Guerin Emig: All you need is a ranch and some gravel to absorb Saint Francis Tulsa Tough “gut punch” and ride on
Losing the Saint Francis Tulsa Tough last June?
“A gut punch,” SFTT executive director Malcolm McCollam said Thursday.
The pandemic is wailing on us all. What to do but gather ourselves, make some adjustments and press on the best we can?
So it is that McCollam and his crew press on this weekend. Not at the rock concert on wheels known as Cry Baby Hill just off downtown, but in the pastoral space of Zink Ranch in Skiatook, site of this weekend’s second annual Osage Passage gravel race and cyclocross presented by Tulsa Tough, Inc.
It’s actually year three of the event. McCollam said year one was more an experiment. He didn’t even have an official name for it then.
In some ways, it feels like year one. Because this is the first Osage Passage to happen the same year the Saint Francis Tulsa Tough, one of our city’s jeweled events, could not.
“It feels so good to be able to do something,” McCollam said. “I mean, that’s what we do. We’re here for the community to put our event on, to help put Tulsa on the map, to promote active lifestyles… To be able to actually be back in event production mode out there with the work gloves on, getting the venue ready, placing the flags, doing all the stuff it takes from the ground up to put an event on, it feels fulfilling.”
This isn’t what we’re accustomed to experiencing every second weekend of June. It can’t be.
“Clearly you can’t do an event like Saint Francis Tulsa Tough right now,” McCollam said. “You can’t have 2,000 bike riders and 10,000 spectators…
“Our whole model, and probably what sets us apart from almost every other cycling event in America, is our ability, desire and success in bringing huge numbers of people to a high density area, tightly together, in these downtown venues.”
What does Saturday’s gravel race and Sunday’s cyclocross at Zink Ranch look like?
“A lot of space,” McCollam said. “And we’re modifying the format. Instead of one big group at the start, we’re staging people in small groups. They’re separated. Everybody has an electronic chip on their bike for timing. We’ll start them in waves. Plus, the first mile of the course is all uphill, which will spread people out.”
What does the weekend look like for spectators?
“One of the things we’re known for is this big party,” McCollam said. “We had to eliminate that. We didn’t want to encourage people to cluster. But we have a lot of space where people will be able to sit in lawn chairs and enjoy the scene.”
They will be required to wear masks unless they are riding or in their own camping area – there is space for RVs and tents – but then we should all be used to that by now. Safety protocols won’t get in the way of a beautiful weather forecast, or a different, intriguing brand of cycling from what we’re familiar with on Tulsa’s roads every June.
“With the road cycling scene, there’s a long history of very structured format. There are lots of rules that tend to be in place,” McCollam said. “The gravel scene developed and it’s very unstructured. Every gravel race may be different. There really aren’t rules because it’s so new. “It’s kind of attracted this element of, ‘We just want to go outside and enjoy these country gravel roads. Yeah, we want to race each other, but the experience is what’s cool.’
“Some people want to beat each other’s brains out. Some people want to ride along and look at the butterflies.”
That sounds a lot like the fondos the Saint Francis Tulsa Tough offers cyclists every year. If you get caught thinking about that, about missing that last June, all you feel is blue.
Better to appreciate the Osage Passage as its own entity, even with the Tough brand attached. That way, better to appreciate that we’re all riding on despite the circumstances.
There will be about 300 riders at Zink Ranch this weekend, not 2,000. That’s still a great turnout. That’s actually an optimal turnout if you want to stage a cycling event of any kind amid the pandemic.
Anyway, let’s appreciate what we have and what we can do. Beats lamenting what we don’t or can’t.
The folks in Osage County all weekend? They’ll be happy. McCollam is happy they’ll be happy.
We should all be happy for the joys in life, regardless of scale. That certainly goes for the cyclists among us.