NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....
Whew! Now that the dust has settled on this announcement, here are a few more thoughts on the whole sanctioning of Pro gravel events. For my immediate reaction which I wrote up on Wednesday, see this post on RidingGravel.com. I'm going to reference that post, but I will also try not to cover it too much here.
First off I wanted to comment on a Twitter thread that Pro cyclist Phil Gaimon posted late on Wednesday after the announcement. His take was that this was a good thing because "... if there's money on the line for the win....", there should be certain "rules" and protocols in place to accommodate those searching for that monetary prize. He mentioned separate fields, closed roads, and more.
And therein lies the 'Big Problem'.
The gravel scene started out, in part, as a reaction to what the 'Big Problem' was with organized, sanctioned racing. Most of those issues could be traced back to monetary prizing. That's why all the early gravel grinders did not offer money as a prize.
My take on what Mr. Gaimon is stumping for is that what happens when you get what he is asking for you no longer have 'gravel racing'. It is Pro road racing that just happens to be on a surface that is not paved. It is NOT gravel racing. It is not what most people want to be a part of, or even can be a part of. It is exclusionary. I'm not against the Pros having Pro road racing on gravel courses. Go for it! It just is not 'gravel racing', and the two things should not be equated as being the same.
With that said, I had some other reactions.....
While some have jokingly or seriously suggested that I am the grumpy one, wishing things were not going to be so regarding the UCI, I don't feel that way at all in reality. In fact, you might be surprised at my first reaction to this which was "So what!". Now I have said that the UCI and their versions of cycling are not what is good for the masses. I still feel that way. I also know that many folks think that UCI oversight is "the death of the sport" and I have written about that as well, because I don't subscribe to that theory. I have suggested over and over again that people "vote with their dollars" to effect their opinions rather than bemoaning what seemed like to them to be an inevitable take-over of gravel by the "Evil UCI Overlords".
No, I am not the 'grumpy one' here. As I have said, it is rather the opposite, and the tone of today's thoughts on all this UCI hullabaloo follows along with my answer to a Facebook post where someone poked some fun at me for being Mr. Discontented. Here is that reaction:
"Not at all. You misread if you think I have any "discontent". In fact, I feel grateful. There's never been a better time to be a gravel/rural cyclist."
Yes, we as rural/gravel/unpaved cyclists have never had it better. This is a "Golden Age" of gravel cycling. It has nothing at all to do with Pro racing. Nothing. Now there are websites, media writers, editors, and 'experts' who have and will continue to push the Pro Racing agenda as being 'the pinnacle' of gravel cycling. However; millions of rural cyclists who will never grace a podium are not wrong. They 'get it' and will continue to drive the gravel/rural cycling scene.
And maybe those media/experts/influencers are finally kind of understanding that the Pro scene isn't all what it is cracked up to have been. They have seen former Pro racing prospects come out of road racing to do gravel events. They've seen how road racing has waned in the USA while gravel events keep breaking new ground in terms of numbers. The latest UCI news brought several attempts at 'humor' from these sources that was- perhaps - a bit disingenuous, considering their stances in years past on gravel and how it was not "real racing". Obviously, coming around to 'gravel' now behooves them, as seen by the turnabout started in the grassroots of competitive cycling over the last dozen years or so.
Whether those media and so-called influencers and experts do come around or not really doesn't matter in the end. The cycling industry has gone 'gravel mad' and we are benefiting as cyclists. There have never been more events to do, or more ways to ride in rural areas than there are now. What the Pro riders and the UCI do is not changing that. The UCI developing the gravel series and World Championships for the Pro riders is a reaction to what has come before. The UCI and USAC are not innovators in this area of cycling. They are reactionary. They are followers. They are the ones being influenced. Not the other way around.
For us that were into it all along, this should be seen as gravy. Icing on a cake we've enjoyed for years. Now let's see if they can pull it off and grow this scene even more. If the UCI/USAC folks screw it all up, well then, we know already how to get it right. Don't forget that..... I'll sign off with my final paragraph from my Riding Gravel post:
"The bottom line here is that whatever the UCI, USAC, or the “Big Gravel Event Machine” does won’t have any power unless you give it to them. Ultimately, whatever your vision of ‘gravel cycling’ is will be shaped by what you pay attention to, by what you spend your money on, and by what you think about it all. That power is in your hands. Don’t give it away without thinking really hard about that."