The Mid South

Full Disclosure: Bobby Wintle (creator, promoter, and the all around face of The Mid South) and I have known each other and been friends for quite some time. These views are my own and obviously may be biased based on my personal feelings. The best part of this country is that we are all entitled to our own opinions. I appreciate you taking the time to read mine.

It was supposed to be a celebration. It always is. The atmosphere has historically been unparalleled from almost anything I’ve seen in the sport of cycling and I’ve seen a lot. You can’t fake what Bobby puts in to this event, the sport, and the community. His passion and the support from the team around him are what makes this event the best gravel race in the country. On top of that, this was a new step forward as what is now The Mid South rebranded in even further support of that community. We as participates joined the Who’s Who of the industry and elite race community to experience it all. But, things changed. Quickly.

We all funneled in to Stillwater, Oklahoma in the days leading up to March 14th. This delineation is important. Days. When things in the World and our Nation, we’re changing by the hour. #socialdistancing wasn’t even a thing. On Thursday the 12th, the tone of a Nation took a hard turn. COVID-19 was beginning it’s spread at an exponential rate. Within hours, Bobby and the race crew were outlining precautions to curtail the possible spread. But the show was still to go on.

As I said, things changed by the hour. By Friday the tone was much more serious. As we arrived in downtown Stillwater, there were no handshakes, high fives, or hugs among thousands of racers, families and support crew. Partly due to rainy weather, partly due to the pending pandemic. What was to be a rider’s meeting and concert extravaganza was a group of maybe a couple hundred standing with distance between and the occasional touching of elbows to greet each other as warmly as possible. After picking up my number and less than 20 minutes of roaming around, I left to retire for the evening.

As I prepared my dinner, I scrolled social media and saw the first people calling for the race to be canceled. People I consider my friends and colleagues, screaming from their digital soapbox that all of us who intended on racing the next day were selfish, inconsiderate and just about every other negative connotation. When in fact, the cycling community that was there was the opposite. We did care about our fellow cyclists and the town of Stillwater. I had already washed my hands and used hand sanitizer more than 10 times in the hour since I arrived. I made the decision (as did many) to not congregate at the venue. We had rented an AirBnB in lieu of staying in hotel with masses of others. We had brought food and committed to eating in as a way to avoid some crowds. That evening I packed my bags with the intention of riding the 104 miles entirely self supported in an effort to minimize contact with other riders or the folks that do graciously volunteer their time in support.

In my mind, the risk to myself or the community was minimal at that point. Riders from areas in the country that had already seen the devastation of the virus, in large part stayed at home. When I left home, there wasn’t a confirmed case in our area. The risk of me transmitting to other racers or the people of Stillwater was minimal since I came from an area where there hadn’t been any infections. There hadn’t been a confirmed case in Payne County, Oklahoma. There were 1,896 total confirmed cases in the United States at that time. There are risks in everything we do in life, including riding a bike. My opinion was that the risk was worth taking. The majority of the risk that me and most others were taking was in traveling to the event. That was done well before any calls for cancellation.

Bobby and crew were taking as many precautions to protect us all as they could. Additional hand washing stations were noticeable from years past. Hand sanitizer was literally everywhere you even had the opportunity to stop. Bobby had publicly sworn off his famous finish line “Bobby Hug”. As we lined up the crowd was noticeably smaller. I’d estimate that the delayed start had less than half of the previous year’s attendance. People were spread out to give each other their personal space. 6 feet or more before the guideline was such.

As we rolled out, the storms from the previous night continued to be relentless. Less than 15 miles in, it was evident that the day was going to be much less about a race and more about shear will. My choice of competing in this year’s race on a singlespeed, looked to be fortuitous as I rode past hundreds strewn across the roads with broken derailleurs, dropped chains, and those attempting roadside repairs. Those lucky enough to ward off mechanical disaster were fighting their own mental demons in an effort to keep moving forward.

