The challenges of running your own cycling program have been well-documented, but one of the perks of calling the shots is being able to craft your own schedule.
Such is the case for Colin Strickland and his Meteor x Giordana program that takes him to a unique mix of events that suit his skills and fancy. Foremost among those have been gravel races and fixed-gear crits.
What do they have in common? "In a word, fun," Strickland told us before winning the 2018 Gravel Worlds.
Running your own program also gives you some flexibility in finding the equipment you want to run.
Last year, Strickland counted Amity Rockwell as a teammate while riding all-road-style Pinarello bikes. Rockwell joined the Easton Overland Gravel Team this year, but at the start of the Dirty Kanza 200, the two were both on the new Allied Able carbon gravel bike designed and built in Arkansas.
Oh, the two former teammates and friends? They also both won their respective Dirty Kanza races."Colin won?!" Rockwell exclaimed shortly after completing her impressive comeback win.
Earlier this week, we profiled Rockwell's winning Able, and today we look at Strickland's aero-bar-clad Allied Able that helped him solo away from a chase of WorldTour riders to capture a win at the biggest gravel race of them all.
Colin Strickland's DK200-Winning Allied Able Gravel Bike
In our profile of Rockwell's winning bike, we wrote a bit about the new gravel frame from Allied, an Arkansas-based company that sources its prepreg carbon from the U.S. and builds its bikes here in America.
Prior to the release of the Able, the company's mixed-terrain bike was the Allroad, which, as the name suggests, is an all-road-style gravel bike. The recently released Able got a slacker front and more tire clearance to make it more of a traditional gravel bike.
Then there are those chainstays. Allied raised the chainstays on the drive side and kept them at a short 42cm to allow clearance for up to 700c x 43mm or 650b x 47mm tires in the rear.
Made in America
The Able is no doubt fast and light, but Strickland's switch to Allied bikes is about more than just performance for him.
"I have always been extremely keen on domestic-made products, and Allied is just that, 100% made in America. That means a lot to me personally as someone who obsesses over recycling and leaving a minimal footprint on this beautiful planet we have. Outsourced products are a huge part of our lives in America, but I would like to do what I can to change that," Strickland said.
"If we want to continue to prosper as a nation, we need to get back to our manufacturing roots. Much of the rural areas of our country are struggling, and sustainable manufacturing is the piece that is missing."
Like the Easton Overland team, Strickland received his new, blue Able right before the Dirty Kanza. Saturday's ride was not quite a new bike day for him, as it kind of was for Rockwell.
"I built up the new Able one week before DK and got in one solo 125-mile gravel ride at over 20 miles per hour average," he said. "I was in love immediately." (100-plus miles ... 20 miles per hour ... sounds familiar)
As we have seen with other athletes such as Katie Compton and Tobin Ortenblad, running your own program takes incredible attention to detail when it comes to scheduling and selecting and maintaining equipment.
The same is true for Strickland. He had the benefits of his new Able quantified, and he knew how it would help him.
"The Allied Able weighed in at only 18.2 pounds with cages and 42mm tires, which is insanely light," he said. "On the 2019 DK200 course, we were often zig-zagging up rocky 16% climbs at 8 miles per hour and you could really feel the weight advantage."
An Aero Advantage?
One way Strickland's Able differed from Rockwell's was the presence of aero bars. Strickland ran them at Gravel Worlds last year and continued to stick with them for this year's Dirty Kanza, Geoff Kabush's politicking aside.
Strickland attached ENVE SES Aero Handlebar Clip-ons to his SES Aero Road Handlebar.
Last year at Gravel Worlds in Nebraska, he needed the much-discussed extensions after flatting around Mile 15 and having to chase back solo to close a 10-plus minute time gap. He needed them again in Saturday's race after flatting around Mile 85 and dropping out of the star-studded lead group.
