Monday, October 9, 2023

Gravel World Champs

 A rainbow jersey for gravel racing?

Here's the link to the story Zio stole the photo from.

Is Zio Lorenzo the only one who smells an industry-created rainbow jersey here? I mean, c' already created a Hall of Fame, which was kind of laughable, right?

The bike biz seems really obsessed with gravel bikes. They've already sold you a 'cross bike which is so last fad, not to mention a road bike, an aero road bike,  an endurance road bike, not to mention a super light road bike and gawd-knows-what else.

So now it's gravel bike with a rainbow jersey to go with 'em. Zio says they should have given rainbow jerseys to the winners of Strade Bianche Eroica Pro  but what does he know? He knows a few things - one being that gravel is another American invention, despite the fact races have been run on unpaved surfaces for years and the Strade Bianche for pros event has been run for over a decade.

Some guys race on gravel roads across Kansas or Iowa in sort of what Zio calls an "Evel Kneivel" event = an event you dreamed up because you couldn't win anything that was already being run. Kneivel wasn't a very good motorcycle racer so he decided to be the champ of jumping his Harley-Davidson over school buses. One could argue triathlon was invented by guys who weren't good enough to win a bike, swim or foot race, so combining them would give them a chance to be champs at something, even if its something they created.

More than a few US pros have stopped racing at the World Tour level to return home and race gravel. One even turned down an offer to race at the WT with Jonathon Vaughters squad after winning a big gravel race. But just like with MTB's back-in-the-day, once the big, bad UCI got involved these US gravel champs found it tough to win in international competition. Too many US sports organizations crown their champs as "World Champs" when their own name is National (as in NBA, NFL) rather than International.

But at least this time round the US gravel champ came in 5th, though far, far behind the winner - a road pro and winner of Milano-Sanremo, riding his very first gravel race, riding pretty much a road bike with room for fatter tires. Meanwhile the women's rainbow jersey was one by another road pro...riding her first gravel race.

Funny thing is, until the 1980's pretty much any road bike could have been used as a gravel bike. Look at old photos of Fausto Coppi, or more recently Felice Gimondi and notice they're racing on GRAVEL roads a lot of the time. But once "short reach" brakes came along with their supposed technological superiority, tires were limited to around 28 mm in width, making "gravel" riding perhaps too challenging.

But now with disc brakes, there's no limit on room for fat tires on drop-bar bicycles, though the course used for the gravel world's looked on TV like it could have easily been raced on bikes like John Tomac or even Zio Lorenzo raced on back-in-the-day.

So what happened? Zio thinks MTB courses have become really technical due to 29" wheels and full suspension, with "rock gardens" and all kinds of stuff that would have either caused crashes or cyclocross style bike carrying with 26" wheels and rigid frames/forks. Gravel has been inserted into this space, both in sales and competition, but the industry is still trying to figure out whether these things are drop-bar MTB's or road bikes with room for fatter tires, like back-in-the-day. Either way, they want to sell you one...or more, if they can convince you that you need one of each!

Until they figure it out, Zio thinks 2023 Strade Bianche winnersThomas Pidcock and Demi Vollering are as much gravel world champs as Matej Mohoric or Kasia Niewiadoma, though the latter get to wear the rainbow stripes.

And Zio Lorenzo now has one of each - his ancient 26" wheeled, rim-braked, front suspended SuperGravelMonster

And a "real" gravel bike

Just like the one(s) Heather has, which is a story for a future blog post!

Another take on this race HERE. And more on the gravel racing scene HERE.


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