Finding the breaking point (with Vittoria Tires)

Oklahoma’s Land Run 100 gravel road race serves as ultimate test venue

Gravel Tires
Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

More than any other photo, this image encapsulates the good and bad of the Land Run 100 in and around Stillwater, Oklahoma. In good conditions, it’s a fine day of country spinning. But when these roads get wet… Photo by 241photography.com

Whether man or machine, we all have our breaking point, that place of no return when the wheels simply refuse to turn even one more rotation. For me that moment came just a few hundred feet past the “Oasis” aid station at mile 80 of the 2017 Land Run 100, a gravel road race that starts and finishes in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Body — and bike — were broken. I accepted my DNF and a shot of whiskey from one of the aid station volunteers, then waited for the sag wagon to drive me to the finish. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. First a little background as to what brought us to Oklahoma in the first place. (If you can’t wait to read about happened, here’s the 1000-word picture.)

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

If only we’d raced on Friday (when it was warm and sunny). Photo by 241photography.com

On the surface the Land Run 100 shouldn’t be over-the-top hard. Sure it’s 104 miles, but total climbing is a reasonable ~7000 feet, meaning most of the time you’re simply spinning along flat roads. And while these unpaved roads are rough in spots, there are also miles of red clay tarmac that has an almost cushy feel (think indoor running track). On a dry day, the looped route from Stillwater to Guthrie and back would be a beautiful bucolic spin in the heart of America’s heartland. Of course beautiful days are never a given, especially in early spring when perfect weather (like we had the day before the race) can be quickly replaced by freezing rain (like we had on race day).

The invitation to roll these proverbial race day dice came courtesy of Vittoria, the highly-regarded Italian tire manufacturer, which was set to launch a trifecta of new gravel tires, the Terreno Dry, Terreno Mix, and Terreno Wet. Instead of the usual dog-and-pony-show press launch, Vittoria decided to walk the walk and not just spew marketing mumbo jumbo. Here are our new tires, see if you can break them, was essentially their message to a small gathering of cycling media. And along with the tires, take a crack at riding an aluminum Opus Spark adventure bike spec’d with Vittoria’s new Elusion disc wheels, Selle Italia saddle, and 3T cockpit and seatpost, and do it while wearing a new Catlike Mixino helmet (all products Vittoria imports to the U.S.).

Now that you understand the premise of this endeavor, it’s time to let the pictures fully take over, because in this case they really do tell the story.

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

Meet our weapon for the Land Run 100, an Opus Spark adventure bike spec’d with Vittoria’s new Elusion wheels and Terreno gravel tires. This bike had been ridden just one time before the race. You can find out more about the entire Opus Spark line here. Just note that the pictured bike is not a standard build. It was spec’d special for this race.

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

Our test bike came outfitted with the new Vittoria Terreno Wet gravel tires (shown here), which have an open alternating-lugged design and full siping that’s designed to deliver high performance in a range of soft terrain. But after a short pre-ride (and consultation with one gravel racing veteran) we swapped over to the Terreno Dry, which has unique center “scales” that are ramped, providing a fast rolling leading edge, while still delivering effective braking and cornering. The rationale is that even if the roads get muddy (which of course they did), you’re primarily traveling in a straight line so extra traction and grip isn’t critical, whereas fast rolling is always good come race day. Even though we didn’t finish, it was definitely the right choice. It’s also worth noting that all the new Vittoria Terreno clincher tires are TNT, which basically means they set-up tubeless very easily.

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

Here’s a look at all three of the new tires side by side: Terreno Dry, Terreno Mix, and Terreno Wet. The Mix, which we haven’t talked about yet, has a fast rolling center-ridge design, open shoulder lugs for secure off-camber traction, and a generally more traditional tread profile to deliver smooth transitions across varied terrain. All three of the tires use a triple compound formula, including Graphene, which is claimed to add durability without added weight. All three are available in 31mm and 33mm tubular for cyclocross, and 31mm, 33mm, 40mm TNT for gravel (or ’cross if you don’t want to mess around with gluing tires). The TNT is a 120 TPI tubeless ready casing, with added sidewall protection. The new tires will be available in the U.S. starting at the end of April. Pricing has yet to be announced.

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

That’s Vittoria USA PR man Ken Avery, who came up with the bright idea to head to Oklahoma for a little product testing. What Ken didn’t count on was rain on race day. But as his half-smile indicates, it just meant all the better of a venue for proving a concept. Ken also manned up and lined up for what became a fairly long death march of a day.

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

The other key character in this story is Bobby Wintle, Land Run 100 founder and race director, and owner of Stillwater’s District Bicycles, a shop that caters primarily to the gravel racing and riding crowd and serves as race HQ. If you could harness Bobby’s energy, we’d no longer need fossil fuels in this country. Photo by 241photography.com

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

Bobby has also established a great sponsorship relationship with Vittoria. Here he shows off the new Elusion Disc, an alloy wheel with centerlock rotor interface for 12mm axles that’s also compatible with 15mm axles by swapping endcaps. Claimed wheelset weight is 1600 grams, it’s tubeless ready, and sells for $599. We rode these wheels on race day and they held up fine, but we’d love to see a little quicker rear hub engagement, which felt a tad delayed. You can learn more about the wheels here. Photo by 241photography.com

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

Lastly, here is you intrepid author before the start of the race, smiling, clean, and sporting Catlike’s new Mixino helmet, which is claimed to be the only helmet that uses Graphene (like some of Vittoria’s tires) to enhance the aramid fiber “roll cage” that’s molded into the EPS shell. This is designed to strengthen the helmet and drop weight. You can learn more about this technology here and here. It’s also worth noting that the helmet is designed to take multiple impacts, while some other helmets are designed for just one hit. On a personal note, we found the fit to be truly impressive. Once dialed the helmet floated comfortably on our head to the point where it would stay in place even without clicking closed the chin strap.

