Rain, orange mud, and riders with Paris-Roubaix and Tour de France experience all scheduled to descend on the first Monument of Gravel.
The Mid South in 2020 will be unlike any other edition of the 100-mile Oklahoma gravel race. For starters, the name changed from Land Run 100, the title since 2013. But more notably, the field is stacked with riders who have raced Paris-Roubaix and the Tour de France, and, in Ashton Lambie’s case, recently set multiple world records on the track.
Also, the race is being held in the shadow of the coronavirus, which has cancelled or postponed many big races.
On the brighter side, at least for race fans and participants who love a gritty race, there will be mud, if the current forecast is to be believed. Oh yes, there will be mud.
A brief history of mud-bog attrition
Those of you familiar with The Mid South know that mud here isn’t like mud other places. The burnt-orange clay content in the dirt roads that can make for a soft, running-track-like feel on dry days can turn to Quikrete when wet. Wheels stop turning, derailleurs get ripped off, and bicycles meant for riding become heavy loads for carrying.
For many years, race promoters Bobby and Crystal Wintle included paint stirrer sticks in every racer’s goodie bag. Newbies were confused and often discarded them; those in the know tucked them in their clothing to use on course to scrape mud off their bikes.
In muddy years, the finishing rate was often less than half of the starters. As the roads were often impassable by normal cars as well, the Wintles recruited a local jeep club to serve as a de facto support crew, hauling stranded riders and their mud-caked bikes out in 4x4s.
The last two years have been dry and fast, with winning times just over 5 hours.
This year, the forecast is calling for an inch of rain in the 24 hours preceding the 8 a.m. start on Saturday.
The course – 103.5 miles with some off-piste adventure sections
While there are a few events at The Mid South, including a 50-mile option and a two-day run/ride combo, the main event is a roughly 100-mile mass-start gravel race that starts and finishes in downtown Stillwater, Oklahoma, right in front of Bobby and Crystal’s bike shop, District Bicycles.
The course is almost entirely on rolling gravel roads, and is punctuated with a few adventurous sections. Some of those are according to the course designer’s whim, and some are dictated by road conditions, such as a bridge being closed to cars and barricaded by rocks on both sides, but open to the race.
This year’s course is 103.5 miles, with about 4,600 feet of climbing. There is a single support stop at mile 50, where riders can take on supplies from either their own support crews or neutral support from Skratch Labs. SRAM and Rapha have also set up tents at the support stop in Perkins, Oklahoma, and riders are also free to just go into stores and buy whatever they need.
As with many gravel races, there is a wide range of approaches to the racing, and thus the neutral-support tactics. Riders at the front will blaze through, grabbing a musette from friends or refilling bottles as quickly as possible. Many other riders, however, will take a much more leisurely approach, stopping to chat, adjust clothing, or even sit down for a while.
The hitters among the 2,200+ registered riders
More than 2,200 racers are registered for the 100-mile race, with another 548 on the waiting list. Among those names are former winners like Amanda Nauman (2018) and Payson McElveen (2019), along with Monuments of Gravel race promoters like SBT GRVL’s Amy Charity (third in 2019) and Dirty Kanza’s Kristi Mohn.
Colin Strickland, winner of the 2019 Dirty Kanza 200 among other big races, is on the start list. Strickland turned down a contract with EF Education First to race Paris-Roubaix to continue doing his own program on gravel. Danny Summerhill has raced Paris-Roubaix, and he is on the start list, as are former WorldTour riders Ian Boswell and Pete Stetina.
Another registered rider to note is Ashton Lambie, fresh off winning a silver medal at the track world championships. Lambie set the world record for the individual pursuit in 2018 and again in 2019.
The Panaracer/Factor gravel team will also be there, as a perennial podium threat for the men’s and women’s races with riders like 2019’s second-place Kae Takeshita and 2018 winner Mat Stephens. (VeloNews power analysis columnist Zach Nehr is also on the Panaracer/Factor squad.) John Borstelmann, the 2019 Gravel Worlds winner, said he is coming to have fun with his team.
“For me, the keys to winning will be avoiding taking risks on sections of sticky mud and staying relaxed and patient until the moment is right,” Borstelmann said. “Our new squad is strong enough and savvy enough to be able to keep the big guns in check. As our first real test, we’ll be itching to show what we can do. But most importantly, having reliable teammates makes the inevitable unforeseeabilities of any gravel race easier to deal with. Panaracer/Factor pride ourselves on being prepared for anything and always having our equipment and emergency tools dialed in. That mindset will be especially helpful while racing on one of the most notoriously unpredictable courses in gravel.”
In addition the gravel veterans, a number of first-timers are on the start list, too. Many are there just to try and finish what will be their longest gravel event ever. A few are there hoping to win.
“This is my first gravel race ever and I’m most excited about what I suspect will be an epic level of extended suffering,” said Lindsay Goldman, current USA Cycling marketing manager and former pro road team manager and racer with Hagens Berman-Supermint. “I’m worried about everything because that’s how I prepare for events, but most concerned about handling potential mechanicals and deciding what to wear. I need to figure out what will look best covered in mud and tears.”
“Secretly I’m in it to win it, but am afraid to say that out loud in case I perform terribly and embarrass myself,” Goldman said. “I should probably say something about how I just want to have a great time, which is a lie, because I’m going to be turning myself inside out to at least make the podium. Wait. Is there even a podium?”
With event cancellations and rescheduling sweeping the cycling calendar due to coronavirus, The Mid South notified racers a few days ago that the race is still on.
“We have been monitoring the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) situation,” an email from The Mid South read. “The Centers for Disease Control has categorized the United States as a ‘risk of limited community transmission’ and not at a risk of widespread transmission.The CDC and the Oklahoma State Department of Health have reported that there are no confirmed or reported cases of the virus in Oklahoma or the surrounding states. We understand that everyone’s situation is different, and we respect your decision to attend The Mid South, or to stay home.”
VeloNews will be attending, participating in, and reporting from The Mid South this weekend.