Gravel Worlds co-race director Corey Godfrey got his start in cycling racing mountain bikes, but when he moved to Lincoln, Nebraska after grad school, he found a new passion.
“Moving out to Lincoln, we have one park here, it’s nice, it’s flat. It’s only about a 10 to 12-mile [singletrack] loop,” Godfrey said. “When it’s wet, it’s pretty hard to ride that, so I started riding gravel to stay in shape.”
In a story that is common in the gravel world, Godfrey eventually started his own race called the Good Life Gravel Adventure, inspired by Nebraska’s unofficial state slogan.
The Good Life Gravel Adventure then became Gravel Worlds, a tongue-in-cheek name inspired by the Single Speed World Championships.
The race now enters its 10th year in 2019, and as always, Godfrey and his co-race director Craig Schmidt are doing their best to keep things fresh.
“We try to do something different every year,” Godfrey said. “It’s just fun. We started this thing as a fun event, and we want to keep it fun. When it’s no longer fun, we’re honestly going to stop doing it.”
A new category at this August’s Gravel Worlds is the L’Eroica vintage steel bike event, challenging riders to ride the 150-mile course on a pre-1988 bike.
For the less hardcore, the race will offer a 50-kilometer Buccaneer ride for those new to gravel.
Returning, of course, will be the sword—or cutlass, for those who speak pirate.
“There are all these different pirate swords you can get. We’re trying to figure out what kind of sword we can get that will allow us to include something on the blade and even the hilt,” Godfrey said. “A lot of big decisions to be made.”
I recently chatted with Godfrey about his race and what it is like to be a race director for a growing race like Gravel Worlds.
You can read a transcript of our conversation below. For information on how to register for the August 17 race, visit the event website.
For a look at what you can expect from Gravel Worlds, see the archive of our coverage from the 2018 race.
Interview: Gravel Worlds Race Co-Director Corey Godfrey
Cyclocross Magazine: Do people call you the godfather? Is that your nickname around Lincoln?
Corey Godfrey: No.
CXM: Has anyone ever called you that before?
CG: No, I guess I’m kind of a patriarchal figure here in Lincoln at times, so I think you could probably call me the Godfather, but mainly my nickname is Cornbread. I don’t know if you heard anyone call me that.
CXM: I did not hear that at Gravel Worlds. But that makes sense though. You’re from Nebraska, there’s lots of corn. Is that the story?
CG: No. When I first moved here and started going to mountain bike races, I didn’t know a lot of people, so I made cornbread. I got on this cornbread kick and started bringing it to mountain bike races.
People were like, “Hey, where’s that tall cornbread guy?” I would pass out cornbread after the races and it kind of stuck.
CXM: That is awesome. To start, I know a little bit about you, we spent some time hanging in Lincoln last year, but you’re the race director for Gravel Worlds, you do a lot of gravel cycling. What’s your background in doing long rides on rough roads?
CG: I started mountain bike racing, mainly cross country, then moving out to Lincoln, we have one park here. It’s nice, it’s flat, but it’s only about a 10 to 12-mile loop. When it’s wet, it’s pretty hard to ride that, so I started riding gravel to stay in shape. I started doing 12-hour races and did a handful of 24-hour mountain bike races, so long gravel rides made sense to train for those.
Then Guitar Ted had Trans Iowa, so I gave that a shot, and the same year I did DK. From there I kind of got hooked into the gravel scene. It’s pretty low-key, you don’t have to have a race license.
I started a race here in Lincoln called the Good Life Gravel Adventure. “The Good Life” is kind of the unofficial state slogan of Nebraska. We had 25 people show up and it kept building. The next year was 50, and then we called it Gravel Worlds the third year. It’s been 10 years now.
CXM: One thing that I thought was really cool was in your basement there’s a Dirty Kanza winner’s trophy.
CG: Yeah, Joel Dyke made that. He was one of the two original founders of Dirty Kanza. It was Jim Cummins and Joel Dyke. Those guys heard about Trans Iowa, and they were like, hey, how about we do something down here in Kansas.