After attacking and going solo around Mile 100, we spotted Strickland cranking away across the Kansas Plains several times. He commented on how the aero bars played a role in the mid part of the race.
"The aero bars definitely helped me in my 20-minute chase back onto the lead group at Mile 85 after my first flat, and they were no doubt beneficial in my long solo assault," he said. "Would it have been different without them? No. It would not have been different without them, except that I would not have put as much time into the chasers."
Strickland hails from Austin, and according to him, long hours riding in the Texas heat was likely infinitely more important in holding off Peter Stetina than aero bars.
"The most important fact of the day is that my body never started to break down. I had some dehydration cramps with 20 miles to go, but those subsided with a big dose of Skratch mix and it was back on the gas. The heat did not faze me much, and I stayed on top of my fueling."
"The accounts of all other top five finishers—Stetina, Howes, Morton, McElveen—were that their bodies hit a wall with 20 to 30 miles to go that forced them off the power, but I never experienced that red-lining. On this course, with these conditions, I had the best motor. Stetina would have blown my doors off on the sustained climbs of the Belgian Waffle Ride because that’s his terrain, but DK is mine."
Wrapping up the topic of gravel aero bars, Strickland offered some concluding thoughts and looked toward the future.
"I say let's worry about getting hit by cars, not aero bars. If you want to make the rules, throw your own race. It is up to the promoter to make the rules and for us racers to follow them. This year I made a point not to touch the bars once until Mile 85 when I flatted and had to chase. Aero bars are an advantage, and I felt outgunned, so I ran them. Now that I am confident that I can win this race, I will never use them again."
"Aero bars are an advantage, and I felt outgunned, so I ran them. Now that I am confident that I can win this race, I will never use them again."
One of the drawbacks of all-road-style bikes is that they usually do not have clearance for the wide tires recommended for events such as the Dirty Kanza. All reports were that the new course was perhaps the gnarliest yet, with the route making liberal use of minimum maintenance roads.
Strickland ran tires as narrow as 33mm claimed width last year, and before the arrival of the new Able, he learned the lesson of narrow tires the hard way earlier this year.
"After my teammate Kevin Girkins and I both flatted out early in this year’s Land Run 100, we decided never again to mess with undersized tires," Strickland said.
Strickland mounted 700c x 42mm Specialized Pathfinder Pro tubeless tires to ENVE Composites SES 3.4 AR Disc wheels. The deepish rims are plenty wide at 25mm, and Strickland's tires measured out to 43mm. He started with the front at 40psi and the rear at 45psi.
"I never considered anything less than 42c tire for Kanza, nor would I ever," he said.
We saw Strickland on a double last year, but like both Rockwell at DK and Ortenblad at Lost and Found, he opted for a 1x setup for Dirty Kanza. He ran an Ultegra R8000 crankset with a Stages crank arm power meter and a 46t Wolf Tooth chain ring.
In the rear, he ran a Shimano XTR M9000 mountain derailleur with a cassette that had an 11-40t spread. He paired the derailleur and Ultegra flat mount calipers with Ultegra R8070 dual-control levers.
"I tested this setup on steep, loose punchy climbs and it felt right," Strickland explained. "In hindsight, it was spot-on for the Kanza course. I never felt myself needing another top gear and dropping into the 40t rear cog was always just enough. I guessed right this time."
Strickland takes his charge of being a fun guy seriously, and as such, likes to give his bikes some extra flair. Gone is the hot-rod-art-inspired "weird eyeball guy" and in its place was a muted name sticker that mimics this year's kits.
"This year we collaborated with local Austin graphic designer Will Bryant on the kit design, which Giordana Cycling produced custom in their factories in Italy," Strickland said. "We could not be more thrilled with how unique and fly we look, and our team jerseys will be available for sale on Giordana’s website next week."
For a closer look at Strickland's winning Allied Able, see the photo gallery and specs below.
For more from Emporia, see all of our coverage of the 2019 Dirty Kanza 200.