Competitors a helpful bunch in 2021 Open Range Gravel Race that started in Pratt on Saturday

Brandon Case
Pratt Tribune
Sam Jones of McClouth finished the 2021 Open Range Gravel Race on a borrowed bicycle after hers became incapacitated in heavy grass on Saturday on an all-terrain course that wound it's way through Pratt and Barber counties.

Kansas has a longstanding tradition of neighbor helping neighbor, and this ethos was apparent on the 2021 Open Range Gravel event, which started and finished at Lemon Park last weekend.

Case in point: Sam Jones of McClouth, Kansas, was riding the Open Range tour with friends up a steep section of the route on the Alexander Ranch in Barber County when the rear derailleur of her bicycle snagged on some sturdy grass, causing her derailleur hangar to snap off. Her friends attempted, unsuccessfully, to convert her multispeed bike into a single-speed one.

Jones called race/tour director Eric Sutter, who then contacted ranch owner Brian Alexander. Alexander drove out on his ATV and found Jones and brought her and the broken bicycle back to ranch headquarters. In the meantime, Sutter’s parents drove out to the ranch with his mountain bike, a loaner for Jones. It was a perfect fit, too. She said she didn’t even have to adjust the seat height.

With this borrowed mountain bike in the back of the ATV, Jones and Alexander then tracked down her friends, who were still riding across ranch’s land, and she continued the tour.

“There were a lot of logistics in there,” said Jones, who expressed gratitude for the loan of the bicycle, which allowed her to finish the course.

Open Range event director Sutter reported that 412 riders had signed up for the 4th annual event, more than had ever registered in previous years. Around 300 of those registrants actually participated in the event. See the start of the 2021 Open Range Gravel Race in Pratt

Sutter gave “a big shout out to the landowners for letting us use their land for part of the course.” The event director also noted that “we keep getting positive comments about how fantastic our volunteers are,” and he thanked the many event volunteers from Pratt County, Barber County and elsewhere, without whom the event would not be possible.

The 200K route included four stream crossings. At one point during the tour, a group of cyclists converged at one such crossing. Cyclists on one side of the water handed bicycles across to cyclists on the other side, allow the unencumbered cyclist to then easily jump across the water.

Further evidence of working together began as a friendly conversation between Doug Rowland, who has resides in both Wichita and Sun City, and Eric Sutter. Sutter was looking for a support stop in Sun City. Rowland’s aunt just happens to be pastor of Our Father’s House of Worship in the small community (Rowland also plays drums in the church band). Subsequently, for the past few Open Ranges, the church has provided a restroom and water stop for the event.

“It has been a great outreach: love people, serve people, and cheer them on,” Rowland said.

This year, Rowland rode the 200K Open Range tour with his cousin, Thomas Hammond, who lives just north of Coats. The two often ride together on weekends, creating their own, public-road routes through the Gyp Hills.

Hammond said he has ridden every year of the Open Range since it began, including the 200K race on the inaugural year of the event. This was the first time he rode the tour.

“I like this where they break up the 200K into two days,” Hammond said.

Another helping hand was lent to the Open Range event by Jason Ebberts of Overland Park. Up until 2021, he had also ridden every year of the Open Range. This year, Sutter asked him to be the event photographer, and he agreed to do so. Ebberts has previously been an event photographer for the Dirty Kanza, based out of Emporia.

Dedicated gravel riders came from all over Kansas, and many other states, to participate in the Open Range. One of those riding was Neil Taylor of Emporia. Taylor is co-host and content creator for the show, “This Is Gravel,” which can be found at gravelguru.com. The show and website are an unpaid love of labor for him and two other Emporia residents (look for a segment on the 2021 Open Range to appear soon).

Taylor had high praise for the Open Range event. 

“I love, one, the scenery. You don’t feel like you are in Kansas at certain points on this ride. I also like the different road conditions—gravel, bumpy ranch roads, fine sand, flat sections, hills, and pavement. You get a nice mix of everything,” Taylor said.

Beautiful scenery from rural areas in Pratt and Barber counties greated bicycle riders competing in the 2021 Open Range Gravel Race, like this hilly vista and red dirt road in the Gypsum Hills.

The Open Range attracted numerous riders from the Wichita area, including CJ Rausch of Bel Aire and Blake Barnard of Maize, who both enjoyed their two-day, 200K tour.

“It’s a great event. It’s challenging. It’s for a good cause. I like to support things like that,” Rausch said.

Barnard expressed similar sentiments.

“It was an amazing and beautiful ride—some of the best scenery in Kansas. It was very challenging,” he said. “Kudos to those guys who did the whole thing in one day.”

Speaking of those who completed the ride in one day, Jonathan Cavner of Colorado Springs finished first in the 200K race, joined by Reid Foster of Edmond, Oklahoma, who was second, and Nick Gould, also of Colorado Springs, who took third.

Top finishers for the 200k men's open catagory of the 2021 Open Range Gravel Race last weekend were (from left)  Jonathan Cavner, 1st; Reid Foster, 2nd; Nick Gould, 3rd.

Incidentally, Cavner's GPS recorded an average speed of 20.21 mph (appropriate for this year) for the 129 mile distance, which is, unofficially, a new course record.

Only a couple of riders had to be treated by Pratt County EMS during this year’s Open Range. Nathan Wadsworth, Wichita, accidentally bumped the tire of the rider in front of him and went down, hitting his head. Nevertheless, Wadsworth got up and rode on to the finish line, placing in the top 10 for the 200K Men’s Open category.

Another rider also had a fall, hitting his head and breaking his collarbone. Race director Sutter reports that this rider will no doubt see the humor in the raffle prize he won at the event: a brand new helmet.