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Forty racers. Six off-road events. $250,000 up for grabs.
Life Time — owner of events like Unbound Gravel and the Leadville Race Series – just announced the Life Time Grand Prix, an elite level series comprised of six of the company’s marquee off-road events. Three are gravel races, three are cross-country mountain bike races, and there’s $250,000 in prize money on the line.
Life Time’s president of media and events Kimo Seymour told VeloNews that the series is intended to give elite racers an opportunity to further their careers amid the changing landscape of professional cycling in the United States.
“After many years of declining participation, we’re experiencing a groundswell of growth, in both amateur and professional field sizes, especially in our gravel and mountain bike events,” Seymour said. “We want to grow this to a point where non-endemic sponsors want to get involved, and that’s when you’ll know cycling is getting somewhere in North America. That’s the only way it’ll ever get to a point where people can make a living doing it.”
In its inaugural year, the Grand Prix will be open to 20 women and 20 men.
The series consists of six Life Time events:
- April 7-10: 70-mile marathon mountain bike race at the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, California
- June 4: 200-mile Unbound Gravel in Emporia, Kansas
- July 9: 70-mile Crusher in the Tushar in Beaver, Utah
- August 13: Leadville Trail 100 MTB in Leadville, Colorado
- September 17: 40-mile Chequamegon MTB in Cable, Wisconsin
- October 22: 100-mile Big Sugar Gravel in Bentonville, Arkansas
A $250,000 prize purse will be split between men and women through the top ten finishers in a points-based system. At the conclusion of the Life Time Grand Prix, riders’ five best finishes from the six possible events will be tallied, giving the competitors a choice to skip an event or ride all six and take the points from their best performances. The riders with the most points at the end of the series will be the winners.
Seymour said that the decision to include both gravel and MTB events was intended not only to highlight races across Life Time’s off-road portfolio but also because that’s what athletes and the cycling industry said they wanted.
“As we talked about it, we asked a lot of people for their input and guidance,” Seymour said. “We spoke to people across the industry, including athletes, sponsors, and media and took a lot of feedback from people. A lot of people said, ‘wouldn’t it be cool to include different types of events?’ It’s a different skillset to ride 40 miles at Chequamegon than 200 miles at Unbound and do well. If we did three ultra gravel races, we could probably pick the winners. This will create a little mystique. Someone who really kicks ass at Unbound may struggle at Leadville. We wanted to level the playing field a little bit for the pros.”
Seymour said the decision to limit it to 40 racers was driven by Life Time’s commitment to providing opportunities for all riders.
“Four out of these six events have lotteries,” Seymour said. “We couldn’t just carve out hundreds of slots for pros. It wouldn’t be fair for the thousands who are tying to get in through lotteries. We want to be fair to the everyday athletes.”
The Grand Prix participants will be selected based on a range of criteria, including their race resume, their interest in the Life Time Grand Prix, and how the rider is helping to grow cycling in the U.S. Seymour said that the most important qualifier is how the rider represents the sport at large.
“We’re going to be looking for are people who are really great ambassadors of the sport right now,” he said. “We want people that are going be great ambassadors for the series and Life Time and those events.”
The events included in the Life Time Grand Prix may rotate annually. Individual events offering prize purses will continue to offer their prize purses in addition to the Life Time Grand Prix prize purse.
While the Grand Prix’s sizable prize purse represents one avenue to the professionalization of bike racing in the U.S., Seymour hopes the race series will also do more for athletes than put money in their pockets. As we’ve witnessed with riders who have won Unbound Gravel, the opportunities that follow a win at one of Life Time’s events multiply over time as the cycling industry’s model evolves to include more sponsored privateer athletes.
“Through the Life Time Grand Prix, we are excited to offer an opportunity for professional cyclist to achieve their potential domestically, and for fans of cycling to be able to engage with those athletes,” Seymour said.
Interested riders can apply at lifetimegrandprix.com until December 6. Accepted riders will be notified by December 10.