Race Report: Inaugural USECF Gravel Grinder Nationals – by Lawrence Dreyfus

The Inaugural USECF Gravel Grinder Nationals:
The first of, hopefully many more to come.

I was excited and a bit surprised when earlier this year the, newly-formed, United States Endurance Cycling Federation (USECF) announced the inaugural Gravel Grinder national championship race to be held in my hometown of Lawrence, Kansas! Call me biased, but northeast Kansas does have some of the very best gravel roads around and the gravel cycling community in this part of the country is second to none. “Gravel racing” and “Kansas” used in the same sentence will always conjure images of the “Dirty Kanza”, the now iconic granddaddy of all gravel races.

Photo by Sharon Schmidt.

Launched 13 years ago, the DK200 has grown from a small band of local riders setting off on an epic 200-mile race across the rugged gravel roads of the Flint Hills of Kansas, to an internationally recognized event now synonymous with challenging and unforgiving conditions and organizational excellence on every front. Its popularity is, in part, responsible for spawning numerous self-supported gravel endurance races across the Midwest and the entire country for that matter. Launching the inaugural Gravel Grinder Nationals (GGN) in Dirty Kanza country thus immediately thrust the USECF in the position of having to live up to some sky-high expectations from some world class riders in the epicenter of U.S. gravel racing!

Photo by Sharon Schmidt.

From the very start, the GGN materials posted on the USCF website were thorough and professional and only heightening my level of anticipation and excitement for the event. As with all self-supported gravel endurance races it “gets real” when the course is revealed and you begin pouring over the path and terrain in an attempt to get a preview of what to expect. Being familiar with the gravel roads around Lawrence, Kansas, I was initially surprised that the GGN would leave Clinton State Park and eventually head south, thus bypassing some of the very best and most challenging gravel roads around, namely those to the north and east in Jefferson and Leavenworth Counties. However, once the race was underway, and throughout the entire day, the course proved to be challenging, fast, and covering great gravel roads, some that were even new to me! In addition, running the course in and out of Lone Start Lake for two slightly overlapping loops was brilliant planning since it allowed a convenient single location for the two oasis stops at 40 and 75 miles. Plus, Lone Star Lake is one of the truly beautiful and well-ridden cycling spots in Douglas County, Kansas.

Photo by Sharon Schmidt.

Though mentioned in the race promotional materials, the 12-15 miles of paved roads breaking up the much longer gravel segments, was an interesting feature to this race that is atypical to most gravel events I have participated in. I’m sure this routing was borne more out of convenience rather than intention, but I found that it gave the race a fresh character that was both unique and exciting from the perspective of race tactics.

Photo by Sharon Schmidt.

And speaking of racing, being over 60 years old, I truly appreciated there being a 60+ category in the GGN. It’s tough at 64 to compete with the 50 year olds! Some of those dudes are really fast! Case in point, John Harp of Monument, Colorado, the 50-54 age group winner, finished the 112-mile course in 6:06:48 tying for the 5th best overall time! That’s flying on gravel! Racing in my own age group allowed me to challenge my best effort while legitimately racing for a spot on the podium.

Photo by Sharon Schmidt.

From about the 35-mile mark to the finish line, I was in constant contact with two other racers in the 60+ category. Fully aware that besting these two other riders could be a ticket to podium my day was about keeping their wheel when slower and pushing distance when possible; though I ended up missing the podium by a fraction of a second in a sprint to the finish, it was an exciting day of racing! What’s not to love about that?

Photo by Sharon Schmidt.

Did the USECF Gravel Grinder Nationals step up the challenge? From this rider’s perspective, the USECF GGN was an amazing success! The race was extremely well-organized and flawlessly-executed and given only minimal local organizational support (it’s tough doing these things long-distance for the first time), the race came off exceptionally well. Moreover, the after-race food and “party” atmosphere was much appreciated after 112 miles of gravel racing! Much credit goes to the organizers, sponsors and the many volunteers of this event who really pulled off a fun, family-oriented, day of racing. I sincerely hope the USECF plans on returning to Lawrence, Kansas for the 2018 race! I’m sure it will be even bigger and better.

Photo by Sharon Schmidt.

6 comments on “Race Report: Inaugural USECF Gravel Grinder Nationals – by Lawrence Dreyfus

  1. Nice race — but National Championship? In my USCF Masters racing days, National Championship and the Stars and Stripes jersey really meant something. I no longer race; and ride gravel because it is low key and fun. Let’s keep it that way! BTW, I have many complaints and concerns about the USCF Masters program. I haven’t renewed my license in 8 years – partly because of age and health, but mostly because I was sick of all the USCF B S.

    1. Bob, K-Dogg and I wholeheartedly agree about USCF / USA Cycling. We have a couple of articles on the site about it… one such article, “A Divorce from Florida Road Racing”.

  2. The LAGG left the racing scene and obsessive training bunches for these very reasons. He rides alone and doesn’t miss the cr#p

  3. Championship jerseys, sponsored teams, big money promoters… I hope y’all have fun. I read about half the article and abandoned.

  4. Since I am the newbie here what am I missing? Do they have a yearly membership just to be part of their organization and what was the race entry fee for this ride? Are most opposed because of it being a money promoters thingy and sponsored teams where as most gravel riding races/rides are low key with some just having you send in a postcard saying you are going to do the ride.

  5. I am hearing haters. Non participants. And plenty others dinging competitive gravel racing and this event. I’m 52 and while I still love racing crits the gravel scene has exploded. This event was so well run I was totally impressed and only cheer it’s growth. Gravel is similar to the one day classics. An amazing test and great for us old guys. Here in Colorado Gravel is exploding. For those of you wanting to relax and enjoy a chill pace and socialize… That is fantastic. For those that love to race it. Fantastic. Room for all. But why ding a great event. Win any gravel race these days and you did something. So many fast riders. It’s also the event you get to line up w the legends and take part a unique format. For those just soaking in the day on a 47 lb Surly Long Haul. Awesome. Room for everyone.

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