freshly lubed, seemed to be more from the Penny Farthing era compared to those new steeds. I remarked that there were two other same vintage (and paint scheme) TCXs There were also some mountain bikes and a caliper-braked Rocky Mountain retrofitted touring bike.

The race started in several waves; first the 60 km male and female long course riders, followed by the short course and social riders. The competitors neutral-rolled through the town behind a pace vehicle, stopping at stop signs respecting the wishes of the townsfolk (and the by-laws).  Following a sharp right-hand turn, the race was on with a spicey, almost 1km long, 7.5 per cent gradient climb before riders quit the tarmac and hit the gravel for most of the rest of course. Racers passed a number of familiar strava segments and landmarks, including Pumpkin Hollow and Seven Bridges Road. RCMP were positioned in strategic spots to ensure racer safety, and for the most part vehicle traffic was minimal on the gravel roads.

Champagne and Hammer Gel Dreams

The gravel itself was just short of delightful. Those who ride southern Saskatchewan grid roads know that gravel can be anything from hard pack to quicksand, depending on the amount of aggregate and when it was last graded. Before the race, and because there had been little precipitation for some time, one seasoned racer and event organizer referred to some of the course as having “champagne gravel.” They were not wrong; other than being very dusty, the course was very rideable and forgiving, except for some shoulders that were sandy and required emergency course corrections or panicked pedal unclipping.

The wind was another story. The strong, seemingly constant, headwinds were complemented by mischievous cross winds and gusts that pushed many riders off their line. There were several occasions when I stopped shaking my fist at the sky and, instead yelled “Abort! Abort!” as I tried to wrestle control of my wheels away from the south/southeast gusty prankster.

I have a habit of daydreaming when I race and I tend to fall behind. For me, the race was about focus and not letting others get too far ahead. There was some spirited back and forth lead taking between myself and another racer (riding the aforementioned Rocky Mountain), both of us using colourful expletives in describing the wind and road conditions. We passed several racers, although most were too far ahead to catch and, in the last quarter of my race, I was passed by several competitors and lapped by a number of Long Course riders, whose speed, endurance and power continues to amaze me.

There were many racers representing specific clubs and teams. Saskatchewan Juniors were there, male and female, and made their presence known with their results. Eight HPL Cycling members, including myself participated in the race. HPL’s Mike Gavelis, from Saskatoon achieved a very strong second place in the Long Course. HPL’s Paul Cutting, from Regina, riding a new bike, came in fast at fourth place in the Short Course. I was hoping for a top twenty position. To my welcomed surprise, I rolled past the finish line in tenth place.

After the event, racers gathered back at the campground. Lunch was made possible by The Hut who managed the huge group of hungry racers on opening day of their camping season! Thanks also go to Randy Lewis and Jeff Hamon for their on-course photography, Garret Woynarski with Hammer Nutrition. HPL Cycling also provided several prizes for the event. Special thanks to Dutch Cycle and Western Cycle – Source for Sports. They are local superstar cycling community and event supporters who also provided prizes for every racer, including for the top five finishing men and women in both the long and short courses. There were also awards for the top male and female youth riders. Congratulations and thanks to the RCC Gravel Committee and volunteers who organized and ran a safe, challenging and exciting first race of the outdoor season. They demonstrated that gravel is king!

For more information visit the Regina Cycle Club's website: https://reginacycleclub.ca/



All photographs graciously provided by Jeff Hamon Photography

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