Will 2020 Be the Year Gravel Begins to Suck?

Gravel cyclists have never had it so good. We’re swimming in new tech, and our most popular races brim in minutes with fields of homegrown, and even world-class talent.

We’ve discovered, to our collective astonishment, that this pile of Great Plains gravel is dripping in diamonds. In Lincoln alone, there’s the gravel guy who set three individual pursuit world records on his way to a podium finish at the Track Cycling World Championships. And another Lincolnite’s riding so strong he’s got Velo News talking about his power profile.

The professional traffic between pavement and gravel now runs in both directions. Alison Tetrick and Ted King are no longer lonely oddities as pro road racers churning up dust at gravel events. Other paid paved super-predators like Peter Stetina and Lachlan Morton have either abandoned the World Tour in favor of the road less traveled or are splitting their seasons.

And pavement’s Education First invited gravel legend Colin Strickland to mix it up with the wolves at Paris Roubaix. (It was an invitation Strickland ultimately declined.)

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Strickland ran away from EF’s contingent—and everyone else—to win the buckle at DK 2019. (Photo, enve.com)

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Belt buckles are cool. But who wouldn’t be tempted to reach for a chip off this old block? Paris Roubaix’s cobblestone is up there with Lord Stanley’s cup on the list of pro sports’ coolest trophies. (Photo, dailytimes.com)

Gravel’s popularity has attracted more (and more powerful) eyeballs. And partly as a result of our good fortune, a great many of us see trouble ahead.

Finally—inexorably—the ass-wipes are moving.

Velo News reported Friday that the UCI is working on a Gravel World Championships. UCI’s head wipe, David Lappartient, said, “We discussed it and it is something we are working on.”

And instantly, about 50,000 gravel cyclists vurped bile.

“We already have a Gravel Worlds,” said Kristi Mohn, who codirects Dirty Kanza. “That was my initial reaction.”

JOM, the Gravel Cyclist, took it a step further.

“Paging the UCI and USA Cycling,” JOM said on social media. “We already have a fun Gravel Worlds 2020 hosted by those awesome guys at Pirate Cycling League in Lincoln, Nebraska. The grassroots version of gravel cycling … [isn’t] going to follow stupid rules and guidelines about bikes, categories and whatever else you want to dream up.”

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JOM knows his stuff.

Riders wondered aloud what the UCI-authorized sock height and pea gravel diameter might be. Others asked whether they could beat the rush and submit unreasonable quantities of their whiskey-infused urine for analysis now. And the more sincere advised the Pirate Cycling League to lawyer up before the UCI swiped their event’s good name.

We’re getting a little worked up. The local temperature is such that Gravel Worlds cofounder Corey Godfrey has urged folks to cool their jets. “Everything is going to be OK,” he said.

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And he’s right. Regardless of what the UCI does, the culture of grassroots gravel cycling will continue to be whatever we make it.

That’s reason enough to relax today. But it isn’t inherently good news. We need to remember: Even without the UCI’s help, we’re more than capable of hurting gravel cycling ourselves.

If 2020 does go down as the year gravel started to suck, I don’t think it’ll be the UCI or corporate influence or media or aerobars that get us. It’ll be our own sorry inclination toward dickishness.

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There’s a thin line between being a gravel purist and being a pure asshole. Lael Wilcox can tell you stories.

It’s perfectly appropriate to remind the UCI and others that #wealreadyhaveaGravelWorlds. And we should merrily scoff at any outside attempts to regulate, co-opt or monetize the good things we have going.

But if we’re truly concerned about the well-being of our sport in 2020, there’s a lot more we can do than just flip the bird at the UCI.

Off the top of my head, here are seven.

  1. Sign up for grassroots races—especially the smaller ones. Their health is our health.
  2. Spend your cash at local bike shops and businesses that support your favorite events. And tell them that’s how they earned your business.
  3. Show respect to the farmers and ranchers we share these roads with. If we fall out with them, it’s a long road back.
  4. Invite friends to ride with you. Then make sure they enjoy it. (This is NOT your opportunity to prove you’re fast.)
  5. Ride nice in town. Don’t go buzzing moms on trails. They’ll see your dirt tan and decide what kind of people we are.
  6. Not racing? Volunteer.
  7. Be impressed. The speed and the distance are nearly irrelevant. If you see someone riding at their limit and you’re not impressed by that, what exactly are you doing out there?

At Gravel Worlds, two of us get swords and the other 748 of us lose. Obviously, a lot hinges on how we approach not getting our way. How do we deal with the suck? As our sport takes these stomach-churning swings of rapid growth and change, the same mindset applies.

Can we still be who we are—can we still do what we do—when the circumstances swirling around us go sideways?

Do you realize how good it feels when the answer to that question is a simple yes?

 

 


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