CASTELL, Texas—While it was 47 miles shorter than Kolo Promotions’ HTFU Roubaix in New Waverly, Texas, the week prior, the Castell Grind in Central Texas this past Saturday was not for the faint of heart.
The Castell Grind came about like many of these events do, during a bike ride amongst friends. As Mike Drost, one of the organizers explained it, “[some friends and I] had just bought some Salsa Fargos and were looking to explore. I found these gravel roads using Google Earth and we planned a trip to Castell. We started on the north loop and were immediately blown away by the views, remoteness, gravel roads and the Texas Hill County’s pristine beauty. Half way through the ride we started talking about putting on race and by the end we had a name, a course and a date. After the ride we pulled in to the Castell General Store for a beer and asked Randy the owner what he thought. He said ‘lets do it.’ Two weeks later we had a logo, website, Facebook page and opened registration.”
Riders can choose between the 100k Full Grind, the 75k 3/4 Grind or the 50k Half Grind, with the 100k field being the deepest. When asked about the field size, Drost told us that “[q]uality versus quantity has always been our focus so the race will probably never be huge. We want to maintain a manageable roster and the town has limited resources so we are very careful to grow slowly and preserve the integrity of the course and feel of a small town, grassroots event. I would say roughly 400 is an amount we are comfortable with at this time.”
The largest Castell Grind field to date took to the start and faced a course that is essentially a figure 8, a south loop and a north loop that nearly intersects at the start/finish and neutral feed area in the tiny town of Castell. Like many gravel races, there are limited to no course markings and everyone is on their own, but encouraged to help each other out. The mostly gravel route is quite sandy, with some spots requiring racers to dismount, or is otherwise strewn with rutted washboard sections. There are just under 8 miles of paved roads on the 100k route, and that pavement is primarily less-than-ideal chip seal.
Like the week prior, the weather was ideal, with a cool roll out and warming temperatures throughout the day. But being geographically different than the forested area the HTFU Roubaix was held in, the Castell Grind presented no real shade from the bright sun hanging in the crystal clear blue sky.
From the gun, the BCR team pushed a relentless pace over the opening miles on the course’s south loop. The intial 7 miles are a rolling climb up Keyserville Road and featured the first truly deep sand section. With riders suffering from the pace and the terrain, thirteen riders, with BCR in numbers seemingly looking to avenge Scott Minard’s third place from the week prior, opened a gap of about five minutes on chasers languishing on the beach.
A dozen riders, including our own Daniel Curtin riding for Team Yacht Club and his teammate Isaac Goodwin, chased hard and through the race’s first half sat those same 5 minutes adrift of the riders up the road with 50k to go.
Like the shattered lead group, the main chase splintered just as the race’s second half around the north loop started, and was quickly down to just 9, when Minard was seen on the side of the road remounting his bike having just repaired a puncture. Minard’s introduction to the chasers split it further as he was motivated to try to get back the front of affairs. Nine riders became a group of five, as four fell back in Minard’s wake.
Up the road his remaining teammates were working hard and ultimately delivered John Martin to the finish line first in 3:09 after a two-up sprint for the top spot. The finish wasn’t without controversy as second place rider Kelly Brown of 360 Racing thought he had the victory and was initially declared the winner. Reviewing the finish line film, the results were changed, but not before Brown had left with the coveted first place finisher award. Behind Martin and Brown, Martin’s teammate Katriel Statman finished third with Jeremiah Kellum and James Slauson rounding out the five-deep podium.
The women’s race was run concurrently, and the first woman to cross the line in the 100k was Lisa Sisk of Sugar Cycles in 3:46. Behind her were Tracy Jones Martin of BCR, Katherine Artzt, Curtin and Goodwin’s teammate Karla Gendler and Shiela Torres-Blank.
Post-race awards were presented at the Castell General Store with the mayor in attendance as racers enjoyed a free barbecue lunch and cold beers. When asked to compare the two weekends of gravel racing in Texas, Curtin said that “the courses were so different and each was challenging in unique ways, but neither one should be missed.” For his part, Bryan Voytilla, organizer of the HTFU Roubaix said, “we’re already thinking about a Texas Gravel series competition for next year.”
Gravel racing in the Lone Star State is alive and well.
You can see photos from the race as well as the full results in the slideshow, below.
Have a local gravel race report you’d like to submit? Find out how to submit your race report here.