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Monuments of Gravel

Adam Roberge, the Unbound Gravel dark horse

Adam Roberge learned some important lessons at the recent Gravel Locos race. Now, Roberge is on the list of dark horses for Unbound Gravel.

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Adam Roberge’s first gravel race ended on both a high and low note.

Roberge, one of Canada’s top professional road racers, finished third place at the recent Gravel Locos race in Texas after battling with eventual winner Laurens ten Dam and reigning Unbound Gravel champ Colin Strickland. The result was confirmation that Roberge had the legs and stamina to be competitive in a 155-mile event — the longest race he’d ever done.

That was the high.

The low — how Roberge felt at the finish.

“I was not feeling well — I almost passed out and got very cold,” Roberge told VeloNews. “The organizer put me in his RV with a hot shower and I think he saved my life because I was done. I don’t remember much because I was so wrecked after that race.”

The gravel race was the hardest physical effort Roberge had ever completed, and it was on par with his ride at the 2018 Grand Prix Montreal when he spent the day in the breakaway at a 156.5-mile WorldTour race. Both of those rides were much harder than what Roberge encounters in pro road racing, where he competes for the Elevate-Webiplex pro cycling team.

While Gravel Locos lacked the high-end bursts of speed that Roberge endures in pro road races, the length and constant effort simply wore his legs and body down in a way he’d never encountered.

“You don’t go as hard but the overall average is much harder,” Roberge said. “Gravel is hard but you don’t have those five or 10-minutes where you are just dying. Instead, you’re always just kind of dying because of the repeated efforts instead of one big effort.”

Still, the third-place ride is confirmation that Adam Roberge belongs on the shortlist of dark horse favorites to win Unbound Gravel. Roberge is one of the stars on the new Scuderia Pinarello gravel team alongside Amity Rockwell, Jess Cerra, and a wide range of retired pro riders, influencers, and adventure athletes. He’s the most successful current pro road athlete on the team, and he owns three Canadian Under-23 time trial national titles.

Roberge is also a YouTuber, and he has produced a vast array of videos from his races in both English and his native French.

Roberge is among a slew of pro road racers making their debut at Unbound Gravel this year. Robin Carpenter of Rally Cycling is on that list as well, alongside Eddie Anderson (Alpecin-Fenix) and former U.S. pro champ Greg Daniel.

Road cyclists have the big physiological engines and stamina to succeed in gravel races. But there are other elements to the long-distance battles on dirt that present challenges to road racers who are new to racing on gravel. Roberge said he struggled in the early miles of Gravel Locos to embrace the ebb and flow of racing, knowing that he had multiple hours left to go.

“I was not that confident when people were going hard like 20 kilometers into the race and I was like ‘How will this play out?'” Roberge said. “I realized that after one or two attacks that we were not going to go that hard for 200 kilometers.”

Roberge encountered another conundrum at the feed zones. Many of the other elite gravel racers raced with just two bottles, relying on the feed zones for a refill. Roberge had a hydration pack on and said he didn’t need to stop at all of the feed zones to fill up.

As the front group hit the final feed zone with 70km to go, Roberge said he didn’t feel the need to fill up. So, while he briefly stopped, he got back on his bike and pedaled off toward the finish while the other competitors filled their bottles.

“It was a lack of confidence. It was like maybe I can go by myself,” Roberge said. “I’m really confident in my time trial ability and it was not a good idea. It was too early and my only hope was to try and get them to look at each other.”

After pushing on solo Roberge was eventually caught, and the extra effort cost him in the final push to the line. Driving rain and cold temperatures whittled the group down to just four, and when ten Dam attacked, Roberge, Strickland, and Pete Stetina were left to chase. When Stetina flatted, Strickland and Roberge pushed on to the finish.

Roberge said the first race taught him a few valuable lessons, including ones about whether to stop or not at feed zones. He plans to use the lessons at Unbound Gravel, where experience and expertise often separate the top riders from the next pack.

“I learned to be calm and realize it’s going to be a long and hard day and to not think too much about how long it’s going to be,” Roberge said. “Everybody is in the same boat and nobody can go that hard for that long. The second lesson is to be disciplined with nutrition because that will come into play sooner than later. And the last one is to just have fun. It was my first experience and hard but also a lot of fun.”