It’s time. The Killer Gravel Road Race is on the docket for 1,500 racers in Middleville, Michigan. By kolo tc estimates, over 100 people have already ridden the course in the past weeks to survey the route, identify the major challenges and to get comfortable with the character of the race. 

There’s a reason it’s the Barry-Roubaix, and it is not just because it sounds pretty close to ‘Paree’-Roubaix. Like L’enfer du Nord, the Killer is rough and tumble for the entirety of the race. There are no easy sections, no places to relax. If you’re comfortable on the paved sections, you aren’t going hard enough. Like any race, there are seconds and minutes hidden in every climb, every corner and in every straight away. With the help of Einstein Cycling’s David Bucholtz and Strava, here are a few links to check out and recon the course from the comfort of your computer.

Above is the course profile. It’s quite helpful to remember at what mile point the bigger climbs come. This is the 2011 version and is missing data from the new section, but you’ll get the general idea. Using last year’s route, I marked down the climbs at 7.5 miles, 18 miles, and 26 miles to be ready and well-placed when the road tilted upward. The first, famous and perhaps most important climb comes just two miles into the race, so there’s no need to write that down. It’ll be on you in a hot second. Here it is already…

The people you summit Sager Rd with will be the group you ride with for a long ways. Just like at Flanders and the Roubaix, positioning before this section will be huge. Teams that can organize and move to the front en masse will have a numerical advantage at the top. Especially in the 62 mile race, having a teammate or two can make a huge difference. Teams like Bissell, Farm Team, and Einstein with a lot of riders may dedicate a few domestiques to shuffle their big guns to the front just before the race turns up Sager. The climb is harder than the numbers indicate. It’s 1.1 miles long at an average gradient of 2.1% for a total elevation gain of 149 feet. But it’s rough, rutted and swarmed with riders all jockeying for position. Don’t be at the back, or you may have to pass the riff-raff in the shrubbery. That wasted energy doesn’t come back easily.

When the road, gravel or paved, falls off into a descent, look for other groups going faster. There are a number of very strong riders trapped on Sager that come storming by shortly after. Hop onto their wheel and hold on for dear life. If the course is still wet and muddy by race day, certain sections of even the better gravel roads will be sloppy. Hit the high-side of the road to avoid that speed-suck soft stuff.

The next big hurdle is the Eye of the Tiger Climb. Named after a precious stone unearthed near the base worth $25,000 (not really, they just play “Eye of the Tiger” on repeat while you climb), this is a real killer in the Killer. Groups have already formed, but the weaker rides tucked away on the backs have a tendency to come off here. For any group with more than one teammate, this is a great, far-off chance to send one rider and let the other one sit in to let the rest of the group chase. The Eye of the Tiger is a launching pad for attacks, not unlike the Poggio at Milan-San Remo. If you top this hill with a sprinter, they will probably last the rest of the way. This hill is a bit larger than Sager at .9 miles at 3.3% and an elevation gain of 163 feet, but is a lot smoother. It’s a gravel road in good repair, but is much more exposed in the wind. Tuck in at the base and hit it when you’re headed up, and the hill itself should shield you a bit until you crest the summit.

With the new Shaw Road section this year, the base of the last big climb is clipped, but you’ll still get a solid race and a steep section of the final test before the sprint. The Gun Lake Climb is on pavement, but comes with some seriously hard miles already in the legs and the beginnings of late-race shenanigans. This year, riders will just have turned off of Shaw Road, making this climb a bittersweet  relief: it’s pavement, sure, but the road turns immediately up. A headwind here could somewhat negate the hill’s selectiveness, but after this much racing, there’s no way to tell how it will hurt riders. It’s the only climb where cyclocross bikes will have a distinct advantage over fatter tires. Last year, more than a few riders said the decision to go with 1.95″ tires on a 29er was worth it for this climb alone, and the skinnier CXers will benefit even more. At .9 miles long with a 3.3% gradient, Gun Lake brings riders up 183 feet. It was last year’s (and should be this year’s, too) cima coppi, or highest point in the race at about 1,055 feet above sea level. It’s summit comes at 27 miles, and it’s is almost entirely downhill for the remainder of the race. For MTBers, it’s best to drop the CXers before the pavement and hope they don’t catch you…here’s to dreaming.

GTMTBA‘s Emily S. says the course was wet and muddy March 11, but fast. “I LOVE that ride- its like the hurt locker that makes you smile cuz you can’t help it!” she chirped via Facebook.

Conditions of the gravel sections should be wet again after the rain comes Friday and Saturday, but as dry as its been, should be absorbed rather quickly.

Einstein Racing‘s cream of the crop will be in attendance and in full force for the Elite rider as well as the 35 miler.