They looked around, because Joel was originally from the KC area, I’m not sure if Jim was from Emporia or not. They decided on the Flint Hills, it’s kind of a unique landscape. So as Dirty Kanza got bigger, Joel didn’t necessarily like the direction it was going, so he stepped away.
Tragically, probably eight years ago or so, the day after Christmas he was in his garage trying to get something down and he fell down and hit his head. His wife found him the next day, but it was too late. He passed away.
Joel made that trophy. It’s a special trophy for me, knowing that he made that. I knew Joel for many many years, and he was kind of my doppleganger. He was 6’5″, tall dude, goofy looking dude. I definitely miss him. Every year we have been giving some money to his wife because he also had a young child.
CXM: You guys had a tragedy in your community as well. You had the KOM, correct?
CG: Yeah, the Randy Gibson KOM award. He was killed by a drunk driver in September of 2017.
CXM: It seems like a really community you have built around your race. How have you been able to grow the gravel community in Lincoln, as you have?
CG: It’s really been organic. As more people just show up for rides, we’re very welcoming. We help tutor people and take them underneath our wings and really embrace offering free events to new folks so they don’t have to go out and buy a race license just to try something out.
The Pirate Cycling League usually does something called the Tour of Dirt Roads every year. It’s basically just a longer dirt-road ride. We try to string together as many B-level roads around here together. It’s a good chance for folks to kind of get their feet wet.
Then just the number of races popping up here. There are several around Lincoln now. That’s really helped grow the sport. Obviously, a lot more bikes are available now.
If you look at just in general where road racing and mountain bike racing are going and then you see where gravel is going, it’s just taking off. That’s kind of what everyone wants to do now.
CXM: Lincoln strikes me as a comparable community to Madison, where I live. We have a strong cycling culture, but it’s not super cohesive. Do you think it’s been a little bit easier being in Lincoln out on the plains building that community? Or is something you’ve had to work at?
CG: You know, we’ve definitely had to work at it. We used to have a standing Wednesday night gravel group ride. Cycle Works always hosts a Saturday morning group ride where they often jump on gravel. Making sure those rides are announced and opening them to everybody. They’re super inclusive, all of our rides with Pirate Cycling League are super inclusive.
I’m not sure what it is we have here in Lincoln. Maybe it’s the lack of other things like sweet singletrack. I don’t know if you guys have a lot of singletrack, but you do have a lot of pavement.
What we do have here is a lot of gravel. If you just look at what’s the safest thing to ride, what’s the most beautiful thing to ride, what’s challenging, what’s good for new riders and any skill level, it’s going to be these gravel rides.
CXM: I saw you were at Land Run, it was quite dry. When you go to events like that, do you kind of think about how you can incorporate things from other races into Gravel Worlds.
CG: I always like to learn from other organizers, especially Bobby and Crystal [Wintle]. Those guys do an amazing job down there. It’s kind of hard to match what they’ve done. You need to get down there and check it out if you haven’t.
CXM: I’m well aware that I need to get there. I was have super FOMO doing all of our coverage of the race this year. I will be trying to make it next year.
CG: Something cool about Land Run and what we’re trying to do too is we don’t want
Land Run is $80, we’re $80. We’re not a $200 event. You also have to spend money getting there, on lodging, on food. If you have a $200 entry fee, you can end up dropping over a grand on one gravel race.
Some things I like to learn from going to other races is how they do aid stations, how they do check-in, how smoothly things run. I picked up a couple things from Land Run. They had a really slick way to do the check-in with the numbers. Basically, you have a stack of numbers, nothing is pre-assigned. You grab a number and they put it in BikeReg, and you move on to the next. I think we’re going to try to emulate that this year.
The expo, it’s always great to see how they do that. See who’s showing up at the expo, and if there’s anything different there. They did the Salsa Chaise lounge, I need to get those guys to Gravel Worlds. I’m doubt it’s going to happen this year, but maybe next year.
