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Gravel

Groad Trip: Remembering Mo and racing the Dutch contingent at Gravel Locos

Some 1,500 of us came together in Hico, Texas for a community event that was shaped by tragedy.

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Held in the quaint rural town of Hico, Texas, Gravel Locos brings a unique opportunity for many of us “gravel pros.” Fabian Serralta, the organizer really makes an effort to create other activations and obligations around his race and have us be a part of it. The end result is a weekend of connecting with colleagues in a relaxed setting outside of race stress. We have lunches, dinners, and shakeout rides together, and then of course try to smash each other once the timing mat is activated. The whole weekend is about supporting the local community.

Things took a dark turn Friday morning. As we returned from a communal shakeout ride, our phones started pinging that something had happened to Moriah Wilson. She was supposed to be in attendance with us and was noticeably absent. We’d heard it was the worst case scenario and slowly got confirmation from others in the industry. The initial feeling was one of shock to the point of numbness, then the sense of loss set in. By that evening, 12 hours before the race start, the news had broke publicly.

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I was wrecked. And the thing is, we were friends but I didn’t even know her that well. So I can’t imagine the pain others who are closer must feel. She was an infectious personality. We’d shared beers, traded pulls, and spoken often. I’d advised her as she began to juggle sponsorships, but honestly she was doing just great on her own. I think what really hits for so many is that Moriah was gravel’s darling daughter. She had come up through this space, and we could all see she was going to do great things on the world’s biggest stages. I was emotionally invested in her success. All of us were proud of her trajectory, even if we raced against her. There is a profound sense of sadness that she won’t be able to fulfill her potential. It is just tragically unfair.

Mo’s parents let Fabian know it was in their wishes to continue the race and for us to ride like Mo would ride, with power, valor, and grace. Beyond that, we were all down here in Texas to support Fabian and what he’d created. The race had to go on, in honor of Mo. Fabian spent all night crafting a eulogy to honor her and read it over the PA system. Many of us broke down on that start line. It was decided the first 8 miles to the water crossing would be a procession for her. There, at the river’s banks, we had a moment of silence before crossing and picking up the race in earnest.

The bunch pauses for a moment of silence to honor Moriah Wilson. (Photo: @velophoto.tx)

The race acted like a slow simmer. Some were keen to race and others, myself included, were just going through the motions. I tried to fight, as I knew that’s how Mo would ride, but it was a numb feeling still. Others just couldn’t get out of their heads, and wouldn’t ever join the battle. In the end I was able to switch on and embrace the physical discomfort. It became cathartic to hurt.

Due to the extreme heat, Fabian implemented a mandatory two-minute stop at two of the aid stations. In our discipline, where there has been a lot of confusion around aid station protocol, this was a welcome relief. Our group would roll into the aid and we’d orderly and calmly fill all bottles and then wait until all we’d arrived with were ready to roll out. No one complained or tried to take advantage. It went smoothly.

The group was very big for a while with a lot of riders looking for a free ride. I got fed up with those tactics and successfully broke the race with a few others at the halfway mark. Eventually a selection of about 15 would fight deep into the race and heat.

In the final, we were all so torched from the elements that it became a tactical game. The course wasn’t difficult enough to force a selection so it was attack after attack. I hit the other guys as often as I could, and they gave it right back. Laurens ten Dam, the defending champ, had brought a Dutch contingent with him as they begin an American gravel campaign for the next month, culminating with Unbound. It was clear they were working together. Seeing that collusion, my Orange Seal friend Ryan Standish and I set an alliance and tried to manipulate the race together. None of us were strong enough to break away solo from the top nine guys, and everyone’s individual bids for glory would wilt in the Texan heat, when it was easy to chase with numbers.

Ivar Slik (Wilier Triestina) and Brennan Wertz (Above Category) leading the bunch on a climb. Slik would finish second.

In the end after everyone was completely broken, one of the Dutch racers, Jasper Ockeloen, slipped away and would solo in the last three miles by himself. We settled into the inevitable bunch sprint. Kiel Reijnen, one of my closest friends, finally had some good luck since his move to gravel and took third. I was so happy to see him get some satisfaction out of a race again. It’s been a while for him and he needed that reminder he can race well in the front.

In the end, we all had a final dinner together before parting ways. The company helped many of us who would have been much worse off at home. Fabian now has a second race in his books with the inaugural Gravel Locos in Pueblo, Colorado happening October 1. I can’t wait for it, and it sounds like there is more climbing. I’m already licking my lips.