Gravel
Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images (File).

Q&A: Why Lars Boom is heading to Vermont for the Rasputitsa gravel race

The typical European pro roadie might shy away from gravel racing, but for Lars Boom, it's one more way to mix in fun and different races to his ordinary calendar.

He’s been racing in the WorldTour for 11 years, he’s won a Tour de France stage and a world cyclocross championship — but Lars Boom has never tried his hand at a gravel race. This weekend, he’ll head to Northern Vermont to take part in the Rasputitsa gravel race on Saturday.

It seemed like an unusual mid-season vacation for a European pro. So, we called up Boom to learn more about why he’s dipping his toe into the growing pool of gravel events. As you might expect from a rider who cut his teeth on muddy, sketchy cyclocross circuits, Rasputitsa’s snowy hike-a-bike sections and rough terrain is right up his alley.

VeloNews: How did you end up deciding to do Rasputitsa?

Lars Boom: I was thinking already for a long time to try to widen my range of cycling, like cyclocross, mountain bike, and I know gravel racing is getting popular more and more, even in Europe I think. I was starting just to follow some people on Instagram, and then I was talking with the guys from the race, and I was looking that this was a pretty good period to go, so I decided to go. I talked with the team to arrange that everything was OK and arrange a bike. I just decided to go, looked for good [plane] tickets, and that was OK.

VN: Was it hard to convince your team to let you go do a gravel race?

LB: No, I already did some cyclocross last winter, and they know I do some mountain bike racing in the end of the summer so, no I didn’t have to convince them because I know they know I’m free, they know I like to do it, and I think it’s nice to do, so it was not much convincing to do.

VN: And will this be your first gravel race?

LB: Yes, yes.

VN: At amateur events like this, is it hard for you to turn off your competitive instinct and relax a little bit?

LB: Yeah maybe, but I also want to feel the atmosphere, feel how the people who do gravel racing, how do they go to a race, feel the vibe, because I think it’s a totally different atmosphere, a totally different vibe in a race like this than a normal race. For sure I have to shut it off a little bit, but still, they also are quite competitive I think, so they also want to race a little bit.

VN: It can get fast in gravel races, but I’m sure by your standards it’s not too competitive!

LB: Yeah, but still… [laughs]

VN: Will it be tough to do this race with snow and hike-a-bikes after hard spring classics like Paris-Roubaix?

LB: That’s nice. That’s the nice thing about these races, especially Rasputitsa, because it’s still in the snow. Nah, I’m recovered from Roubaix. I needed three or four days because for me it was a quite hard one this year. I was always working on the cobblestones. It’s quite shit and you still have to work really hard to get over those cobblestones. In the end, it cost me a lot of energy and I didn’t have a good result. But now I feel better again.

VN: You’re a busy guy!

LB: Yeah, it’s a busy period for us. After I go to Burke, Vermont, I will come back home and have a week of rest and chill out.

VN: Have you heard much about how EF Education First is also planning to do some gravel racing this summer?

LB: Yeah I know. That’s why I’m also interested to do some kind of these races. I think for the sponsors, you widen the range of people you meet and then you also show your sponsor to more people I think, especially nowadays with the bike manufacturers, they have a different range of bikes. Also for Factor [his bike sponsor], it is good that I ride these races.

VN: Your team is sponsored by European brands. Are they trying to expand their appeal to America?

LB: I don’t know, I think it’s mostly about the bike, the bike sponsor. For sure, Roompot and Charles are really European-based and the interest is in Europe so for them it’s not so attractive I think, but for Factor, it can be quite attractive.

VN: And they do have that new gravel bike, so I imagine they’re trying to show that off.

LB: Yeah, I think so.

VN: After that, will you do any gravel races over in Europe?

LB: Yeah for sure because if I have the time, if I don’t do a race on a normal bike, then it’s perfect.

VN: Is gravel becoming more popular in Europe?

LB: Yeah, I think so, I think [CCC rider] Laurens Ten Dam has a race also now. He’s trying to make it more popular also, so I think it’s good, that’s quite nice.

VN: Hopefully we’ll see you at other American gravel races in the future, perhaps Dirty Kanza?

LB: I have to have a look because I would also like to come more to the States because I like it there and my family likes it there, so we have to make a combo with more races. It would be nice.

VN: Maybe we’ll see you at Dirty Kanza in 2020?

LB: I’ll have it in mind!

This interview was edited for length and clarity.