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Racing Gravel in the Age of Covid-19: Encierro Velo 100k3 min read

The Encierro Velo 100k gravel grinder on Sunday (6/21/2020) was my first start (well second technically, but Old Man Winter got cut early) and there’s a chance it will be my last of 2020. My racing calendar was full in January, but COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in nearly every aspect of life. Best laid plans…

As we’ve learned more about the pandemic sweeping our country, we’ve learned that contracting the disease outdoors while running or cycling is highly unlikely. With the right controls in place, gravel racing in the time of COVID-19 is possible.

With that in mind I set out on Sunday to race the Encierro Velo 100k in Elbert, Colorado. I told my wife before hand that if the organizers weren’t enforcing the mask and distancing rules they set out online, that I would pack up, drive home and call it a year.

I pulled into the Elbert County Fairgrounds and the parking lot was full with fellow racers with masks on and taking caution to maintain distance. Race organizer, Phil Schwizer, was present and doing a great job keeping people in line.

As race time neared, they addressed us all on rules of the road (a full bikes length between riders and the freedom to start solo thanks to chip timing). Credit goes to Phil and his small team for putting together clear, concise, enforceable and scientifically valid rules for this race.

Phil opened the race and I rolled out solo. I threw some TT bars on the bike ahead of time, fully planning on adhering to the rules of the race and knowing I wouldn’t get any sit in time with a bike length separation rule in place. This was a new take on gravel racing for me, a call back to my individual time trial days, this time over 60 miles of sandy, washboard covered gravel roads.

On those road conditions. I actually worked as a high school kid in the area as a camp counselor at Peaceful Valley Scout Ranch, about 5 miles from the race start. I knew these roads, but I forgot how power zapping they were. They are washboard, with a fine layer of sand on top up to an inch or deeper. It saps your energy exactly the same way running up a sand dune does and as soon as you feel settled you catch a deep patch, slide a foot or two sideways and are forced to recenter your attention.

Riding 60 miles solo isn’t anything new to me, most of my riding is done solo. I truly enjoyed myself through the rolling hills of Colorado’s transitional high plains. There were farm houses, vast tracts of empty land, plenty of cows and even antelope. It was beautiful and the slightly cloudy weather toned down the exposure.

Around mile 46 my GPS stopped recording my ride, at around the same point I started really feeling the race settle into my legs. Thankfully a few miles later I hit the tarmac stretch to the finish, settled back onto the bars and rode it out.

The real challenge came at the finish, where race organizers decided to have everyone ride a loop in the rodeo ring before crossing the line. Moving from tarmac to foot deep loamy dirt did not work well. I went down the first stretch, started my turn and stopped dead in my tracks. I fell over from there, my legs locked up and I slow walked my way around the rest of the ring. I couldn’t help but laugh. Organizers say they’re going to rework that part for next year.

Overall, a great event and one I’ll be back for in 2021. The race is worth doing just to enjoy the beautiful rolling countryside that surrounds Elbert, Colorado.

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