The Michigan State Motto: “Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam Circumspice – If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.”
by Aaron Cruikshank
LOWELL, Michigan—It’s spring time again in Michigan, which means it is time to dust off the ‘cross bike, mountain bike, fat bike or gravel rig and head out for some gravel goodness. A shakeup in the schedule this year meant the season kicked off with the spring edition of the Lowell 50. With over 85% of the course composed of gravel, and a few punchy and decisive climbs, it always proves to be a worthy early season test. Riders had the option of the 34-mile or 57-mile course, and there were singlespeed and fat bike categories for those interested in real punishment.
Over 300 racers awoke to a forecast of temperatures in the mid 30’s, a strong 15-25 mph wind and the potential for snow midway through the race. Weekday rains had softened many of the gravel roads and filled all of the potholes with water. The look on everyone’s face at the start time said it all; it was going to be a sloppy, sandy mess.
A neutral start saw the men’s 57-mile race through the famous covered bridge and onto the first climb of the day on Montcalm Avenue. Walking the line between double track and a gravel road while also topping out at 10-11%, it usually serves as a launching point for the day’s first attack. This year however, it was raced at a brisk but civil pace. The field descended onto the pavement and got the first taste of wind, with the cross-tail breeze stringing out the field into a bit of an echelon before a right turn onto White Bridges Road.
Again, small, measured attacks on Centerline Road saw the field shrink, but nothing really stuck. It seemed the field was waiting for the right combination of riders, wind and dirt and ultimately found that combination on Barker Road when Michael Simonson attacked and dislodged a group of 8 from the field. The breakaway upped the pace on a slight rise and kept on the gas into the headwind down McKendry Road. Those 8 were quickly pared down to 6 as wet snow began to fall, with the lead group was composed of former winners Nathan Williams of Bissell ABG, Jason Young of EPS Cycling, and Aaron Cruikshank of Giant Bicycles P/B CHG & Zingerman’s along with Robert Foshag of Jacks Bike, Michael Simonson, and Willaims’ teammate Jordan Diekema.
With only a few punchy climbs remaining and nearly 20-miles of gravel to cover before then, the group made a gentleman’s agreement to keep the pace high in the head and cross wind sections to keep the field at bay. Work was shared equitably and the gap slowly grew to 3 minutes as snow accumulated along the roadside and on rider’s helmets. A few sections proved difficult to navigate as the combination of potholes, a soft shoulder and cross wind made it so there was only one good line. There was also growing distrust among the group. Williams and Diekema were the only teammates in the breakaway and while there were some in the group clearly hurting, no one had shown their cards yet.
The wind and snow continued to pickup as the breakaway approached the finish. Simonson opened up the throttle on each of the 3 remaining climbs but could not shed his companions. As the leaders took a left turn onto the final pavement section leading into the finish, Young increased the pace. He was quickly brought back by Simonson while Williams surfed the back of the group. Making the gentle right towards the park, Williams launched his sprint and was first to enter the finishing straight. He held on for the win, followed by Foshang and Diekema rounded out the top 3. Simonson, Cruikshank, and Young followed finishing up in just under 3 hours.
The women’s 57-mile race saw Susan Vigland of Hagerty Cycling take the solo win by nearly 2 minutes followed by Heather Goss of City Hub Racing and Liz Belt of Einstein Racing took home third.
Special thanks to all the volunteers who waited for the riders at each corner while the snow came down. Also thanks to Michael Mielock for kindly letting us use his photos from this memorable day. Make sure to check back next week as we move on to Ohio and the Amish Country Roubaix.
Have a local gravel race report you’d like to submit? Find out how to submit your race report here.