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Women, not snow, to steal the show at this weekend’s Shasta Gravel Hugger

Women will start 15 minutes before everyone else at the NorCal race on Saturday; they'll also have their own portapotties at the start.

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While the weather at the Shasta Gravel Hugger on Saturday may be a repeat of years one, two, and three (snow), other things about the NorCal gravel event will be different this year.

Notably, says race director Ben Brainard, the event is going to great lengths to be more appealing to and considerate of women participants.

Related: Brennan Wertz, Moriah Wilson win Shasta Gravel Hugger

After the race debuted in 2020, Brainard held a panel discussion with local female racers, including ‘cross national champ Clara Honsinger and cross-country pro Serena Bishop Gordon. The topic, Brainard says, was “what does it take to get women to come to your race?”

One suggestion that emerged was simply, ‘ask them.’ So, Brainard tried that, sending personal invites and using social media to spread the word. As he kept his finger on the pulse of what other events were doing — or not doing — some other ideas came to mind, all of which he’ll implement on March 4 this year.

The most significant change will be at the start line. The open women’s field of the 100-mile race (there are two additional distances, 65 and 35 miles) will start 15 minutes ahead of the rest of the 100-mile racers.

shasta gravel hugger
(Photo: Sean Bagshaw)

Brainard says that he hopes this allows for a more comprehensive women’s race, as well as a chance for his media crew to document that race.

“You hear grumbling through race reports, one women catches a wheel of the right group and that could be the difference in a win or not,” he says. “This is also a good chance for us to be able to highlight the women, talk about their sponsors, their background without cluttering it up with the men’s start.”

Although the media moto will work to capture the entire race, the dedicated 15 minutes and more that it will spend on just women is something that gets Brainard excited.

“During the Covid year we sent off waves and sent the women’s race off first and got amazing shots of just women. It was so cool to not have to find them in the mess of everyone.”

So far, the efforts to increase women’s participation numbers have yielded mixed results. Maude Farrell, who won the 2021 edition of the race, will be back this year, joined by other pros like Becca Fahringer, Flavia Oliveira Parks, and Bishop Gordon.

Brainard is also putting women’s-only portapotties at the start, a gesture he thinks might go a long way on race morning, especially if the weather is unkind.

(Photo: Sean Bagshaw)

Nevertheless, women’s numbers continue to lag significantly behind men’s at this year’s event. The women’s open category for the 100-mile race barely tips the scales at under 20 participants while the men’s field is nearing 150.

Brainard says he won’t stop trying to bring those numbers to a greater equilibrium but that he’s also going to be realistic with how he moves forward with experiments like sending women off 15 minutes earlier than the pack.

“We try to review what works well every year,” he says. “Despite asking, I’m looking at the open start list. There are 15 incredibly strong women in the open 100, but it’s just 15. It’s not gonna be a massive peloton with a lot of strategic stuff going on.

“I would love to see that thing at 40 or 50 at least. But if the fields stay smaller like this we could easily go back to the old way.”

Registration for the Shasta Gravel Hugger is open until 11:59 p.m. PST, March 1.

Ed note: Due to the weather forecast, the race start times are being delayed, with the women’s Full Hug riders going at 11:00 a.m. PST, followed by the open Full Hug at 11:15, the Half Hug at 11:30, and the Handshake at 11:45. 

The Full Hug and Half Hug course distances are also being shortened by 20 and 15 miles, respectively. 





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