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Driftless Storms on Race Day: 3rd Annual Winston Gravel Cup Recap & Photos

The Winston County Gravel Cup recently took place in Houston, Minnesota after a stormy time delay. Jamie Thiel and his wife rode the third annual event and share their story of waiting out the storm, winning some prizes, and enjoying beautiful driftless gravel community during their race.

Words by Jamie Thiel

All Photos by Baxter Cochennet of Heelclickers photography. See the full race gallery HERE.

Our weekend at the Winston County Gravel Cup…let’s first rewind to earlier this summer. I was having some bike issues that I just couldn’t solve myself. I was stumped and ended up coming across Paul Reardon's Instagram for his brand Blue Steel Bike. I gave him a call and he agreed to look at it. We ended up meeting him and his friends Nathan and Pete and while we were sorting my bike out, we got to talking about this ride Paul was one of the organizers of, the Winston County Gravel Cup.

We really hadn’t done any rides like this as a couple, so we thought why not give it a shot. The terrain and scenery in that area are amazing, it helps out some great causes, and after having met Paul, Nathan, and Pete we knew we’d be with good people.

Fast forward a couple months later, it’s Winston week.

As of Monday and Tuesday the forecast looks perfect, but as the week went on it was looking like dust wasn’t going to be an issue. Friday morning we’re up early to get bikes ready and load up, we get on the road early afternoon. It’s a 3 hour trip from our home in Central Wisconsin to Houston Minnesota, but it’s a beautiful drive and we only encountered a few rain drops on the way.

We get to our hotel in Houston that evening, drop off our bags, and head to registration to pick up our numbers and anything else we need, still no rain. We hit up JT’s Corner Bar and Grill (which has amazing food) and the rain shows up.

Race day and the rain hasn’t left, but looking at the forecast it seems like the rain should stop by early morning. We have some breakfast and head to the Houston Nature Center for the start of the race. We pull up and park, it’s pouring, thundering, and lightning, but warm!

The organizers made the call to delay our start for a half hour for the storm to pass. By the time we roll up to the start the rain has stopped and we’re off!

We rolled out a little bit later, but we were dry.

10 minutes after the start we’re climbing, it’s steep, some people are walking and some people are riding. But once we’re at the top we’re rewarded with amazing views, and a pretty nice descent. Even with all the rain the gravel is in really good shape with very few puddles. We continue on some amazing roads with outstanding scenery along with some good conversation with fellow riders. The next big climb comes around halfway through our route, it’s a long way up, but at the top of this climb we’re rewarded with a rest stop! We grab a quick snack and continue on. Everything continues to dry up and it's a smooth, fast descent back in to Houston.

We roll across the finish line hungry but happy and ready to grab some tacos and beer!

We head back to the van, change, grab our food, and find a spot to eat. We stick around for the raffle and awards, and while neither one of us got on the podium we did win some tires and a hat and man did they give out the swag! It seemed like everybody ended up getting something, and atmosphere was really upbeat even after such a soggy start to the day.

After that we load up and head home eagerly awaiting next years Winston County Gravel Cup.

Winston County Gravel Cup organizers




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