Michigan Gravel Race Series: Uncle John’s Dirty Ride

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3T Q+M Gravel Michigan Cycling

Best race name of the year, bar none. The MGRS is finally back in action on September 9! 

There were some big gaps in the action this summer, but the final phase of the Michigan Gravel Race Series comes at you thick and fast after Labor Day. With just one event from June through September, riders have had plenty of time to dabble in road races, mountain bike races, and going on some big adventures. Aside from The Divide in July, we just haven’t spent nearly enough time racing gravel.

That’s going to change in just a few weeks. Uncle John’s Dirty Ride has paired rather neatly with the Alma Grand Prix of Cyclocross to serve as the unofficial start of fall racing. After ‘crossing on Saturday, plenty of racers stick around mid-Michigan for Sunday’s showdown at the cider mill, with 56 and 24-mile distances serving as the long and short categories for the day. The apple orchard serves as a gorgeous start and finish venue for the race, and it takes a careful rider to abstain from the doughnuts until after the race is over.

As you’d expect of the roads near St. Johns, both courses are flat. And we mean flat. The 56-mile course registered at 509 feet of elevation gain, and if you consider that roughly 150 feet of that comes in the first four miles and another 50 is in the last 200 meters, that’s just over 300 feet of elevation in 52 miles; not exactly one fo the climbers.

In fact, if there was a race for the Classics rouleur, this would certainly be it. There are really three elements that decide the race, and one of those, luck, is completely out of your control. With so many miles of exposed farm fields, the wind is usually a deciding factor. Usually coming out of the northwest, any moves early are going dead into a headwind, but it their move sticks, they get pushed all the way home aside from a few short sections of crosswind.

Since everyone wants to be in that move, the other pace is the other element that finds riders coming up short. The past two years, the attacks have been non-stop in the opening hour of racing, with speeds consistently over 25 miles per hour and even tickling 30 miles per hour as the early break tries to establish itself. Last year, our 3T/Panaracer pal Mat Stephens and the famous Dave Koesel were both some of the chief instigators of those escapades, with Cody Sovis and Sean Kickbush also getting into the mix.

Sovis and Kickbush found themselves in the peloton after a break found firm footing, and despite partnering with riders like Earl Hillaker to chase, failed to make up any ground. With Kickbush saving his legs for the bunch sprint, Sovis buried himself on the front to keep the gap respectable in hopes of a stalemate up front. Sean did well to nab 10th place as the bunch came up just short of a last-minute catch of the leaders.

In 2017 and every edition of the race, tire choice is always crucial. The roads around Uncle John’s Cider Mill are some of the firmest and fastest you’ll find anywhere on the MGRS, and a far cry from the sandy roads riders saw at The Divide. But that firm base gets a little tricky in sections with more loose stone and rock, which are almost invariably in the corners and intersections. Most racers have stuck with 35c slicks or low profile tread patterns, but more than a few have opted for 28 or 30c slicks and had no issues.

We’ve still got Danny sitting second on points in the MGRS, but with his exodus to Boston, it’s going to be mighty tough for him to make all the fall races. Cody and Sean are the next riders in the standings for the team, though new Series leader Nicholas Stanko, an Ann Arbor local/legend, feels a bit like a member of the squad.

Get yourself signed up and we’ll see you Sunday, September 9th at Uncle John’s Dirty Ride, then immediately after at the same location for a shameful and aggressive doughnut feast.