Thus far this year, we have covered gravel events from across the U.S. and today, we take one of our first international trips to the roads less traveled of Europe. Gravel is nothing new in Europe—Nick Legan’s Gravel Cycling covers several events and multi-day races—but even in Europe, countries outside those traditionally associated with cycling are catching the gravel bug.
One of those countries is Ukraine. A group of cyclists from Kyiv, Ukraine that call themselves ATCX organized the Gravelion gravel event held on July 28 in the western region of Ukraine near its border with Slovakia and Poland.
According to ATCX member Kirill Skripelov, Gravelion 2018 was one of the first gravel events ever held in the country. “There are no gravel races in Ukraine, at all,” said Skripelov. “I’ve heard about some mixed surface—road and gravel—races near Odessa, but they are mostly for sporty road racers. Maybe that’s it.”
Organizing Gravelion and perhaps being the first group to put on a gravel event in Ukraine represents a logical step for an ATCX organization that has continued to grow since its inception. “We started in 2014 with seven guys riding in the forest,” said Skripelov. “Sometime later, we became organized and started putting on cyclocross races, fixed-gear events and a lot more underground stuff.”
Although gravel riding has now made its way to Ukraine, gravel bikes, shoes and wheels have not. At least not yet. “We love and promote old-school steel bikes,” said Skripelov. “Cyclocross, touring, mountain bikes; half the participants were using these bikes. The other half were on modern cyclocross bikes. I don’t think there were any ‘gravel’ bikes because it’s only becoming popular here.”
The Gravelion event started and finished in Uzhok, which is in the Carpathian Mountains near Ukraine’s border with Poland. The 40km (25 miles) race packed 2,700 feet of climbing into its route. “The race path used roads that went to nearby small villages in the mountains,” Skripelov said. “The roads are really old and completely destroyed. We call it Ukrainian gravel.”
The Gravelion race was inspired by Grinduro, with two timed 15-20km segments. The event description on the ATCX FB page shows the Ukrainian crew has a pretty good handle on how to put on a gravel race.
It was mass start—”All participants start together in one group.”
Participants could race or enjoy the challenge—”It’s up to you – you wanna race to win or ride easily and enjoy the view.”
And there was a rest stop—”Checkpoint in the middle of the race, where you can rest, eat, get some water and wait for folks who are making selfies on mountain tops.”
The event brought out a good crowd, especially given that Uzhok is about a nine-hour drive away from the organizers’ home in Kyiv. “This year we had 28 participants mostly from Ukraine, but there were guys from Hungary and Belarus,” Skripelov said. “Marton came from Hungary on his bike and took second place!”
When the dust of the “Ukrainian gravel” settled, Skripelov said the first (known) Ukrainian gravel event was a hit with all the participants.
“For many of the boys and girls who came here, it was their first time in the Carpathian Mountains. We managed to gather a lot of new and old friends here. The atmosphere at the campground before, during and after the race was amazing. We were chilling, riding bikes and having fun for a whole weekend.”
The ATCX crew now turns its attention to cyclocross season, but Skripelov said they are already making plans for year two of Gravelion in 2019. With Uzhok’s location on the border with Poland and near Slovakia, Skripelov said he is hoping for an even more international field, with riders from Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, next year.
For more from Gravelion and Ukraine, check out the video from ATCX below. The group also has more on its Instagram page.