Race Report: Salty Lizard 100 – by Bobby Kennedy
This race report is brought to you by the Salty Lizard 100’s Race director, Bobby Kennedy. The Salty Lizard 100 just took place in October and if you’d like to listen rather than read, a race recap is also available from Bobby in my interview of him on the Riding Gravel Radio Ranch Episode #94. Otherwise, read on and enjoy! – The Editor
Defying COVID and a cold front, the Salty Lizard 100 gravel bike race took place on Saturday, Oct. 9 in Wendover, Utah. A hundred and thirty-eight brave women and men drove through several squalls to ride bikes along the jagged volcanic hills above the Bonneville Salt Flats and to push their bodies and brains to the kinda-limit. The storms firmed up the famously sandy and silty course into a near-paved surface pockmarked with large potholes. But with the great gravel came a 25+ mph blocking headwind that pretty much cancelled out any benefit, effort-wise.
The women’s and men’s podiums featured all local talent, as Utah residents Nathan and Marc Spratt (ABUS Pro Gravel) hammered out an insane pace to take first and second place respectively, followed by last year’s overall winner and ROTOR ringer Tanner Visnick (Park City Bike and Demo/POC Sports/ENVE). In the women’s race, Bri (as in “fly”) Hoopes (Bucked Up Racing) overcame a dead shifter at the start of the race to take the overall, followed by Jessica Taverna (Plan 7 DS) and Hannah Schindler (Her Own Damned Self).
Riders set out from the Wendover Airfield Museum in the cold under grumpy, angry, angsty clouds and howling wind. They putzed the neutral start through Wendover to Hwy 93 and the real fun waiting on the dirt south of town. Before she could even leave the corral, though, Hoopes discovered that her right shifter was dead from hours of getting activated by the bumpy ride out to Wendover (don’t lay your e-tap stuff on its side, kids). As literally everyone else took off out of town, she found a very tall and mechanically-skilled race organizer (who some have compared to a young Christopher Walken) and amateur recap writer to help switch the battery from her power meter into her shifter. One YouTube video later, Bri churned her pedals into the wind and took off.
Meanwhile, the first riders were tackling the sandy ATV trails in the foothills of the Toana Mountains. The Spratts, Visnick, and Sam Sweetser powered through the berms toward the exposed bedrock and deep sand of the upper Mt. Dune climb. Many riders were forced off their bikes voluntarily and otherwise by the loose g-out downhills in the ATV section, with a few taking home pea gravel in their knickers as souvenirs. After cresting the hill to the first aid station nestled against Interstate 80, they climbed to the bench in the Silver Island range. Riders flew over the rolling traverse at speed, dodging sand-traps, watery potholes, and sharp rocks.
As they slalomed into the valley toward the base of Pilot Peak, the previous day’s rain caught up to them, turning the low points into mudpots. Playas were full of water and wee lakes had formed in the road. Riders struggled to hold a line or even stay upright, with Tom Baird overcoming a mighty digger in the saline slurry to stay in the 40-49 hunt. Other people found soft spots and had to walk out to solid ground.
After the mud came the draining false-flat uphill to the top of Leppy’s Pass and the second aid station. The Spratts separated themselves from Visnick, who lost contact on the relentless washboard climb. As always, the wind whipped across the course, pulling at the aid station tent and dunking camp chairs in the fire pit. Forty-five milers turned east at the aid station and bombed the paved descent toward the finishing stretch. Everyone else turned north with more or less grim resignation to enjoy the last tailwind on their way to Silver Island Pass.
The road to Silver Island Pass was loose but not the washboard sand-trap that it had been the previous year. Pretty much everyone made it over the pass, in fact. Last tailwind and all that – even the deepest sections had firmed up in the rain. The real fun began on the downhill, when the winds turned sideways, The road degraded to a scale model of the basin and range as it turned south toward Wendover. Washboard, relentless, loose, washboard for the next five miles. Really, really emotionally sapping washboard. No good line, hardly any traction, even, riding straight into the teeth of that grinding wind with arms and legs flopping wildly. Those of us who could just watch thought it was pretty
By the time the riders had made it back to the paved climb over Leppy’s Pass and the second loop of the Silver Island Pass, most had decided that they’d had enough. Instead of the paved climb, which led them directly upward into a down slope wind (there are different flavors of shitty wind-conditions, you see), they took the finishing straight home. The Spratt brothers, followed by Visnick, a posse of the leading 30- and 40-year old’s, including Dan Hoopes and last year’s Stupid Pony runner-up Evan Lunt, as well as women’s leader Hoopes, and eventual runner-up Jessica Taverna, hammered up the Leppy Pass Rd.
Leppy Pass Rd. was unique in that it was paved, was only three miles long, and only gained about 500 ft., but felt several times bigger and longer. Many described the ascent as like riding through pudding because of the merciless headwind. But after pushing north of 300 watts to travel 4 mph, the diehard, truly stupid riders actually made it to the top of Leppy’s Pass and the shelter of aid station 2 before heading back around to do it again. Your intrepid recap writer was astonished to see many of the hundred-milers pass through twice in the couple hours that he (assuming that it was a “he”) remained at the aid station, including the Spratt twins who, by their own word, never actually stopped moving, including at the aid stations.
While the Spratts bent the laws of human nutritional necessity, most racers were wending their way below the coral-like volcanic formations of the Silver Island range back toward Wendover. Although (once again) into a headwind, the road home was buff and fast, sheltered by bright reddish-brown spires and overhangs. Passing the sign announcing four miles to the finish, some allowed themselves to daydream of an easy ride to the finish.
But just around the last curve, nearly directly one mile from the finish, the road kicked up and became Aria “Blvd,” an uphill slog over loose gravel, sand, pea gravel, granitic sand, bedrock, and probably other stuff. Tandem captain Steve Wasmund remembered thinking that the course had to be all downhill for the last four miles, only to round an outcropping and see people far above him walking their bikes. But after several loose kicks upward and a Jeep crawl over bedrock, the riders were home. They were greeted by a Honey Bucket, cheering volunteers, and a mile of paved downhill back to the Wendover Airfield Museum, where they could feast on complimentary fry bread, Navajo tacos, and pizza, and other incredibly healthy foods.
Congratulations to the salty folks who braved a lot of sideways rain to come out and ride the wind! It wasn’t easy, but no one died so we’re doing it all again next year!
Acknowledgements; Salty & Stupid Cycling would like to thank the cities of Wendover and West Wendover for their
amazing support for the ride, as well as Tooele County and the Wendover Nugget Casino. We’d also like to thank our incredible industry prize and content sponsors for a great year: Hammer Nutrition, Peak State Fit, Saturday Cycles, Wasatch Touring, Boyd Cycling, ROTOR Bike Components, Bike Hardcore, Spinner17 Bags, the Cache Valley Gran Fondo, Original Free Range, TRP Cycling, and Hyperthreads. (Note: Feature Header image for this story courtesy of Sam Rice Photography.)
Stay up to date with all the news on the Salty Lizard 100 by checking out their website here: https://saltyandstupidcycling.com/salty-lizard-100/