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Iowa’s gravel racing season officially started yesterday with the 14th annual Central Iowa Rural Rock Endurance Metric or commonly referred to as CIRREM.

From - It’s the greatest winter gravel bike race Iowa has ever seen. A 100k journey through the cold and winding hills of Madison County. You’ll do battle with friends, competing to outlast not only the grinding course but also mother nature’s wrath. Set in late February, riders must often brave snow, wind, and the difficulty of cycling over 66 miles of frozen gravel. CIRREM is not for the faint of heart, but for those who want to test their grit!

Five of Velorosa’s own lined up at the start: Ali Young, Kristin Reese, Michelle Smith-Jones, Heather Poskevich & Rose Willey. All are veteran gravel riders, with 4 of the 5 having raced this event before. All agree it’s always a challenging day simply because you never know what the weather, course, or gravel will be in February.

“Ali and a few beers gave me the courage/motivation to sign up.” Kristin shares she normally steers clear of this race but having a friend to bike with and no real expectations for the day - other than to make a couple of snow angels - made for a really fun day for her. She also shared the hardest part was showing up. She actually changed her mind at least 5 times because she wasn’t sure what the roads would be like. ”It’s always a great day when I can spend it outside with so many other like-minded people and then share race stories when we are done!” This was Kristin’s first CIRREM!

Michele Smith Jones is a veteran CIRREM racer and shared this race has always been a favorite of hers because it’s a great chance to see friends after a long Winter. For her, it had been a few years since she’s raced this event but it gives her a lot of personal satisfaction to know that if she can get through CIRREM, she can get through anything. “When you ride it year after year, through every possible condition, you remember every hill that you fought and beat.” That’s how it was for her this year. While it may not have been her fastest time, it was definitely the most fun she’s had at CIRREM. She spent the day trading pulls, riding with friends, and enjoyed seeing other friends who appeared roadside to cheer along the course. All this kept her motivated and propelled her to the finish line and 2nd place in the Women’s Masters division!

It’s Rose Willey‘s 5th CIRREM. “I’ve raced it 4 times, including today, and one year it was so icy (2019) I didn’t start.” She shares that she proudly holds the DFL for CIRREM when she rode it for the first time on a 65lb fat bike with a trunk bag on the back where she carried a foot-long sub to get her through the day. For her fifth CIRREM she admits as of Friday afternoon, she wasn’t even sure she was going to race, uncomfortable with the snowy gravel roads and challenges that could bring. “I got my bike and gear ready anyway, headed down to the start, and figured once there I would decide. I told myself since I had already paid for the pre-ride breakfast and a pair of socks I may as well collect!” Of course, once there she decided to line up and take it one mile at a time, see how the day goes. Rose shares that CIRREM has become a bit of a stick by which she measures her progress as a gravel racer. “It’s been a lot of fun to come back each year and see my growth as I tackle the now very familiar tough climbs and other challenges of the course.” Rose shared her race day highlights include trying like heck to hang onto Heather Poskevich’s wheel for the first 10 miles without her legs falling off, mile 40 when her legs finally “woke up” and that the last 25 miles were her favorite because she was really enjoying the course, the tailwinds and trading pulls with some Bike Iowa racers to the finish line. “It’s such a treat for me to get to ride with people, in past years I’ve been farther back in the pack and haven’t been strong enough to do so, I was definitely enjoying the camaraderie and our mutual suffering as we climbed the last few hills together.” Taking it one mile at a time worked out for Rose as she placed 3rd in the Women’s Open division.

Heather Poskevich often questions herself, “Why do I choose CIRREM every year?“ She’s raced CIRREM 4 times on the course and a 5th time virtually. Three times in the Women’s Open category and this year as a Fat Bike. What she likes is that this race is grassroots and local. “Kent Carlson consistently offers a great event with swag, prizes for podium finishers, and a meal at the finish. It’s a great chance for the cycling community to see each other early in the season.” Heather shared it also forces her to start training consistently for the upcoming race season. “This race is always challenging. If the weather doesn’t add enough spice, the 5300ft of climb definitely will. That said, you can make this event anything you want it to be…..ride part of it or all of it. You can hang with your friends or test your limits. Unwind at the Cumming Tap and prepare to have a fun-filled day!” Heather has learned a lot about racing in a pack, pacing strategy, and usually had some challenge that makes her rise to the occasion at this event. Similar to other racer stories, she says she’s grown as a racer in this event. “It has evolved from an early race where I had no idea what I was doing to trying to hone my skill and be competitive, to finishing on the podium with very talented individuals. So even though I’m always a bit preoccupied by the weather, I’ll probably do it again next year!”

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