With a race named Baitin’ the Shark, one would expect the event to take place on the coast. This is gravel, and despite changes on the landscape in the sport, there are still plenty of events keeping gravel weird.
This past weekend, the weird was the first-year race called Baitin’ the Shark that took place in the decidedly land-locked locale of St. Louisville, Ohio, situated about 40 miles northeast of Columbus.
The reason for the name? An homage to a local landmark.
“There’s actually a giant rock that sticks out of the ground on Rock Run Road that is painted to look like a shark with teeth and all,” Headwind Cycling’s Mike Buckner said. “People who have ground gravel out there for years have always stopped to take pictures with the rock and have fun with it.”
Just as the Pirate Cycling League that hosts Gravel Worlds goes all-in with the theme with winners’ cutlasses and all, Baitin’ the Shark embraces its cartilaginous predator motif.
The race features two distances—a 30-mile route called the Chum Bucket and a 50-mile route called the Bruce, after the famed shark from the silver screen. The theme does not stop there.
“Our trophies are figures being eaten by a toy shark and we are giving away three-foot long stuffed sharks for winners,” Buckner said. “We figured if we are going to dip our toe in the shark theme let’s go all in and make it fun.”
The rock that inspired the race also plays a role in the overall landscape of the event.
Like the not-flat Dirty South Roubaix in the flat state of Illinois, the Baitin’ the Shark ride is not flat either, even if over half of Ohio is. The race starts and finishes in the town of St. Louisville, which is located on the edge of the Allegheny Plateau. The same Allegheny Plateau that calls the decidedly not-flat city of Pittsburgh home.
All told, this year’s proposed route had nearly 5,000 feet of climbing in 53 miles of riding, and the course was half gravel, half tarmac.
“For both routes, it comes out to 1,000 feet of climbing for every 10 miles of racing. In Ohio, there are a whole lot of gravel roads where it’s either 0-percent gradient or 14-percent. It’s rare to find a slow, long climb at four to six percent, so you’re either going really slow up a very steep climb or pretty fast on a steep descent with the next steep hill not far off in the distance.”
With so much climbing and steep hills, there has to be a KOM. The team took a different approach than some others with its KOM. The Col d’ Crush KOM at the Crusher in the Tushar and the one at Gravel Worlds are both located in the back half of the course, rewarding those who stay at the front the longest.
“Our team is all about doing things outside the ordinary. Our KOM is placed four miles after the start at the top of a really gnarly switchback climb that’s the riders’ first experience with what will happen over the rest of the route,” Buckner said. “We considered putting the KOM at the back half of the race, but we wanted to give all riders a chance a glory right out of the gate and see if the podium hopefuls were going to try to make the winning move before they are even warmed up.”
That is a healthy amount of climbing for any race, much less one in March. And March in the Midwest … well, we saw what happened at CIRREM in Iowa.
Maybe the early-spring date is because the Baitin’ the Shark organizers did not know any better? They do focus on cyclocross, so riding in ugly conditions should be NBD for them, right?
“There is a decent amount of risk with such an early race in the season and we knew that going in,” Buckner said.
The team knew the risks, it turns out its members thought it was worth it.
“We set goals for the team [in October], and one of those goals was to help promote cycling in Ohio and get more people out on bikes,” Buckner said. “We see gravel racing as a huge opportunity for folks who want to experience racing and be part of that scene but maybe aren’t ready to enter a crit, road or ’cross race.”
The team also has its eye on the Barry-Roubaix held a month from now held in that hated state to the north, Michigan, so the March date allowed the team to ride together before heading into enemy territory. Also, the team is heavily involved with road and cyclocross seasons, thus the early-March date was one of the few clear weekends on the calendar.
Fortunately for Headwind Cycling and all involved, Year 1 was a success. It seems likely the team will roll the dice again in 2020.
Baitin’ the Shark left out of St. Louisville at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning. Temperatures were in the 40s, but riders certainly enjoyed the extra hour of morning sunlight to warm up the early March air.
What the sun did not do, the race organizers helped with. “The riders don’t know this but we will be starting the race by shooting off fireworks at the start,” Buckner said last week. “It’s something different and we feel it will add to the excitement and maybe get the adrenaline pumping for an early move towards the KOM.”
The race featured Open Women and Open Men’s races for both the Chum Bucket and the Bruce distances. As mentioned above, winners took home stuffed sharks and cute shark trophies.
The final results sheet was not without a little controversy, as some riders missed a turn near the end and ended up cutting their rides short. It happens, but since Baitin’ the Shark was lowkey gravel race, there were still beers, stories and a good early-March half-century for all.
