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“I’ve actually already started to think of gravel racing in Finland,” the Alfa Romeo driver said last summer. “I do this duathlon there every year, and gravel racing is growing, as well. Who knows, maybe one day there’ll be a VB Gravel Race.”
On Tuesday, Bottas and the team behind SBT GRVL announced FNLD GRVL, a new gravel event in Lahti, Finland, planned for June 2023 (date pending the Formula 1 schedule).
The inaugural race will offer two course distances of 100 and 200k with a 20,000€ pro prize purse. Like SBT GRVL, it will be wrapped in a weekend of activities and entertainment with a robust expo.
“We’re trying to create a great rider experience like Steamboat, where people can bring their family and friends to a weekend event that’s fun for everyone,” SBT GRVL’s co-founder Amy Charity told VeloNews. “A racing element but also the fun element, similar to what we’ve set up for SBT GRVL.”
SBT GRVL debuted in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, in 2019. The inaugural event was a huge success that sold out in minutes. The 2021 edition built upon the first, adding advocacy partners like Ride for Racial Justice and continuing to provide a hefty prize purse across all categories.
Bottas said that after attending SBT GRVL in 2021, he was confident that the same style of event would translate well in his home country of Finland, and that Charity and longtime marketing pro Chris Lyman would make for good partners.
“It was an amazing event that I attended last year with Tiffany [Cromwell, WorldTour pro and Bottas’ partner], and I’d already heard good things about the event,” Bottas told VeloNews. “The whole vibe, the expo area, the rider experience, all the fun that was happening during the weekend and all the buildup to the race with group rides and things like that. The location, it was all super nice, and everything was perfectly done from the rider’s point of view.
“I thought, ‘if I partner up with them, I can’t go wrong.’ They’ve made a great event and have a great intention of bringing gravel to other countries and places as well.”
Lahti is a city of around 120,000 residents and is a 1.5 hour drive north of the country’s capital, Helsinki. The city was the 2021 Green Capital of Europe and sits at the edge of Finnish Lake Country, a region defined by more than 55,000 lakes that dot a forest-covered plateau. The region boasts a lattice work of gravel roads.
“You have lots of quiet roads where you don’t really see any traffic or people,” Bottas said. “Normally the condition of the road is pretty good, it’s pretty hard-packed, similar to Steamboat. A mixture of big, wide open roads and narrower ones like farm roads. You’ll also find technical trails. So it’s a mix of things in beautiful nature and scenery, mainly forest, farms, and lakesides. I think people are really going to love the riding around Lahti.”
Bottas also noted that the weather in June can deliver anything from a few snowflakes to temps higher than 20 degrees Celsius. One guarantee is nearly 24 hours of daylight.
“It really doesn’t get properly dark at all, and get this long time of the low sun in early morning and late night. I think it will be quite special,” he said.
FNLD GRVL will not be the Alfa Romeo driver’s first foray into event production. For five years, he’s put on the Valtteri Bottas Duathlon in the Lahti region. He said that a desire to get people together in an athletic setting outdoors prompted him to start the event.
Now, he has even more reason to take on another.
“I’ve always loved the moment when the event finally happens and when you see the joy of the people really enjoying the event,” he said. “Those moments when you see people finishing the events, their families at the finish line, seeing and feeling that people are having a good time, a good day, a good weekend, that’s the joy of hosting an event.”
In late August of this year, Charity and Lyman will join Bottas, along with members of the media, brand ambassadors, and professional riders for a test ride of the course. Registration for FNLD GRVL will open in the fall of 2022.
“It’s gonna be amazing,” Bottas said. “I can’t wait for next year.”