Wausau, Wisconsin – Most wouldn’t expect that cyclists would find an epic ride on the backroads in Central Wisconsin, but racers at IRONBULL’s inaugural Red Granite Grinder found just that on Saturday, October 19, 2019. A climb to the top of Rib Mountain at the start of the race set the tone for the day.
“I didn’t know we had this many hills,” said Wausau native, Scott Schmoldt, who finished the 80 mile route in 6 hours 46 minutes. “The course designers must have found every single hill in the county.”
Race directors Shane Hitz and Shane Stuard spent months designing a race course to challenge both the 80- and 140-mile riders in IRONBULL’s first bike event. They led riders around Central Wisconsin and showcased backroad gems many riders had never experienced.
“Gravel bike races typically connect interesting places we don’t notice,” said Stuard, a gravel ride enthusiast. Overall 80 mile champion, Todd Meerdink, member of the Waupaca County Greenways Committee, reflected on the event.
“This was a small event, but your team treated it as a big event. The support you had from volunteers was amazing. A big kudos to the course designer. The route was amazing – hills, rocks, gravel, trails, woods, bridges – it had it all.” Hitz, is already making plans for additional featured sections for 2020 that he discovered when planning this year’s routes.
“Riders raved about the course and volunteer support at the finish line.” said Hitz, who is a first-time race director. “Next year we’ll have an even better experience for racers with a year under our belts.”
Many riders were enticed to participate in the event after IRONBULL announced that the trails at Rib Mountain State Park would be featured on the route. After working for months with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, IRONBULL was granted a Special Events Permit for this one day – the first time bikes have been allowed on trails at Rib Mountain State Park.
To ensure rider safety and trail integrity on the hiking trails, riders were required to carry their bikes for nearly a mile. Volunteers were also required to line the entire trail at Rib Mountain State Park in case there was an injury.
And this was just the beginning of volunteers supporting riders. Volunteers manned multiple aid stations, including one in the middle of the Wausau School Forest where a family of elves warned riders of a blind staircase leading down to the creek. Riders were served pickles, cookies, and gummies by enthusiastic Central Wisconsin Cycling Coalition (CWOCC) board members dressed as lumberjacks.
But it wasn’t just IRONBULL that pulled off the race. IRONBULL sought permissions from more than a dozen townships and municipalities. Two key players to ensure participant safety were the Wausau Police Department which provided a police escort at the start on the 400 Block and the Marathon County Sheriff’s Department. After commencing plans for the race, IRONBULL executive director, Andrea Larson, soon discovered why there isn’t already a similar race taking place.
“The monumental effort to coordinate the Red Granite Grinder between property owners, law enforcement, vendors, and municipalities required tracking down the right entities, countless hours of planning, and clear lines of communication,” says Larson. “We are so fortunate to live where we do with such a supportive community.”
The effort paid off, attracting riders from Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Madison. Altogether over 100 riders and another 35 volunteers registered for the race. Riders had such a positive race experience that several stated they’d tell everyone they know to come next year.
To accommodate riders of all ability levels, IRONBULL held a 12-mile ride highlighting parks and bike paths accessible from the heart of downtown Wausau. The youngest rider of the day was just 4 years old. Next year, IRONBULL has plans to add another race between 12 and 80 miles to target a wider range of ability levels.
This is just IRONBULL’s second event, with this month’s IRONBULL Ultra Trail 50k/15k setting the tone for the quality of IRONBULL events. Christine Liedtke raced in the IRONBULL Ultra Trail 15k and then returned to volunteer at the Red Granite Grinder. “Another awesome race. I am thoroughly impressed with all aspects of each race as both a racer and volunteer,” says Liedtke.
Dave Eckmann, President/CEO of the Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce, also raced in the IRONBULL Ultra Trail 15k, and returned to the Red Granite Grinder, this time as the honorary race starter.
IRONBULL has six events slated for 2020, including Wausau’s first winter triathlon. The IRONBULL Winter Triathlon will include cross-country skiing, fat tire biking, and snowshoeing. This event will highlight another one of Wisconsin’s four seasons and will be held at Nine Mile Forest Recreational Area on January 26, 2020.
Next year’s IRONBULL Red Granite Grinder will be held October 17, 2020. Full results can be found at https://www.ironbull.org/results-grinder-2019