America's Toughest Gravel Grinders
Beware, these rides are not for the faint hearted! Only the toughest Cowgirls and Cowboys need apply ...
It's guys like Jim Cummings from Dirty Kanza and Guitar Ted from TransIowa who are the founding fathers of this incredible genre of cycling.
It's been 13 years, since 34 riders rode the inaugural Dirty Kanza, now regarded as the “Worlds Premier Endurance Gravel Road Race” in the Midwest U.S. Since then the number of events has exploded.
For 14 years, TransIowa, one of the most difficult gravel races in the USA. The end of TransIowa in 2018 meant that a unique chapter of gravel racing history closed only to be opened again in 2019 with Iowa Wind and Rock. Whilst the organizers stress is it NOT, nor will it ever be TransIowa, the free, 340ish mile, cue sheet navigated, late spring, Iowa event that allows entrants to challenge themselves, expand their boundaries, and allow them to see what they are capable of.
As the number of events grows, what other events out there blow the Richter Scale in terms of toughness?
From the ultra distance flat lands of the Mid-West, to the more mountainous regions and mixed terrains, toughness comes in all shapes and sizes.
If you think the Mid-West is flat, you'd be wrong, as Gravel Champion Alison Tetrick pointed out, Dirty Kanza 200 contains something like 4,000 feet of climbing. 2019 sees the running of DKXXL, some 350 miles.
Amanda Nauman impressed into our minds in our in previous attempt Top 15 Toughest Grinders Out West, that climbing counts. Take the Crusher in the Tushar, "its only 70 miles" but contains something like 10,000 feet of climbing.
Then there's the Gravel World Championships, which is 150 miles, slowly grinds down the field until only the toughest are left standing, like Gravel Champion Neil Shirley.
Back again is Boulder Roubaix, 2019 marks the next edition! One of the most hallowed races in the Western US, held a week before the real Queen of the Classics, Paris-Roubaix, the 19 mile loop features 43% paved roads and 57% unpaved roads in North Boulder County.
The list below contains some less obvious events like the Skull 120 Gravel Fondo which the organizers stress is "very challenging to say the least".
The 2019 Panaracer Texas Chainring Massacre now holds the title "the Fastest Gravel Grinder" in North America.
The inaugural SBT GRAVEL p/b Canyon taking place August 18, sold out in less than a week and has attracted some of the top gravel racers in the country. The full pro course is 141 miles and over 9,000 feet of climbing. There is a prize purse of $28,000 dollars. Joining the inaugural event for men are; Ted King, Colin Strickland, Phil Gaimon, Jamey Driscoll, Payson McElveen, Yuri Hauswald, Neil Shirley and Jake Wells.
As Colorado continues to lead in the development of women's cycling, joining women racers are; Lauren De Crescenzo, Kaysee Armstrong, Karen Jarchow, Alison Powers, Kae Takeshita, Laura King, Rose Grant, Alison Tetrick and Amity Gregg.
Gravel Grinding has caught on worldwide, also known as the Gravel Fondo in Europe and Canada, the number of events has exploded! Countries including Germany, Belgium, France and Italy are rushing to provide events due to sheer demand. Like North America, these countries have the gravel backroads and mountain passes to facilitate.
Top bike brands like Canyon are headline sponsors for some of the top gravel races, while training companies, nutritional specialists, component and tire manufacturers all rush to secure limited sponsorship places. Top riders are sponsored, with a growing number making a fulltime living as Professional Gravel Racers.
Disc brakes, wider, gravel specific tires and gravel specific bikes are a "must have".
The future is bright, and that future contains lots of gravel.