To Grind or Not to Grind: Gravel Riding & Racing in Saskatchewan.

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Master men’s lead group coming out of a tight corner.

A number of people have asked me over the last couple of years why I don’t participate in gravel riding and racing. My standard answer is that I do not own a gravel bike and already have too many bikes in the stable. If an individual presses me a little harder, I will tell them that the agricultural dust and chemicals carried by the perpetually blowing winds in Southern Saskatchewan are some of my asthma triggers, especially during aerobic exercise. Both of the aforementioned are honest answers, the latter being one of the primary reasons why I chose not to grain farm with my dad on a permanent basis so many years ago.

The need to breathe is a primal instinct for survival 🙂

As some of you may know from earlier posts, I had been away from Club cycling for some time before I decided to sign up with Regina Cycling Club (RCC), historically a road racing club in Regina, Saskatchewan. The club was founded by individuals I consider to be friends, although they are closer to my dad’s age than mine. I have met, and continue to meet awesome people through RCC and other cycling clubs locally and elsewhere.

Times have changed, and now gravel riding and racing is a significant part of the club and racing schedule. What I did not realize, until this year, is that there appears to be a bit of tension between traditional road riders and gravel riders in terms of agenda, events, and “air time” within the public discourse on FaceBook (FB).

As for me, I do not want to see the club (RCC) drift too far from its original purpose of being a traditional road racing club with well-organized road races, criteriums, and time trials. Please don’t get all up-in-arms over my personal preference(s) – I am just being honest here. Some of the older riders inside the club have mentioned to me that they do not like the direction we are heading with the heavy emphasis on gravel racing, cyclocross, fat biking, and just about everything else besides road racing. I tend to agree with them and have spoken freely in public forums about it. Nevertheless, a new generation and a few old-timers love gravel riding and racing and are quite vocal about it on the FB public forum also.

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Elite men’s criterium chase group.

To each his/her own. Live and let live? I am getting too old (or too wise) to get involved in the internal squabbles and small-time politics of non-profit clubs, let alone the provincial cycling association.

I must say, though, that I was disappointed in the small turnout to both the Provincial 15km and 40km TT’s and the Criteriums, especially the Elite men’s criterium this year – 4 riders showed up to the starting line. There were no women who entered the criterium races. The Master-aged riders put on a good show though! Sign of the times? I do not know.

Is road racing (in all its disciplines) dying a slow and painful death in Saskatchewan?

Based on a recent conversation with a provincial cycling official, and personal observation, I am beginning to believe that the very principle of volunteerism is dying in our cycling clubs. In other words, it is getting increasingly difficult to secure volunteers for events.

The old guard is still doing the lion’s share of the work and complain of having no one to pass the baton too.

I get that…I really do. I am still being nagged from time to time to volunteer and be involved in the local church that I attend. That church I am referring to is composed of predominantly the Gen-X and Millennial generations. My response is always the same. I have volunteered in various capacities in the church, service clubs, school groups, and sport clubs for over four decades…

…It is time for a younger generation to take the baton and run with it.

Today it seems that local cyclists are more interested in the social aspects and group dynamics of women-specific or age-group clubs and novel venues such as gravel riding/racing than the highly structured sport of road racing (i.e., officials, clearly defined rules and governance). Are the specific disciplines within road racing too hard? Do individuals loath being humiliated and dropped by a raging peloton cruising at 45km+ per hour? My experiences earlier this year was certainly a mixed bag, but I honestly loved every minute of it, whether being out front desperately trying to stay ahead of the scratch group or being dropped unceremoniously from the pack and having to ride solo all the way home.

God knows I want to be back racing with all my heart, but my body, so far, is refusing to cooperate. Patience young Jedi…

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Spring training before the ice is melted on the lake. Photographed in Wascana Park, Regina, Saskatchewan © Copyright 2017. All rights reserved.

A hundred kilometres of gravel racing in 30C+ heat is no walk in the park either, yet events like this tend to draw a larger crowd and more female participants. This reminds me of the early days of mountain bike riding/racing, of which my generation essentially invented and participated heavily in. Eventually, the wild off-road antics of mountain biking became organized and regulated, partly due to opposition from equestrian riders, hikers, and environmentalists, and partly because of the process of natural evolution, i.e., evolving from a fringe sport to being recognized as a viable Olympic sport.

Only time will tell if gravel riding/racing, which is predominantly a North American phenomenon, will develop and evolve into something more universal like mountain biking did. According to a recent conversation with an employee of a local bike shop, the sale of mountain bikes and city bikes are still the bread and butter of their existence alongside repair services.

