There’s plenty of good gravel news to report. Gravel cycling’s popularity is booming. Events are growing and multiplying. Well-positioned cities—like a Lincoln, a Lawrence, a Little Rock—can now, if they play their cards right, host full seasons of gravel events with triple-digit fields. It’s to the point where even back-roads blogs like this one can reach hundreds of gravel-hungry folks like you at a time. Readers and riders from all over.
Everywhere you look this summer, more people are rolling home with serious dirt tans. Beasts. Dad-bods. Women. Teens. It’s awesome.
But it shouldn’t surprise anybody that this growth has come complete with growing pains.
We’ve written (more than once) (well, several times, really) about the lines emerging in the gravel between the old-school types and the new. On most occasions, we’ve hoisted the Dirt Tan flag on the old-school side of the road. And we’ve done our best to coax good-natured types like you to pedal over here with us.
Without meaning to, we’ve maybe added to the divisive notion that all the friendly folks are riding over here. And the tools? They’re all over there. And nothing feeds toolishness in America quite like the certainty that all the tools are on the other side.
Look what happened this year at the (aptly named) Tour Divide. This monster ultra-endurance bikepacking race takes crazies along the continental divide from Banff, Alberta, to Antelope Wells, N.M., at the Mexico border. That’s the race where Lincoln’s Corey Godfrey pulled up to let a grizzly cross the road. It ain’t for the faint.
And while the race has always held a cult following, its recent popularity has spiked alongside gravel’s boom. Interest in TD is up. And industry players have moved to align themselves with the event to win eyes.
Sponsors of elite ultra racer Lael Wilcox pitched in to fund a documentary of this year’s Tour Divide that would follow Wilcox’s race experience.
Cue the old-school tools…
One post to the Tour Divide Facebook page read like this: “Racing a self-supported endurance race with a film crew in tow is not self-supported endurance racing. Discuss.”
And boy howdy, did people discuss.
Wilcox’s partner, Rugile Kaladyte, would direct the film. And a vocal minority cried foul, saying her presence on the course would offer Wilcox an unfairly advantageous emotional boost. They pointed to the Tour Divide’s rule on visitation.
“Visitation: Divide racing is not intended to be a spectator sport! However, route-town locals only may interact with (i.e. visit briefly, cheer on) thru-racers as they pass through their locale. Out-of-town visitation to the GDMBR mid-race from challengers’ family or friends—even if only a ‘loosely-planned’, remote possibility for rider rendezvous—is prohibited.”
The nefarious Lael Wilcox (left) and her performance enhancing documentarian, Rue Kaladyte (right). (Photos, Rugile Kaladyte)
Like every other racer, Wilcox agreed to abide by this rule. She and Kaladyte would not visit one another between the start and finish. Unlike everyone else, she and Kaladyte were required to go to great lengths to prove their adherence.
Kaladyte wore a GPS device to show she was leaving her film crew and retreating from the course whenever Wilcox rode near. And, strangely, Wilcox was asked to ride without a cell phone, evidently to eliminate Kaladyte’s ability to text supportive messages to her. (No other racer was asked to do this.) To her credit, Wilcox refused this request as it was arbitrary and would affect her safety on the course, leaving her less able to communicate in an emergency.
Despite these steps, the old-school guard remained skeptical, chilly and dismissive to both women and the film crew throughout the race’s first half. Kaladyte described the hostility for the Radavist.
Fed up, Wilcox eventually scratched mid-race, had breakfast with her partner, then dumped the GPS shackle and carried on as a rider, not a racer.
The ugliness of it all got me thinking. The elbows thrown at Wilcox and Kaladyte were delivered in the name of gravel’s old school. (Our school. The so-called good guys.) Those elbows belonged to men and women (mostly men) who believed they were defending the integrity and purity of a race and a sport we love.
But the marks show most on our integrity. Our purity.
It’s often when we’re most convinced we’re defending old-school principles that we end up betraying them. For instance: What happened to the old-school idea of trust in fair play? Hey, guys! Nobody break the rules out there, OK? Why didn’t we give Wilcox her fair share of that old-time attitude?
As gravel racing grows and changes, as more people watch and the stakes grow, all of us old-school types would do well to hold firmest to the old-schooliest rule of them all.
Please. For the love of gravel. Don’t be lame.