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Late last year, the U.S.-based WorldTour team announced a partnership with apparel company Rapha. That sponsorship was anticipated to go beyond just apparel as EF and Rapha detailed plans to blend in gravel and mountain bike races with the team’s conventional schedule of pro road races.
EF intends to use these mass-participant events as a way to cultivate a new fanbase, one that is perhaps not as tuned-in to pro road racing.
The four-race schedule, which includes the Three Peaks Cyclocross and Taiwan KOM Challenge as well, will also provide an opportunity for Rapha to showcase the team to its customers and fans. “Rapha will be there along the way, capturing every moment of their adventure in an exclusive series of films,” a statement on the Rapha website read.
Naturally, fans and participants will be interested to see how some of the world’s top cyclists will fare at these unconventional events.
Pro road cyclists have a history of racing Leadville, going back to Lance Armstrong who won the 100-mile mountain bike race in 2009. More recently, EF’s Joe Dombrowski was second in 2016, three minutes behind winner Todd Wells.
Dirty Kanza will be a bit more of an unknown. However, retired pro road cyclist Ted King is a good point of reference, as he has won the 200-mile gravel race twice since his final pro season with EF’s precursor, Cannondale-Garmin, in 2015. He expects any rider from the WorldTour will be physiologically suited for the Kansas race, but they might not be as ready for some of the curveballs that come in a race on rough gravel roads.
“The physiology, they’re going to have it in spades,” King told VeloNews. “The WorldTour racers are going to be predisposed for success. The advantage for those of us not in the WorldTour is there still are so many variables, be it flint rock or the transitions or having to wake up at 4 a.m. on race day, and those will all make a difference.”
No matter how the EF riders end up finishing, King expects they’ll get a warm reception from the welcoming community of gravel racers, as he did when he won his first Dirty Kanza in 2016.
Dirty Kanza 200 takes place June 1, 2019. Leadville Trail 100 will be next on EF’s schedule August 10, followed by Three Peaks on September 30 and Taiwan KOM Challenge on October 25.