Last month, gravel enthusiasts in the Midwest took part in the first-ever edition of the Red Kite Ronde, a 200km adventure race in the remote areas of Knox and Coshocton Counties in Ohio.
Overlapping routes of other staples of Ohio gravel and mountain bike racing such as the Black Fork Gravel Grinder, Baitin’ the Shark, Funk Bottoms Gravel Grinder and Mohican 100, the Ronde featured a 70% unpaved route that started and finished at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.
The route was developed with help from local riders over the course of the last two years. “I need to give Matt Kretchmar credit for helping design the route. It would not have been what it was without him,” race director Ryan Gamm said.
The race is intended to operate as a fundraising event for the Red Kite Fund, which helps athletes transition from the U23 to Elite category. Red Kite Coaching also hosts a cyclocross boot camp in August and a weekend of cyclocross racing in the fall to support the Fund.
As an event of the Red Kite Fund, the Ronde brought several industry sponsors who were on hand in Gambier. Smanie saddles, whom Red Kite athlete Jen Malik has done design work with, acted as presenting sponsor for the event. Additionally Kenda Tire, Hyperthreads, ESI Grips and Black Diamond Bicycles provided support.
One of the most compelling features of the Ronde is its start location in Gambier. “The Ronde has been in the works for about two years and we were in conversation with a number of different towns and institutions as a start/finish point because we wanted to have a start/finish that had full resources to house people from out of town, have good food, be comfortable and have a community that could be involved in it,” Gamm explained. “Kenyon College and Gambier were, by far, the clear winner.”
The facilities at Kenyon College are capable of supporting a much larger event of at least 600-1000 participants, which allows plenty of room for the Ronde to grow.
In its first year, the event drew a modest 71 pre-registered participants, which proved to be a perfect size according to race director and Red Kite coach Gamm. As a first running, some aspects of the race were as much proof of concept as anything else. Particularly, using Kenyon College facilities to house and feed participants proved to be a bigger organizational challenge than initially thought.
“We learned many, many lessons,” Gamm told Cyclocross Magazine. “[Working with Kenyon College] adds an extra layer of communication. We had some things that we know we’re going to have to revise and adjust for next year.”
In addition to the adjustments surrounding off-the-bike logistics, the future of the race will include Masters and Singlespeed race categories. Future editions will also feature greater rider support on course. While the first year was billed as a self-supported race, there were two planned water stops on course. With race day temperatures in the upper 90s, additional water was made available, but participants remained very much on their own otherwise.
“The other events [in this area] that are wholly unsupported appear to have greater opportunities for store stops, water stops and such, that just sort of exist in the area that they’re traveling through. The area [where the Ronde takes place] is so remote that I don’t think we can do it completely unsupported,” Gamm explained.
“We want to have this be an event where you are mostly self-supported, but there are checkpoints and aid stations.” In addition to more comprehensive on-course support, future editions of the Ronde will support drop bags to more completely serve riders.
What will remain the same, however, is the overall format. The Ronde is a competitive event for everyone involved, regardless of if they are racing at the front or battling the course itself. “We certainly want to have an outlet for folks that want to go out and see how fast they can ride 200k. At the same time, the course is extremely challenging and outside of those front folks, everyone else is out there, just them against the course. I think that’s cool and I think that’s probably where the majority of folks are going to find themselves landing.”
As racing unfolded on race day, the biggest enemy quickly became the heat, as temperatures soared into the upper 90s and the heat index reached more than 110 degrees. As the day wore on, more than half the 200k starters either substituted the 90k route or abandoned the course. Those that remained were there to race, however.
“We had a proper sprint finish in the 90k event, which was baffling yet awesome to see.” Gamm recalled, “The 200k finished with two teammates together that ultimately didn’t end up sprinting for the line. The front ends of those races were very competitive. I think that’s cool.”
Despite first-year growing pains, the Ronde was a success. “This year was wonderful,” Gamm said. “I always think of event promotion as doing thankless work but I’ve always been proven wrong on that with ’cross races. [This weekend] folks were just excited to be out there, excited to have an incredible route to go on, to go see an area that is just naturally amazing. I hope to see that continue.”
As with many other gravel events, perhaps the greatest draw is the community of riders itself. “The community was awesome,” Gamm said. “Any time a rider had finished, anyone that was around that had free hands would bring them water, bring them Cokes, do what they can to help them out, even folks who had just finished riding and were just trying to hold off cramps were helping each other out.”
Looking to the future Gamm would like to see that community spirit grow. “Hopefully the community will continue to grow that culture as [it] grows,” he said. “I think its the best of sporting, the best of adventure. You see the best of people emerge and I think that’s awesome, especially today.”
For more from Gamm, watch our full interview with him.
2019 Race Results
The Women’s win in the 200km Red Kite Ronde went to Wendy Billings, with Meagan Gehrke finishing second and Tracy Berman third.
Teammates Jared Zoller and Jeff Pendlebury went 1-2 in the Men’s 200km race. Jimmy Pooler took third.
Full 200km results are below.
Women 200km Results: 2019 Red Kite Ronde
Men 200km Results: 2019 Red Kite Ronde