Cycling's quiet "Hard Man" Svein Tuft is recently retired. But it sounds like he's still making moves. The Andorra resident is reportedly starting a bike shop in Santa Coloma on the main road leading into Andorra. The shop will provide gravel ride excursions around Catalunya's lower elevation Garrotxa mountains in the spring, and then through the higher elevation Pyrenees in the summer.
"I know this area like the back of my hand," said Tuft. "There's everything. A lot of parkland, so there's no development at all. There's some immaculate gravel roads, some big crazy climbs, and lots of switchbacks. I'm still fascinated by all of this terrain."
Tuft's gravel tours will lead gravel riders through Spain, Andorra, and France. And who better to lead you through those rugged mountains than the former world tour pro who would wander through the trees barefoot while meditating before every morning's Tour De France stage?
Should there be a UCI sanctioned "Gravel" World Championships? There isn't one to date, but that may be changing soon. UCI President David Lappartient (of France) seems to be aware of the growing gravel scene both in Europe and North America. And let's be honest, since professional cycling is a business, Lappartient wants a piece. When asked whether a Gravel "Worlds" is in the making, he replied "I think so, I think so, this is something that is under discussion and that is possible in the future."
But, not everyone is thrilled with the news. Lachlan Morton (EF Education First) reportedly responded to the news with "[gravel] already has a world championships in the Dirty Kanza." And that's fair. See how suspicious Lachlan looks (below)? I don't think he's down with the UCI stepping into gravel. Well, let's break down the pros & cons of having a UCI sanctioned Gravel World Championship.
This type of news seems to be occurring a lot recently. From Ted King, to Pete Stetina, to TJ Eisenhart, and now Ian Boswell. The former Tour de France rider, and 11 year road pro, has announced that he will step away from the European road race circuit to race a full 2020 season of gravel events as a one man team sponsored by Wahoo (the indoor training company). Boswell had an offer from Rally Cycling to continue on the road, but opted for a new adventure. Good for him.
Boswell will not only be a racer, but also work as a "brand athlete liaison" to get the gravel word out to the masses. It appears to be a similar model to the one adopted by Ted King & TJ Eisenhart. Although Ted King likes to win races, while TJ just likes to spread love. It remains to be seen how Boswell will race these gravel events.
Boswell has cited the suffocating regimen of world tour racing (i.e. endless travel, sleepless nights, incessant training, monastic living, and calorie deficit disorders) as one reason he is moving on. He wants the new, thrilling, creative expression of gravel. Not road. The Gravelution is what he wants. We wish him well.
I'm not surprised when I hear this kind of news anymore . . . "Professional Road Racer Retiring to Gravel."
One of the coolest dudes in professional road cycling is following Ted King & Pete Stetina onto the gravel scene. TJ is one of my favorites. A fellow Utahn, I once yelled "Good Luck TJ" from the side of the road while he was warming up for the Salt Lake City circuit of the Tour of Utah. He looked over, huge smile, and said "Thanks man, much love, and enjoy that sandwich." I can get behind a dude like that.
So, TJ is creating his own Gravel endeavor called Imaginary Collective with fellow road racer Andrew Dahlheim. The two "dudes" will race various big "mass participant" gravel races (think Dirty Kanza, SBT GRVL, & Crusher in the Tushar, etc.) as well as some endurance MTB races (think Epic Series). Interestingly, TJ says he isn't too interested in actually "winning" these races. Rather, following his Mormon-Buddhist soul, he just wants to be there, taking in the vibe, enjoying the moment, and communing with all of that gravel. Like Ted King, TJ will promote certain brands through Instagram, YouTube, and his own painting. And like his friend Taylor Phinney has stated, this gets him out from under the crushing dictatorship of road sponsors, and into the free-thinking realm of sponsoring whatever he feels passionate about.
It's a new model, but he's not the first to do it. TJ is a supremely interesting dude, and Gravelution.com wishes him well.
