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Gravel

Four upcoming gravel races to keep you stoked for the season

The North American gravel racing scene rolls into late August with four marquee events on the calendar.

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Summer may be winding down, but the gravel season keeps heating up. Year after year, the calendar of both grassroots and marquee events swells, and the challenge is deciding which race to attend. Although many riders will be enjoying a restful week after last Sunday’s SBT GRVL, others are gearing up for the next one.

From classic midwestern gravel, to stage racing along glacial river bottoms in British Columbia, to unforgiving climbs in Appalachia, there is an event out there for everyone.

Here are four upcoming races to preview, follow, and, if you like what you see, put on the calendar in the years to come.

Gravel Worlds – Aug. 21, Lincoln, Nebraska

More than a decade ago, a group of friends from Lincoln, Nebraska who loved bikes and wanted to ride without all the rules nicknamed each other the Pirate Cycling League. In 2010, they hosted the first ever Gravel Worlds, a race with “no categories, no officials, no prize money, just bumping elbows, bleeding lungs, blown up legs, with beers and stories at the finish.”

In 2019, Alison Tetrick won her third straight Gravel Worlds, while Lincoln native John Borstelmann outsprinted Eric Marcotte for the win. Photo: Michael McColgan

The beloved midwestern race is back after COVID-hiatus, and while more formal (but not UCI-formal) than those early days, the spirit remains the same. New for 2021 is the debut of Long Voyage 300, an ultra-endurance route similar to the Unbound Gravel XL. The event also hosts two shorter distances in addition to the marquee ‘Gravel Worlds’ course.

Route: 151.1 miles, 12,000 feet of climbing

Pro riders attending: Kaysee Armstrong, Lauren Stephens, Lauren de Crescenzo, Colin Strickland, Ashton Lambie, Holly Matthews, Mat Stephens, John Borstelmann

The Last Best Ride – Aug. 22, Whitefish, Montana

Jess Cerra might be the hardest-working woman in the gravel cycling industry.

Not only does the 39-year-old race promoter still race gravel competitively, she also runs Jojé Bar, the sport food company she founded, and is a tireless advocate for youth, women, and inclusivity in cycling. The Last Best Ride showcases almost all of Cerra’s passion projects alongside a gravel race set against a stunning, big sky backdrop.

Cerra grew up in Whitefish and is dedicated to giving back to her community. She has been hosting free health and bike-centric workshops and events for locals all summer long. Furthermore, 20 percent of the proceeds of The Last Best Ride will fund the Champion scholar award, which will provide financial assistance to women from the Whitefish area seeking post-secondary education.

Route: 90 miles, 8,224 feet of climbing

Pro riders attending: Whitney Allison, Rose Grant, Nikki Peterson, Sarah Sturm, Zach Allison, Howard Grotts, Scott Tietzel, Ted King

Belgian Waffle Ride Asheville – Aug. 21, Hendersonville, North Carolina

After the inaugural event was canceled in 2020, the Belgian Waffle franchise is finally setting up shop in western North Carolina.

BWR Asheville’s start, finish, and expo will take place on the grounds of Ride Kanuga, a 1,400 acre mountain bike destination co-founded by professional downhiller Neko Mulally. Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those mountain bike races masquerading as gravel; according to John Murphy, the former road pro who helped design the three BWR Asheville routes, the 100-mile Waffle course has a little bit of everything. 

“Some of it’s loose, some of it’s muddy,” he said. “We have a lot of ruts, rocks, loose stuff, hardpack. It’s gonna be a mix of everything in terms of type of terrain. The climbs never stop. They range from 4-5k, longer for Pinnacle to short little punchers. There are long gravel climbs, short steep gravel climbs, short steep pavement climbs. There’s one pavement climb toward the end where I’m sure I’ll lose a lot of friends.”

BWR Asheville course architect John Murphy on some western North Carolina gravel. Photo: Courtesy John Murphy

Route: “roughly 104 miles and 11,000 feet of climbing”

Pro riders attending: Sofia Gomez Villafañe, Dylan Johnson, Tiffany Cromwell, Ian Boswell

TransRockies Gravel Royale – Aug. 23-26, British Columbia, Canada

Is it a bike race or a bike vacation?

TransRockies Gravel Royale hopes to give riders the best of both. The four-day stage race is a full-service event, like other productions by race organizer TransRockies. After each day of riding, cyclists will show up to a tent city with showers, food, and festivities. Add-ons like mechanical support and massage are also available.

The first three stages of the race average about 50 miles with 5,000-7,000 feet of climbing. The final day kicks it up a notch at 84 miles and 8,000 feet of climbing. 85 percent of the course is on gravel and 100 percent is bound to be BC-beautiful.

Route: four days, 375km, and 7000m of climbing (it’s Canada, eh!)

Pro riders attending: Amity Rockwell, Peter Stetina, Shayna Powless, Michael van den Ham, Barry Wicks, Jen Luebke

transrockies
Gravel along the Bull River in B.C., Canada. Photo: Courtesy: TransRockies Race Series