Riding the Almanzo 100: Guest Post

Luke Crossing the River

Registration for the Almanzo 100 has been open now for a few weeks, but believe it or not, we’ve already passed the half-way mark in January.  If you want to ride the Almanzo 100 or Royal 162 this year, the time to send that postcard is now.  As of January 14th, 226 people have registered for the race, including people from Florida, Colorado, Utah and Oregon, expect that number to increase…. a lot.

Sitting on the fence about registration?  Reading this post from guest writer, Luke Francl, should settle it for you.

This is a great read containing; hawks, broken bones and A&W Cheeseburgers.  After reading Luke’s story I know I am ready to hit some gravel this year.

The Almanzo 100.

The Almanzo 100 is a legendary free gravel century held every May in Southeast Minnesota. Participants have 12 hours to ride the 100 miles with no outside support. It is a race, but for most people it is a race with oneself. I am literally the least-fit person who is capable of finishing (my friend and I split DFL honors last year with a time of 11:40).

I first rode the Almanzo in 2009, and didn’t finish. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done, and I vowed I’d be back. My major goal last year was to finish, and I rode over 600 miles before the race to get ready.

What to Expect.

The most important thing to know about the Almanzo is that You Are On Your Own. Riders are free to help each other, but accepting outside support is contrary to the spirit of the event. There isn’t a sag wagon, so you need to bring a cell phone to contact your support crew if you get stuck (unfortunately, AT&T’s service works even less well out there than in the Twin Cities; T-Mobile seems to work pretty well).

Then there are the hills. The Almanzo features over 6800 feet of climbing in and out of the river valleys of Southeast Minnesota. The landscape is punishing but beautiful, and you’ll probably be able to enjoy it all by yourself. After the initial group roll out, the ride thins out into singles and small groups, with the peloton charging ahead. The route is almost all gravel, and you will not see many cars on these back roads.

Don’t forget the gravel. To some, riding on gravel sounds entirely unreasonable. You do have to watch out for loose gravel, but in most areas tire tracks provide a nice, smooth path. If it rains, the road will turn to peanut butter mush but otherwise the ride will be fast and fun. People ride with all sorts of bikes, from road tires with skinny tires to Surly Puglseys with 2 inch monsters.

Chris Skogen runs a tight ship. The Almanzo has better production values than many paid events. His love of cycling is evident in every detail. The race packets are particularly well crafted.

Sound like a cakewalk? Well, for you, 2011 brings the Royal 162 for additional challenge.

Is it Worth It?

If you ride the Almanzo 100 or Royal 162, it will be a day you won’t forget. There will be pain, but also moments like this: I was riding down a hill around mile 30. A hawk was perched on a fence post beside the road. He didn’t like the look of me, so he took off and started gliding down the hill in front of me. I was accelerating and closing on the hawk, riding right up his tail. He veered right and I caught up with him. We looked at each other, then zoom, I passed him.

For me, being able to finish the Almanzo 100 was a major triumph. My friend and I crossed the finish line as dusk set in, but Chris Skogen was still there, waiting for the last stragglers, to shake our hands. Someone handed me a lukewarm A&W cheeseburger. It was the best-tasting thing I’d ever eaten.

It was bittersweet however, because our riding partner Ben hit a patch of loose gravel on a descent around mile 60 and broke his collar-bone. Fortunately, we were close to the mid-point and able to get help, but he wasn’t able to finish the race with us (he’ll be back this year!).

One final warning: gravel centuries may become addicting. After the Almanzo, I rode the Dirty Benjamin and the Gentleman’s Ride. This year, I’m looking forward to more.


Thanks Luke! You can see more pictures of the Almanzo, Dirty Benjamin and the Gentlemen’s Ride at Luke’s Flickr site, and read more about his adventures at his website.

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One Response to Riding the Almanzo 100: Guest Post

  1. Pingback: Almanzo 100, We’re In! How About You? | Cycle Twin Cities

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