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EPIC Award: Chris Skogen, Founder of Almanzo 100

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Today we announce the third recipient of our EPIC award, a new industry and outdoor-world prize sponsored by Wenger that highlights adventurers, athletes, gear designers, activists, and artists who affect notable change in the outdoors world.

Chris Skogen, director of an event called the Almanzo 100, is a humble cyclist from Rochester, Minn., who founded a race and helped launch a movement. Hundreds of cyclists now ride his annual Almanzo, a 100-mile race on gravel roads across southern Minnesota, and Skogen’s initiative has worked to inspire a half-dozen other race directors in the region to create gravel bike events around the Midwest.

Chris Skogen greeting riders at end of Almanzo race; photo by Craig Lindner

The result is the popularization of a new type of riding. The gravel road race movement brings together roadies, mountain bikers, touring cyclists, and city riders in a gritty, underground venue where limits are pushed on tough, hilly courses for a true adventure event in the heartland of America.

Scenes from a gravel road race; photos © David Gabrys

The Almanzo 100 is free, a labor of love since its launch in 2005. There is no limit to the amount of riders that can register — it is as big as people make it. “The original idea came from a small group ride in southern Minnesota,” Skogen explains. “We decided to make it an event, then we thought ‘might as well race it,’ and 13 people were in.”

Skogen and his son (in a bike backpack!)

It grew tremendously, and last year 350 racers showed up. A GearJunkie writer profiled the Almanzo Race in 2011, a nasty year with a high drop rate. For the Almanzo this spring, to be held on May 19, more than 800 riders are registered for the long, hilly course.

Finishers: 2011 Almanzo, a particularly muddy year! Photos © David Gabrys

Beyond the Almanzo, there is now a series of free or low-cost gravel races each year throughout the region, including the Ragnarok 105, the Strada Fango, Dirty Benjamin, Heck of the North, and the Dirt Bag. Together, the races are a part of a gravel road series where riders earn points for each finish.

The gravel concept has energized riders around the Midwest. Thousands of people now gear up, clip in, and ride for miles and miles on gravel to train and race. Here’s to Skogen, a forefather of the movement and one of the big contributors to the scene. Cheers! Your work, an Epic effort, deserves an award.

—See our Epic Award channel for past winners and a chance to nominate someone “epic” in your sphere.

Rolling along the open gravel road, finish line somewhere very far beyond. . .

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