A Thousand to None: Grassroots and pro gravel keep different scores

The National Interscholastic Cycling Association is all-in for more teens on bikes. (Photo, CodaJet Photography)

This fall, I outed myself as a UCI-gravel agnostic. I wasn’t pining for the UCI’s involvement in gravel. But I believed the rise of “purely pro” gravel racing might just create fresh opportunities for grassroots gravel to cut its own “purely amateur” path.

I just had no idea how quickly (or how sharply) the two roads would diverge.

You cannot travel both roads and be one traveler. (Photo, thelightofliterature.blogspot.com)

Way over in Veneto, Italy, a gorgeous mid-October event billed itself as the world’s first 100% pro, 100% gravel race. Sounds 100% rad, except for one problema minuscola: the field at Serenissima Gravel was 0% female. (Let’s be clear: Serenissima Gravel was not a UCI-sanctioned race.)

Pro racer Alison Tetrick (@AMTetrick) wasn’t having it. “Wait. Seriously. Hold please,” she tweeted. “The first ‘pros only’ gravel race didn’t even have a women’s race? Cool, bro.”

Tip from a sarcasm professional: Tetrick doesn’t actually think this is cool. Also: You’re probably not her brother.

“Don’t tell me you are introducing a professional aspect of MY sport and not include EVERYONE,” Tetrick said. (Photo, livefeisty.com)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Pirate Cycling League spent the middle of October unveiling its latest initiative. “1,000 Women of Gravel Worlds” is PCL’s Big Hairy Audacious Goal to encourage (a lot) more women to ride gravel.

“We had just under 500 women at Gravel Worlds 2021, and we have set out to more than double that for 2022,” said PCL’s director of operations, Jason Strohbehn.

As recently as 2019, fewer than 500 riders for all Gravel Worlds distances, male and female, reached the finish line. So this goal for 2022 is … big. And benevolent. For each girl and woman who registers up to that 1,000-rider mark, Gravel Worlds, HMH Logistics, and an anonymous donor will together donate $15 to the Nebraska Interscholastic Cycling League’s “Girls Riding Together” (GRiT) campaign.

That’s 15 grand for kids and bikes in Nebraska. I took my daughter to a GRiT clinic at Van Dorn Park last spring, and I have nothing but great feelings for that group. By the session’s end, those girls were fired up, having fun, encouraging each other and nailing some pretty gnarly off-road drills.

GRiT is so dang cool I can hardly take it. (Photo, nebraskamtb.org/grit)

These two very different stories—of a race seeking 1,000 women and a race allowing none—just happened to hit my media feeds at the same time last month. And to me, they capture a contrast in values at a moment when pro and grassroots gravel events find themselves at a fork in the road.

Now, I’ll repeat: While Serenissima Gravel was a pro race, it was not a UCI race. And I’m (fairly) confident that once the UCI does unveil its world series of professional gravel races, we’ll find equity in its fields, courses, rules and payouts. (Heaven help them if they decide otherwise…)

But if you want events that reflect your values and support your communities, good Lord, grassroots gravel is where it’s at. And it’s not even close. By my count, the current score’s roughly a thousand to none.

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