In what is surely a controversial move, former US road racer Pete Stetina tweeted his upcoming 2020 gravel race schedule with the hashtag #PeteRuinedGravel (a nod to the eternal debate of whether pro road racers pedaling into the growing gravel scene actually undermines the "cool" & "organic" feel of gravel races).
Regardless of your thoughts on that debate, Stetina's race schedule is perhaps the most ambitious gravel season IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD. He's racing literally every material gravel event under the sun (with some mountain bike races thrown in for good measure). Check this out:
Good luck Pete. Don't ruin Gravel!
*Side note. When Pete tweeted this 2020 schedule, Ted King tweeted back "Hate to break it to you Pete, but I ruined gravel years ago." I love Ted King.
Bentonville is blowing up. It's quickly becoming a major US cycling hub with its world-class singletrack trails. Well, now add to the mix a brand new gravel race . . . the Big Sugar.
The race features two options:
1) The "Big Sugar" features 109 miles of premium gravel roads with 9,000 vertical feet of climbing. That's a tough day.
2) The "Little Sugar" features 50 miles of the same gravel with 4,500 vertical feet of "Up" for a more manageable day out on the road.
Now, it's been widley reported that the Big Sugar registration sold out in FIVE MINUTES. Why? The Gravelution. Gravel races are bigger than ever. The wave is rolling strong.
Just like Ted King did a year ago, another world class road racer has officially retired to move exclusively to Gravel Racing. Why? Because man, the GRAVELUTION! That said, it is an interesting trend that we're seeing. Ted King was a staple in road racing for years. Then, one day, he retired and now rides really awesome gravel races around the world. He even created his own gravel race.
Pete Stetina seems to be following suit. In various interviews this week, he simply said that gravel races excite him more than road races.
"I still love road racing and I would have really liked to have blended both, but it wasn't feasible," he said. "Most WorldTour team managers are not open to that. So I am officially striking out on my own in a privateer venture."
Good on you, Pete. We hope you nail it.
The good folks at Outerbike invited Gravelution.com down to Moab this last weekend for our first "GO" at the incredible mountain bike demo festival. It was a blast. Here is Gravelution's list of Outerbike "Pros & Cons."
I really can't think of anything else negative to say about our Outerbike experience. Would I do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat. I was sad to leave on Sunday. We had an absolute blast.
And one final note, as a staunch gravel rider, I was basically one of three people in lycra the WHOLE weekend:
Me . . . in my lycra . . . on the very XC racey feeling Canyon Lux
Looks like Outside Magazine is getting on the gravel bike train too! The article is here, but I'll post it below for your enjoyment. Perhaps most interestingly, the article quotes a Shimano distributor who claims that bike shops are selling gravel bikes at a NINE to ONE ratio to road bikes. That's an amazingly steep ratio!
From Outside Magazine:
"Bicyclists are dying on our streets, and, if you hadn’t noticed, people are pissed off about it. The statistics are grim: in the U.S., 2016 was the deadliest year for cyclists in a quarter century. In 2018, fatalities jumped 10 percent over 2017. In New York City, where 19 cyclists have died so far this year in crashes compared to ten in all of 2018, bikers staged a mass die-in protest in early July in Washington Square Park. A lot of factors have contributed to the bloodshed, including too many cars, distracted drivers, piecemeal bike lanes, and more cyclists on the roads. Yet despite the efforts of many American cities and towns to make neighborhoods more walkable and bikeable, people are increasingly fearful of riding—or even running or walking—around cars.
It’s no wonder we’re all migrating to dirt. Trail running now counts nine million participants, up from only a few million a decade ago. A Canadian Shimano distributor informs me that bike shops in Toronto are selling gravel bikes (beefed-up road bikes with fatter rubber) at a nine-to-one ratio to road models. On the participation front, mountain biking is also on the rise. The Vermont Mountain Bike Association, which can be read as a bellwether for the collective health of the sport, has grown from 1,250 members in 2014 to more than 6,250 members today.
