A scene from the Almanzo race.
A scene from the Almanzo race.
A new record for entries, a possible new start and finish line, and a new, even longer, race are all changes in the Almanzo series of endurance bicycle races in Spring Valley during Wilderfest weekend May 17 to 19.

A total of 1,316 entries have been made to the Almanzo 100-mile bicycle race this year, surpassing the 800-plus entries from last year. Another 65 people have entered the Royal, a 162-mile bicycle race, and 35 have signed up for the newest race, the Alexander, a 380-mile journey that begins the day before the other two established races.

The start and finish line to the race are hoped to move downtown this year for the endurance bicycle races. The races had been stationed at the high school, but last year was moved to a subdivision on the north edge of town due to a conflict in scheduling.

Race organizer Chris Skogen requested that the races move to the downtown area this year. He said he made the request for the change because it "will allow the racers to better interact with the community of Spring Valley and vice versa."

The Spring Valley City Council supports the move and last week granted permission to close streets temporarily in order to accommodate the request. The racers would use the Spring Valley Community Center as a base for operations.

However, the final determination hinges on permission from the Minnesota Department of Transportation because the route would need to cross Highways 16 & 63 near the tourist information center, closing the state highway down for about 15 minutes Saturday morning. City Administrator Deb Zimmer has made application to MnDOT and expects to hear back within a month.

If the start is from downtown, bicyclers would travel north on Broadway Avenue, get on the highway from Grant Street and go north to Warren Avenue, which would take them to Tracy Road, where they would turn east to the school and then follow the old route on Section Avenue north of Spring Valley to the gravel roads east of Spring Valley. Nearly all the remaining portion of the self-supported, free races is on gravel roads.

The newest race, the inaugural Alexander, is "born out of our desire to go further and see more," wrote Skogen on his Almanzo blog. It will kick off Friday, May 17, before the main races on Saturday.

The Alexander takes in all of the Almanzo 100 course and much of the Royal 162 course. The new route "will challenge even the most hardened riders and should not be undertaken casually," noted Skogen, as it has 25,000 feet of elevation gains and isolated stretches of up to 100 miles with no services.

This new long-distance gravel route will take bicyclists from Spring Valley down through Harmony to the town of Lansing, Iowa. From there they'll cross the Mississippi River into Wisconsin where the hills of the Driftless Region await. Once in Wisconsin, riders navigate their way 75 miles through the bluffs to Prairie du Chien, Wis. They will travel back across the river into Iowa, specifically Marquette, and then head south to McGregor. From there, they will travel north and west to Decorah for the last piece of civilization before returning to Spring Valley.

While the other races during Wilderfest weekend are named after members of the historical Wilder family, the Alexander is a living memorial to the baby of a volunteer that died three months after birth. The father had helped Skogen map the Almanzo racecourse and he was so impressed with what he was doing that he named the baby Alexander Almanzo.

"I know that this small gesture cannot begin to replace what has been lost," wrote Skogen in the Almanzo blog shortly after deciding to name the new race Alexander. "I only hope that in some small way the Alexander will stand as an opportunity. An opportunity to look out over magnificent horizons. To expand, to explore, to find new places. It will exist for all those who wish to undertake it. A permanent route for all to follow marked only by the name Alexander."

The free, self-supported bicycle races on gravel roads have attracted a lot of attention in the past year with a successful fundraiser party in Minneapolis, sponsors and publicity through a short film and several magazine articles.

Skogen founded the Almanzo 100 in 2007 and moved it to Spring Valley in 2010 when more than 300 people showed interest. The race has grown in numbers each year and in 2011, the Royal 162 was added. Registration this year ran from Jan. 1 to 31, with more than 1,400 bicyclists responding.

Wilderfest also features the Wilder Foot Races, which will return this year with the only change being that the 100-kilometer race will take place on Sunday along with the 30-kilometer and 50-kilometer races.

Registration is underway for the foot races. See more details on the sports page.

Local activities, including the citywide rummage sale, are also planned for that weekend. More details on those events will be announced later.