As we said in our Lowell 50 preview, so it went on the road. No other races breaks hearts with the regularity and certainty of the Lowell 50, and perhaps the worst part about leaving Fallasburg Park each spring is knowing full well that you’ll be back for more come October.
While that autumnal edition of the race serves as a final test before the Iceman Cometh Challenge, the spring event is a final tune-up before Barry-Roubaix. To be fair, Lowell 50 has long since earned its place as a prestigious race in its own right, but it’s impossible to ignore that the race along the river gives us a glimpse of the real contenders for the big dance a week later.
We had two riders on the line this past weekend, and both Sean Kickbush and Jay Ellis showed up with some lofty goals. We’ve always wanted to win this one, and in the build to take the title, we need to start by finding some podiums in age groups. The warm and sunny Saturday combined with firm road conditions to make it an extremely fast edition of the race, and the dudes were all-in from the gun.
Everyone was present and correct in during the opening salvos, of which there are countless attacks. It’s a bit like throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping something sticks; riders in ones, and twos and tens get a few seconds up the road, only to either sit up or being reeled back after a mile or so. That repetitive, brutal attack-and-chase-and-reset is brutal, stressful, and crucial. Admittedly, Sean was putting in a ton of work to control things as best as he could, with Jay always finding the right wheels through the first few rolling climbs.
The attacks never really stopped, but the group did settle into something like a rhythm after the halfway point. More than once, Sean thought he was in a winning move, only to see the peloton slowly reel the break back. With under ten miles to go, riders seemed contented to wait for the sprint, a resignation that suited Sean’s ambitions. In the final two miles, Sean went for broke on Biggs Avenue, the final stretch of gravel with two small rolling climbs and a long descent to the pavement and, eventually, the finish. With one 46 second, 480 Watt kick, he found plenty of daylight, but the finish line was inconveniently too far out. Swept up in the finale, Sean rolled in for a top twenty.
Just a few minutes back, Jay rolled in for 34th on the day and joined Sean in the top tenth of their age group. It’s a pretty impressive result for a busy guy averaging a pair of rides per week, and that’s only on a good week, mind you.
With Barry-Roubaix now a few days out, Jay is back in action in the Master’s category for the ever-competitive 62-mile race. That’s the one that will count for the Michigan Gravel Races Series, and it’s a race Luke Mullis could have a serious chance at in the Men’s 62 Open. We’ve also got a title to defend in the 100-mile race, and this year, that’s all down to Mike Simonson. The rider who won the first-ever Barry-Roubaix won the first edition of the “Psycho Killer” last spring with some help from Al McWilliams. For 2019, the Simonster might be flying solo, but the guy has seen it all, done it all, and won it all since the early 90s. If anyone can head to Hastings confident in such a grueling event, it’s him.
The Michigan Gravel Race Series standings are up to date, and you’re going to see plenty of changes after this week, so make sure you check back to see how the guys fare on the gravel roads of Barry County.