Culture

Groad Trip: The return to gravel racing

I don’t want to jinx myself, but I'm excited to race again in the next few weeks.

Groad Trip is a regular gravel column by Tour de France racer turned gravel privateer Pete Stetina.

The theme of this Groad Trip has been on the back-burner for months. Numerous times I’ve allowed myself to make plans around a race that is looking like it’s happening. Then, as I prepare to announce my participation, the plug is pulled with just enough time for me to not publicly eat my own words. I hope I don’t jinx myself here, and I write this with trepidation, praying things at least stay the status quo for a month: It’s time to race my bike again!

I’m happy to announce I have two events on my calendar. The Lake City Alpine 50 on August 29 and the Fistful of Dirt on September 6. Both events have the green light from their communities, have small (150- and 250-person, respectively) field limits, and have specific COVID-mitigation policies in effect around the start/finish line and aid stations.

I rode part of the SBT GRVL course recently when back home in Colorado. Photo: Pete Stetina

Lake City, in Southern Colorado, isn’t exactly a gravel race, rather it’s a 50-mile endurance bike race (reminiscent of the Grasshoppers in Norcal) and the jury’s out on whether an MTB or a gravel bike is faster. I’ll have both my Canyon Lux mountain bike and my Grail gravel bike in the van and will decide the day before after pre-riding a bit of the course. It’s run on the loop part of bikepacking.com’s Alpine Loop, and from scouring that site the only guarantee is that the scenery will dazzle and altitude will be extreme.

Fistful of Dirt is a pure Gravel Grinder in Cody, Wyoming, on Labor Day weekend. Cody is just east of Yellowstone National Park and just north of the Grand Tetons. They have reopened registration recently and still have many spaces available. They have 20-, 60- and 100-mile distances. If you’re like me, jonesing for an event, and feel comfortable attempting social distance in an outdoor event, bring your tent, and let’s have some gravel fun on a holiday weekend.

COVID responsibility

I need to address the elephant in the room. These are tricky times. Information and best practices are always changing. Social shaming is, in my opinion, a pandemic of its own these days; the best anyone can do is look at all the information they have and weigh the consequences. The nice thing about a local bike race is it’s no bigger than an outdoor farmer’s market, which has been happening nationwide, and everyone who attends is electing to participate presumably because they and their household are at relatively low-risk. They have consciously evaluated the pros and cons.

I personally will arrive at these events self-contained in my van, always wear a mask when going indoors, and also around the event venue if unable to maintain sufficient distance outdoors. I will start with a mask and stash it in my pocket as the group spreads out, potentially pulling it out at aid stations. I’ve listened to too many podcasts, read too many articles, and what I’ve deduced is that open-air and sunlight are good mitigators of transmission.

Riding way out here in the sunshine feels relatively safe to me. Photo: Pete Stetina

The WorldTour has restarted and is doing well so far. I think it’s time for low-risk, smaller domestic events to begin. Done correctly, they are safer than a visit to the grocery store and dining outside, both of which are commonplace. I hope readers can respect my decision and attempt to balance my livelihood, happiness, and personal and community health as best I can at the moment.

Community support

I am grateful these two events have gotten the okay to happen. Race organizers are struggling and next year there is a very real chance that many of our beloved events will disappear. A year is a long time to hold out when it’s your livelihood. When your favorite local restaurant reopened for takeout or outdoor dining, did you give them your business and give them a bigger than normal tip? I did. A big part of my getting on the vanlife bandwagon was so when ANY event close enough to home does happen, I can arrive responsibly, support them, and promote them.

Ramblebine Brewery in Grand Junction, Colorado, was a welcome stop. Photo: Pete Stetina

The preparation

With my justification out of the way, it’s time to cram for the exam. Lake City is three weeks out. I’ve been training with real meaning again, which feels liberating. Luckily all this FKT preparation has brought me up to a nice level. Just today I worked with the organizers of California’s Death Ride to set the FKT for their 2021 course. I spent the last two weeks in Colorado visiting my family and filming the Boulder edition of Funnest Known Time, so the altitude preparation has begun in earnest as well. It’s about linking the events together and using each as a build to the next.

The Rose to Toads FKT has contributed to my preparation for these races, and I hope these races will in turn set me up for the White Rim FKT attempt, once Moab isn’t such a furnace. I’ve also been busy getting the van ready for bigger bike adventures, having installed multiple fork mounts under the bed, and redoing the shelving for bike racer specific efficiency.

See you at the races soon, and let’s have that post-ride beer at least six feet apart, outside, to savor the last days of summer.

I’ve been racking up Fastest Known Times this summer. Sometimes I get a certificate. Sometimes I just get a Strava KOM.