The Vermont Overland gravel race is just three years old, and we've been bringing readers there from its inception, covering the "race" in 2014, and bringing you video of the ride from 2015. This year, photographer Chris McIntosh made the trip, hauling his DSLR for a course recon with Tim Johnson, and pocketing a more portable camera for race day. See his recap of the two days in words and photos below.
by Chris McIntosh
Back to Class with a Collegiate Champion
Peter Vollers has been around the block a few times. Most of the time, these laps around the block have been a bit faster than everyone else's, even way back in the late ’80s, when he went to Junior Worlds and won the NCCA Collegiate National Championships, and then later in the ’90s, when as a grad student he'd beat up on young undergrads in the collegiate races in New England.
After finishing his law degree and setting up shop in Vermont, Vollers continued with his full menu of criteriums and road races, but his appetite for adventure also emerged. Cyclocross became a bigger staple, and when he traded in two wheels for four, the Vermont lawyer started exploring the rugged southern Vermont backroads in a ’72 Land Rover, with a mountain bike in tow.
What he found was miles and miles of seldom-traveled Class IV roads. Also called “Vermont-pavé,” these old roads have character and give insight into an unwritten history that connects backcountry neighborhoods and family farms.
Sharing a Vermont Adventure with Others
After finding so many roads well-suited for the growing population of gravel and adventure cyclists, Vollers set to create an event that shared his backyard with others, and the Vermont Overland was formed.
The event takes a page out of the nearby, 24-year-old Vermont 50 mountain bike race and trail run, in that it starts and finishes at a ski hill and uses remote Vermont roads and trails. Vollers sprinkled in some top-notch gravel, world-class cyclocross racers and added some of his own flavors, creating an event that's the highlight of the season for some New England cyclists.
The Vermont Overland Grand Prix is Vollers’ flagship event. Many of the sections incorporated into the race course are unmaintained and grown-over. Ranging from chunky, loose gravel, to wide, sunken riverbeds, these roads are what define Vermont Overland’s routes. They turn a familiar, challenging, hilly ride into a gritty, humbling experience for any adventure cyclist. Bikes varied from high-volume tire road bikes to true fat bikes.
Overland Openers with Cyclocross Pros
Cyclocross pros Tim Johnson and Elle Anderson—both no strangers to Vermont—were in town for the race. Tim Johnson, alongside his wife Lyne Bessette, led a public recon ride the day before, covering the first 10 of the route and providing personal insight on tackling the challenging terrain.
Johnson provided guidance on topics such as riding steep, technical ‘baby head’ trails, fast descents and hydration. This recon was a good opener for race day and gave racers a primer for just how tough even 14 miles of this terrain are.
A Black Diamond in the Rough
The 48-mile, 5,700 foot elevation gain course took riders from an astonishing 2.5 hours, if you're Ansel Dickey of Astellas and Brendan Rhim of Holowesko-Citadel, to over four hours, for the majority of riders.
One feature that was truly unforgettable was the final descent into the finish. The race started and ended at the Suicide Six ski resort, and managed to connect several hidden class IV roads to the top of the ski hill, sending everyone down a rutted, grassy slope ripping into the afterparty. It didn't feel like a bunny slope.
After a long day in saddle, racers were eagerly met with burgers, maple ice cream, beer, kombucha and cookies—all locally sourced by renowned Worthy Kitchen. Race day concluded as Vollers announced the podium winners, congratulations were given, and the countdown began to next year’s Vermont Overland Gran Prix.
- This year the Overland rallied over 700 participants, many of whom are friendly riders happy to be outside on an adventure. Vollers says he’ll likely cap registration at 850 next year.
- The Vermont Overland is relatively unique in that it is a gravel race sanctioned and permitted by USA Cycling.
- Vollers puts on several other events, including the Vermont Overland Maple Ride in the spring, a 4WD Vermont Overland Rally in the fall, and FatStock, a winter fat bike race.
See our full photo gallery from the 2016 Vermont Overland below.
More info: vermontoverland.com
Andrew Yee contributed to this report. Editing by Alex Hoffman.