Photo by Steve Driscoll
Written by David Crall
A man who once stood at the top of the cycling world in Paris, for a few days in 2006, drifted around smiling and chatting at the start line ready for the second edition of Gravel and Whine in Temecula wine country. Floyd Landis and a few hundred other riders looking for an early season adventure awaited either the 78 mile decanter or 48 mile taster race on the dirt roads around numerous vineyards and open spaces.
Recent rains kept the dirt in decent shape for the area, though plenty of ruts, sand patches, and washboards required full attention.
Hot air balloons hovered above the horizon as a few well-known names in gravel circles darted down a three mile stretch of road before the first dirt section. The front group established quickly, as a mixture of riders tried to keep up, as the unacquainted adjusted to their introduction into a soft, sand landing.
Riders found their own groups to ease the journey and made their way on road to the first sustained climb of the day, a nearly 5 mile mixed terrain rolling effort gaining 670 vertical feet. A roaring descent and dirt section led to a few easy road miles at the first aid station just outside a 21 mile flat gravel loop around a reservoir. Refueled, taster riders reversed back to the winery while decanter riders climbed up to the lake and took in views of the glassy water with a few boaters and fisherman enjoying a quiet Saturday morning. The winding gravel around Diamond Valley Lake proved a peaceful slog of ticking off miles. Finishing off the lake loop and back down the hill, riders again refueled at the aid station with roughly 25 miles remaining.
The route now revisited a stretch of dirt that previously provided an exhilarating high speed dirt descent. Now, 18 percent pitches required max efforts and walking shoes on a climb averaging nearly 10 percent over a mile. Clearing this dirt section, riders saw blue and red arrows pointing back to Leoness Cellars with its promise of wine tastings and lunch. Instead of the highly stylized notes of wine, the red arrows for the longer route unexpectedly pointed left to highly exasperated whines.
A 5 mile offshoot loop led decanter riders up a sharp road, climb,then a short descent before another big test awaited. Looking straight ahead, another intimidating dirt climb arose, again with pitches around 18 percent that asked if a rider felt more in the mood to get dizzy or take the bike out for a nature walk. The descent off the climb again let riders once again test bike handling skills and experience the joys of gravity.
Coming out of the loop, the road offered a reprieve until pushing over one last short, steep dirt climb to signal the end of the whining. Now with 5,000 feet of climbing by mostly rolling terrain and pitchy dirt climbs completed, a 2 mile slightly downhill road stretch reminded riders of the bliss of cycling as salivation returned to dry mouths with the thoughts of wine tastings were soon to be realized.
At the finish line, lunch, wine tastings, and tales of the course filled a room lined with barrels and salt stained kits. Brian Scarbrough stepped to the top of the podium, completing the Decanter a hair over four hours, flanked by Ryan Jastrab, Levi Jeffries, Victor Sheldon, and Tinker Juarez. On the women’s side, Sofia Schugar, Kim Sweet-Sarantos, Monica Tucker and Heather Wilson rounded out the top four. Floyd didn’t make the podium this time, but Floyd’s of Leadville product eased heavy legs and sore backs in the cool So Cal air.
Once again, Gravel and Whine provided the perfect balance of whining and wining and we’re all looking forward to more of both next year.