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Behind the scenes of most gravel races are the hopes and dreams of a community.
From rural communities like Hico, Texas to small cities like Emporia and boom-and-bust towns like Leadville, Colorado, gravel races can bring economic benefits that last beyond race weekend. An influx of people riding bikes can also inspire locals to join in on the activity.
Pueblo, Colorado is not on most gravel cyclists’ radar, but some hope that the debut of Gravel Locos there this weekend will change that.
The city of 112,000 that’s situated south of Colorado Springs on the banks of the Arkansas River is mostly known for producing steel and growing green chiles, which thrive in the region’s high desert environment.
Yet for many people traveling up and down the I-25 corridor, Pueblo is sometimes considered flyover territory.
It doesn’t have the cutesy charm of mining towns-turned ski resorts, nor the huge peaks to back them up. Its gritty urban facade has been spruced up in recent years, but it’s still not quite a destination city.
Nevertheless, a gravel race could change that.
Fabian Serralta, who launched Gravel Locos in Texas in 2021, is bringing the same formula to Pueblo this weekend. His events are designed to cater to everyone from first timers to the elite set. Charity is a tenant.
Gravel Locos Pueblo is a fundraiser for the Pueblo’s Red Creek Volunteer Fire and Rescue department. Serralta leverages the pro presence at VIP events in order to give more money to charitable partners.
For the community members who’ve rallied around the first-year event, the hope and dream is that the event will mutually benefit both the city and its visitors.
Bull riding + gravel riding
When Chad Blankenship, the senior vice president of business development for the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) saw the headline “Gravel racing is coming to Pueblo” in the Pueblo Chieftain, the city’s newspaper, he knew he wanted PBR to be involved.
So, he rang up Fabian Serralta, the director of the race, Gravel Locos, and asked how PBR could help.
For the uninitiated, PBR is a sports league for bull riders. Blankenship describes the sport as a “super high octane thrilling eight seconds. We put together a really high powered show where the bull riding, the athletic pursuit, is the keystone of it. It’s a really impactful overall entertainment experience.”
So what could the NBA of bull riding offer a gravel race?
Blankenship said that first and foremost, “we’re happy to support a race that is going to showcase the City of Pueblo.”
PRB’s headquarters have been stationed in Pueblo for the last 15 years, and it’s a major employer in the city. Furthermore, Pueblo is home of the PBR Sport Performance Center, an 18,000 square foot multi-use sports and training performance center. PBR has donated the use of the facility to Gravel Locos for its VIP dinner, as well as racer check-in.
Blankenship said that, aside from the faint parallels between gravel riding and bull riding — “the cowboy ethos” — he wanted to support an event that will ostensibly bring benefits to the community of Pueblo — both for its economy and beyond.
“It probably seems untraditional that a global sports league would sponsor a small gravel race in a burgeoning scene, but it’s giving back to the community,” he said.
“It isn’t just economic impact but the inspiration it can provide for young people in the community. Look at Leadville, I credit Ken and Merilee [Chlouber and Maupin, founders of the Leadville Race Series] for having that vision and continuing to grow it. Cities see that, promoters see that, and I think Fabian sees that. That’s exciting to me.”
While there aren’t any bull riding events scheduled during race weekend, Blankenship said it’s a possibility in the future.
Showcasing the unknown
Pueblo trailbuilder Adam Davidson is also thinking about what Gravel Locos could accomplish in the long run.
Davidson, who has lived in the Pueblo for almost a decade and serves on the board of the Southern Colorado Trailbuilders, the regions’ primary stakeholder group for trailbuilding, created the four courses for Gravel Locos and acted as an invaluable resource to Serralta during the conception of the event.
As a cyclist who “pores over maps daily,” Davidson said that one of his objectives in creating the Gravel Locos routes was “to connect people to the places that surround Pueblo that make it what it is for me.”
“A lot of stuff around town, folks don’t even know it exists,” he said. “The Beulah Valley. The road, Colorado 78, out of Beulah is the last unpaved highway in Colorado. When I was building the routes, I wanted to get people to the roads that bring you through the parts of Pueblo you don’t know about.”
Furthermore, as someone who also wants to attract more visitors — who could become locals — to his community, Davidson was also careful to incorporate some of Pueblo’s more recognizable attributes into the courses, such as Lake Pueblo State Park.
All four routes pass by the park, and its tangle of singletrack trails can be spotted from the road. For many Colorado riders, Lake Pueblo is known as an early season mountain bike destination.
“If the region is hosting a race like this, why wouldn’t you highlight what’s already there? That’s 45 miles of singletrack that’s six miles from town,” Davidson said.
Davidson knows that Pueblo suffers from a bit of a perception problem, and it’s part of the reason he’s always happy to help people who want to bring it into the spotlight. In addition to helping Serralta design the race courses, Davidson also collaborated on route creation for the Gravel Adventure Field Guide, a pocket guide to riding gravel in the region.
Like Blankenship of PBR, Davidson believes that a rising tide lifts all boats. If a gravel race will bring people to town, then he wants to support it.
“No one thing is going to uplift the perception of Pueblo, it takes every little bit,” he said. “It’s the positive effort that people are willing to put in matters. I want to see this sort of stuff happen in Pueblo, and I want to see it start happening internally. If it takes an outsider first, that’s ok, because that will get things moving from in the inside.”
Sometimes a strong pro presence helps put a gravel race — and thus its host community — on the map. This was certainly the case at the first Gravel Locos event in Texas in 2021.
Notable names coming to town also give host communities another thing to leverage, and this weekend’s start list is stacked with the pointy end.
Women’s WorldTour pros Emily Newsom and Lauren Stephens will both be in attendance, with Stephens squeezing the race in between road and gravel world championships. Boulder local Emma Grant and Rio Olympian Flavia Oliveira Parks will also illuminate the women’s race. Alison Tetrick and Christie Tracey are two other women to watch.
A strong contingent of men including Gravel Locos Hico champ Laurens ten Dam, Ian Boswell, Ted King, Adam Roberge, Alex Howes, Russell Finsterwald, Innokenty Zavyalov, Marc Spratt, Nathan Spratt, Kiel Reijnen, Mat Stephens, and Ben Delaney will start in Pueblo on Saturday.
For those wanting to brush shoulders with these athletes, a VIP dinner on Thursday evening, as well as a VIP ride and lunch on Friday, are options. Both benefit the fire department.
However, while pros are there to race and support the event, they are also participants with time to explore Pueblo before and after. Their far-ranging reach, via social media and other networks, is another way to promote the destination.
For Russell Finsterwald, Gravel Locos has given him a reason to revisit a place he spent time as a kid.
“I’ve actually ridden quite a bit in Pueblo,” Finsterwald said. “Not so much in recent years, but when I was first getting into riding, my family would go down to Pueblo Reservoir just about every weekend to camp and go boating. I was roughly 13 at the time and starting to take the sport more seriously, so I’d wake up early before we headed to the boat to go ‘train.’
“A lot of the roads we will be racing on are actually what I would go ride! The wet mountains of Colorado are a really neat area so it will be neat to come back and visit this weekend.”