Michigan Gravel Races Series: Arcadia Grit & Gravel

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The perfect race for the Exploro. The Arcadia Grit & Gravel presented by Stormcloud Brewing is on deck, and it’s got our name all over it.

Now in its 8th year, Arcadia has stuck to a winning recipe. Part gravel race, part singletrack dreamland, it’s an event that hasn’t change much at all since it began just as gravel racing was really taking off. It calls for about 15 miles of gravel, the bulk of it found in the opening 11 miles of racing. Toss in two sections of fast, flowing singletrack, a nature preserve in full May bloom, and a slew of Michigan Gravel Races Series dream crushers, and you’ve something special cooked up.AGG 2018

It’s a race tailor-made to the abilities of our Exploro, as Cody Sovis found out in 2017 and 2018. He’s done the race for years, often on a cyclocross bike with 35mm tires. That might have been ideal for the gravel and short sections of pavement, but in the selective singletrack, it just wasn’t enough rubber on the ground, especially in the final few miles where high speeds and a hard race’s fatigue start to seep into arms, back, and legs. Finally armed with drop bars, 650 wheels and 2.0 Schwalbe Thunderburts, the Exploro gave him the first real chance to fight it out at the end.

That ending has been a real curve ball every year. There have been solo breakaways, two-rider moves forged in the forests that hold on, and a number of bunch gallops with a dozen riders still in the mix heading into the long drag back to Arcadia. Riders have to be ready for anything, and with more and more Michigan Gravel Race Series contenders making the trip north for this one, every attack, counter, and decisions could be decisive.

Last year was the closest we’ve come to the win. A trio of riders, all on mountain bikes, opened up a small gap in the second section of singletrack. Nick Wierzba, Tyler Weston, and Jamison Sheppard had just over a minute as they spilled out of the trillium-lined singletrack and back onto the pavement. With two miles and a bit of time to play with, the trio rode with their heads on a swivel. That chase group included just two riders, one of them Cody. Using all of those 50t on the front chainring, he got to within 15 seconds on the line, coming up just short of spoiling a podium place for the long-time leaders.

Cody gets a little obsessed with certain races, and this is one of them. Like the Lowell 50, it’s an event that nearly everyone leaves thinking could have been theirs if just one or two things had gone a different way. Cody hasn’t been afraid to mix it up. In 2015, he rode solo from the gun and stayed clear for 12 miles, only to get sucked up in the singletrack. He was bested by Brad White in a bunch sprint a year later, and with much of the squad staying home this weekend to rack up some training miles, this year he’ll be freelancing again, hoping to steal a few MGRS points from the favorites.

For the day, he’s sticking with those ‘Burts on 650s. It’s the same 50/34 crankset and 11/28t cassette for this year, too, before switching back to road tires for Bike Benzie and the Less Cancer Ride to kick off June.

Our best results this year have come in much longer races, with Mike Simonson’s Barry-Roubaix 100 mile win and our quartet of riders finishing the Belgian Waffle Ride serving as some high-quality highlights to a young season. As it stands, Alex Tenselshof is looking good for another MGRS title, but there’s a lot of bike racing left for 2019!