Last year I missed the Native Land Classic, a mixed pave/gravel/dirt event that Tanner Culbreath from Tulsa started in the same light as Rapha's Gentleman's Races. There is a 5/4 member team competition, Two member Team competition, then a pack of solos. It's all self supported, with checkpoints you've got to get a stamp on your NLC passport (or get a time penalty).
I was pumped to be able to jump in on the event this time - it was my first event like this that had large sections of gravel in it. Tanner said that on the 107 mile route about 45% of it was gravel - but that was based on mileage. Gravel is slower going, I'd say 65% of the time riding was in the gravel sections.
I'd ridden some of these roads before from the Native Land Tour (bikepacking trip by Tanner in the Fall) and our Osage Overland Adventure we did last year. So, not unfamiliar with riding these kind of roads - just not done a competition on it.
I chose to use my Specialized Tarmac, my regular road bike, along with Specialized Roubaix Pro 28s (psi 85 front/90 rear) - having no flats made the going fast. Riding a road bike on gravel, especially when it gets thick, it gets loose quite a bit. But you learn to stay light on the seat, just let it bounce around and keep the throttle down - it keeps you rolling.
The solo's were the last group to go after the Team's rolled out in 4 min time slots. The first 10 miles or so was pretty tame. There was a head wind and some of the steep hills in the city to get out that were hard, but we weren't "racing" yet - I think most of us were not wanting to blow everything up with 107 miles ahead of us.
But just like long climbs, gravel sections end up naturally splitting groups up. Speed is stability on loose stuff so you end up getting on the throttle as best you can maintain to keep things upright. The split for the solos happened around mile 20 or so, from that point on until the finish I was very happy for the headphones and NLC playlist I'd put together.
Getting to the gas station stop in Hominy was 60 miles of pretty thick gravel sections, hills and a stout headwind. It was a big relief to start heading south and being able to keep speed and spirits up. I got to the last checkpoint where the NLC crew had a nice setup and it was good to get a coke (I skipped on the Bourbon with 25 miles remaining) and see some people!
The roll into Tulsa was mostly tailwind/downhill - so the going was fast. I was pushing a solid tempo with the motivation of wanting to be done. I ended up back at 3:32, had a ride time of 5:47 for 107 miles and was ready for some Prairie Ale Beer, Fajita's from McNellies, and time "not pedaling."
I ended up first of the Solo Riders, which was a nice bonus to the day. It was a great event, want to get an OKC Velo team together for next year and battle it out with the 5 member teams that did the 132 mile routes. Thanks to Tanner, Dan, and the NLC crew for a great event!