Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Gravel Comes Back To The Tour

It won't be as challenging as Iowa gravel, but crushed rock roads are back in Le Tour.
The pinnacle of Professional road racing on bicycles is certainly the Tour de France. No other Pro road event approaches the scrutiny, passion, and importance to riders and sponsors that this event has over the decades. 

So, when the 2024 Tour de France route was unveiled to a well-heeled, high fashion wearing crowd of Pro cyclists and media there was a lot of attention placed upon one stage in particular. That would be stage #9. A stage that has a high dosage of white crushed rock,

Now, I want to put this into perspective here. Stage 9's length overall is 123+ miles or 199Km. Out of that there will be 14 separate gravel sectors that will total all of approximately 20 miles. Breaking that down, that's an average sector length of a little more than 1.4 miles at a crack. These short gravel sectors will be sprinkled throughout the last 3/4's of the event with none occurring until after 30 miles into the stage. 

So, nothing like what we think of as "gravel racing". But for these pros, the mixing in of narrow, Champagne department French rural farm roads is raising some valid concerns and technical challenges. 

I've seen images of the actual roads that will be used and they are maybe wide enough for a farm tractor of average size. You could get a Ford F-150 down these, but there is essentially no room for an oncoming truck to get by you. These roads are ancient cart roads that were made long before there were cars and trucks. 

The gravel looks to be of a finer gauge than that used here in the Mid-West and in the images I've seen, two clear tracks existed where vehicles have pushed the larger crushed rock aside, essentially making these roads quite attractive to the average gravel cyclist in the Mid-West here. They look nothing like the carpet of chunky crushed limestone I am familiar with, that's for sure!

So, that's my take on the technical aspects of the roads there. Now what this really points to is how the UCI is using this to bring more awareness to its own Gravel World Series and how this is certainly a marketing move to show that the UCI is indeed aware of its history and the importance of gravel cycling today. How the UCI parlays that into more beneficial aspects of events promotions for themselves will be seen later, I am sure. But make no mistake, gravel appearing in the Tour was not done to be cute.

1 comment:

Tman said...

Love it!