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

At the 8 a.m. start in front of District Bicycles in downtown Stillwater, about 850 racers rolled off into a damp, chilly day with temperatures hovering in the low 40s. But if dressed properly it was manageable (at least for a while). The rain came in spurts, and was usually never more than a light spritz. That meant the gravel roads were still in reasonable shape (for now). Following a drama free first half, I hit the turnaround point in Guthrie (mile 52) in a respectable 3 hours and 21 minutes. Photo by 241photography.com

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

The right bike for this race was definitely open for interpretation. We spotted everything from 29er mountain bikes, to traditional gravel set-ups, to hybrid fatties. Photo by 241photography.com

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

Helmet choice also ran the gamut. Photo by 241photography.com

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

The top dogs stuck with more traditional set-ups, save for the addition of aero bars. That’s gravel racing honch Jay Petervary (No. 2) leading Bob Cummings early in the race. Petervary ended up finishing 10th overall, with Cummings slotting fifth. Cumming’s Panaracer teammates Rob Bell and Mat Stephens were first and second, with Joe Fox in third. Bell and Stephens were the only two racers to finish in less than seven hours (6:57). And overall there were only 165 finishers, netting a success rate of just under 20 percent. Among the Vittoria crew who raced the 100, only 1 of 5 made it back to Stillwater by bicycle. The reason for all these DNFs was primarily due to catastrophic mechanical, hypothermia, or in many cases, both. You can see full results here. Photo by 241photography.com

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

Here’s the turnaround point in Guthrie. If you were smart, you had a drop bag waiting that was filled with dry riding clothes for the return trip to Stillwater. Photo by 241photography.com

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

Kayci Sterzer was one of just 17 women to finish the race. She placed 12th after spending 11 hours and 42 minutes on her bike. Karen Pritchard was the fastest woman of the day, coming home in 8:13. Andrea Cohen and Paulina Batiz completed the overall women’s podium. Photo by 241photography.com

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

The Panaracer team dominated the front of the race, finishing first and second. Photo by 241photography.com

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

A clearly relieved Bell and Stephens were greeted by race director Bob Wintle at the end of their race. Photo by 241photography.com

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

Back out on the course, though, things were starting to get a little sloppy as witnessed by your author’s backside. That was just the beginning, though. Photo by 241photography.com

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

What once had been smooth spongy roads started turning to muck. Sometimes you could still ride… Photo by 241photography.com

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

More often you could not. Thus began the attrition… Photo by 241photography.com

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

The problem with these red clay roads when wet can be summed up in two words: peanut butter. It’s hard to convey just how sticky this mud was. But know that part of the racer kit handed out the day before the race was a paint stick with the words “mud stick” emblazoned on one side. I personally thought it was a joke. It was not. The key was knowing when to stop pedaling, scrape off the accumulated mud (ideally with your mud stick), and start walking. Wait too long and bad things could happen to your drivetrain. Photo by 241photography.com

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

Fortunately there were occasional breaks from the muck. Unfortunately it was right around here that the seatpost on our test bike busted. Initially, it was just a crack in the carbon and I was able to duct tape it in place. But an otherwise innocuous wipe out a few miles later snapped it off completely, which commenced about 90 minutes of saddleless riding before reaching the aid station at mile 80. After stopping for a moment I headed back out into the mud on Triple XXX Road (I’m not making that name up). Moments later I heard the telltale snap of a rear derailleur hanger. Game over. Photo by 241photography.com

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

This is what happened when you tried to ride through the mud. It was not good for your drivetrain. Photo by 241photography.com

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

Or your rolling momentum. Photo by 241photography.com

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

This is what the mud did to clothes.

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

As for our test bike, it was a rough first race day. By the end, the saddle and seatpost were gone, the rear derailleur was busted, and the disc brakes barely worked. But I am happy to report no flats on the new Terreno Dry tires, so call it a successful day of product testing.

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

And yes, we had fun at the Land Run 100 and are planning to go back and right the wrong next year. We’ll need a new bike, though…

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

First, though, it was time for a whole lot of this. Well done Iron Monk Brewing. Photo by 241photography.com

Racing the Land Run 100 with Vittoria

P.S. Mad props to the only member of the Vittoria test team to actually finish, Canadian hardman (and Opus Bikes general manager) Alain Bovet (pictured), who slotted in 157th overall after spending 13 hours and 21 minutes on (and off) his bike. Photo by 241photography.com

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)
About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Tour de France, the Olympic Games, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the RoadBikeReview.com / Mtbr.com staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying time with his wife Lisa and daughter Cora.


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