Earlier today, we went inside the rapid growth of the Land Run 100 gravel race and how event organizers are making sure the race does not lose touch with its grass roots.
A section in that story covers how Bobby Wintle, Sally Turner and Land Run team have worked to make it a great experience for all participants, not just the increasing number of gravel Elites who are interested in racing.
That task is becoming a bigger challenge each year, as the 2019 event sports probably the most impressive field in the race’s eight-year history.
Past Land Run champs, Dirty Kanza 200 winners, National Champions, World Record holders, this year’s field includes them all.
Thanks to the iconic red roads and the event’s penchant for ugly conditions, the Land Run 100 is a special event among gravel races in the U.S. Among the notable notables mentioned above, some will be experiencing Land Run for the first time while others are battle-hardened, some in the worst of years.
Will the Land Run vets have an advantage? We will have to wait for Saturday afternoon for the answer to that question, that is why they race the race, after all.
This preview takes a look at some of the riders to watch for and checks in with some newbs and vets as they head to Stillwater. These lists are admittedly incomplete and riders and their supporters are certainly free to use any omissions as motivational bulletin board material.
Elite Women’s Race
The Elite Women’s field at the Land Run 100 is probably the deepest in the race’s history.
In 2018, the Land Run 100 got its first dose of Panda Power when Amanda Nauman (SDG – Muscle Monster) decided to head to Oklahoma thanks in part to some good chats with race director Bobby Wintle.
Nauman’s first Land Run was a successful
run ride, as she won the Elite Women’s race. Kae Takeshita (Panaracer / Factor p/b Bicycle X-Change) finished second and the Bitchn Grit duo of Dani Arman and Kristen Legan went 3-4.
Nauman was inspired to attend the event by the same photos from the 2016 and 2017 Land Run events we all saw, but when the cyclocross/gravel crossover star finally made it to Stillwater, she was greeted by the “Fast AF Year.”
“I experienced one of the best-ever years for Land Run but with the caveat that we registered for last year’s event expecting horrendous conditions like the previous years,” Nauman said. “We had no idea we were going to get lucky with the weather! So if that tells you anything it’s that I love to expect the worst and hope for the mud.”
Although right now, the forecast is looking like conditions will be some genus of Fast, Nauman is still hoping for rain.
“Of course I’m hoping for those infamous conditions and looking forward to using cyclocross skills,” she said. “I didn’t win the ‘mud year’ of DK on sheer luck!”
In addition to an early-season gravel reunion, Land Run provides Nauman a chance to start 2019 on a positive note. Nauman got sick at the start of the cyclocross season and never really recovered.
“Feeling great,” Nauman said. “I’ve had one more sinus infection plus a few doctor visits and blood tests in the past few months, but my health is on the upswing. I’m looking forward to seeing how the event goes after this latest training block. It’s been nice to get in solid training without compromising my health the past couple of months.”
“I’m just looking forward to an amazing event. It’s less of a race and more of a family reunion in my opinion. I’ll go out there and give it my best effort, hang on as long as I can, and see where it lands me. After last cyclocross season my expectations are low, so I’ll find the positives anywhere at this point.”
Lauren De Crescenzo
When Nauman hits the start line in Stillwater, she will see some Land Run vets, but also a number of first-timers. Lauren De Crescenzo is one of those newcomers. A newcomer to Land Run and really a gravel newb as well.
Last September, we told the story of De Crescenzo’s second act in cycling as a gravel racer after a near-fatal crash in 2016. She won the Crusher in the Tushar last July and then raced at Rebecca’s Private Idaho to complete her first gravel campaign.
As she finishes her Master’s degree at Colorado-Denver, the Land Run represents a time-honored college tradition for the graduate student.
“My decision to compete at Land Run was very last minute,” De Crescenzo said. “I’m in graduate school now and it’s during my Spring Break. I’m taking a midterm and driving to Oklahoma immediately thereafter. No other way I’d want to spend my vacation.”
Last minute? You be the judge.
“So far, I’ve looked at the Ride with GPS file that was just published by the race,” she said. “I’ve also been following them on Instagram and have seen some photos. I should probably do some more research!”
At last year’s Crusher, De Crescenzo showed she is a strong “high-altitude climber,” (her words), but this year, the former road racer has her eyes set on the granddaddy of all gravel races that is more of a grind than a climb.
The Land Run 100 will be her first time racing against a number of the women expected to compete for the win in Emporia on June 1.
“This will be my first race of the year and I’m excited to test my 2019 legs,” De Crescenzo said. “I’m not entirely sure what to expect. It will also be good to scope out the Dirty Kanza competition. I need to start mentally preparing myself for those 200 miles! I heard DK is kind of hard.”
