|DK200 circa 2016. Mass starts meant Pro's and Amateurs, Men and Women all together.
Note- I have written stuff along these lines before, and I have taken a bit of a different stance to it all, but I think that now, the way things are, we need to consider something a bit more drastic in terms of gravel events.
On my inaugural podcast with N.Y. Roll, we talked about Unbound Gravel, which for all intents and purposes, at this point in time, is still the premier gravel event in the U,S.A. That may change in the future, but for now, it remains at the top.
In that podcast episode, I made a comment that the Unbound Gravel was a "Pro road race on gravel at the front with a fondo that follows it.". Perhaps I should have said that there is a mixing of the waters between Pro, paid, sponsored riders and the amateurs, which is probably closer to the truth, at least at the start. This is well illustrated in a recent "VeloNews" article written about this year's Womens winner, Sofia Gomez Villafañe. Read that link. It gives a very pointed, valid picture from a Woman Pro's point of view on the current scene.
|Originally put out as a challenge to see what you could push yourself to do, the gravel scene has become a means to make a living for some. That changes the game.
“The spirit of gravel applies to the ethos of the race and the amateurs on course but not to the pros,” she said. “We need rules to make it good, safe racing. I didn’t race Unbound for an ‘experience’ or because I thought it would be super fun. I have to do it because it’s part of the Life Time Grand Prix, so I’m gonna prepare. I’m gonna show up.”
In other words, it is high-time to get Pro racers, big money pay-outs, and any hint of "a way to make a living" separate from the rest of gravel events as a whole. In the case of Unbound- I would advocate for a Pro race day on Saturday. Everyone else? They ride on Friday. All the 25 mile, 50 milers, and anyone that is not a Pro in the 100 and 200. No payouts for placing in the Unbound Gravel Fondo.
Women would have their own event, Men their own event, both starting at different times. Like very different times. Separate the start times by two hours. That'd give the first bunch about a 30-40 mile head start on the other. Put up some pretty strict time cut-offs at checkpoints to deter riders off the back of one of the fields from mixing it up with the front end of the other field. You want to make this serious, right? Then tighten up the parameters for making the cut.
You could rotate year by year who goes first. One year it could be the Men, the next the Women. Whatever... The point being that you keep the big crowds coming, the economic windfall for the area, people happy that want the experience, and keep the Pro's in their own corral to do whatever it is they want for the big bucks.
And just as Gomez Villafañe said, 'The Spirit of Gravel' doesn't apply to her. Obviously, she gets what that might mean to others, but she also makes it plain that she is there to satisfy sponsors, fulfill contractual obligations, and get paid. It is a job, folks, and ya know- all the rest of you do these events to get away from that very thing.
The challenge, the adventure, and the personal growth aspects of gravel events don't jibe with Pro racing and "making a living".
In fact, it goes further than this. Gravel events were developed, originally, as a way to circumvent the focus on money-making, "career sustaining" efforts. The original gravel events were developed with as little rules and regulations as possible in a reaction to sanctioning bodies, governing groups, and an over-abundance of rules. But Pro racing, racing for a living, means that those sorts of governing bodies, rules, and streamlining of regulations are necessary.
The end result- where "Gravel" finds itself in 2022- is a crossroads. It is time to separate what Pro riders need, sponsors want, and the public likes in terms of entertainment from what is really "Gravel". The idea of "Pro road racing on a gravel surface" has been talked about before here, but I wasn't onboard with slicing that away from the gravel scene. Now?
It's high-time that the Pro racers have their thing and we have ours.