by Geoff Duncan
(Cordesville, SC)-The Francis Marion National Forest (just north of Charleston, SC) once played host to the Swamp Fox; a Revolutionary War hero that made life hell for British troops. These days the forest, and it’s hundreds of miles of gravel roads, provides for an idyllic setting for a unique gravel grinder that seeks to test the mettle of any gravel enthusiast.
The Hellhole Gravel Grind Stage Race is a three day stage race held entirely within the confines of the Francis Marion National Forest. Featuring over 150 miles of racing, nearly all of it on gravel, the Hellhole Gravel Grind is a one-of-a-kind race that begins by showcasing competitors in a night-time prologue. Despite being pancake flat, this unique event challenges a racer’s physical will. The roads of Francis Marion are littered with car sized, bike swallowing potholes, megafauna such as bear, snakes, boar (and chupacabra…), and trail sections along the Palmetto Trail that are difficulty rated, in Roubaix-like fashion, by the race promoters, Mt. Pleasant Velo.
Friday night at dusk begins with a six mile prologue; an hors d’oeuvre of the gravel to come. This night is promising and relaxing, yet there is a tension in the air. Something will be different about this, the third Hellhole Gravel Grind. Roadies. Yes, it appears that the burgeoning gravel scene, combined with the slow death of road racing has drawn them here to dominate the prologue and lay their claim to Francis Marion’s gravel. The inclusion of the “roadies” certainly did make this the fastest Hellhole prologue on record. Over half of the field laid down times averaging better than 21 mph for the six mile course, but it was Jake Andrews (Cherry St. Cycles) that lit up the night with a blistering fast 24.5 mph performance. Despite Andrew’s fast time, his win yielded him less than a minute lead over his podium mates; a scant margin to hold for 150 miles and would one that prove to be his anchor to carry over the next two stages.
Stage One started in a panic. Call it nerves, or the fact that the peloton blew past the first turn and was forced to backtrack and chase, but carnage soon ensued with a large crash that caused a split in the field. From then on, the frontrunners simply worked to distance themselves from the rest of the field and gain time. As the leader on GC, Andrews (who emerged unscathed) was joined by the formidable trio of Andrew Crater (Stradalli Safetti), Justin Lowe (Hub City Bicycles), and Justin Pfaff (Gravel Cyclist). The four worked simply to maintain the status quo and settle their differences on Stage Two; and with a seemingly comfortable lead over the rest of the field, they were soon dumbfounded to find that they had been joined by a fifth. A local transplant, Adam Everest (racing in the 40+ field) had soloed across the gap (more like an abyss) to join the four at the front. Everest, a former pro from New Zealand now living in Charleston, laid the hammer down to bridge up to the group. Content with the new addition and not threatened by Everest’s presence, the group worked to pad their lead. After nearly four hours of racing, the five finished in a field sprint with Lowe taking the win. Lowe and Everest donned stage winner’s custom Hellhole Gravel Grind jersey their respective fields.
The air on Sunday’s second and final stage was different. It may have been the near 90°F temperatures or the fact that there were five people within two minutes of the win, but whatever the reason, things were tense. The race again started with the lead group missing an early turn and being forced to scurry through some difficult trail sections. Reunited with the main field, the leaders looked to keep the race anything but tranquilo. By virtue of the opening night prologue, Jake Andrews had claimed a 15 second lead that was now under attack by Crater and Lowe. Working together, the two repeatedly and relentlessly attacked shedding all but their intended target (Andrews) and the race revelation Adam Everest—even causing the CAT 1 Pfaff to become unhitched and relegated. It was now evident that the gloves were off and that Andrews would have to do everything he could to withstand the punches. But it wasn’t meant to be. While there’s no doubt that Jake may have weathered the fight, his rear derailleur had other plans. The roads of Hellhole are unforgiving and do not discriminate. The landscape of potholes, gravel and mud can take their toll on riders, bikes, and in this case, jockey pulleys. With Andrews out of the race, Crater was able to focus on maintaining what was now his lead. Working together the remainder of the day, the three attacked only with the end in sight with Andrew Crater easily taking the sprint followed by Everest and Lowe.
The Hellhole Gravel Grind Champions for 2015 are Andrew Crater (Men Open), Adam Everest (Men 40+), and Stephanie Cole (Womens Open—and the only woman to complete the course.) Congratulations to the winners and everyone that completed this year’s race (50% of the stage racers ended the weekend with a DNF). The third Hellhole Gravel rind Stage Race proved to be a most difficult race and completing it represents a true accomplishment!
If you have not seen what this race has to offer, we strongly encourage it. Here’s the information from next year’s race (look for the 2016 version to occur again in September)!
