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For gravel riders who can’t wait a few months to race until the northern hemisphere begins to tilt toward springtime, there is… Florida.
A new gravel race is debuting this weekend called Gravel Miami. The event offers an off-road experience on the edge of the Everglades National Park, as well as — did we already mention this — balmy temperatures and sunny skies.
But it’s not just the fine weather that should pique riders’ interest in southern Florida, said Kris Auer, the event manager for Conte’s Bike Shops, the presenting sponsor of Gravel Miami.
The event is part of a push to expose people to the unique gravel riding in the sunshine state.
“There are great bike riders everywhere,” Auer said. “Great bike people everywhere. Hopefully we can bring some people into this part of Florida that’s often overlooked even by Floridians. The gravel scene is growing down here for sure. The timing and opportunity for rallying around an event is now.”
Gravel Miami race director Kevin Abbate has promoted seven Florida road state championships, and is a 30-year veteran of the Martin County, Florida Parks and Rec Department. He owns the event timing company ESPtiming.
Auer is the founder and race director of Charm City ‘Cross, an event he started 18 years ago with “1,000 bucks in my pocket and crossed fingers.” Last year, he was brought on at Conte’s — a 65-year-old family-owned bike shop retailer on the East Coast — to help the brand grow its in-store and external events.
Between Abbate and Auer, Gravel Miami kicks off with a wealth of race promotion experience.
The event weekend gets rolling on Friday with a panel discussion at the Conte’s Bike Shop in Fort Lauderdale. Scuderia Pinarello riders Mari Holden, Anthony Carter, and Brennan Wertz will be on hand to discuss training, performance, and inclusivity in cycling.
On Saturday, there’s a women’s-only ride in Boca Raton with pros Alison Tetrick, Hannah Shell, Holden, and members of the Velocio Exploro squad.
On Sunday, riders will gather at the Miami Brewing Company in Homestead. The three route options — 36, 50, and 100 miles — slither northwest from the brewery and on the coral-studded gravel roads of the eastern Everglades. There aren’t many trees for shade or wind protection; the area is blanketed in grasslands.
“It’s very different than what you’ll find in Kansas or Vermont or anywhere,” Auer said. “It’s cool, and it’s hard. It’s flat. So it can go quickly. It’s probably the flattest course in America. But I can attest, in a former life as a climber, it’s not easy.”
Boulder, Colorado-based Hannah Shell is one of a handful of pros making the trip to Miami for the event. The event will be her first of 2022 before she shifts focus to the Life Time Grand Prix.
Although most of Shell’s season will center around big, 2,000+ rider events, she told VeloNews that smaller races like Gravel Miami are an integral part — and indicator — of a healthy gravel ecosystem.
“I studied economics before transitioning to consulting, and from an economist’s perspective any time new players are entering a market it’s a good sign that demand is booming,” Shell said. “Events like Gravel Miami are important to offer opportunity for newer cyclists and cyclists with a variety of goals to enter the gravel scene. As the headline races become bigger and more intimidating, I think these locally-run events that are more affordable and easier to enter will be key to increasing participation in the sport.”
VeloNews will be reporting on the ground from Gravel Miami.