Somewhere around 3 hours in as I made an valiant effort up a short but steep hill, I heard a loud POP! After a brief Oh Shit! moment, I realized I was still moving forward. In the days conditions the area’s signature red clay mud clung to every surface of body and bike. I figured a small rock had momentarily become lodged in my drivetrain and worked its way out. But nonetheless, onwards.

At this point I feel the need to state that I don’t ride many of these big events with a computer any longer because once race day comes, I can’t necessarily change the speed at which I’m going. The fitness is what it is and the conditions are what they are. If I feel good I push harder. If I feel the need to pace myself I do just that. When I see the finish line, I’m done. Pretty simple.

As I rode in to the halfway point, I could tell by the day’s light that I was well behind my predicted schedule. There is a bit of smooth pavement that allowed me to collect my thoughts. Just then I felt some sort of feedback coming from my drivetrain. I probably felt it a few miles earlier but wrote it off to the conditions. I coasted, looked down and wiggled my foot side to side. My heart sank. I know my equipment is well maintained and a single speed is a pretty simple machine. I soft pedaled to town with the thought of attempting a fix. When I stopped to put a wrench on things, it was all tight. As expected. Unfortunately that meant a bigger issue. The carbon crank arm had come unbonded from the aluminum interface with the cranks spindle. Sound technical? Well, just know there is no roadside repair for such an issue.

Just then I saw my friend Danny and he informed me that he had been one of the unfortunate to lose the mechanical battle with the conditions. Just an hour earlier I had seen what I thought was my buddy Will’s bike on the back of one of the famous rescue Jeeps suffering a similar fate. I wasn’t quitting. I have never quit a race in my life. I’ve conquered longer miles, more elevation gain, mixed disciplines of cycling and running and now was attempting a course that I’ve previously beaten, but with one gear in some of the most epic conditions I’ve ever faced. All of this in an attempt to find my personal limits.

If the crank arm literally fell off, I had the number to call for help.

So I headed out of town. Alone. Many had called it quits in Perkins if they had made it that far. I settled in for the second half of the day which is arguably the harder than the first. Things got difficult. The morning rain let up and turned what was once was a sloppy mess in to what seemed to be thousands of suction cups between my tires and those red dirt roads. Every pedal stroke caused further failure of that crank arm. “Wobble, Wobble…Wobble, Wobble”. I went stretches of time with out seeing another soul. Going deep in to a mental dark place while shoving mud covered gummy worms in to my mouth in an attempt to dig my way out of an equally physical dark place.

I’d remembered some of the scenery from the previous year. I knew I was probably 25 miles from the finish. I buried the thoughts that those miles would likely take me two and a half hours. Any sun there was had started its descent. The climbs get steeper and more frequent. The crank arm was getting worse which required me to dismount and walk some sections in order to limp it to the line. But I was moving forward. One inch, one foot, one step, one mile.

About that time I lost any semblance of what time or distance was. The sky was just different shades of dark and grey. Every stretch of road looked the same. As I trudged up what could have been the 40th or 400th roller, a gentlemen came past and said “10 more miles!” Hell yeah! I was going to make it. Even if I had to pedal one footed, I could do that for 10 miles.

As he rode out of sight, I found myself in a bit of company. I briefly talked Thai food with a guy from Iowa. I encouraged a young man that was running some of those climbs in road shoes and soft pedaling the backside as he nursed a makeshift singlespeed to his own finish. Just then, I saw what is in my mind the “famous” Welcome to Stillwater sign at around 5 miles to go. It gets smoother from there. The paved surface and gradual descent are the reward for the previous 99 miles of periodic torture.

As I cruised through town in almost dark conditions, I rounded the familiar corner with a noticeably smaller but probably more enthusiastic cheering section congratulating me. I saw Bobby, as I dismounted and we locked eyes knowing there shouldn’t be any hugs regardless of how proud we were of each other for getting to that point. We tapped elbows and posed for a picture. My day was over. 11 hours, 4 minutes. Yet again, I had finished.

