The American gravel scene saw its best field of 2021 descend on Hico, Texas on Saturday for the inaugural Gravel Locos with Laurens ten Dam holding off a late charge from Colin Strickland to win the 155-mile gravel race.
In the pouring rain, the race came down to a crack group of eight that included Ten Dam, Strickland, Ted King, Peter Stetina, Adam Roberge, Dylan Johnson, Sam Boardman, and Mat Stephens but with 40km remaining Ten Dam struck for home.
His move looked to be enough to secure victory but a late mechanical at the final river crossing meant that ten Dam was unable to change gear for the final 10 kilometres. However the former Tour de France top 10 finisher managed to hold off a fast-finishing Strickland to win in a time of 7:04:14. Strickland, who was coming back from injury, and finished just 34 seconds down. Roberge 'a Canadian who can put out major wattage' according to King, rounded out the elite men's podium.
A couple of hours after the race Cyclingnews called Ten Dam who was enjoying the post-race party.
"I’m super happy. It was great out there," he told us. "It was 150 miles but we did the first 10 miles at a neutralized pace because there was a pretty big river crossing just before that point. In the end the field was down to about eight or nine really strong guys.
"Then it started to rain and we were slowly down to six and then five at the front of the race. I attacked with 40km to go and it was real Flandrian weather. It was basically like Strade Bianche in the rain. I managed to pull it off and Strickland was second. It was quite a field."
"It was a 40km solo attack that got me the win. They had me pretty close for the first twenty minutes but then I think they started to crack. Stetina had a flat and I couldn’t see them anymore. But then I had a bit of a problem with my shifting in the last 10 kilometers after I went through the last river crossing. It meant that I was basically riding single speed because my rear derailleur had jammed up. I had a good gear and I lost a bit of time but I was able to hang on until the end."
This was Ten Dam's first major competitive race since he hung up his WorldTour wheels back in 2019. Since then he has raced one Grasshopper Adventure Series event in California and taken part in a bike packing event but due to the pandemic, he remained in Europe until last week.
He flew to the US and drove from Illinois to Texas in a rented camper van and will remain on that side of the Atlantic for the next few weeks with Unbound Gravel next on his programme. Earlier in the week, he admitted to Cyclingnews that he had been nervous heading into Gravel Locos but the experience of racing against some of the best gravel riders in the US and winning, was a huge confidence booster.
"I got a Texas cowboy boot as a trophy and it's honestly the best trophy I've ever had," he said after the race.
"It’s great to be in Texas and I’ve felt really welcome. I’ll stay for a week and I’m super happy. The van life continues with Unbound in a couple of weeks. Like I said to Cyclingnews before the event, this was my first really big race since Il Lombardia in 2019. It’s nice to win it."
Ten Dam wasn't the only rider with a smile on his face after the race. Several elite riders posted selfies on Instagram after the event, while Ted King was satisfied with his seventh place given that he underwent surgery less than a month ago after breaking his collarbone while racing on gravel in California.
"All things considered it went really well. I’m about three and half weeks post collarbone. I was talking to Laurens a few days ago and he was telling me to be careful with my comeback, and the thing is if I was coming back to a WorldTour peloton I would have waited many more weeks before getting back into competition but there’s so much more control in a gravel race," King told Cyclingnews. "So about two hours into the race Laurens turned to me and said ‘okay now I get why you’re back’."
"We started with about a couple of hundred riders but then after a couple of hills and a couple of attacks we were down to maybe 20. Then it was ten. When my day effectively ended though we were down to seven and that was at mile 125. Given what I’ve been through over the last few weeks I was really okay with that outing.
"It was an awesome event and this was a good confidence boost after coming back from this broken collarbone. This is the last race before Unbound so from here we’ll head home to Vermont for a bit because we’ve been on the road for about five weeks."
** The event was free to enter but anyone can make a donation to the local fire department here.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Laurens Ten Dam||7:04:14|
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