DATE: September, 2016 (Final date TBD)
PRICING: Ranges from $50 to $100 (and up) depending on race entered
CATEGORIES: Men Open, Women Open, Men 40+, Singlespeed Open, Tandem
RACE OPTIONS: 1-day, 42 and 75-mile race options along with 2-day, 150-mile stage race options. This race also includes a one of a kind night prologue (optional)! Prologue entrants will receive real-time bonuses on their competitors. (NOTE: It is not necessary to participate in the prologue to enter and/or win the race. The prologue offers racers a chance to be more competitive and experience a taste of the course in a unique setting)
INFORMATION: For more information on The Hellhole Gravel Grind Stage Race visit:
Facebook: Hellhole Gravel Grind Stage Race
Email: [email protected]
The Hellhole Gravel Grind Stage Race is sponsored by RentCharleston.com, Affordabike, Bike Law, Schwalbe Tires, Boyd Cycling, Grava Bike, Banjo Brothers, Mike Bannister DDS Family Dentistry, Podium Wear, Orange Seal, Cyclocross Magazine, Raw Revolution, Hanging Dog Moonshine, GU, and Coffee Kind.
HHGG3 Overall Results
|Bib||Name||Last Name||Category||Distance||Gender||Time Bonus||Stage 1||GC 1||GC1 Rank||Stage 2||GC||OVERALL IN CATEGORY|
|85||Jim||Phillips||Open 40||75 Miles||M||NA||NA||NA||NA||4:17:36||NA||NA|
|7||Adam||Everest||Open 40||150 Miles||M||0:06:28||3:41:37||3:35:09||1||3:54:30||7:29:39||1|
|9||David||Gay||Open 40||150 Miles||M||0:05:10||3:44:30||3:39:20||2||4:00:46||7:40:06||2|
|15||Bruce||Stauffer||Open 40||150 Miles||M||0:05:36||3:47:24||3:41:48||3||4:00:34||7:42:22||3|
|5||Matt||Bullington||Open 40||150 Miles||M||0:04:15||4:03:06||3:58:51||7||4:08:34||8:07:25||4|
|13||Jason||Lee||Open 40||150 Miles||M||0:05:20||3:52:49||3:47:29||5||4:32:28||8:19:57||5|
|14||Neil||Myers||Open 40||150 Miles||M||0:04:08||4:13:30||4:09:22||10||4:24:25||8:33:47||6|
|4||Marshall||Brown||Open 40||150 Miles||M||0:04:43||4:14:14||4:09:31||11||4:24:26||8:33:57||7|
|10||Ned||Hettinger||Open 40||150 Miles||M||0:04:58||3:52:47||3:47:49||6||4:56:20||8:44:09||8|
|3||michael||bannister||Open 40||150 Miles||M||0:03:57||4:13:33||4:09:36||12||4:39:17||8:48:53||9|
|22||Michael||Robinson||Open 40||150 Miles||M||NA||4:13:32||4:13:32||13||5:05:23||9:18:55||10|
|21||Scott||Pfaff||Open 40||150 Miles||M||NA||4:21:14||4:21:14||14||5:05:26||9:26:40||11|
|11||Doug||Littrell||Open 40||150 Miles||M||0:04:17||4:51:28||4:47:11||17||5:01:31||9:48:42||12|
|2||Scott||Miner||Open 40||150 Miles||M||0:06:05||3:52:50||3:46:45||4||DNF||DNF||DNF|
|6||Greg||Casteel||Open 40||150 Miles||M||0:05:03||4:14:02||4:08:59||9||DNS||DNF||DNF|
|8||Pearce||Fleming||Open 40||150 Miles||M||0:04:22||4:27:56||4:23:34||15||DNS||DNF||DNF|
|18||James||Huth||Open 40||150 Miles||M||NA||6:09:31||6:09:31||18||DNS||DNF||DNF|
|23||Kristopher||Williams||Open 40||150 Miles||M||NA||7:00:55||7:00:55||19||DNS||DNF||DNF|
|1||garth||prosser||Open 40||150 Miles||M||NA||DNS||DNF||DNF||DNS||DNF||DNF|
|12||Doyle||Loflin||Open 40||150 Miles||M||0:02:00||DNS||DNF||DNF||DNF||DNF||DNF|
|17||ANDYS||BURNS||Open 40||150 Miles||M||NA||DNS||DNF||DNF||DNS||DNF||DNF|
|19||Obie||Ingram||Open 40||150 Miles||M||NA||DNS||DNF||DNF||DNS||DNF||DNF|
|16||Luke||Wilson||Open 40||150 Miles||M||0:05:00||4:08:08||4:03:08||8||DNS||DNS||DNF|
|20||Troy||Ockerman||Open 40||150 Miles||M||NA||4:37:29||4:37:29||16||DNS||DNS||DNF|