He’s been racing in the WorldTour for 11 years, he’s won a Tour de France stage and a world cyclocross championship — but Lars Boom has never tried his hand at a gravel race. This weekend, he’ll head to Northern Vermont to take part in the Rasputitsa gravel race on Saturday.
It seemed like an unusual mid-season vacation for a European pro. So, we called up Boom to learn more about why he’s dipping his toe into the growing pool of gravel events. As you might expect from a rider who cut his teeth on muddy, sketchy cyclocross circuits, Rasputitsa’s snowy hike-a-bike sections and rough terrain is right up his alley.
VeloNews: How did you end up deciding to do Rasputitsa?
Lars Boom: I was thinking already for a long time to try to widen my range of cycling, like cyclocross, mountain bike, and I know gravel racing is getting popular more and more, even in Europe I think. I was starting just to follow some people on Instagram, and then I was talking with the guys from the race, and I was looking that this was a pretty good period to go, so I decided to go. I talked with the team to arrange that everything was OK and arrange a bike. I just decided to go, looked for good [plane] tickets, and that was OK.
VN: Was it hard to convince your team to let you go do a gravel race?
LB: No, I already did some cyclocross last winter, and they know I do some mountain bike racing in the end of the summer so, no I didn’t have to convince them because I know they know I’m free, they know I like to do it, and I think it’s nice to do, so it was not much convincing to do.
VN: And will this be your first gravel race?
LB: Yes, yes.
VN: At amateur events like this, is it hard for you to turn off your competitive instinct and relax a little bit?
LB: Yeah maybe, but I also want to feel the atmosphere, feel how the people who do gravel racing, how do they go to a race, feel the vibe, because I think it’s a totally different atmosphere, a totally different vibe in a race like this than a normal race. For sure I have to shut it off a little bit, but still, they also are quite competitive I think, so they also want to race a little bit.
VN: It can get fast in gravel races, but I’m sure by your standards it’s not too competitive!
LB: Yeah, but still… [laughs]
VN: Will it be tough to do this race with snow and hike-a-bikes after hard spring classics like Paris-Roubaix?
LB: That’s nice. That’s the nice thing about these races, especially Rasputitsa, because it’s still in the snow. Nah, I’m recovered from Roubaix. I needed three or four days because for me it was a quite hard one this year. I was always working on the cobblestones. It’s quite shit and you still have to work really hard to get over those cobblestones. In the end, it cost me a lot of energy and I didn’t have a good result. But now I feel better again.
VN: You’re a busy guy!
LB: Yeah, it’s a busy period for us. After I go to Burke, Vermont, I will come back home and have a week of rest and chill out.
VN: Have you heard much about how EF Education First is also planning to do some gravel racing this summer?
LB: Yeah I know. That’s why I’m also interested to do some kind of these races. I think for the sponsors, you widen the range of people you meet and then you also show your sponsor to more people I think, especially nowadays with the bike manufacturers, they have a different range of bikes. Also for Factor [his bike sponsor], it is good that I ride these races.
VN: Your team is sponsored by European brands. Are they trying to expand their appeal to America?
LB: I don’t know, I think it’s mostly about the bike, the bike sponsor. For sure, Roompot and Charles are really European-based and the interest is in Europe so for them it’s not so attractive I think, but for Factor, it can be quite attractive.
VN: And they do have that new gravel bike, so I imagine they’re trying to show that off.
LB: Yeah, I think so.
VN: After that, will you do any gravel races over in Europe?
LB: Yeah for sure because if I have the time, if I don’t do a race on a normal bike, then it’s perfect.
VN: Is gravel becoming more popular in Europe?
LB: Yeah, I think so, I think [CCC rider] Laurens Ten Dam has a race also now. He’s trying to make it more popular also, so I think it’s good, that’s quite nice.
VN: Hopefully we’ll see you at other American gravel races in the future, perhaps Dirty Kanza?
LB: I have to have a look because I would also like to come more to the States because I like it there and my family likes it there, so we have to make a combo with more races. It would be nice.
VN: Maybe we’ll see you at Dirty Kanza in 2020?
LB: I’ll have it in mind!
This interview was edited for length and clarity.