As I look back at photos, I see the photos of Bobby with his arm around some people at the finish. Even though I haven’t seen the photo, I remember him doing the same to me as we posed for a photograph. In those pictures, some people look like it’s an awkward exchange. Others look like it’s welcomed. In the weeks that have passed, I have read interviews, listened to podcasts, looked at all the pictures. I hear people (most of which who weren’t there) call his announcements of expanded precautions “lip service” and “literal bullshit”.

But that’s Bobby. That’s The Mid South. I can’t see how you can have the kind of passion and energy that has made the event what it is and expect that the man responsible for so much of that can just turn it off at the flick of a switch. It’s impossible and shouldn’t be expected regardless of his best intentions.

I know that I wasn’t the only one taking a few extra precautions. I never rode side by side with anyone. I didn’t see anyone else do so either. Yes, the attrition rate contributed to this fact. No, I didn’t see a single snot rocket all day long. Yes, I washed my hands more that weekend than I probably did the entire month previous. No, I didn’t hang out for any more than five minutes after I rolled through the finish line. No one was trying to “pull a fast one over”. Based on the information of a much, much less dire situation on that day, we all made a decision to participate or not based on what we felt was acceptable. So before you get all holier than thou, just look in the mirror and think about all of the things in your life that you have done. Many of which have selfishly put you or others at risk of harm. Then, think about all the experiences and lessons learned that have come from those actions and look forward to becoming a less judgemental, stronger and more experienced person.

How we are protecting you during the Covid 19 pandemic

While we are choosing to currently remain open for business, rest assured that we have your’s and our employee’s health and safety in mind during these trying times.

After much consideration, we have believe that the smaller size and seasonal nature of our business allows us to safely remain here to serve you.

If you feel at all under the weather, please stay home. If you don’t feel comfortable being in public, we completely understand. We’ll be here when the time is right for you. We have also made this option available to our employees.

Some of the things we are doing to keep everyone safe:

⁃ We have disinfected our floors and will continue to do so on a daily basis at minimum.

⁃ As the weather allows, we will leave our front doors open to reduce contact. When the weather limits us from doing such, we will disinfect the handles after each and every person enters or exits.

⁃ Every bike brought in for repair will be disinfected with alcohol when it arrives and again when you pick it up.

⁃ Our employees have been instructed to wear gloves when working on bicycle repairs.

⁃ Our employees have been instructed to wash their hands hourly at a minimum and as much as possibly needed.

⁃ We are limiting the exchange of things like signing paperwork, keypad entry, etc. When necessary we will disinfect pens, the credit card machines, iPads before and after each customer interaction.

⁃ Employees are keeping a 6 foot social distance from each other and our customers when at all possible. When you need assistance with helmet sizing, bike fit or other services that could require physical contact, our employees will wash their hands before and after each interaction.

⁃ Every bike is disinfected with alcohol before and after every test ride.

⁃ We are canceling our Saturday Group Ride until further notice.

⁃ We are offering a pick up and delivery service to our customers to limit your amount of exposure to others if you feel so inclined. Please call us for availability, pricing and scheduling of this service.

⁃ Pick up and delivery service is available at NO CHARGE to individuals who are considered “High Risk”. This includes individuals or households that include but not limited to the elderly, current or former cancer patients, diabetics, those with heart or lung disease, etc. Please contact us to schedule this service.

We sincerely hope that a bicycle ride by yourself or with your family and a bit of sunshine helps you get through these trying times.

⁃ The Alpha Bicycle Company Staff

One Last Debriefing with Brannan Fix

A big change in the evolution of our team started this past season in Rochester, NY when we decided we would close each weekend of racing with an F1 style debriefing. An opportunity to air concerns, give kudos, offer suggestions and just get better as a team.

As Brannan Fix truly “graduates ” our program we sat down for one final interview in the hopes that it helps other young athletes, our team and Brannan himself reflect on what it takes to improve as an athlete and a young adult.