Recently, an individual asked a question on FB as to whether there were any paved roads to ride on anymore? I was not sure if his inquiry was tongue-in-cheek or was sincere. No one responded, but I did take the time to write out a response (which I decided NOT to post on FB) that I will share with you here:

I will try to answer your question straight up. There are still lots of rideable paved road routes in and around Regina. The Regina Bypass Project has created a lot of obstacles for road riders to get out of the city somewhat safely. As you probably know, a significantly increased population has led to increased traffic on our major highways, but most of the shoulders are wide and doable. I use ear plugs in high traffic areas on the highway, i.e. one can still hear traffic adequately but much of the high frequency noise and the wind is drowned out. Bright clothing and a powerful rear flashing taillight help out with visibility to traffic.

Others here have mentioned that some of the traditional road routes have been wrecked by chip seal paving and the removal of paved road shoulders completely. It kind of reminds me of riding in some of the rural areas of Scandinavia, Great Britain and Europe now, as we no longer have the privilege of adequate paved shoulders on some of our historical road riding routes.

Although I personally no longer ride gravel or off-road (since the late 1990’s), I can appreciate why others do. Yes, I know it is hard to believe that some of us road gravel back then 🙂 I do know that others in our club (RCC) enjoy the opportunity of discovering new routes, landscapes, and the challenging hills of gravel riding, not to mention less traffic and a much quieter environment. As with road riding, there are pluses and minuses to gravel riding/racing also. Relentless heat, dust, bugs, washboard or freshly graded and loose road surfaces, flying stones from trucks and other farm machinery, no place to restock on water and food, vicious dogs, and shotgun wielding property owners 😉

In the final analysis, cycling is cycling, and I trust that each person involved in our club or the many other cycling clubs in Regina are enjoying the challenges and the sense of community that comes from participating in sport with others of like mind. Cheers!

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A Moment in Time: Criterium Racing

2017 Saskatchewan Provincial Criterium.

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The Fast & Ferocious: 2017 Saskatchewan Provincial Criterium

 

2017 Saskatchewan Provincial Criterium from Bruce Kraus on Vimeo.

The 2017 Saskatchewan Provincial Criterium was held yesterday near the First Nations University in Regina, Saskatchewan. The Regina Cycling Club successfully hosted the entire provincial level series of races over two consecutive weekends. The events included a 40km and 15km Individual Time Trial, a Criterium, and a Road Race.

Congratulations to all the participants!

CW 1

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The Speed Racer

Just when you think you are all alone…the Speed Racer blows by you like you’re standing still, soon to vanish into the far horizon 🙂

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The Speed Racer

Shot on a Garmin Virb Elite and edited solely in Lightworks.

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When men were men…and boys…are just boys.

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The flamboyant Mario Cipollini sprinting to another victory.

The 42-time Giro stage winner, Mario Cipollini deplored the lack of action in the fight for the maglia rosa so far, criticising most of the GC riders for being afraid to take their chances.

The centenary (100th) edition of the Giro d’ Italia has been a snooze fest amongst the General Classification (GC) contenders. According to the 50-year-old Cipollini, the GC contenders of today are just not of the same quality of riders from past generations.

On Etna, there was wind. And…? Is that a reason? Do you think Pantani or Hinault would have stayed in the wheels because it was windy? I fear we may have to wait until the Stelvio for everything to unfold because even the time trials won’t see many differences between Quintana, Nibali, Pinot, or Thomas.

Mario Cipollini

I tend to agree with the former Italian sprinter. Today’s Pro Tour riders are so dependant on technology, constantly peering down at their computers to determine wattage and heart rate, listening obediently to their race directors barking orders on the radio from the comfort of the support vehicles. The GC contenders appear to be afraid to attack or do anything that would add some spark to this year’s Giro. Everyone seems content to wait for the last week of climbing, where, predictably, Quintana will ride away from everyone. This is not road racing, this is a boring snooze fest that has already lost the attention of dedicated fans, myself included.

We know everything about their watts, their heart rates, but of what interest? That doesn’t tell us anything about them. If we knew that a rider cannot produce more than 450 watts, then yes, that would be interesting to see on a screen that’s he’s reached his limit, but then again this is just data, useless gadgets that imitate Formula 1 and can only interest people who know nothing about cycling.

Mario Cipollini

Bring back the real men to the professional peloton. I am tired of just watching the timid boys and their superfluous toys.

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RCC Tuesday Night Racing: The Pursuit

Road racing is brutal, especially when shelled out the back and having to fight a strong North wind solo. I am a bit of a diehard on the bike and refuse to surrender until the finish line. One never knows when opportunity presents itself. I was fortunate enough to hook on to one of the riders who was also dropped (from the scratch group) and we hammered until Lumsden, where the diminutive climber got away on the hill. Nevertheless, thanks dude for the strong pull! Last to finish…somebody has to finish last 🙂 but I am looking forward to the Individual Time Trial (ITT) next week!

Cyclists have their own language unique to their own sporting sub-culture. If you do not understand, please feel free to ask a question 🙂 Don’t be shy now…

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Isaac & Newton play well together.
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Preliminary race results from RCC TNR Pursuit #2. Note: a number of competitors are still missing from the results.

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