The elite-level gravel scene is growing and still trying to figure out where it is going, in a way. As the events get more popular with top-level racers, one name that has been a mainstay the past several years in Amanda Nauman of California. Nauman won the Dirty Kanza 200 in 2015 and 2016 and finished a close second in 2017. This season, she is already off to a good start with a win at the Land Run 100 in Oklahoma.
Looking for Couch Redemption
Part of the Land Run 100 experience—and perhaps indicative of the state of gravel racing in the U.S.—was a couch plopped down in the middle of the course where riders could pose for a mid-race photo. In our story on the Land Run 100, we saw winner Mat Stephens and runner-up Michael van den Ham took the time to take a photo during their two-up race off the front. Nauman did not have time for a similar photo, although she kind of regrets it in hindsight.
“When we got to the chair, I literally had no idea if [Kae Takeshita] was like 60 seconds behind me or minutes behind me,” Nauman said. “In that moment of panic, I was like, I’m not going to risk it. Which I regret, because she was like five minutes back at that point, but I didn’t know and didn’t want to risk that.”
Though she missed the couch at Land Run, redemption is not that far away for Nauman.
“I heard the next stop Salsa is doing that chair at is the Michigan Coast to Coast ride, and I’m doing that one. I think I am going to redeem myself and hopefully get the picture there.”
With gravel growing and Nauman taking a leading role in the top-level racing, she has fully embraced the laid-back nature of the sport and serves as a bit of an ambassador for getting others involved. She has shared some beginners’ tips on gravel riding here at Cyclocross Magazine and has helped Carmichael Training Systems at its gravel and endurance camps. In fact, when I spoke with her, she had just returned from a 103-ish mile ride at one of the coaching company’s endurance weekends.
Nauman said the gravel scene has changed since she first won Dirty Kanza in 2015, although her perspective on the laid-back participatory discipline has largely remained the same.
“The gravel scene has been slowly growing over the past five or six years, I would say,” she said. “The state of it now is definitely at a tipping point. I think that happened in the past two years of Dirty Kanza, specifically, gaining a lot of notoriety and that gravel scene growing along with it. People have been saying, ‘I’m going to focus on this. Be a quote-unquote gravel racer.’ Or ‘I want to try to win these events.’ That happened over the course of the past few years.”
For Nauman, it’s still about much more than racing.
“I still don’t like it when people call these events ‘races,’ because I don’t consider them races. They’re events. Yeah, I’m going to go there and try to win, but that’s a really small percentage of the event. The thing I love about the whole scene and community and events is that it’s about the other 98 percent of the people who are there. And those are the stories I really care about. Those are the stories a lot of people like listening to. They’re the stories that are more relatable to everyone else, and I think that’s why that scene is growing. It’s a challenge and not a race. I want to get to the finish line, and I think that’s what draws most people into it.”
The Breaks of the Game
Nauman’s endurance bona fides are unquestionable, but if you ask her, she considers herself a cyclocrosser first and a gravel grinder second. Her 2017/18 campaign on the cyclocross course finished strong, but getting to her fifth-place finish in Reno has been a journey filled with several bumpy paths.
After suffering a hand injury at CrossVegas in 2016, Nauman missed the 2017 Cyclocross Nationals in Hartford, and then shortly before the start of the 2017 season, she broke her toe. After hitting the World Cup circuit and the Cincinnati and Louisville weekends, Nauman found her stride out west. She podiumed both days at the West Sacramento weekend and then finished second at CX MoVal and pulled off four more top fives in November and December.
At Nationals in Reno, she took advantage of a nice training block and finished fifth on the fast course in Reno. As we joked at the time, she was also a bit of a bracket buster in our Nationals Fantasy contest since few prognosticators picked her to pull off her best career finish at Nationals—save a fourth in the singlespeed race in 2014.
Nauman said the lost training thanks to her toe injury was only part of the story of her season. She also faced an uncertain contract situation that affected her racing.
“This past season was not a struggle not only because of my toe injury but also because coming into it, I was at the end of my contract with one of my title sponsors and was in the middle of a couple month period of not knowing if that was going to get renewed again for another two years. There was also that aspect of not knowing money-wise how I was going to approach the season. I basically had two schedules coming into the season. One was optimistic, I actually have a travel budget. I wanted to go do the two World Cups in Germany and Denmark in November. The other schedule was like Amanda is going to be spending her own money and not traveling as much.”
“I didn’t find out that the contract got renewed until the day I was driving to the Sacramento race. If you want to talk about stuff that affects your mental outlook on things, I ended up on the podium both days in Sacramento. Part of what was in the back of my head was I actually have money for the next two years to travel a little bit to some of these races. That’s something that’s more confidence-boosting than anything, even training. Somebody believes in me to go do this.”
I asked her to elaborate on how her contract situation affected her racing, and she talked more about the state of funding in the sport. “The thing that’s happening in cyclocross right now is there’s no money. If you want to race, it has to come from a place of really wanting to go do it. It has to be a love, a passion. If you’re good and you think you deserve money for racing your bike, you have to love it, because nobody really wants to pay you to race cyclocross.”
“That’s the world cyclocross is in right now. I’m sick of people kind of tip-toeing around it because that’s just the fact. It seriously does affect peoples’ racing and the schedules they choose to do. It’s kind of like that hush-hush thing where people are kind of like, we’re all doing this because we love it, but no one is getting any money for it.”
We also talked about Amanda Miller, who finished second at Hartford Nationals and was unable to race in 2017 because she could not find funding to support her racing. “The Amanda Miller thing really hurt because somebody should have been there to say, ‘No, you deserve the support if you want to go race. Here’s the money to go do that.’ It’s just not there, and the people who think it is there are living in a fantasy world. I hate to tell Juniors and kids who are coming up in the sport the reality is there’s nothing there for you unless you’re going to be on the podium at Nationals some day. It’s so hard to tell people that, but it’s the truth. It’s the really hard truth of cyclocross right now.”
Nauman said that despite the challenges women in particular face in finding sponsorship, she has benefitted from the support of a number of endemic and non-endemic sponsors. “That being said about the struggle to find funding in the sport, there are a handful of sponsors who keep racers like me afloat and I would be remiss not to mention them. SDG Components has been behind me and their factory team since my first season of racing and they’re the backbone of the operation. Along with Niner, they are an endemic sponsor and directly invested in the success of the sport. Muscle Monster is a non-endemic sponsor that I’ve been extremely lucky to partner with since 2015 and they have been the main source of my motivation to focus on these off-road endeavors. Without them I wouldn’t be able to travel to the amazing events I get to participate in.”
She also thanks her many sponsors for making her journey possible: SDG Components, Muscle Monster, Niner Bikes, Orange Seal Cycling, Easton Cycling, Carmichael Training Systems, CCN Sport, Crankbrothers, Kali Protectives, SockGuy, Oakley, Shimano, Kogel Bearings, Feedback Sports and Grimpeur Bros. Specialty Coffee
Amanda Nauman Interview
For much much more from Nauman, including more about Land Run, the state of gravel racing, her gravel tire nerdom, the state of cyclocross and her new photography hobby, check out our full conversation at the link above or on our Soundcloud page. Our interviews are now available on iTunes as well.