The Almanzo is the granddaddy of all gravel road rides, 100 plus miles of hilly, scenic mostly gravel road in southeastern Minnesota. The event was pioneered by Chris Skogen who passed the ownership on to the Spring Valley Chamber of Tourism. Key sponsorship also from a LBS, Penn Cycle.
I woke up early to drive the nearly two hours to the 9:00 start in Spring Valley. Highway 52 was filled with more, and more, cars with bike racks loaded with a mix of bike types the closer I got to Rochester. The skies also got darker and rain started add I arrived in Spring Valley.
The small town of Spring Valley was buzzing with bikes, creating quite a spectacle for the locals. Hundreds of bikes started queuing up on Main Street by 8:40. Bikes and attire from racer kits to hipster looks. Some in it to win it, some out to survive, I’m closer to the latter.
Tradition is to preface the start with happy birthday sung to Chris’ son. nice that the new sponsors continued the tradition. The race/ride rolled out of town about 9:10 to streets lined with friends, families and locals. I’m sure I’m in a hundred random home videos.
The rain was short-lived and served to make for gravel roads that were a little greasy. I had chosen “Monica” for my ride, she is a 1999 vintage Trek road bike with the US Postal team colors. It is essentially the bike Lance rode to his first disgraced “win” in the TdF. I put 28mm tires with a little knobby tread on them. The first downhill out of town nearly scared the bejezus out of me. I was slipping and sliding around at 20 plus mph. Yikes. Add to the challenge, a stiff southeast wind in our faces.
The first rest stop was outside of Preston at about 48 miles. The Penn Cycle ambulance support vehicle was there with water, soft drinks, chamois butter and lube. I took some of each and ate half of the PBJ I packed, following my strategy of eating early and often to keep from having a repeat of the bonk on the Dickie Scramble.
Me, in front of the ambulance support vehicle. Looking okay, with the possible exception of the facial hair.
Thankfully, leaving Preston, we turned out of the headwind, somewhat.
I picked up a couple guys from LaMere Cycles, turns out one was JP, the owner. He looked at Monica and decided I needed a new carbon bike. About the same time I came upon an acquaintance on a fat bike. He was making good time and also got the carbon bike sales pitch…everyone rides for their own reasons.
The last stop was at Forestville State Park. The ambulance was there with a crew grilling hot dogs. I passed as I knew the next few miles were steeply uphill and didn’t want a second viewing of mystery meat.
The final punishment comes at about 90 miles where there is an 18% grade hill that goes on forever. I’ll admit to walking my bike up most of it, along with everyone except a guy on a touring bike with a granny gear. With only one more big climb and a stint back into the headwind, the finish was in sight.
I finished in about 8 hours with a little less than 7 hours riding time. The winners were something over 5 hours. I felt really good and good about my chances of keeping up with the twenty-somethings on the tour in two weeks.
Monica, with a good coating of wet gravel slime.
My third Almanzo, maybe not my last, maybe.