Andrea Cohen, she rides for Salsa, she did a really welcoming and inclusive ride on Friday at Land Run. She’s going to come here to Gravel Worlds and do that ride as well. Maybe an hour, hour and a half ride on the first 20 miles of the course. The goal is to allow people to stretch their legs, especially if they’re been in the car all day, and just get people together. Also folks who are traveling with a racer, they mind as well get out and ride a little bit too.
Those are some things I’ve learned, but we’re always trying to do something different. We don’t want to be just like everybody else. We’re kicking around a few other ideas for this year.
CXM: You said this is your 10th year coming up, right?
CG: Tenth year for Gravel Worlds, right.
CXM: That’s super exciting. I went last year, it was a great event, I had a great time. Can you let in on some of the things people can expect this year?
CG: We’re going to do the Randy Gibson climber deal. Another tragedy that happened in 2017 was we lost our other friend Christopher van Oyen, he passed away from a very rare disease. He would usually be out on the course doing what we called “Gravel Angel.”
We have these pop-up oases that you can stop at if you want, and we would usually have CvO just drive around, and if he saw someone struggling, he would stop and help them out. That was kind of a pre-approved neutral support. We don’t want friends and family doing that, but he was approved for that. We may do something to honor Chris this year and have some Gravel Angels out there.
We are also going to have a L’Eroica cateogry. Vintage bikes, pre-1988 bikes. Downtube or barcon shifters. Non-aero wheels. Steel frames. Kind of a unique category. I don’t think a lot of gravel races have done this. We’re going to add that cateogry for women and men. Instead of the traditional Gravel Worlds jersey, we’re going to have a custom wool jersey for the top female and male.
We going to try to make the expo bigger this year. We’re having a really big raffle Saturday night at the award ceremony.
CXM: I saw you posting about the L’Eroica cateogry on Facebook, so I’m excited you’re going for it. I take it you got a lot of interest from that?
CG: There were several people who know a lot more about this kind of event than I do. They were giving me all these tips. “You need to allow these things in too.”
I didn’t even know what a barcon is. Sure, barcons are in, are they pre-1988? If they are, super. I would prefer down tube shifters and super old-school steel bikes. Non-aero levers. We’re encouraging leather saddles, it would be really cool if people wore wool jerseys.
We’re going to have kind of a committee pre-approve the bikes. If someone signs up for the category, we’re going to have them send us pictures and specs. We’ll make sure they’re pre-approved.
I’d like to have those people bring their bikes to the expo and at 6 p.m., line them up and let people see who these crazy people are who are going to try to race 150 miles on these vintage bikes.
The nice thing about the gravel around Lincoln, you saw it, it’s definitely doable on a road bike. It’s not going to be the most comfortable thing, but it is doable.
CXM: That sounds like one of those old car shows. Everyone gathers at the local McDonald’s or whatever and show off their cars.
CG: Exactly. That’s what we’re going for.
CXM: What I want to see is like Alison Tetrick and Colin Strickland all racing on steel bikes. Any chance we can make that happen?
CG: Oh man, that would be awesome. You never know. It would be pretty cool if Specialized could dig up an old steel road bike for Alison. That would be some cool PR for her.
I don’t think Colin is coming, Amity [Rockwell] isn’t coming. With the Steamboat race, a lot of the top people are heading there. We think Alison is coming because supposedly she doesn’t racing at elevation. We’re really hoping she makes it because she’s always a fun part of the race.
And this year, we’re going to give her race number one. She’s the only one we’re going to make an exception for.
CXM: You better. You guys got burned by her last year.
CG: It was awesome. That was hilarious. Right there at the check-in, she grabbed a Sharpie and crossed it off.
CXM: I look at an event like Land Run and they’re doing a great job keeping it grassroots even though it’s grown. They had a number of top riders come to their race this year. You guys have kept it a little bit smaller with the grassroots vibe. Is that a decision that you’re rethinking at all.
