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No one was replying to Fabian Serralta’s DMs.
After he’d set a date — May 22 — for Gravel Locos, his new gravel event in Hico, Texas, the first-time race promoter reached out via social media to all the gravel heavies he could think of to ask for their support.
Only one responded right away.
“Ted King replied,” Serralta told VeloNews. “He was like, “Interesting. You know Fabian, this is really different. I’m intrigued, and I think this is great.'”
“And sure enough, two weeks later, he says, ‘I’ll do it.’ Then he starts asking me all these questions — what registration platform are you going to use? How much are you going to charge?’ All I’d asked was for him to attend.”
The back-and-forth began a friendship between the two, with King serving as a mentor of sorts to Serralta, who’d never put on a bike race. Now, with registered riders topping the 1,100-mark and a dozen A-list pros signed up to ride, this weekend’s event could already be considered a success. Nevertheless, it hasn’t come without a few major challenges along the way.
A first time for everything
Serralta, a 49-year old Cuban who has lived in the U.S. since he was nine years old, is not one to shy away from a challenge. Gravel has been no different. After buying his first gravel bike in 2015, Serralta entered his first gravel race on October 1, 2016. He says he’ll never forget the date.
“I showed up with very little food and two bottles of water,” he said. “It was 50 miles, and thought it was no big deal. I was treating it like it was a road rally. Pretty much every road rally I’d attended had rest stops, SAG, all that. The entry was $75, so I figured this is gonna be pretty nice. I start riding and immediately I’m like, ‘ok this is really uncomfortable.’ I didn’t know about tire pressure. I had 33c tires pumped up to 95 psi. Sometime around mile 20-something I was so beat up. Another rider explained to me, ‘this is kinda self-supported, there’s no food out here.’ When I finally got back to my car, a gentleman was waiting for me, ‘I was just about to go looking for you.’ I guess I looked really bad, I’d fallen and was covered in dirt.”
And like that, he was hooked.
Serralta traveled to gravel races in Texas and California from 2016 until the pandemic halted grassroots cycling in 2020. His observations along the way helped form a vision of what an ideal gravel race would look like. He noticed that women and kids were underrepresented. That aid stations and on-course amenities were sorely lacking. That high entry fees didn’t reflect the low level of support.
Although people explained to him that all of the above was simply ‘gravel,’ Serralta thought that more people might be keen to check out the discipline if it weren’t so. . . brutal.
“What makes gravel so appealing is that you’re out there alone, no cars, it’s quiet,” he said. “But that’s also what makes it dangerous. I started thinking, what if there were gravel events that were treated like road rallies, more friendly for beginners, kids. I happened to go do a few events in California with a promoter called Bike Monkey. That’s how they did it — rest stops, moto SAG, support. I was like, ‘Why don’t we have that in Texas?’ I mentioned it to a few folks and interest just wasn’t there. I said, ‘I’m gonna do it,’ It was one of those things that I didn’t want to give up on.”
Although Serralta didn’t give up, many do. While we’ve all schemed up our ‘dream race’ while we’re out riding, the realities of taking on race promotion as a side hustle are unglamorous, to say the least.
Serralta met his first roadblocks in the towns and municipalities where he pitched the idea of the race. Armed with nothing more than a piece of paper with a few talking points and a copy of his article of incorporation for the Gravel Locos, LLC, Serralta visited towns in a two-hour radius of his home near Dallas. Whether it was his lack of experience or the fact that he was asking for permitting for 1,000 riders to roll through town, no one was taking the bait.
Until he rolled into Hico.
“We went to City Hall and asked to speak to whoever was in charge,” Serralta said. “They led us to the city administrator. I told him what I wanted to do and why and if he had any permit applications. He said immediately, ‘This sounds like a great idea, we’ll do everything we can to help.’ I thought he was kidding, it was so easy. Of course, the question came up, ‘Have you ever done this before?’ And I said, ‘No sir, but I promise I will do everything I possibly can to make you proud of this event in your town.'”
