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Commentary: A gravel Hall of Fame? Who do we think we are?

Gravel is my life, my career. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Like, really ahead.

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Amity Rockwell is a pro racer who won the 2019 Unbound Gravel 200.

Who do we think we are? I ask that in the most literal sense. Who are we? Do we even have any idea yet, in the infancy of this thing we’re calling gravel?

I’m embarrassed enough to cringe at using “we” in those sentences. Do I want a part of a discipline that is so focused on its own accolades that it is blind to the utter ridiculousness of a concept such as this? I’m being harsh, but somebody along the line has to.

I opened Instagram this morning to a post from one of my favorite meme accounts, @i_simp_alaphilippe, addressing the fact that a Gravel Cycling Hall of Fame is in the works in Emporia, Kansas, home to Unbound Gravel. (And yes, it’s an amusing aspect of the world we live in that these anonymous satire accounts are a primary news source. But if you look throughout history, humor has often been a digestible way to offer perspective.)

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I’m going to quote the account here, as I really can’t say it better myself:

“It’s been almost a whole year since we stopped celebrating blatantly insulting the group of people who our ancestors raped and murdered and drove off this land so that we could host casual recreational events on it, and we think it would really be very tasteful to erect a monument to ourselves here on that spot to commemorate our own achievements.”

As the post makes clear, we are still deep in the “growing pains” phase of the sport. It seems like every month there is a new debate — whether it’s addressing deeply problematic roots in colonialism and racism, or picking apart the dynamics of more than one gender racing each other at the same time, or arguing over the legitimacy of a series that uses vague criteria to determine the value of its applicants. I think it’s pretty obvious we have a lot of work to do.

I’m not trying to be sour grapes about gravel. Gravel is my life, my career. Gravel has given me everything I ever dreamed of, opportunities so profound I can’t wrap my head around them in real time.

The only point I wish to make here is that we are getting ahead of ourselves. Like, really ahead. And in doing so, are embarrassing ourselves and sabotaging our own potential at being a sound discipline in the sport of cycling.

The seeds are good, but have a lot of growing to do. Just because the discipline is suddenly turning a profit does not elevate any of us to gods. Don’t get me started on the whole fact that even this Hall of Fame concept is, of course, a money-making venture.

I believe the mark of deserving a Hall of Fame is standing the test of time, for the sport as a whole, but also for the individuals involved. Look at any other sport. Basketball, for example. Invented in 1891. Its Hall of Fame? First class 1959. The players you know the names of? Kobe Bryant, five rings, 18-time All Star, too many accolades to list, a household name to those who don’t know the first thing about the game. He was inducted posthumously, in 2020, after retiring in 2016. Michael Jordan? Cultural icon, six rings, inducted in 2009 after retiring in 2003.

We need to let history exist, become history, before we gild it. I’m sure our current “heroes” of the sport will look a lot different in ten years, twenty. Some will go on to be considered “greats” I am sure. Some will disappear. Some will embarrass themselves or turn out to be different than we thought. Time is the great equalizer. It strips away pretension, hype. Nobody deserves to be in the Hall of Fame for a sport that has yet to find its footing.

I could not be happier to play a small role in popularizing this weird corner of the bike industry. It is in gravel that I have felt freedom to be myself, speak my mind, race against men as their equal, and ride farther than I thought possible, literally and figuratively. But my head is on straight enough to know that the vast majority of people have no clue what gravel is. No clue it exists, much less why it matters.

I don’t think anyone understands the importance of doing the work so keenly as a professional athlete. You can talk as big a game as you want, but out there, in the Flint Hills, it’s about who trained with the most discipline. Who made all the right decisions, big and small. Who pushed themselves further, who took nothing for granted, who wrung out body and mind until nothing was left and then, tried harder.

We have not done the work. We are doing the work, slowly. I, for one, am having mostly a great time. Let’s not ruin it with what I will call egotism, though there is a more profane word that I believe is a little more accurate. Egotism only leads to complacency.

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