CG: Well, we were expecting to sell out pretty quickly this year. We’re maxing at 750 participants. We’re ahead of where we were last year, but we want to make sure the growth is sustainable and controlled. Last year we had over 500 people sign up and over 400 people
We’re also trying to be really respectful of the people in that neighborhood. It is a neighborhood. They’re really excited about the event, the neighborhood association is really jazzed about us growing a bit this year, but we want to make sure we do it in a smart, respectful manner so we don’t run into any snags.
CXM: You say we. Your co-director is Craig, right?
CG: Craig Schmidt, yeah.
CXM: The two of you guys do the brunt of the work, right?
CG: Craig and I kind of run the show
We never charged an entry fee for the first seven years. It was a postcard entry you sent to my house. Then we started having them sent to Craig’s house because he likes receiving mail.
It was really cool. People would send really creative postcards. Somewhere at my house I have all these postcards from over the years.
Then after a while, we started getting people coming from all across the country, and we had to start thinking about liability. If someone were to get hurt, who’s ultimately responsible, and it would be Craig and me. We decided to form a LLC, and that’s when we reluctantly had to start charging an entry fee to cover insurance. And to cover making sure we could put on a quality event.
This year I think I’ve seen a pro mountain biker from the Ukraine sign up, we have a former pro roadie from New Zealand, we have some people from the UK, from Canada, Iceland, the Lauf guys are coming. It’s become a much more kind of international race.
Initially, calling it Gravel Worlds was kind of tongue-in-cheek, kind of like the Singlespeed World Championships. That was kind of what we were going for. Now we have some people who are really wanting to race and win this event, so we’ve definitely had to step it up. Craig has been a key part of that, making it bigger and better.
CXM: Everyone wants the sword, right? Will the sword be back?
CG: Yep, the sword will be back. I’m actually doing some sword shopping today. Last year we had, I think, a cutlass. There’s all these different pirate swords you can get. We’re trying to figure out what kind of sword we can get that will allow us to include something on the blade and even the hilt. A lot of big decisions to be made.
We found a couple riders who have done the event all 10 years. We want to do something to recognize those two guys. Have you ever heard of a blunderbuss?
CXM: Isn’t that a gun?
CG: Yeah, it’s like this crazy gun who stuff whatever into and use it to storm another ship. If someone sees you with a blunderbuss, it’s like, crap, get out of the way.
We’re looking to do something with a blunderbuss theme. I’m pretty anti-weapons and violence, but we’re trying to stick with the cheesy nautical pirate theme, so we’re looking for like a blunderbuss mug. We’ll do something like that this year.
We thought about doing something to recognize people who have raced five years too. We need to tally those up still.
CXM: The way your race is set up, it’s on the north side of Lincoln, it finishes at a restaurant, so it doesn’t necessarily have the finish of a Land Run or Dirty Kanza.
What I thought was really cool was how everyone, E
CG: It’s working so well. The nice thing is being on the north side of town, besides the Fallbrook neighborhood being so welcoming and the Schilling Bridge owner has been awesome to work with, we’re only about a mile from the finish line to gravel. There’s not a lot of having to meander through town to actually get to the gravel.
We think it’s a lot safer too. There’s a lot less traffic. Lincoln is 300,000 people, so it’s pretty big. To get like downtown, it can take you 20 minutes to get from downtown to the gravel. We really like the location.
The hillier stuff, what we call the Bohemian Alps, that’s actually what they’re called because a lot of folks from Bohemia settled there, it’s hilly. We like to offer a challenging course for folks. The hills are right there and it’s tough from the get-go, and it’s tough when you finish.
CXM: I had never been to Nebraska before your race. For folks interested in coming, what can they expect to see and what might they be surprised by?
CG: Definitely, if you just drive through Nebraska on Interstate 80, the corridor is pretty flat. If you go a little bit north and south of that corridor, and it can get pretty hilly. The terrain can get pretty diverse.
