Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Here They Come

Riders take off from the start line of the Paris to Ancaster Bike Race
Photo Credit - Greening Media
You've probably heard that "they" were coming to gravel events. The Pro road team invasion of gravel events that many people have been lamenting. Well, I think a lot of folks expected that this would occur maybe at one of the West Coast based rides, and certainly, the Dirty Kanza 200 would be one of their targeted events.

Well, I've known about this one event, not a US based one either, but a Canadian event, that has been going on for a quarter of a century now and is going to see three Continental teams and one Pro mtb based team show up at their start line on April 28th of this year. It's called Paris to Ancaster.

It's interesting from a lot of standpoints. The semi-Pro/Continental teams that are going to contest the event represent what is "hot" now. Teams not married to the road scene doing something that was grown from the bottom up. Which is something new. Big races used to be the thing to do. Attract the Pros, semi-Pros, and up and coming talent. The prizes were cash. Maybe an invitation to race on an organized team with support of companies who provided gear, bicycles, and if you were good enough, a salary to live off of. The goal of becoming a sponsored rider, who didn't have to pay for anything, and was treated like a thoroughbred race horse, was the goal.

 Gravel races didn't take that avenue. They allowed anyone and everyone access to the same course, start line, and rules. Entry was dictated, generally, by the rider's desire to just try the course. Prizing? Whatever. Rules were few and easy to understand. Licenses were for car bumpers. This wasn't noticed at first by the "typical road scene". In fact, gravel/All-road cycling was something that was looked down upon for many years until recently. The coverage of the Pro road racing scene barely mentioned anything about gravel racing. Those guys were "dirt bags" and those races weren't even "real races".

Then something happened. Road racing wasn't what it used to be. The numbers didn't lie. Road races were disappearing, funding was drying up, and riders were not renewing licenses. Where was competitive cycling going? I recall not that long ago seeing articles lamenting the future of competitive cycling in North America. It was in dire straits. The question, "Where will North America's next Tour de France rider come from if there is no road racing scene anymore?" was seen in more than one article. Of course, this assumes that going to "The Tour" is the pinnacle of cycling achievement. Maybe it isn't. Many were just not giving a damn anymore, and the growth of gravel events is a good indication of this.
I come across new "grassroots" rides all the time.

So, what do you expect? Those roadies finally figured out that gravel events happened on "roads", just not paved ones. It wasn't all that different after all, just, well......less uptight. This was good. Then the word spread. Money started making its influence be known. Marketing twisted the story lines, and the original base of gravel pioneers were fearing that the "invasion of the roadies" was going to spoil the party. Well, here they come, and Paris to Ancaster will be the big show this Spring.

It's something that is a sign of the maturing of the gravel scene. I guess I just don't see that it is anything to fear. I mean, it is what it is. Many folks are joining in on the gravel scene, and it continues to gain momentum. That's good. That's good whether it is the inner city kid, the young woman rider, or the newest Continental road squad. Variety of events is not going to be affected by the monies being thrown around by some events, companies, and teams. Many "grassroots" events have changed, that is true, but new ones pop up all the time. If anything, there are too many of this grassroots type of event now. 

So, if you start hearing folks complaining about how "the roadies are coming" and what that is doing to the gravel scene, just remind them that there are new, basic, simple, free, nearly free, and totally grassroots races/challenges/rides being invented every year. I know. I maintain a calendar of events and it has grown from a handful in 2008 to nearly 600 now. Most of the new events are not anything a Pro road racer, or heck, even a Cat 3, would want to go "compete in". Whatever that looks like to a road racer. All I know is that roadies are not ruining the scene. Races with big production, fancy trappings, and prize money are not ruining the scene. They just aren't. The grassroots races/events are off the charts in 2019, and that wouldn't be the case if the road influence was "killing the sport".


Ari said...

Well said and the roads are free to use to anyone that can make a route. Get out and enjoy your freedom while you still have it!

jdc said...

I live in Paris where the start of the P2A is. The race is run on converted rail trails and cuts through local farmer's fields. The big feature is always the dreaded mud slide. Depending on when you get to it, a fatbike rider MIGHT be able to ride down it. A huge number of people sign up each year. Our shop had a hand in the creation of the event and we usually get to deal with the mechanical carnage in the weeks following.