Another newcomer to the Land Run is California’s Amity Rockwell.
Last year, Rockwell finished second at Gravel Worlds behind Alison Tetrick, and this year, she has joined the new Easton Overland Gravel Team. Rockwell has already started racing in California and heads to Stillwater as another rider to watch.
One rider who is not new to Land Run is Kae Takeshita.
As a member of the Panaracer / Factor p/b Bicycle X-Change gravel team, Takeshita has already raced in Texas, Colorado and her home state of Illinois, among other places. As a well-traveled gravel racer and top-5 finisher at the Dirty Kanza 200, she is always a rider to watch for.
Another rider to watch, and one who very well may win the Elite Women’s race, is Lauren Stephens (Team TIBCO – SVB). Stephens races on the road for the Team TIBCO – SVB professional team and is now giving Land Run a go.
Stephens kicked off her season at the Tour Down Under in January and has experience at a number of European spring classics. Belgian cobbles are basically the same as Oklahoma’s red dirt roads, right?
Full start lists are available at bikereg.com.
Elite Men’s Race
Like the Elite Women’s field, the Elite Men’s start list is stacked. Riders who sport accomplishments such as “winning the Dirty Kanza 200 and “setting World Records” could find themselves outside the top 5 or even top 10.
Although he is from Texas, gravel standout Mat Stephens (Panaracer / Factor p/b Bicycle X-Change) has taken a liking to the state of Oklahoma and the Land Run 100.
In 2017 at “The Cold Year” race, Stephens went 1-2 with teammate Rob Bell, and last year, Stephens rode away from Michael van den Ham (Easton Overland Gravel Team) to win the “Fast AF Year.”
[Ed. Note: We reached out to Stephens for this preview but did not hear back in time for publication.]
Joining Stephens will be the King—maybe that’s a little presumptuous—the Ted King.
The defending King of Kanza heads to Stillwater as a Land Run newb.
“Yup, this is my first go at Land Run,” King said. “Bobby and his crew have done a great job generating a story from Stillwater and over the past two years it really showed up on my radar. From Bobby’s post-ride hugs to the peanut butter mud, those are the two things I know are there. Beyond that, I’m honestly not sure what to expect.”
Land Run kicks off a big year for King. He has declared 2019 “The Year of Gravel,” as the former WorldTour rider prepares for Dirty Kanza knowing that riders from Jonathan Vaughters’ EF Education First team are targeting the race and the discipline continues to reach new levels of prestige and popularity.
King has also moved back home to Vermont from California, making his “Groad to Kanza” a bit different than years past.
“Moving to Vermont has been the best thing to change up my approach to the season,” King said. “Rather than being able to ride a bike 350 days per year, the climate here forces me to be diversified. So whether it’s spending time on alpine skis or skinning up a mountain, fat biking or spending time in the gym, I’m definitely more fit on a broad spectrum of strengths rather than purely the linear motion of being on a bike.”
Included in the Groad to Kanza? The Fat Bike Birkie.
The Fat Bike Birkie?
“The traditional American Birkebeiner is the largest Nordic ski race in America with 15,000 racers. Meanwhile, its sister race, the Fat Bike Birkie runs a similar course with 1,500 hard-charging fat bikers,” King said. “The Upper Midwest welcoming charm comes out in spades—the community up there is as friendly and welcoming as it gets.”
How did the unorthodox race go? “There’s a formal fat bike race series and those guys were flying! You might think of Wisconsin as flat, but it was non-stop punchy climbs, 3,000 feet of climbing over less than 30 miles. What’s fun about the Groad to Kanza is that you never know what it’s going to be paved with. In this case, well-groomed Wisconsin snow.”
Will groomed snow on 4-inch tires translate to the Dirty Kanza? Doubtful, but when you’re on the Groad to Kanza, you never know.
Michael van den Ham
Also returning to Land Run this year is Canadian Cyclocross National Champion Michael van den Ham.
Last year, Van den Ham got off the front at Land Run with Stephens before finishing second. Their duel turned some heads when they found the time to sit down for a few seconds of respite on the Salsa Chase the Chaise sofa.
This year, Van den Ham is formalizing his gravel racing by joining the new Easton Overland Gravel Team along with his new teammate Rockwell. In doing so, he traded in his Lauf True Grit for an Allied Alfa Allroad.
“I’ve obviously been close with Easton for a long time, so when they told me they wanted to put together an adventure gravel based team, it was sort of a no-brainer,” Van den Ham said about his new team. “I do a lot of high-level racing and training for ’cross and I love it, but the idea with the Easton Overland is more along the lines of getting out there, adventuring, doing local events, exploring this other community-based side of racing.”
