If you’re not at a gravel race on May 22, are you even living?
I’m dubbing this weekend the North American gravel season opener. Not to discount the many small and off-the-radar events that have been happening across the country already this year (I am a huge fan), but there are four events this weekend that really make it clear: gravel racing is on in 2021.
From California’s venerable Grasshopper Adventure Series’ Huffmaster Hopper to the brand-spanking-new Gravel Locos in Texas, the races are sold out and the start lines are stacked. Both organizers and participants are willing to follow all the COVID-era rules to make racing a reality this year, and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.
Here are four races to get you stoked on the season. Each embodies the spirit of gravel, which is to say, anything goes. From Rule of Three’s equal parts pavement, gravel, and Bentonville-caliber singletrack to the nearly 100-percent gravel remote backroads of Co2uT, each race promises challenge and adventure.
Grasshopper Adventure Series – Huffmaster Hopper
The Grasshopper is the only veteran gravel race on the list, and by veteran I mean that event founder and organizer Miguel Crawford has been putting these things on for 23 years now! The Huffmaster is a classic ‘Hopper route that consists of a 50/50 blend of pavement and gravel over 88.8 miles and 4,842 feet of climbing.
In order to comply with Colusa County COVID restrictions, Crawford will be sending riders off in 50-person wave starts. One drop bag is allowed. No post-race party (boo), but riders can BYO for a picnic afterward.
Registered riders: 400
Pros: Amity Rockwell, Kathy Pruitt, Yuri Hauswald, Geoff Kabush, Lance Haidet, Flavia Oliviera
Prize purse: $700/350/200/150/100 for five top men and women
Where is Hico, Texas? 1,100 lucky people are about to find out. Organizer Fabian Serralta discovered the Hill Country outpost by exploring the roads outside of Dallas-Fort Worth, and he fell in love with the town and its gravel. To make Gravel Locos an inclusive event, Serralta didn’t charge an entry free, but he did ask participants to make a donation that would benefit the local fire department, senior center, and chamber of commerce.
And along inclusivity lines, Serralta is offering three courses, two non-competitive and non-timed at 30 and 60-miles. The 155.3 mile, 8,200 foot ‘La Loca’ is where the pros and other competitive folks will grind it out.
Registered riders: 1,100
Pros: Ted King, Jess Cerra, Alison Tetrick, Peter Stetina, Lauren Stephens, Laurens ten Dam, Colin Strickland
Prize purse: N/A
Is there a saying about all good things in threes? I don’t know, but I do know that northwest Arkansas has sublime riding on three types of terrain. The folks behind the Rule of Three think so, too, so they created a bike race that showcases them all. The Rule of Three’s 100-mile route includes approximately equal thirds of singletrack, pavement, and gravel (there’s also a 50 miler). Bike choice is sure to be the conversation of the day.
Folks who aren’t sure about tackling the course alone can sign up in teams of — not two, but. . . — three and ride the course time-trial style checking in at designated spots along the way.
Registered riders: 650
Pros: Payson McElveen, Ian Boswell, Lance Armstrong, Sammi Runnels, Molly Cameron, Carl Decker
Prize purse: 100-mile team winners get a gravel heli trip into the Bentonville backcountry
There is so much world-class gravel outside of the town of Fruita, Colorado that Co2uT race promoter Morgan Murri couldn’t choose between just one route. Riders had five options to choose from, from the 30-mile Fruitadens to the 185-mile Allosaurus (hint: this event is dino-themed). All courses are entirely self-supported, so riders need to carry enough food, water, and repair equipment to get them through their race.
From the get-go, Murri placed a huge emphasis on parity between men and women racers and offered early registration and buy one – get one half-off deals for women. He’s not quite there, but at 35-percent women registered, he’s setting a standard that all gravel races should aspire to.
Registered riders: 1,200
Pros: Sarah Sturm, Whitney Allison, Christie Tracy, Conor Mullervy, Zach Allison, Kevin Mullervy
Prize purse: N/A