The podium at the Lowell 50. © Aaron Cruikshank

The podium at the Lowell 50. © Aaron Cruikshank

by Aaron Cruikshank

Western Michigan, bikes, dirt and beer? It must be the Lowell 50. Like its counterpart, the recently-raced Barry Roubaix, it takes advantage of Michigan-onians’ love of dirt, and strings together a 57-mile course that features nearly 85 percent unpaved roads. Starting at Fallsburg County Park and running along the Flat River, the course undulates much less than Barry, but still offers more than enough “selection sections” via crosswinds and farm field gutters. Again, we packed up the car on Friday and headed west in search of more spring suffering.

Morning temperatures were barely above freezing and a strong northwest wind pushed temperatures into the 20s. Earlier in the week, the team had reviewed the course and weather forecast and identified a few roads that could be used as launching points. We pre-rode the last section of dirt after getting our race numbers and on our way back, we ran into our teammate Tom. He mentioned that there was some climbing in the first 10 miles. I tried to think back to the profile… climbing? We lined up and discussed whether to take the vests off, or to add arm warmers. Such is the joy of early spring racing… The gun went off and we moved to the front to try and control the initial pavement section.

We rolled through a covered bridge and then up a slight grade before hitting the dirt. The hills came quick starting at about 4km in. Some Strava junkie aptly named the first of these hills the “Rude Awakening,” and a little dig by racer Adam York nearly halved the field. Shawn Adams and Jason Young, both of WASlabs, held it open over the top and into the next climb. As the field chased to bring it back, Jason was reabsorbed, with Shawn dangling 1-2 seconds off the front. Again he forced the issue on the descent and opened up a nice gap. I took the opportunity to join him and together we kept a steady pace up over the next roller. A left hand turn and another incline meant we had to keep on the gas in hopes of maintaining our advantage.

It didn’t take long for the pressure and pitch to fracture the field further. We were quickly joined by Adam, Tom and Jason, making it five WASlabs riders in the breakaway. Tom and Adam kept the pace high through remaining climbs. After that, it became a dirt road team time trial.

A wintery mix the night before had transformed the usually dry dirt sections into energy-sapping Velcro. Couple this with the 20 mph wind and it made for a long hard day for the five of us. The pace when establishing the gap was hard, but even after we eased off the throttle a bit, the course did not offer much respite. As each dirt section was ticked off, the all-too-short pavement sections gave us a glimpse of how much work we were really doing. The last section of dirt held some of the most technical sections with a few deep ruts, and a muddy kicker that would have made a great launching pad had the race still been together.

Earlier in the week, someone mentioned the possibility of sweeping the podium, but I don’t think any of us thought it would happen. There are always unpredictable things in dirt road races, so it felt great to actually do just that.

I think it was Peter Van Petegem who said in order to be in the final of the Paris-Roubaix, “Luck, you must make yourself.” Whatever the reason, it was a great feeling to come away with multiple victories on Saturday with Shawn Adams taking the overall and WASlabs making a clean sweep on the podium.

I can’t wait to test the legs again, and hopefully we keep this streak going at Cone-Azalia in a few weeks. Thanks to volunteers, Chain Reaction Sports, and of course our sponsors—WASlabs, Raleigh, and Portage Cyclery. Make sure to put the Lowell 50 on your calendar for next year, but if you can’t wait, there is always the fall edition!