One of the first UCI Gravel World Series held in Australia this year, shining on the corner of the world not traditionally associated with gravel racing, but important was far from the first.
Australia may not have Europe’s more than a century of cyclo-cross inspired affinity for riding skinny-turret bikes on rough surfaces or the growth of L’Eroica to remind us that in the United States like Unbound. It does, however, have the essential ingredients.
Gold was how the race director of Australia’s first round of the Gravel World Series, Stephen Gallagher, described the roads he saw when he was first taken to the Western Australian region of Nannup to explore the possibility of a gravel race. Even before that gravel riding was sinking deep into the consciousness of a community looking for a new adventure on the bike and those pockets of gravel that were generously sprinkled around the nation by race organisers couldn’t help but see the sparkle of potential in racing on those unevenly surfaced roads – in some cases maybe even when the riders couldn’t.
Rohin Adams was organizing a mountain bike marathon events using the gravel roads tucked into the forests fringing Melbourne to connect sections of single track . Those who wanted to use single-track instead, but Adams decided to respond in the opposite direction. As a result, it describes it, almost by accident.
“I have been racing in Europe where I have done no marathons and I have found these amazing The Big Hill race director told Cyclingnews. “That’s where Dirty Gran Fondo came from.”
Less is definitely sometimes more. The race which was first run in Wandong in 2012, with three distances – 30km, 65km and 90km – can all be done same start and finish but those are longer branched out rather than looped back to the start at each of the two feed stations.
The shared experience, quirky signs to distract from the screaming legs on the climbs, live music and a coffee machine at the feed zone in the middle of the Mt Disappointment State Forest proved a winning combination.
There were 165 riders at the first edition and there were 48 on cyclo-cross bikes, which was not yet common in Australia at that point. days. Some racket, others were just happy to finish, but that was the start of the event which for several years stood out on a calendar as the road and mountain bike riders met in the middle ground of gravel.
“I had the scene for three years and we sort of doubled our numbers each year,” said Adams. “And then other events started cropping up.”
Adams’ Big Hill Events, which was running his last Dirty Gran Fondo in 2017 next year, the Mitta to Mt Beauty.
That was a 55km race from one of the small Victorian Alpine hamlet of Mitta Mitta, to the small town of Mount Beauty, separated by a bustling gravel. years left riders hoping it wouldn’t snow and others made the icy mountain stream at the bottom of the descent look almost inviting. It has been running since 1992 with riders mostly on mountain bikes, but they have not been caught in the mire and more tires came in handy and were faster, so mountain bikes were still the steed of choice.
These two events have always been filling up, but they have never been replaced, but these events have become more and more common. considered common.
‘It doesn’t have to be a smash fest’
Events were cropping up across the country. Among them was Western Australia’s Seven, which this year, in its fifth edition, became the first Australian round of the Gravel World Championships.
“The event came at the sweet spot when it started to get popular,” said Gallagher, a former professional racer and, among other things, a director at Dig Deep and a performance coach with Canyon-SRAM who is also involved in the Zwift Academy.
“We are beginning to see the inclusion, first of all, in races like the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia of the odd gravel segment, and obviously the United States has a big momentum in gravel. Gravel itself was becoming part of the mainstream, I think because a lot of people were trying to get off the roads. “
Even with the state border closure of the pandemic, and more than a thousand years down the road to take over the course of the Blackwood Valley.
The first Australian Gravel Championship was also run in 2018 in Victoria, run alongside the popular mass-participation ride, Amy’s Gran Fondo.
However, while there were undoubtedly participating riders who wanted to try and push their name as high as possible and events catering for that, gravel as a discipline felt more social and oriented towards having the adventure with friends than road or even mountain bike racing. As a result events were often geared towards participation and challenge, rather than pure – or at all – about racing. Plus, rather than skewing towards the long distances seen at some US events, the longest distance options still often tended to be under 100km.
One example is the Great Otway Gravel Grind, which was added to the mix in 2017, running the day after the popular Otway Odyssey MTB Marathon, with a 97km and 47km event.
“It doesn’t have to be a smash fest and it doesn’t have to be open only to elites,” Sam Maffett, general manager of event organiser Rapid Ascent told Cyclingnews on the sidelines of the 2022 event. “We wanted to provide the framework for elite riders to have a fast, well-organized race over a fair course where the best rider wins, but also deliver a format where newcomers can feel welcome side with the same riders and do it at their own pace. With a 200 mile event you’re ruling out 80% of the field to start with. “
The feed zones at the event are excluded from the timing, so even if you have a coffee and cake stop mid-event mates aren’t out of the question.
“Cycling for me should be about participation, getting people out in the great outdoors, challenging themselves in their own way,” said Maffett.
“If we can create a format and a discipline that is attractive to riders of all ability – they can race if they want to, they can enjoy the view if they want to – and they can be done at the start and finish with a grin at the end then I think we’ve done our job. ”
Emerging to full gravel
The COVID-19 pandemic presented a challenge for event organizers through many pockets of the nation in 2020 and 2021, as they did the COVID-19 pandemic, but as the opening up continued through 2022 it appears that the range of gravel events broadened almost overnight.
The number of participation focussed events grew, with many organisers adding gravel. Adams and his event group Big Hill Events which was once the starting point of the long-running Mitta to Mt Beauty.
The range of events is also broadening, with local clubs running gravel races, and competition ramping up on a national and even international level. The UCI Gravel World Series joined in May, but a new event on the calendar, Gravelista in Beechworth, would also add a second Australian round in September. From the top of the Australian Gravel Championships, which has been on the ice for two years, was the calendar for July in 2022 at the Noosa Gravel Enduro.
“I think we’re on the precipice of gravel racing becoming more of a go to,” said Adams, who has been heavily involved in the evolution of the gravel racing scene throughout the years. the traffic management issues have become difficult and costly.
“The club scene is starting to hold gravel events, as I see it going on in the mainstream and cement it as a stable part of the season,” said Adams. “I think it’s a verge of filling out all the different options of gravel becoming a thing.”
In the vein of Unbound with its signature 200 miles (321km).
However, this year Australia’s oldest road race, the Melbourne to Warrnambool, is adding a gravel event – the Dirty Warrny – which in November will take riders over 246km with 3,246m of climbing.
“There is nothing in this style of racing here and it is sought after in the US,” Event Director Karin Jones told Cyclingnews.
“There are other shorter races, which is great fun, they’ve got a place for sure, but there are riders that definitely want the challenge. It’s something that you can set your goals and targets for. ”
Gravel racing is a necessity that provides a link to the familiarity and past, but that it can help to keep the discipline growing even larger.