The North American gravel scene kicks up another notch this weekend with the inaugural Gravel Locos race taking place in Hico Texas. A host of high-profile names are set to take part in the daunting 155-mile (249 kilometre) race with Alison Tetrick, Ted King, Colin Strickland, Lauren Stephens, and Peter Stetina headlining the field. Laurens ten Dam has also ventured over from Europe to race his first major event since retiring from the WorldTour at the end of 2019.
The event is the brainchild of promoter Fabian Serralta who hopes to put down gravel racing roots in Texas, as well as build a cycling community in the region. The race is also helping to raise funds for the Hico Volunteer Fire Department, with over $35,000 already donated.
“Early on the promoter was reaching out to some gravel cyclists like myself, Ted King, and Peter Stetina to run ideas by us about putting together an event in Texas,” Tetrick told Cyclingnews the morning after travelling from California to Texas.
“He DM’d me and he asked if I would come and support his event. He wanted to help build a gravel community in Texas with a free event and it sounded like a really cool idea. But funnily I initially thought it might be a 100-kilometre event but it’s a huge race and 1,100 riders are going to be here but it’s super to see this sort of approach and how more and more people are going to be getting in gravel. So this is a great opportunity for the sport.”
The gravel race scene in North America has been hit hard in the last year with COVID-19 decimating the calendar. Some events are slowly starting to come back, such as the Grasshopper Series, and UNBOUND is set to take place in a matter of weeks. However, Gravel Locos is perhaps the first time that athletes from all across the country have made their way to one location.
“What did I sign up for?” laughs Tetrick, who hasn’t pinned on a race number in over a year due to the pandemic.
“I mean it just shows how excited people are to go to events. It’s a new location and a couple of the athletes are local and it just seems like a really cool place to race in. It’s an impressive line-up."
But this is more than just a race. The Gravel Locos represents a chance for a whole peloton of athletes to turn the page after a difficult twelve months and for the community spirit that underpins the entire ethos of gravel racing to once more shine.
“This will be my first major competitive race this season," said Tetrick. "I did a segmented event earlier in the year, the Wild West Gravel Grinder, but this is my first race of the year. In fact this is my first competitive race since over a year ago. March 2020 was the last time I raced. I’m just excited to be reunited with the gravel community I’ve got to know over the last few years.
"There’s always a level of anxiousness when it comes to lining up with a bunch of people when you know that you’ve been riding by yourself for a year. For me, personally, this event is about more than just a race – it’s about supporting an event and growing it. I want to give back but I also want to experience what it’s like to have that bike hangover feeling because that’s the sort of thing that you can’t feel when you’re riding on your own.”
There are three courses available for the riders who signed up, with options for a 30, 63 or 155-mile event. The latter comprises of 112 miles of pure gravel racing, and 8,200 feet of climbing.
“They’ve had quite a bit of rain here but it's pretty rocky here so it’s hard-packed gravel but that could mean that the river crossings are a bit deeper. Depending on the storms between now and then I think the terrain is rolling. The elevation gain isn’t crazy but it’s never perfectly flat either. From what I’ve seen in the photos and the recon that I’ve done it looks like something in between an UNBOUND and Gravel Worlds. Both of those events are rolling and don’t have a single sustained long climb. It’s more constantly up and down.” Tetrick went out on Thursday afternoon and rode part of the course before sending her notes to Cyclingnews.
"It's hard-packed gravel into double track and deep river crossings that if it keeps raining and if [there are] thunderstorms, will require walking through," said Tetrick. "There are some pretty steep hills deep into the course, but it will be a fast and a solid Texas adventure.
"Basically I am excited to be reunited with my gravel family. Races, for me, are about challenging myself and having fun. It sounds cliché, but gravel is about lowering your tyre pressure and life pressure. Enjoy the ride, and celebrate the day."
Whether the terrain goes up or down, just the fact that big-time gravel racing is continuing to come back to the United States is something to celebrate in itself.
** The event was free to enter but anyone can make a donation to the local fire department here.
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