2017 Tour of Hermann
By: Jason Chase
Let me start by saying that this is one of my favorite races. First off, the town of Hermann, for those that don’t already know, is taken right out of the Rhine Valley in Germany. Dozens of wonderful wineries, B&B’s, and great places to eat compliment the gorgeous spring views and the pristine gravel roads. Second, the 2 day format provides a unique opportunity to meet up with your fellow racers after the first night and share stories about the previous day. The other interesting piece is that the multiple loops tempt you with cutting the race short, mentally challenging you to go out and “Crush It!” for another loop. Finally, the course itself, aside from traveling through the serene Missouri wine country, is INCREDIBLY hilly! Gradients well into the 20% range are a common occurrence while total climbing over the 200 miles was north of 13,000’!
DDRP had 3 in town to represent this year. John Porter and George Williamson, the mileage monsters, bike packed all the way in from Kansas City, over 200 miles away. I opted for the easier way and drove into town Friday night. The 2017 edition of the ToH looked to be a real test of determination based on the weather forecast the week before. Even the night before there was rain showers and sub 50 degree temps forecasted for the race start. With many still having traumatic nightmares from Land Run, there was definitely some apprehension at the start.
But, good fortune did shine down on those few brave enough to toe the line on Saturday. The rain had cleared the area earlier in the morning and the temps, while still on the chilly side, were easily manageable with leg and arm warmers or a light jacket. The gravel presented a clear challenge. Much of the roads were covered with very round marble sized rocks over hard packed dirt. Even the clearest tracks had a loose sandy quality that made standing up on a climb all but impossible. Descents reached speeds over 45 miles an hour for those brave enough to eschew their brakes, though tight turns, loose gravel, and wash boarded sections made that a questionable course of action more than once.
John and George opted to forego the last 32 mile loop in favor of dinner at the Mexican restaurant. I finished the 95 mile first day in (a distant) second place, but felt very comfortable about the next day.
Day two was absolutely gorgeous with full sunshine, low winds, and temps that reached into the mid 70’s. The turnout on the starting line reflected the weather forecast as there were many more racers cued up for the start. The first 20 miles of day 2 make a bee line west down the Katy Trail, a well-known rails to trails project that stretches from St. Louis to Clinton 237 miles away.
The lead group of 6 or 7 set a strong pace to take advantage of the pancake flat portion of the day which would eventually see another 5800+’ of climbing over the 105 miles broken into two different loops. John and George were there waiting to say goodbye at the trail intersection as they continued their journey east.
After the speed run down the trail we turned north and got into the hills. At this point I allowed the 4 leaders (only 1 of which rode the day before) to go on ahead as I settled into my own pace. Surprisingly, I felt quite strong and climbed the hills well, though I was happy to get back to the trail for the last 5 miles into town. A quick stop to pick up my “Crushed It!” sticker for my race number and I was on my way again.
Loop 5 was actually a very pleasant route with just enough flat stretches along the beautiful creek bottoms to break up the soul crushing climbs. The final 5 miles into town was along the paved highway. One final climb, a careful glance over my shoulder to check for competition, and a strong push to the finish was all that was left. I held my 2nd place overall position and claimed my coveted mason jar of Hermann gravel along with a bottle of delicious Stone Hill Steinberg White.
I especially want to thank Jeff Yielding for putting so much work into such an awesome event for all these years. Also, shout out to Mike Langille for spending the weekend snapping some amazing photos of the race. I hope that this race will find new life going forward, but even if it does not, I know I will come back each year to enjoy the town and especially the gravel of Hermann.