“The administrator said, ‘I’m sure you will. You seem really passionate about it, and that’s what you need to do something well.’ A couple of weeks later, he called to say I was approved.”
Trial and error, success and failure
For the small city of 1,600 residents in central Texas’ Hill Country, Serralta’s plan to bring over 1,000 riders and their families to town over a random weekend in May presented an economic opportunity not to be missed. Hico city officials were also drawn to the core tenants of Gravel Locos: Serralta wanted the event to be free and for it to have an economic impact on the host community.
Yes, you heard that correctly. Serralta decided that, in order to truly be an inclusive event, Gravel Locos should be free. He hoped that lessening the financial burden on riders would then compel them to make a donation to help out in Hico. After speaking with officials, Serralta decided to raise funds for a new command truck for the fire department, as well as to give some cash to the chamber of commerce and the senior center.
This is where Serralta’s dream gets corrupted by reality. Thus far, people have only donated about $26,000 of the $85,000 goal he set. It’s been a setback that Serralta isn’t sure how to handle.
As a child thrust from one life in Cuba to a completely different world in the U.S., Serralta learned early on how generosity can have a lasting impact. From the elementary school teachers who patiently nurtured the kid who didn’t speak a word of English to the church member who helped him pay off his college debt, Serralta has benefited from the kindness of strangers.
“My entire life I’ve been helped by so many people,” he said. “I’ve never forgotten that. Any opportunity I have to give back, I try and do it. This event is one of those opportunities.”
Rather than perseverate on the disappointment around the lackluster fundraising, Serralta forged ahead with new ideas. With the help of King, he finally got in touch with a dozen other gravel pros, and now the lineup for Saturday’s race includes some of gravel’s all-stars. For an additional donation, participants can have dinner on Thursday or ride with the pros on Friday.
Serralta realizes that he may have made a mistake by making the event free and assuming that people would step up, but he’s familiar with the dynamics of trial and error, and success and failure.
“There is success in failure,” he said. “I have failed so many times and that’s how I’ve learned what not to do again. I don’t mind telling people I don’t know what I’m doing, or I’ve never done this before. The kind of people I want around me are the kind of people who will help.”
Assistance from the King
Ted King is the kind of person who has helped.
The gravel racer, brand ambassador, race promoter, and business owner took a special interest in Serralta after he reached out via social media. After Serralta explained what he wanted Gravel Locos to be, King offered his own advice.
“I wanted it to be as inclusive and non-threatening as possible, so I wanted two routes to be non-timed,” Serralta said. “He really liked that. Then he said, ‘But you’re gonna have to have one that’s the race. You want to have something that’s around 140 miles. Your date is great because it’s two weeks before Unbound. It will be great to give people an opportunity before Unbound. The climate is similar, and the terrain is similar.'”
What was glaringly obvious to King hadn’t crossed Serralta’s mind. But he absorbed everything the former WorldTour pro offered him, and then some. When King told Serralta that his social media posts were terrible, it stung. But, ever the student, Serralta started taking notes.
“He was helping me with anything from grammar to rewording things so it was more catchy to shortening things to what pictures to take,” Serralta said. “He started tutoring me from beginning to end.”
Soon enough he had a star-studded start list. Alison Tetrick, Jess Cerra, Peter Stetina, Dylan Johnson, Mat Stephens, Sam Boardman, The Vegan Cyclist, Lauren Stephens, Emily Newsom, Adam Roberge, Laurens ten Dam, and King — broken collarbone and all — will be in Hico this weekend, and they’re all just as excited as Serralta to show up and support the town.
Planning and orchestrating a unique and inclusive gravel race hasn’t gone exactly the way Serralta imagined, yet in other ways, it’s exceeded his expectations. He’s been overwhelmed by generosity — of the people in Hico and the pros who’ve stepped up to help — and disappointed that his faith in fundraising fell flat. He can’t wait to get some sleep.
On Saturday, Gravel Locos will become more than just a dream.