He continued, “When we’re out there we’ll give everything to win, but at the end of the day, the success of the team isn’t going to be measured along the lines of wins and losses.”
Last time we saw Van den Ham, he was racing for Team Canada at Bogense Cyclocross Worlds and wrapping up his season at Hoogstraten. What has he been up to since then? Part of it involves the Van den Pup.
“I took about three weeks right off the bike after my last race in Hoogstraten and spent some time skiing, running and just doing things I rarely have the opportunity to do in-season. My wife and I also adopted our dog, Odin, a few weeks ago so that’s been taking up a lot of time. I can only imagine what people who have actual children deal with!”
After the break, Van den Ham said he has spent a lot of time on his mountain bike in recent weeks.
“I’ve been back on the bike for a couple of weeks now, but haven’t done any structured training to speak of. I think it’s really important to give both the mind and body a break from the stresses of the season. For some people that might be time completely off the bike, but for me, it’s more about getting just getting out there and back to what made me start riding in the first place.”
Van den Ham’s extended post-Worlds taper worked wonders for him last year when he finished second at Land Run, so there is no doubt it could work again. Worst case, as long as he finishes, Van den Ham will leave Stillwater happy.
“I just really wanted a hug from Bobby at the finish line again,” he said about why he is heading back for year two of the Land Run 100.
Another rider of interest for cyclocross fans is one Drew Dillman (SDG – Muscle Monster).
Dillman bounced back from a broken hand early in the cyclocross season to finish fourth at U.S. Cyclocross Nationals. Now, with some friendly nudging from his ursid teammate, Dillman is doing a full gravel season, including the Dirty Kanza 200 in June. Stay tuned for more from Dillman next week.
Another cyclocrosser coming off an injury, and one of the youngest riders in the field, is Lane Maher (Foundation CCB). Maher suffered an injury late in the cyclocross season and missed U.S. Nationals in his first year as a U23. He will be racing as part of his road U23 devo team Foundation CCB. Part of his program includes the early-season trip to Oklahoma.
Two-time defending Gravel Worlds champion Colin Strickland (Meteor x Giordana) is making the trip north from Texas for Land Run. Strickland kicked off his season at the Texas Chainring Massacre and evidenced by his impressive comeback at Gravel Worlds after an early flat, is a really strong dude worth keeping an eye on.
Another rider with an eclectic background—Strickland dabbles in fixed-gear crits—is noted mustache-haver Ashton Lambie (Speedvagen). The Kansas native got his start racing gravel, but is now known as the man who set a world record in the 4km Individual Pursuit on the track. Lambie recently raced at Track Worlds in Poland with Team USA.
Rob Bell, Matt Acker, Brandon Melott, Payson McElveen
Some other starters of note include some men with fashionable facial hair along with cycling talent. Land Run 2018 third-place finisher, 2018 Reno Nationals Baby Masters National Champion and mustache-possessor Brandon Melott (DNA Racing / Allied Cycleworks), beard-wearer, the Warbeard, Matt Acker (GRBC / Salsa Cycles) and ‘stache-sporter Payson McElveen are all strong riders to watch.
Joining the list as a non-beard-haver is Rob Bell (Panaracer / Factor p/b Bicycle X-Change)—aka the Baby-Faced Assassin—who won the 2017 Land Run 100.
Full start lists are available at bikereg.com.
One Last—But Very Important—Note
The 2018 Land Run was the first appearance of the Chaise, and well, Nauman absorbed some gruff for skipping it.
“When we got to the chair, I literally had no idea if [Kae Takeshita] was like 60 seconds behind me or minutes behind me,” she told us in an interview last year. “In that moment of panic, I was like, I’m not going to risk it. Which I regret, because she was like five minutes back at that point, but I didn’t know and didn’t want to risk that.”
Fortunately for everyone, Nauman got some couch redemption at the Michigan Coast-to-Coast Gravel Grinder.
Based on her experiences, Nauman has a message for the Elite Women and Elite Men’s leaders.
“I know one thing is for certain, the pointy end of the event better stop for the Chase the Chaise patch and portrait,” she said. “I learned the hard way that no race within the race is above the Chaise Lounge and caught a lot of flak for not stopping last year. I’ll set the expectation now that there’s no excuse not to stop. The event’s tag line is ‘Don’t be lame’ so let’s stick to that and have a good time.”
The 2019 Land Run 100 starts at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning in Stillwater. Stay tuned for results and more coverage of the race.