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Almanzo Bike Race coming to Spring Valley


Fri, Apr 26th, 2013
Posted in Spring Valley Features

Chris Skogen shaking the hand of a man who finished last year’s Almanzo 100 bike race. Photo submitted

By Jade Sexton

Chris Skogen of Rochester has been riding a bike since he was a kid, and as he grew into adulthood, he rode his bike in many races. In 2007, he decided to start something unique of his own.

“I wanted a different way to race,” explained Skogen. “With no entry fee, no benefit or cause, just to ride.”

The Almanzo race, which is on May 18 this year, takes place on gravel roads. There are three races; the Almanzo 100, which is 100 miles; the Royal, which is 162 miles; and the Alexander, which is 380 miles. This is the first year for the Alexander race.

There are many reasons to have the race on gravel instead of pavement. “For one, it’s more challenging,” said Skogen. “There is less traffic, and what traffic there is is more friendly.”

Skogen described the gravel roads as more of a natural environment, since they are less manicured, and hills are not usually cut away. All of these things make for a more intimate experience with nature.

Living in Rochester with his wife, Annie, and their two children, Skogen likes to ride his bike wherever he can, and whenever possible. Along with spending the entire year planning and organizing the race, he works full time at Trader Joe’s.

The race began in Rochester with 13 people. The second year there was 60 riders, 90 by the third year, and it exploded to 400 by the fourth year. This year, there are 1,500 people registered between all three races.

As the race grew in numbers, it became more difficult to host it in Rochester. At a City Council meeting, it was decided to charge $4,500 to continue to have the race, in order to have police and other city employees supervising the route. There was no possible way to continue.

Skogen read an article about the city of Spring Valley and their search for more tourism. He met with Kathy Simpson, who owns the A&W and is on the tourism board. Everyone involved with the city was willing to help out and was happy to host the event.

“Fillmore County has been tremendous,” shared Skogen. “I am super grateful for the opportunity to come back.”

The race brings a lot of people to Spring Valley and the rest of Fillmore County. Skogen spoke of the spirit of the residents of Fillmore County, and their welcoming attitude, and the ability to bring people together.

Skogen doesn’t ride in his own races due to some old folklore that declares riding in your own race is the “kiss of death.” Instead he organizes the event with the help of many volunteers, sticks around to make sure every rider is accounted for, and shakes the hand of everyone who finishes.

The person who wins the race doesn’t receive a big trophy or any award. They have the chance to say they won. “We give them a small jar of gravel, but that’s not why they do it,” said Skogen. “It’s kind of a race against yourself. You find out what you are capable of when you push yourself beyond your comfort limit.”

The race begins at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 18. Skogen heads for home around 9 p.m., but people are free to keep going. As a matter of fact, racers are free to do what they want. They can take their time, stop to eat or drink, or see the sights. The median age for racers is around 35, but Skogen has seen a 14 year old ride, and the oldest person was 69.

The event has grown exponentially mostly from word-of-mouth advertising and social media. This year, Skogen decided to find sponsors to help cover the costs. It worked out well, as there are now several sponsors, including Salsa bike makers, Banjo Brothers (a company that makes bags and backpacks), Twin Six apparel, Challenge bike makers, and many more. Their contributions have helped keep the event free to everyone who wants to ride.

“What we’re doing isn’t new by any stretch of the imagination,” said Skogen. “It’s the focus on the attention to the details that really matter. We want to make everyone feel equally important.” Skogen added he feels it’s a mistake to focus only on the first, second, and third place winners in a race. Everyone who participates, whether they finish the race or not, is noteworthy.

The route is a circuit that goes through many towns in Fillmore County, down into Iowa and back to Spring Valley. The gravel roads have been there for decades, and have been nothing but roads. Designating them a race route has given them meaning to the people riding it. The event has gained an extensive list of followers, of fellow bike riders with enough passion to push themselves further than they’ve ever gone, to brave the elements and see what they are really capable of.

“It’s such an extension of who I am,” said Skogen. “It’s conceptual art. It started with an idea that things could be done a different way. There’s no product; it’s an idea and a concept.”

Skogen hopes that they are lending a hand in making life better for people. “I want them to take that experience home with them and share it with others,” he said.

The hopes with the Almanzo race are to increase free organized racing and help reshape competitive cycling. Skogen has been featured in newspapers and magazines, and even had a phone call from a fan in Amsterdam who loves what he is doing for cycling. The fact that people are celebrating and sharing something that he created is incredibly rewarding for Skogen.

More information and a blog about the race can be found at www.almanzo.com.

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