One fun part of covering gravel racing for us is getting to see what the discipline looks like across the country and world. We’ve covered races from Florida to Oklahoma to Utah and from Ontario to Switzerland just this year, getting to see the unique twists folks throw in to keep gravel weird.
Recently, something from a race in New York caught our eye.
We spotted a neutral support moto following the lead group of Curtis White, Jeremy Powers and Anthony Clark at the Prattsburgh Gravel Classic a few weeks back. Putting the photo up on our Instagram page sparked some good discussion.
One of the things that is interesting about gravel is its a dynamic, growing discipline. Races typically started as a small group of gravel enthusiasts wanting to share their local roads with others, and their growth from there has taken different shapes. For example, winning the Dirty Kanza can be a career-changing event, while some races start and finish at local bars and do not even have results.
Last year, we took the pulse of our readers on rules in gravel cycling and found a majority of respondents were interested in the current status quo or even fewer or no rules for gravel races.
Against that backdrop and the limited-support or self-supported nature, races often codify in their small rulebooks, the presence of neutral support for a gravel race was definitely interesting.
The Prattsburg Gravel Classic is part of the three-race Durty Bikes Gravel Series located in Upstate New York. Each of the races is between 40-45 miles long, making them shorter than the common 100-mile distance or the 150-200 miles of a Gravel Worlds or Dirty Kanza 200.
Interestingly enough, the neutral support provided by New York’s Bike Loft East ended up playing a role in the first two races of the series. At the Ossian Giant Gravel Grinder and the Prattsburgh Gravel Classic, the Women’s winners came back to win after getting help from neutral support.
To learn more about the Durty Bikes neutral support, we reached out to series director Tony Sylor.
Cyclocross Magazine: Why did you decide to use neutral support?
Tony Sylor: I have put on races with Bike Loft East Neutral Support for years in multiple formats. They work the pits at our crits, have done road races we hold and run support for our fondos. They also do support for local ’cross and triathlons.
I chose to use them for gravel because like in all formats it gives our racers a professional feel and makes sure they can finish the race. Although we currently have pros racing, our events are amateur events, and there is nothing worse than paying an entry fee, training, making time to travel and be away from your family only to be knocked out of a race for a mechanical or flat.
These also happen a lot in gravel so the added support keeps riders going so they never feel like they wasted their time and money.
CXM: How many motos are on the course? Do they only follow the leaders?
TS: For these races, we have two motos and a four-wheeler. They are equipped with wheels and full bikes with a wide range of setups. The motos float a bit, but their primary job is to keep leaders in contention. Once the leaders have finished, they go back on course and see if they can help other riders.
Because of this dynamic riders still need to be self-supported, as there is no way to have a moto on every group throughout the race at all times. We make this clear to riders ahead of time.
CXM: What has the response been from racers?
TS: Racers love it. The Bike Loft East guys are highly trained pros and are an important part and well-respected members of our regional race community. In the last two races alone, the women’s winners have needed their support to stay in the race, and over the years we have had many people benefit from it.
In addition to their work during the race, they often fix bikes and make adjustments for riders before the races start. The racers appreciate their help not just with mechanical issues but with safety and support on course. It also gives me as a race director three extra very experienced people at my events who help me with a multitude of things beyond changing flats and fixing chains.
CXM: Do you think such an approach could work for 100, 150, 200-mile races?
TS: I don’t know. These aren’t the type of gravel events we host so I am not sure if neutral support is right for them. I know in these longer events part of the racing is about being self-supported, and that’s cool. The longer distances also allow riders time to fix something and race back in a way that shorter events don’t.
Our events are 35-55 miles and part of a three-race series. For a rider to get a mechanical, fix it and race back is nearly impossible. Instead, it knocks them out of the race and the series competition.
We also run our formats similar to road racing with the goal of creating spring classics for amateurs. This brings ’cross and road racers together on neutral ground (no pun intended) to race a different style event. These athletes are the ones who are typically at the front of those races and benefit from neutral support.
However, the courses still provide a challenging and interesting course for racers and riders of all levels in a way traditional road racing does not, giving those riders the adventure they seek on the bike. For us it’s a good balance and Bike Loft East Neutral Support is a vital part of that balance.
CXM: Very interesting. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.
TS: You bet. Thank you.
For more on the topic, Sylor and Jeremy Clay from Bike Loft East recorded an in-depth discussion on neutral support and gravel.
Have thoughts on neutral support for gravel racing? Feel free to chime in in the comments and answer our poll below.
Do You Want Neutal Support at Your Gravel Races?