Vacationing in search of dirt is also all the rage. Summer tourism to mountain towns and mountain resorts is booming right now, with many mountain lodges doing more summer business than winter. And what’s the biggest driver of that—other than the fact that drinking White Claws on the beach (and then dodging traffic on the walk or ride home) gets old? The build-out of hike-bike-run trails both at ski areas and around towns. Trail construction is currently a major initiative in the resort business, and local tourism boards are behind it, too, supporting the efforts of trail associations.
Dirt is suddenly resplendent. Athlinks, the tech platform of Life Time, which owns and operates health clubs and participatory events like the Leadville, Colorado, race series, Dirty Kanza, and Chicago Half Marathon, reports that off-road events—gravel and mountain-bike rides, trail and mud runs—dominate the wish lists of their members. Meanwhile, says company spokesperson Kimo Seymour, its data on timed races shows “modest to significant declines in events on pavement over the last three to four years, specifically road running, road cycling, and triathlon.” Also surging right now, he adds, is youth mountain biking.
Beyond the fact that our nation’s roads have grown too unpleasant and just downright deadly, people are flocking to dirt because, as we understand better every day, spending time in nature can improve our health in numerous ways. Personally, I’ve largely quit my longtime road-cycling habit after many years of road riding recreationally five days a week. (I was also bike-commuting 150 to 200 days a year but work from home now.) During my decade and a half of living in Boulder, Colorado, I advocated for safer roads. I adopted lights and brighter clothing. I stopped at stop signs and signaled my turns. But over time, as I lost friends and friends of friends to tragic bike crashes, I found myself feeling safe only when riding in pelotons. And since pelotons are widely scattered in western Montana, where I now live, it’s dirt for me. Many in my wider community of cycling buddies have followed a similar trajectory.
We really shouldn’t abandon the road, though. According to cycling-advocacy group People for Bikes, bike commuting currently accounts for about 10 to 12 percent of all cycling, and it’s vital for our health and the health of the planet that we grow those numbers. But the only safe way to do that is to follow the lead of bike-friendly places, like the Netherlands, and do more than merely paint bike lanes. We need physically protected bike lanes and paths. The goal isn’t coexistence; it’s segregation. In big urban areas, this will require large-scale capital investments. In places like Boulder and Park City, Utah, where it’s possible to commute on dirt, how about more of those low-cost options we call trails?
In the meantime, let’s fight more vigorously to get the word out that bikes are an important part of our transportation infrastructure. Tim Blumenthal, president of People for Bikes and a former editor at Bicycling magazine, told me that the group’s advocacy has grown from pushing for bike lanes and infrastructure to now include the message that bicycles are a public good, improving health while lowering transportation costs. He says this is especially important in a social climate where a lot of anger is directed at bicyclists.
As for diehard roadies, Blumenthal sees signs of hope in self-driving cars and bike computers that talk to them via GPS. Such innovations, he posits, could dramatically reduce crashes (though that could be wishful thinking). He also thinks that in the near future car makers, phone companies, and government will collaborate on a strategy to make it impossible for drivers to text behind the wheel. But these are small improvements to a fundamentally broken system.
“Will the road experience ever return to the point where we feel truly comfortable and safe again?” Blumenthal asked rhetorically. “The tough answer is that it won’t. And that’s a sad thought.” He pegs the cause to simple volume: Americans drove 600 billion more miles in 2017 than they did in 1997. “To think that the experience of safely riding on the road is done—it’s hard to even process. Improving or just recovering the recreational road experience is the biggest challenge that People for Bikes faces. And we just don’t know what to do. The nation accepts 40,000 car-accident deaths a year. In the current climate, the lives of road cyclists aren’t held in much regard.”
I would argue that the same is true for road runners and pedestrians. Until that changes, we’re all better off getting dirty."
Fancy a gravel bike ride (hut to hut) in Iceland?