US National Championships 2019 – Photo: Bruce Buckley

Adam at Alpha: It’s been a hell of a ride man. What is your favorite memory of your time on the team?

Brannan: When you spend 5 years with a program, its very very hard to pinpoint a favorite memory. Driving across the country with a van full of kids and Adam at the helm the first year of the program was something I’ll never forget and super formative for the experience the next four years. But boiling it down to a favorite memory is too hard for me since I’ve spent nearly 1/4 of my life with the program, so I’ll take the easy way out and pinpoint the 2018/19 season as my favorite memory on the team. It was a year not without its difficulties but everything was just clicking and the team won something like 13 UCI races, not that its about the winning but it certainly made swallowing the difficult parts easier. I really grew a lot that year and being the underdog team was just the most fun experience.

Ontario, CA 2018 – Photo: Bo Bickerstaff

Alpha: Ha! All that time in the van was something else. What would you say your “breakout” performance was?

BF: I continue to think about the race in had in Rochester 2018, both days were fabulous for me and I wouldn’t say that it was “breakout” but it was incredibly confirming in both a short term and long term way. For the short term it meant that I was in shape for an incredible season ahead, and in the long term I proved to myself that it doesn’t matter what the course is, that I can be competitive regardless of the conditions. I stopped doubting myself for that time period and I will always carry that feeling, and now know what it takes for me to get to that point physically and mentally.

UCI Cyclocross World Championships 2018 – Photo: Bill Schieken

Alpha: What’s your biggest takeaway in your time with Alpha Bicycle Co. – Groove Subaru CX?

BF: Anyone that has watched this program grow over the past 5 years has noticed a difference in the professionalism, equipment, and staff that we bring to every race. But having more infrastructure hasn’t been the biggest takeaway in terms of what I will carry with me into the future. My biggest takeaway happened this last season, when after nearly every race, starting with Rochester, we would sit down as a team and discuss what we could do even incrementally better, or something we could try, and have a discussion about that. Having those sometimes difficult conversations and taking the opportunities to reflect and synthesize what happened during the weekend is really what improvement is about.

Alpha: For sure. Dialed equipment makes our jobs easier, but there is so much more that goes in to development. What do you think young riders need the most in order to grow and succeed?

BF: It would be really easy to say that young riders need only equipment and personal motivation to succeed, but that doesn’t help anyone grow, and only a select few are in that vein of rider. The more I reflect on this question, the more I realize that it isn’t just those two pieces of the puzzle that a young rider needs, what really helped me grow and what I think young riders need is someone who they can discuss with, disagree with, and bounce ideas off of, without any animosity. Being able to develop your own opinions and discuss them with people who have a different thought process allows growth and I think longer term development. In short, young riders need people who help make them think, not just people who tell them yes or no.

World Cup Iowa City, IA – Photo: Bill Schieken

Alpha: If you could change one thing about your time with the team what would is be?

BF: Of course there are always small things like nutrition, organizational aspects, etc, that can always be improved, but those are small and remedied through practice and conversation. The largest thing that has changed since I joined the program, and that I would suggest for any program looking to grow and be at this level, is to find a trusted person like we have had in Jake Wells to be a part of the team. Through his intimate knowledge of racing, coaching, and nutrition he has been yet another part of that team that you can bounce ideas off of, and is an incredible asset to the young riders in the program. If Jake wasn’t already involved at such a high level, it would be the single biggest change and advantage to the program.

Alpha: Yeah, having someone with Jake’s experience and knowledge has been huge. We definitely should have done that from the beginning. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

BF: My time on the team has been frankly incredible. I’ve learned more than can be truly put into a single interview, I’ve made some of my best friends on the team, and I learned about myself, my beliefs, my strengths, my weaknesses, and how to make lasting connections that aren’t focused on surface level things like product and results. Working with Adam has been an incredible experience and I want to thank everyone, the various amazing staff over the years, the sponsors who have believed in the vision of the program, my teammates and the bonds I’ve created with them, and supporters of the program who have been a part of my journey every step of the way on Alpha. This team is my family and I am forever grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given through this amazing program.

