Julie Mlinar of Spring Valley sings the national anthem while the color guard made up of local veterans stands in front of the mass of bicyclists waiting to start the Almanzo 100 Saturday morning. DAVID PHILLIPS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Julie Mlinar of Spring Valley sings the national anthem while the color guard made up of local veterans stands in front of the mass of bicyclists waiting to start the Almanzo 100 Saturday morning. DAVID PHILLIPS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Another record number of participants took the starting line of the Almanzo 100 and related races last weekend as an estimated 1,400 of the 1,800 registered bicyclists showed up in Spring Valley.

The previous year, about 1,000 of the 1,500 took off on what organizer Chris Skogen told bicyclists lined up Saturday morning for the Almanzo 100 is "just a long bike ride with a lot of your friends." The challenging race covers 100 miles of gravel roads in Fillmore County - and the Almanzo is the shortest in distance of the three races held over the weekend.

The bicyclists gathered in nearly perfect conditions Saturday morning under sunny skies in downtown Spring Valley. However, over the course of the day, the winds picked up and, with new rock on many of the gravel roads, the conditions were more challenging than appeared that morning.

The Almanzo 100 had a repeat winner - Eric Thompson - who finished in five hours and 22 minutes. The winner gets a Mason jar full of gravel in the free self-supported race.

There were plenty of adventures on the gravel roads, the most unusual one when three horses joined the bicyclists for several miles in an area between Fillmore and Wykoff. Several bicyclists had video of the romp, which caused reactions from wonder to fear.

The Wilderfest weekend also included grass track races at the city camping area Friday evening. The weather was much colder and windy, which likely cut into some of the participation and the number of spectators.

Skogen told Todd Jones, a member of Spring Valley Tourism, that everything went smoothly.

Participants also left many messages of thanks on the Facebook page of Spring Valley Tourism, commenting about the welcome they got from the community.

"The kind folks of Spring Valley play a huge part in the success of the Almanzo event," wrote participant Stu Garwick of Belvidere, Ill. "We're already looking forward to next year."

The racers have a big impact on Spring Valley, filling the local hotel, taking up seats at local eating establishments and using other services.

"I am so proud of our town," said Spring Valley Tourism member Kathy Simpson, who has worked with Skogen on the event over the years. "This is an internationally known and respected race and it happens in our little corner of the world. Thank you, Chris Skogen for bringing the race, and thank you Spring Valley for making the race participants feel at home."