Every year The Mid South kicks off the gravel racing season with a 100-mile classic off-road, drop-bar race in Stillwater, OK. This year we asked John Borstelmann to give us a quick recap of the race and his experience riding those beautiful Oklahoma dirt roads.
Words by John Borstelmann / Photos by Justin Diamond & Kris Hull
The 30 mph crosswind gusts for most of the first hour let me convince myself that drilling it was a good idea. Careening over the red dirt prairie at record speed, working the relentless push of the wind, I attacked again and again, knowing I would be followed but hoping to soften up the contenders ahead of the decisive sections later in the race. The crazy tailwind for most of the second hour kept the pace high enough that the group was down to 12 by the halfway checkpoint, with no chance of anyone catching back up.
Finally, the group found some cohesion as we came around into the brutal headwind at mile 51, but the pace was labored, everyone desperately trying to conserve their remaining energy for the long road ahead. A few attacks from Nico Roche flew suspiciously close to the end of my pulls, but we were content to let him dangle, knowing that the wind would keep him from getting very far.
The miles ticked off excruciatingly slowly until we approached the crucial single track section at mile 89. We all jockeyed for position, with McElveen snagging the hole shot just ahead of me and then Werner, who passed me after the first swooping section of hairpin turns. McElveen had to part the sea of short course riders (who were all generously quick to pull over for us), allowing me to maintain contact and chase down the experienced off-road racers once we were back on the road, with a sizable gap to the rest of the group.
McElveen hit the gas, looking dangerously fresh, dragging a reluctant Werner as I somehow managed to battle through cramps in both legs, hanging on for dear life. Those last few hills drained me, even as I begged him to ease up, knowing our group of three was in the clear. A few more miles of flatter, headwindy roads gave me a modicum of shelter and took the edge off my muscle cramps, and even gave me a hair of confidence for the sprint.
But the wind had shifted around to our backs by then, and our uphill finishing stretch would be a drawn out drag race, with the timing of the initial jump being the only useful tactic. McElveen took off early, with 600 meters to go, and I gave it everything I had. But after 25 seconds, we were still 2 blocks from the line. I was completely empty, my legs were both seized up with cramps, and all I could do was watch as he rolled into the champagne shower with time to post up.
Congrats John on a second place finish at the 2023 Mid South and thanks for sharing!