Thank You, Brannan. You have been a huge part of what makes this team something special. Thanks for your professionalism, all the hard work and belief in what we do. We know you’ll continue to be successful and can’t wait to see what you do in the future. Cheers to family.

A Montage of Cyclocross

Oudenaarde, Belgium – Photo: Bill Schieken

This is a time on the year where we wrap up our support of the Alpha Bicycle Co.- Groove Subaru CX Team and turn our focus to the upcoming season of local trails, repairs, and new bikes.

But, before we get there a Top 10 of images that probably didn’t make it to social media for a variety of reasons. Fantastic pictures from incredibly talented photogs that show some of the landscapes of our season.

Enjoy!

Iowa City, IA – Photo: Bill Schieken

Boulder, CO – Photo: Brice Hansen

Tacoma, WA – Photo: Bruce Buckley

Brussels, Belgium– Photo: Bill Schieken

Rochester, NY – Photo: Bill Schieken
Waterloo, WI – Photo: Bill Schieken

Boulder, CO – Photo: Brice Hansen

Oudenaarde, Belgium– Photo: Bill Schieken

Tacoma, WA- Photo: Bruce Buckley

Zolder World Cup Race Report – Gage Hecht

Gage Hecht 2017 Zolder World Cup. Photo by Mirte Klerkx-fotografie
Gage Hecht 2017 Zolder World Cup. Photo by Mirte Klerkx Photography

Zolder World Cup - 2017

The World Cup in Zolder today marks the final race of this trip. It’s hard to believe that it has been almost two weeks since we landed on Belgian soil. It was a great day to end the trip on.

Zolder is a very diverse course. It takes place on an historic race track and has hosted many World Cups along with a World Championship a few years ago. The start/finish area is located on the final straight of the track making it one of the longest finishing straights on the UCI Circuit. The soil there does not tend to hold on to moisture, so the conditions seem to almost always remain fairly fast with a few large puddles and sections with damp sandy soil. Because of the high-speed characteristic, I love racing here.

Since there can be some separations the first lap, it is important to stay clean and near the front. I knew this going into the race, and made it a goal of mine to stay as far forward as possible in order to stay on the good of any split that may open. I was very happy with how that lap turned out. I was third in the whole shot and stayed within the top ten for most of the lap. Coming through the finish after the first lap, I was just a few seconds behind the leading group.

During this race, I was able to find a group that was just at the limit of my ability. I knew this when I began to make many mistakes in sections I knew I could handle due to my proximity to the "red-line".

Meeting the final lap, I made a few mistakes that cost me a few places. I was still able to cross the finish line very happy with 14th place. I knew that I had accomplished the goal I had travelled over here to achieve and that I had learned a lot from the experiences I had.

Thanks once again to all of you for helping me make this trip. It has been a huge step in my growth as a cyclist and will help me continue to grow in the coming years!

 Cheers,
Gage

Namur World Cup Race Report – Gage Hecht

Gage Hecht hopping barriers at the Namur World Cup. Photo Credits to Sport.be
Gage Hecht racing in the mud at Namur World Cup. Photo Credits to Sport.be

Namur World Cup - 2017

Yesterday was the first race of the block. Namur World Cup is always one I look forward to. Between the history of the location itself and the amazing roller coaster of a course, this is definitely a favorite of mine.

This year I had the best start I have had at this race. The start can be fairly tricky at Namur. It starts uphill on paver stones and very quickly chicanes before transitioning on to a longer dirt climb ending in a steep ramp that takes the riders to the highest point of the course. This makes the start very important in this race. After having trouble performing well in this start in years past, I was very excited to have a good one.

The rest of the race went fairly smooth. I made a big leap (somewhat literally) as this was the first race I bunny hopped barriers during a competition. I felt fairly clean for many of the other sections with the exception on a crash on the off camber section, where I went under the course netting.