Our mayor this past week, he talked about some things Lincoln has to offer for folks, we were talking about trail development. He hit the nail on the head when he made a comment saying Nebraska and Lincoln don’t have mountains, it doesn’t have a sea or a huge lake, but what we do have are the plains and the people.
That’s exactly what we have and what makes this area great. Very similar to the Flint Hills in Kansas, they don’t have the sea or the mountains, but they have the Flint Hills. What we have are these rolling plains which are just beautiful.
Think about Dances with Wolves, that kind of scene. Beautiful, rolling grassy stuff, we have a lot of that around here. And obviously corn and soy.
Also, some really good people. The small towns we go through, they’re very welcoming. Valparaiso, they saw us going through there for the race, and on our ride once, someone approached us and said, “I’m the leader of the Boy Scout troop. Would it be cool if we set up a vending spot at the gas station here for your riders?”
Same thing with the town of Malcolm. They wanted to raise money for a baseball field for the kids. They approached us, and we were like, absolutely. We helped them raise money last year.
What we have are really awesome gravel roads that are maintained really well. The course is really challenging. It’s not one big climb, but it
And then we have really awesome people who help run the event. Volunteers, local communities, the folks at the party at the end. That’s what makes Lincoln great.
I’m not from Lincoln
I’m here 20 years later man. It’s a really awesome place. I always
A perfect example is Gravel Worlds and Pirate Cycling League. We didn’t have anything like that, so we came up with an idea, and people embraced it. We have gotten a lot of community support.
CXM: With Gravel Worlds, how did you decide on the 150-mile distance?
CG: We wanted to do something more than 100, but we didn’t want to do something as long as the Dirty Kanza. When we first started doing the event it was in September, part of it was honestly because of daylight. I didn’t want to be waiting until like three in the morning for folks. We compromised and put it at 150.
We talked about dropping it down, but people commented that they really wanted to do 150. That’s why we started offering the 75-mile Privateer event a few years ago. It lets folks who can’t do the 150 do a shorter event.
This year we’re offering something even shorter. It’s a 50-kilometer ride called the Buccaneer, and it’s sponsored by Chamois Butt’r. It’s for people who want to get their feet wet and don’t want to do a longer rider. Folks who are traveling with their significant others who want to at least get a ride in, that’s an option for them.
CXM: It’s really cool that so many gravel events are offering shorter distances. Are you seeing a positive response to adding those shorter routes for beginners?
CG: Definitely. That’s one of the things we talked about before, how inclusive gravel is. If folks can’t do 150 or 75 miles, they’ve been left out, but now, we are able to offer a shorter distance. I’ve been wanted to do that for a while now. I’m glad we’re able to do it.
Hopefully the 50 kilometers will be doable for most folks. We’re going to try to keep it pretty flat and close to Fallbrook, so people can still get a ride if they have to bail. Even younger folks who want to give it a shot.
You’ve got a lot of folks getting into gravel after riding road or mountain bikes their entire lives. Maybe they don’t feel safe on the road anymore. The gravel roads are much less traveled around here, so it gives them a lot of options.
CXM: You guys have a lot going on this year! You’ve mentioned three or four things now.
CG: We try to do something different every year. It’s just fun. We started this thing as a fun event, and we want to keep it fun. When it’s no longer fun, we’re honestly going to stop doing it. Keeping it lighthearted and fun is important for us.
That keeps with our Pirate Cycling League mantra. We try to keep things really inclusive and fun. Most of our events are free. That’s what we’re trying to do.
CXM: To be honest, 150 miles is probably at the limit of what I can do. I signed up, but I’m still a bit nervous about being ready.
CG: You know, it is 150 miles, but we have those checkpoints and those oasis stops. We think those make it a little bit more doable. It lets you break it down into smaller chunks. You could definitely turn yourself inside out and not stop at the oases, but you’re going to suffer. If you have a good time, hang out at some of the oasis locations, chat people up, it’s just like a long group ride.
CXM: Awesome. I am excited. Thanks for your time.
CG: Yeah, thank you. See you in August.