Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Gravel Grinder News: Changes At Gravel Worlds, Big Purse, First To Last Initiative

First To Last Celebration For Final Finisher:

Garmin Gravel Worlds announces today several changes in the event for 2024. The most notable being a celebration of the last place finisher which the event is calling the "First To Last Initiative". This will be a philanthropic initiative "which celebrates every participant’s unique journey", according to the press release. Garmin Gravel Worlds has added professional cyclist, Hannah Shell as the "First To Last Coordinator" to head up this initiative. 

Shell is quoted in a Garmin Gravel Worlds Instagram post announcing the new coordinator as saying, "Gravel worlds is one of the races that’s dedicated to preserving the founding principle of gravel that we celebrate first place to last place equally, and I’m thrilled to be a part of the team making that happen."

Image courtsey of Garmin Gravel Worlds

Jason Strobehn, the newly minted "Lead Promoter" of Garmin Gravel Worlds, is quoted as saying, "When the sun goes down on the finish line, every rider will be welcomed with a party inside the finish gate..., underpinning the notion that all late finishers will be getting a big finish line welcome. Central to the efforts to do this for the later finishers of Gravel Worlds' 150 mile distance will be an extended cut off time for the event.

Image courtesy of Garmin Gravel Worlds' Instagram

New Pro Field & $30,000.00 Purse:

New this year will be a $30,000.00 purse sponsored by Goodlife Brands which will be evenly split between the Men's and Women's field which will be capped at 40 riders each. 

The addition of dedicated Pro fields is being done to show the event's commitment to higher levels of competition , yet being able to celebrate each individual effort throughout the field as the event has done in the past. 

Charitable Donations:

Also new this year will be Garmin Gravel Worlds efforts to donate $30,000.00 to, as the press release states, "...causes aligned with the gravel cycling community’s values." A portion of these funds will be derived from $200.00 donations from each Pro cyclists registered in the event to a charity of their choice. The charity each rider chooses will have their name on the number plate of the rider choosing to donate to them. 

Strobehn is quoted in the press release as saying, "Garmin Gravel Worlds has always been about more than just the race, It’s about the shared experience and camaraderie among participants, while also contributing to causes much greater than ourselves. "

Finally, Strobehn ends the announcement by summarizing thusly, "We are out to prove that one event can celebrate the peak of human performance, while also celebrating every participant that’s persevered through their own challenges. Our commitment to inclusivity means we’re elevating the experience for every participant. We invite gravel cycling enthusiasts worldwide to join in the excitement and spirit of the “First to Last” initiative and experience the sense of community and adventure that define the Gravel Family.”

Changes At The Top Not Announced: 

There was one other big change to the event which was not formally announced at this time, but which I became privy to in a curious way on Thursday of last week. This has to do with the two co-founders of Gravel Worlds, Corey "Cornbread" Godfrey and Craig "Schmidty" Schmidt. These two pioneers of gravel grinding left the event under mutually agreed upon terms and along with that it was told to me that the Pirate Cycling League is also no longer affiliated with Garmin Gravel Worlds. This news marks a significant time in gravel cycling history. 

Comments: I need to clear the air concerning something that happened when I learned this news. The information about this parting of ways, when it was presented to me, was not prefaced in any way, or framed as a conversation that should be kept under wraps. In fact, it was quite the opposite as I was told "I don't know if you heard the news..." which indicated to me that the cat was out of the bag for the news to be heard by anyone. I don't know how else one would interpret that. To make matters even more curious, it was not until Friday that I was told not to make the news public by the person (one of the two co-founders of Gravel Worlds, by the way), who told me in the first place, after I had already Tweeted out the news the day before. 

 On Thursday, when I Tweeted about this, (or "X'ed" it), it got around to the current promoters and staff at Garmin Gravel Worlds that the news was out somehow. Not a half an hour later I found out that I had unintentionally stirred up a hornets nest with the Gravel Worlds folks and that the news was not for public consumption just yet. After a bit of explaining on my part, it was understood that I had not intentionally undermined those who had wanted to keep this under wraps at that time. Because things happened in this way, and the news was out, and for other reasons unspecified, the folks at Garmin Gravel Worlds decided to forgo any formal announcement of this fact, as I understand it

My social media post that stirred up some concern.

I am not going to go into all the nitty-gritty concerning the parting of the co-founders from the event. Again, my understanding is that it was a mutually agreed upon separation by both sides. Also, I was not at all surprised by this news. In fact, I was surprised it took this long to happen. A little history to illustrate this is appropriate, I think.

Gravel Worlds was an event conceived by Corey and Craig back in 2009 when they were putting on an event called "The Good Life Gravel Adventure". The gist was that there was no "world championships" for gravel, and at that time, no one thought that there should be an event like that, which is exactly why those two, tongues firmly in cheek, decided to call their event "Gravel Worlds". 

It was a thumb to the nose to the entire format of Pro road racing, its drug-fueled riders, and rule-laden governance. The Pirate Cycling League, and Gravel Worlds in particular, was a celebration of the freedom from those rules and all the attendant hoopla. It was, as the original event pointed to, an adventure, not so much a competition, but there was a nod to that element with the jerseys and the name. 

Craig "Schmidty" Schmidt holding the OG Gravel Worlds jersey.

 The formatting of the event was a perfect example of the mixture of adventure and competition that the PCL was trying to balance. The riders followed printed cue sheets for navigation. There were four required stops at businesses that sold Nebraska Power Ball lottery tickets. Each rider had to purchase one ticket to "prove" that they had been to the checkpoint/business. This is somewhat reminiscent of randonnuering events, by the way.

