The Lowell 50 is a gravel race of the Midwest, comprising over 85% unpaved roads and a self-described “classic old world style gravel road race.” Like Barry-Roubaix, the race has several mile options, although the Open Field riders typically elect the more challenging 57-mile loop. The course includes scenic roads that follow along rivers as well as passing over a covered bridge built in the Mid-Nineteenth Century. Today, Team WASlab recounts their epic ride of the weekend in their gravel race report. For more information on the race, see thelowell50.com.
by Aaron Cruikshank
Mid-April again saw 400+ riders descend onto Fallasburg State Park for the spring edition of the Lowell 50. Composed of nearly 85% dirt, the course tests rider’s love of gravel. Temperatures at the start were hovering in the mid-40s with a steady breeze out of the west. With 80 riders in the men’s 57-mile race, we knew we had our work cut out for us if we wanted to repeat last year’s success.
The neutral start saw the group proceed through the picturesque park, across the famous covered bridge, enroute to some of Michigan’s finest dirt roads. Once on the other side of the bridge, the attacks began. Einstein Cycles made sure to keep the pace high as we entered the first dirt road less than 3 miles into the race. Being the most technical, and possibly the steepest climb of the race, Montcalm Ave guarantees that there will be suffering. Despite the oppressive winter, there were only a few ruts, and this didn’t deter Adam York from opening up a gap over the top. What followed was a succession of attacks, each by a different WASlab rider. The attacks were measured and tactical but the field wasn’t about to let what happened last year recur.
Upon entering the second dirt section on Whites Bridge Rd, the field was already a select group of 30 riders. Again attacks by myself, Jason Young, and Tom Burke were brought back, but each seemed to wear on the peloton. Having the largest team represented in the group it fell to us to either make the race, or police it. It wasn’t until Shawn Adams made a solo move that the group was content. At only 10-miles into the race, it seemed like a fools errand but it set the stage for the remainder of the day. Shawn was allowed around 40 seconds before small groups started trying to respond. Each was allowed a few seconds as they ascended a roller before being snatched back. Once the third attempt was pulled back, I knew it was time to go.
I had a feeling that any move by our team to bridge risked bringing other riders so if at all possibly I wanted to make it alone. I attacked on a small rise, and was able to I made it up to Shawn solo. We immediately went into 2-man time trial mode, knowing that the group behind would not be contented to let us simply ride away. Shawn and I both tried to keep things steady, always checking over our shoulder nervously.
A group of three, which included our teammate Jason, were in hot pursuit, followed by the field. A lack of time checks, and a general concern about the task we had set ourselves up for drove Shawn and I on. We knew that it would be easier if the group of three caught us, but we also knew that risked having to sprint for the win. We rode on with only the thought of staying away and finish line. The beauty of Lowell is that you enter dirt at mile three and there is less than two to three miles of paved road until about mile 48. It is a brutal yet beautiful day on the bike. Despite the allure of the dirt, #B stones, and near perfect temperatures, the wind was not in the favor of our two-man breakaway. It seemed that every turn was into a head wind, but still we rode on.
In the meantime our teammate Tom Burke had made contact with the three-man chase group despite a malcontented field. Both he and Jason were able to sit on and let the other ride at the front, knowing that all we needed them to do was get third. As we got deeper into the race the roads seemed to get heavier and heavier. Rain the day before had softened the sandy soil just enough to make it sticky. My back hurt, I got tired of pedaling, and I generally wanted to be off my bike. After what seemed like too long, we turned onto the last section of dirt, and knew we had done it again. Jason held up his end of the bargain and sprinted for third to make it a clean sweep of the podium. Getting to this point wouldn’t have been possible without our sponsors or all the volunteers that help put on great events like the Lowell 50. Thanks to all, and look for more gravel action next week as we stay a bit closer to home for Amish Country Roubaix.