The Women’s Bruce win went to Kristen Arnold (local WesTURDville Bike Plop elite gravel grinding supersquad). Rachel Weaver (JMac Cycling p/b Margie Bars) finished second, Meagan Gehrke (Lady Gnar Shredders third and Jen Malik (RedKite Racing) and Evie Heflin (Queen City FTW) rounded out the wide-angle podium.
The Men’s Bruce was won by Ellis Robinson (MargieBars / J Mac Cycling LLC) (there were no Bruce’s in the Bruce field; that would have just been too perfect). Jimm McElroy (Audi Cycling Team) finished second, and Ben Ortt took third. Brandon Wright (Johnny Velo Racing) and Taylor Kruse (Local WestTURDville bike plop elite gravel grinding supersquad) rounded out the fake wide-angle podium.
Full results are below.
Photographs are from Jen Adams of Limelight Studios and Randy Liu.
Women's Bruce Results: 2019 Baitin' the Shark Gravel Race
|1||Kristen Arnold||local WesTURDville Bike Plop elite gravel grinding supersquad|
|2||Rachel Weaver||JMac Cycling p/b Margie Bars|
|3||Meagan Gehrke||Lady Gnar Shredders|
|5||Evie Heflin||Queen City FTW|
|6||Cansu Ozen||Opus One Velo|
|7||Deniece Davis||Lady Gnar Shredders|
|8||Emily Dreyer||Lady Gnar Shredders|
|DQ||Eulalie Grodner||Mad Cow Ramble|
|DNF||Rachel Rynski||Lady Gnar Shredders|
Men's Bruce Results: 2019 Baitin' the Shark Gravel Race
|1||Ellis Robinson||MargieBars / J Mac Cycling LLC|
|2||Jimm McElroy||Audi Cycling Team|
|4||Brandon Wright||Johnny Velo Racing|
|5||Taylor Kruse||Local WestTURDville bike plop elite gravel grinding supersquad|
|6||Andrew Weiland||Headwind Cycling p/b Elevator Brewing|
|7||Jay Ganser||Cannondale Bicycles|
|8||Michael Martys||La Prima Espresso Co. Racing|
|10||Justin Kahle||Headwind Cycling p/b Elevator Brewing|
|12||Kelsey Smith||Rustik Market/Smith True Value|
|13||Jeff Harper||Team Stages cycling|
|16||Craig Carroll||Mad Cow Ramble|
|19||Tyler Hardin||K&G Bike Center|
|22||David Cox||Team Dayton|
|23||Jason Tellez||Ghisallo Cycling Team|
|24||Andrew Fredrick||Roll: racing|
|25||Cory Muth||Monogram Mambas|
|26||Rick Voithofer||Team SixOneFour|
|27||Scott Billman||Kryki Sports, Audi|
|31||Mike Whitlow||Monogram Mambas|
|32||John Maguire||Headwind Cycling p/b Elevator Brewing|
|37||Scott Young||Roll Racing|
|40||Mike Peiffer||Maumee Valley Wheelmen|
|41||Daniel Hershberger||Trek Store Cincinnati|
|43||Mitchell Steindler||Healthy and Happy Racing|
|44||Paul Patterson||Trailer Park Racing|
|45||Scott Hencye||Roll: washed up "racers"|
|46||Spencer Hackett||Local WestTURDville bike plop elite|
|47||Kyle Beecher||roll: Racing|
|49||Jason Clipse||Black Fork|
|50||Gerald Schmidt Jr||Mad Cow Ramble|
|54||Scott Phillips||Reser Bicycle|
|55||Steve Quelette||Headwind Cycling p/b Elevator Brewing|
|57||Peter Hitzeman||Team Dayton Cycling|
|58||David Tingley||Team Pirate Frog|
|63||Patrick Ryan||Joy machines racing|
|65||Sean Hughes||Allied Forces Velo|
|66||Aaron Kent||Allied Forces|
|DQ||Christopher Averett||LBR Protected by The Ritual|
|DQ||Andrew Boissiere||Headwind Cycling p/b Elevator Brewing|
|DQ||Travis Iles||Headwind Cycling p/b Elevator Brewing|
|DQ||Chris Lenahan||Allied Forces Velo|
|DQ||Larry Lenne||Team Heroes|
|DQ||Ryan Rish||Nimrod Squad|
|DQ||Jeff Sack||Monogram Mambas|
|DQ||Mitchell Powers||Trek Store Cincinnati|
|DQ||Chris Rednour||Roll: racing|
|DQ||Daniel Tkacik||La Prima Espresso Co. Racing|
|DQ||Aaron Stevenson||roll: racing|
|DNF||Michael Cauley||Headwind Cycling p/b Elevator Brewing|
|DNF||Brandon Grant||Team Dayton|
|DNF||Shane Montgomery||MargieBars / J Mac Cycling LLC|