The winners of each category then received a "rainbow jersey" which indicated that they were the "Gravel Worlds Champion" for that year. The integrity of the jersey's meaning was kept intact by the PCL not selling any to folks who did not earn them, and very, very few are in the hands of anyone who did not win a category in any of the Gravel Worlds events. 

Then as time wore on, gravel events changed. Gravel Worlds stuck to its guns for quite a while despite all the changes around it. As late as 2013 Gravel Worlds was still doing post card registration and had no entry fee. But five years later, the 2018 event cost $80.00 to enter. Now, in 2024, the entry fee has ballooned to $175.00. 

The event has an expo, far more categories, and satellite events and collaborations with other events. The event has a presenting sponsor and now, all the changes which were announced today. It has become quite the complex entity. As this all evolved over the past six years, if you paid attention, Corey and Schmidty's presence grew less and less. 

(L-R) Skip Cronin with Corey Godfrey at Trans Iowa v4 in 2008.

I remember talking with Schmidty around that time in 2018 and to my ears, it sounded as though he and Corey were coming to the end of their time with Gravel Worlds. I had just gotten out from underneath Trans Iowa then, and I could see a similar weight on Craig's shoulders.

I think the addition of Jason Strobehn to the Gravel Worlds team around about that time postponed the ending of Corey and Craig's association with their event. Whatever it was that eventually did precipitate  the "end" for them is not known by me. Whatever it was, all I do know is that it is now apparent that Gravel Worlds will no longer reflect Corey or Craig's personalities and talents.

That's neither good nor bad, just different. And to be honest, this event has pretty much been Jason's baby for a few years now. At least that is how I've seen it from my perspective. You could feel this by attending the event, which I had been doing up until a few years ago. All of this, to my mind, is kind of a 'big deal' historically speaking. But maybe no one else really cares.

GT at 2021 Gravel Worlds (Image courtesy of McColgan photography)

 The Future:

In the text exchange over social media with Schmidty on Thursday morning he shared some thoughts with me about  what might happen with the PCL going forward, Out of respect for Corey and Craig, and their important contributions to the gravel scene, I am going to let them spill the beans when they are ready to do that. If they ever are ready to do that. I really cannot say.....

As for Gravel Worlds, these new changes are going to take the event in a significant new direction. How riders respond to this will be seen soon. In my opinion this new round of changes brings Gravel Worlds into the same tier of events as SBT GRVL, Unbound, Big Sugar, and the Belgian Waffle Ride series. The tie-ins to Mid South, with the celebrations of last place, running events, and whatnot may seem as though that Gravel Worlds has the same, or similar vibe, but having been to both events now I would not agree with that. Of course, that could all change as well.

Whatever the future may bring, all I can say right now is that another facet of the early gravel scene is now behind us. That, again to my mind, is a significant story to be told. And again, I'll say it: Hat's off to Corey and Craig. Thanks guys!


MG said...

Thanks for your perspective on this, Brother… We’ve been so fortunate for the vision and work Cornbread and Schmidty have put in, and I can confidently say that the event is in good hands moving forward.

Guitar Ted said...

@MG - Looking forward to seeing what the future holds for Gravel Worlds!

A.K.A. TGI Friday said...

Thank you for the update Ted.
I'm not up to date on the Gravel politics; is this a independently organized gravel World Championship without UCI sanction?

I wasn't sure if UCI poached another sport out from under the creators of the sport.

I've been subscribed to your blog since the early days of the 29-incher. Cheers from Los Angeles

Guitar Ted said...

@A.K.A. TGI Friday - I assume that you read the post above and saw the brief historical rundown on this Gravel Worlds event. That started in 2010.

You may also be aware that UCI Gravel World Championships was held for the first time last year, 2023.

Also worth noting is that "Gravel Worlds", the Nebraska event, has a trade mark on that name. That means the UCI cannot call their event "Gravel Worlds" here, it has to be said "UCI Gravel World Championships" in their promos. However; NO ENDEMIC MEDIA follows this protocol, and it is obvious that all search engines have been optimized to bring the UCI event up when "Gravel Worlds" is searched as a term.

I'm sure that with that information you can answer your question quite clearly.

Rydn9ers said...

The one constant in life is change, as much as we'd all like to see things we love stay the same forever it just can't be. Things won't be the same for Gravel Worlds but they haven't been the same for the grassroots version of Gravel Worlds for a few years now. Will the changes be good or bad... well for some they will be welcomed changes and for those that loved what it was before about 2019, probably not. The silver lining in this, if anyone is looking for one, is that the Pirate Cycling League (Corey and Schmidty) are now free to create new events, new rides, new adventures if that's what they want to do. Not saying they weren't before necessarily but GW was a product and I could see where other events might detract from or dilute the product name, that worry is now gone so we will see what time brings. If you're looking for old school Gravel Worlds, Tour of Dirt Roads out of Palmyra, NE and The Post 197 Gravel Mission out of Eagle, NE is where you should turn your attention. Both very much grassroots and both very much PCL.

Guitar Ted said...

@Rydn9ers - Thank you for that perspective. I agree with that, for the most part.

Besides those two events that you mentioned, there are a lot of events yet that have a similar "grassroots" vibe that you can choose from.

And as always, anyone can host a ride anywhere on gravel, and what is more "grassroots" than that?

There is a lot to consider there regrading changes, expectations, and being recognized/rewarded for one's efforts. How anyone that hosts/produces an event balances those things will determine a lot of what a rider's experiences will be.

Jason said...

I always loved reading and producing content about the O.G. Gravel Worlds and the Pirate Cycling League. Hats off to all the work they did to get folks riding and racing gravel. Cheers. - Jason