Last weekend, the fourth-annual Black Fork Gravel Grinder took place in Loudonville, Ohio. The event, in only its second year as a race, drew participants from across the region and has been steadily gaining a reputation as a top-notch event.
Like many iconic gravel events, the Black Fork Gravel Grinder was started from a desire to share local roads with the greater cycling community. Born out of necessity, the route was created by Matt Simpson and Jay Clipse in order to train for the Mohican 100 while trails were closed. Recognizing they had found something special, the two spent the next year developing a course to share with the world.
“It’s one of the best out there, we know that for sure,” Clipse told Cyclocross Magazine. “We’re in our fourth year, second as a race. We started out slow to make sure that it was going to catch on as we were hoping.”
Catch on, it did. The response has been “overwhelming,” with an increase in ridership by 20% for this year alone, which translates to nearly 100 new participants every year.
As a young race, much of the field is local to nearby Columbus, Cleveland and Pittsburgh although the event draws a regional crowd, with riders from up to a dozen states every year.
This year’s event featured distances of 23, 30 and 54 miles, with the latter serving as the marquee event.
Despite its young age, the race has already developed a culture, one that brings riders back each spring.
“The character of the race is a mullet. It’s a party in the back, business up front,” Clipse explained. “You’ve got your racers that are hardcore, and they’re going to stay up front. Then you’ve got the folks that just want to go out, just want to have a ride and see the scenery, talk on the gravel. That’s the party in the rear. We treat them all the same. It’s all-inclusive.”
Speaking of parties, the race holds quite the gathering at the finish line. Volunteers are waiting at the finish with a cold beer for every rider, and catered meals are available post-race.
“We decided early on we were going to have a quality event. That’s what was going to bring the folks in,” said Clipse. “We treat the first place racer just like the last place rider who’s coming in six hours later. We’re going to make sure they have a hot meal, we’re going to make sure they have a cold beer, and we’re going to make sure that everybody is cheering them on when they come in.”
The event is serious about its commitment to giving every participant a great experience. Volunteers staffing aid stations are paid for their time, encouraging a staffed snack table for everyone regardless of their position. The sweep car follows last place as a rule, and there is a special celebration as the final riders roll in.
While the format has changed in the initial years of the event, going forward the race is going to remain largely as it is now, with a welcoming atmosphere for racers and more recreational riders alike.
“We want to make sure that encompasses everybody. We want the folks that want to come out and just ride, we to include them as well. We also want the fastest racers, we want the pros to come out and race too. All inclusive. It’s going to stay that way,” Clipse guaranteed.
Even with rain moving in as the day grew on, riders stuck around late into the afternoon as the final riders came in. Clipse compared the post-race extravaganza to past years.
“You never know what the weather is going to be in Ohio, but the vibe is the same. No matter what, the vibe is going to be the same. There is going to be a party afterward. Everybody is going to cheer everybody on. It’s the same as every other year, just a little bit of wet weather.”
The 54-mile race was the marquee, timed event for the Black Fork Gravel Grinder.
Jen Toops took the Women’s 54-Mile win. Haley Wickstrom finished second and Melissa Hiller third.
Top Men’s 54-mile honors went to Jake Henningsen. Travis Iles and Aaron Coxen rounded out the podium finishers.
Full results for the 54-mile race are below.
Women's Results: 2019 Black Fork Gravel Grinder
Men's Results: 2019 Black Fork Gravel Grinder
|76||Rick Rick III||40-49||3:49:03|
|153||Ricky Dale Earnhardt||30-39||4:57:08|