Torbjorn “Toby” Andre Røed wins Mid South!

The Driftless crew had a blast winning sprints and soaking up the atmosphere at one of the best gravel celebrations in the world

Mid South Gravel event is one of the sport’s best parties. There are few better ways to celebrate the spirit of gravel, as well as kick off a season, than the 100-mile race in Stillwater, Oklahoma. And this year, the racing lived up to the standards set by the impeccable sights and atmosphere.

Just ask Torbjorn “Toby” Andre Røed. The newly-minted Trek Driftless rider went to his first ever edition of Mid South and left with a thrilling sprint victory. After nearly four-and-a-half hours of racing, Just two seconds separated the 27-year-old from seventh-place Nicolas Roche. Røed’s Driftless squadmate Russell Finsterwald finished fourth. They were two of the most aggressive riders on the day.

The Driftless gang warming up for Mid South. Left to right: Haley Hunter Smith, Russell Finsterwald and Torbjorn Andre Røed.

“I truly had a blast ripping the red dirt roads of Oklahoma,” Finsterwald wrote on Instagram after the race. “I felt like scanning for ruts all day took more mental focus than riding singletrack. All ruts successfully avoided!”

A dusty, dry, windless day kept speeds high and made gaps difficult to maintain. A stretch of singletrack with 13 miles to go proved to be decisive in the men’s race. Finsterwald attacked and was briefly in the lead with Griffin Easter, before Røed helped lead a chase group up to the leaders.

Haley Hunter Smith sprinting to fourth in Stillwater.

Eventually that lead group would whittle itself down to the seven riders who crossed the line within two seconds of each other. Last year, Røed surprised himself by winning a reduced bunch sprint at Big Sugar. On Saturday, he proved that his big kick was no fluke. 

“So thankful for the support crew that made it all possible,” Røed wrote on Instagram. “The bike, the equipment, feeding, and more! Thank you.”

Haley Hunter Smith similarly had to win a bunch sprint to take fourth place in the women’s category, edging out Cecily Decker by one second. No one could touch Lauren De Crescenzo, who was the fastest woman by more than six minutes over second-place Jenna Rinehart. 

Smith’s takeaways from the event were that 1) she would have loved more singletrack (unsurprisingly for a longtime XC racer), and that 2) Mid South was a helluva time. 

Russell Finsterwald shaking out the legs before Mid South.

“As always, a million stories and moments from today,” Smith wrote on Instagram. “Mid South! Wow. That was hard. And fun? Very happy to win the bunch sprint for fourth, because I usually mess those up. And gals that was so amazing to get to race against you all for real.”

Røed, Finsterwald and Smith are the three newest members of the Driftless crew, with Paige Onweller returning but currently on the mend from a foot injury (get well soon!) They’ll be rolling forward by taking on some of the most unique cycling events in the world (see: Finsty’s trip to Colombia for the brutally difficult Transcordilleras) while also showing up in full force to gravel racing’s biggest events like Mid South.

Russell's post-race cockpit.

The Seat Otter Classic in Monterey, Calif., on April 19 will be the crew’s next big test together. If Mid South was any indication, the fireworks show is far from over. 

“Not a bad debut weekend for the newcomers on the Driftless squad!” Finsterwald said. “Big shoutout to everyone behind the scenes who got us to the start line rolling like a well oiled machine this weekend. It’s going to be a fun season.”