I ended up finishing fifteenth. It was a goal of mine to finish in the top twenty, so this race surpassed that goal substantially. I am really looking forward to progressing throughout the rest of the trip and trying to move up in the group.  

More to come soon!

Cheers,
Gage

Crowds at Namur World Cup. Photo Credits to Sport.be
Gage Hecht mastering the slick corners during Namur World Cup. Photo Credits to Sport.be

Photo Credits to Sport.be

Congrats to Our Cyclocross Worlds Riders

Ashley Zoerner - 2017 Cyclocross Worlds

Ashley Zoerner

National Champ and Worlds Rider

A man told me today "Racing cross in Europe is like baptism by volcano." Well, congrats @ashley_zoerner on your baptism. An early race collision left Ashley on the verge of tears and barely able to limp around postrace, much less race a bike to her full potential. But, she showed perseverance and got some great experience that will come back in spades.

Gage Hecht - 2017 Cyclocross Worlds

Gage Hecht

Nationals and Worlds CX Racer

Today's U23 race wasn't what dreams are made of for @gchecht, but it did once again prove that this young man is tougher and more driven than most. After crashing at last weekend's World Cup and not being able to finish, Gage had his hand immobilized in a cast with what was later diagnosed as a bone chip and ligament damage. In addition, sickness ran rampant through the team and left few of the guys racing at 100%. Gage managed a relatively clean 26th place, showed some his true colors by making the best of situation, and gained more experience that will one day help him reach his goal of being a World Champion. Kudos Sir! #ontothenextone #howwedo #cantstopwontstop

Check out the great CX Worlds photo gallery over at cyclingtips.com

Cincinnati Race Report – Gage Hecht

Better late than never. Gage Hecht recaps his first big UCI Under 23 weekend!

I always enjoy the time that I spend competing in bike races, and this weekend was no exception. Because this was my first big UCI weekend with a U23 category in it, I spent the week before imagining what the new racing would be like.

What better way to start a trip like this off, than a road trip? On Thursday we headed across the Great Plains. Road trips are always a good opportunity to bond with teammates. As boring as seventeen hours in a car may sound, its pretty fun with this group.

After our arrival into Cincinnati, we were able to go to each course and get familiar with the features they presented. These are the days that you go out and hit one section hundreds of times until you know that you have found the line that will be the fastest. For me, it’s one of my favorite parts of racing outside of the competition itself.

After a lap or two around the Devou Park course, I realized that because of the combination of speed and extremely technical sections, the Pan-American Championships would ultimately play out to be an elimination race. A group would form and throughout the race, riders would make mistakes and be dropped from that group. Knowing this, I set a goal to stay within the top three riders with the hopes of making the podium.

The day of the race hit and the excitement had built up. We arrived at the venue early so we could watch Katie race. After a day of watching others race, it was finally my turn.

I made it through the first lap unscathed, but I continually came close to others falls. After a few laps, the race had come down to Curtis White, Spencer Petrov, and I. The remainder of the race consisted of constant attacking. By the time three laps appeared on the lap counter, I was doing all I could to hang on to the group During the final lap, Curtis left Spencer and I. It came down to a sprint, and I was barely able to pull around Spencer at the end. I was so proud be able to stand on the podium of the U23 Pan-Ams.

On Sunday, Brannan and I woke up and rode to the course. It was nice to be in a house only miles away from the course. During Katie’s race, Brannan and I cheered from the enchanted forest. While there we got to observe how the different routes behaved. Later on in the day, Ashley, Brannan, and I hit the course for the last time together. We all agreed that the race would be very fast.

I ended up having a slow first lap. A combination of bad luck with accidents and mechanicals due to hitting the ground. After finally getting rolling, I began to find my way through the riders. I eventually made it into seventh place. This stands as one of my best finishes in an Elite UCI C1.

Looking back on things, I am very satisfied with the way all the racing turned out. The points and experience I gained will pay off throughout the season and my career. I cannot wait for the next trip with the Alpha Bicycle Co./ Vista Subaru!