Now entering its 10th year—despite the grandeur suggested by the name—Gravel Worlds p/b Lauf started as a small, grassroots gravel event based in Lincoln, Nebraska first announced with a blog post. Twenty-five riders showed up at that first event, and on Saturday, a sold-out field of 700 will gather on the north side of Lincoln for the 2019 edition of the event.
On tap are the 150-mile Gravel Worlds, 75-mile Privateer and 50-kilometer Buccaneer distances on the gravel roads outside Lincoln.
Gravel Worlds, which started as the Good Life Gravel Adventure in 2007, has been around for all the rapid change in the gravel discipline—I mean, the first edition was announced with a blog post!—but the grassroots vibe at the event endures. Race co-directors Corey Godfrey and Craig Schmidt still work day jobs and organize the race on the side and registration for the early editions was via postcard.
“This is our 10th year of the event,” Godfrey said. “The number of riders has grown over the past decade, but the ethos of the event hasn’t changed.”
What does “grassroots” mean for Gravel Worlds? It is set in a large Great Plains city, now charges an entry fee to cover event costs (the first seven years were free) and has brought Lauf on as a title sponsor, so there is a feel of professionalism surrounding the event.
As Godfrey explained, many other aspects of the early event have not changed. A lot of that starts with the Pirate Cycling League that helps organize the race. As the name suggests, the Pirate Cycling League is a fairly informal group of riders focused on the welcoming aspects of gravel riding.
“As more people just show up for rides, we’re very welcoming,” Godfrey said. “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.”
With that spirit in the Lincoln gravel community, the team has created what they describe as a “polished, grassroots vibe” for Gravel Worlds. Godfrey and Schmidt welcome every finisher at the finish line and local communities are welcomed to get involved as aid stations.
“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,” Godfrey explained.
The finish of the event also contributes to the community feel. Gravel Worlds starts and finishes at the Schilling Bridge Cork and Tap House in Lincoln’s Fallbrook neighborhood. After the race, nearly everyone, gravel first mates and bosuns, sticks around to swap stories and hang out with their gravel friends, new and old.
The podium presentations take place during the gathering at Schilling Bridge, with a mixture of fun and touching demonstrating the grassroots and community sides of the event.
First, there is the sword. When I spoke with Godfrey earlier this year, he was literally getting ready to go out sword shopping to provide a memorable prize for the Women and Men’s winners. Last year’s winners Alison Tetrick and Colin Strickland certainly demonstrated the appropriate reaction to being crowned gravel captains.
An important member of the Lincoln cycling community, Randy Gibson, was killed by a drunk driver in September 2017. Last year, the event dedicated the Randy Gibson QOM/KOM award to honor his memory. Gibson’s wife Christy and children helped present the polka-dot jerseys to the top climbers last year, and the award will return again this year.
Something Old, That is New
One thing that is new for this year’s event is the Vintage category. The name, like the new Gravel Worlds winner’s jersey, is a bit of a story.
Last year, the UCI reached out to the Gravel Worlds promoters to let them know that although the tongue-in-cheek name is fine, they had to change what was a rainbow-striped jersey similar to what you might see a Sanne Cant or Mathieu van der Poel wearing.
“We were contacted by the UCI last year  after the event,” Godfrey explained last year. “They reminded us about their international license on the rainbow stripes. They were very cool about our inadvertent use of the rainbow stripes and kindly asked us not to do it again. Completely our bad.”
When they announced the new vintage steel category, they called it the “L’Eroica” category. Turns out that is copyrighted as well. “The L’Eroica event folks wanted us to change the name as they have a trademark on ‘L’Eroica.’ Who knew? So anywho, it’s now the Vintage category,” Godfrey said.
While gravel races are typically anything-goes, there are a few rules for the Vintage category. “Pre-1988 bikes. Downtube or barcon shifters. Non-aero wheels. Steel frames. Kind of a unique category,” Godfrey explained.
“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.”
Ten riders signed up for the inaugural Vintage ride. A sampling of the bikes expected to make the ride are a Raleigh Pro vintage 1970, 1986 or 1987 Bianchi Trofeo, early-80s Sekai, 1982 Trek 720 and 1986 Bridgestone 450.
You can check out some of the vintage steel bikes in the post below:
Head to the Hills
Gravel Worlds is set on the Great Plains, which one can argue is the “Motherland of Gravel,” with the Land Run 100, Dirty Kanza 200 and Gravel Worlds all taking place in the region and TransIowa once centered on the eastern edge in Iowa. Despite what we may all think of when we hear “Plains,” as we saw with the Dirty Kanza, these events are not exactly flat.
In the case of Gravel Worlds, it is the Bohemian Alps north of Lincoln that help provide the elevation. We recently checked in from new Bohemia at the Bohemian Sto Mil gravel event, and this weekend, the gravel world will be back there again.
Named for the folks who originally settled there, the hills provide a beautiful backdrop as the morning fog burns off, and then a challenging foe as the day starts to heat up.
“What we have are these rolling plains, which are just beautiful,” Godfrey said. “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.”
This year’s 150-mile course heads north from Lincoln before returning west and south of the city and then finishing in Fallbrook. The two checkpoints are at Miles 59 and 132, where riders are required to get pipe cleaners for their handlebars to show they made the stops. Oases and local fundraiser stops are spread throughout the course as well to help make sure riders complete their gravel challenges.
Godfrey described the route:
“Those roads are some of the most beautiful in the area and traverse the Bohemian Hills. Linking small town with interesting stops along the way is also a consideration for the route. We’ll be going through the small town of Loma again this year that had part of the movie ‘To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar’ shot there. We’re also riding past the iconic Malcolm General Store and also utilizing the Reinkordt Farm for the second Checkpoint. Jane Reinkordt has been busy making homemade pickles for the riders. All of that adds up to an authentic Nebraska experience.”
While typically, the fast-rolling, pea-sized gravel on the roads around Lincoln make the hills a bit more manageable, weather developments on Thursday could make things even more challenging. Lincoln got hit with rain on Thursday, making things “a wee-bit soft,” and with two dirt sections, it remains to be seen how those hold up come race day.
Local, National, International
Lincoln, Nebraska is more or less literally as far away from both coasts as you can get, and yet perhaps spurred on by the event name, the 2019 race has drawn riders from places domestic and international. Godfrey said a good chunk of the Lower 48 states will be represented and others are coming from places farther afield.
“We’re happy to see the event grow every year for the past decade. It’s a testament to the community here. It takes a village to make this event happen every year and the entire community rallies behind it. It’s been awesome to see all the international interest in the event,” he said.
When I spoke with Godfrey, he was getting ready to pick a couple from New Zealand up from the airport, and other countries represented will include Ukraine, Great Britain, Spain, Iceland and Canada.
Iceland’s Lauf, coming off hosting its own gravel party at home, returns as a sponsor this year. The company is selling a handful of limited-edition Gravel Worlds Lauf True Grit bikes at Friday’s expo and providing financial support for the event.
Lauf is joined by a number of new sponsors this year (it’s a long list!), all cultivated and brought aboard to help provide more support and prizes to event participants. “I know most of the sponsors pretty well and have raced with them for years,” Godfrey said. “They’re part of the gravel family. Bringing on new sponsors is an opportunity to extend the gravel family. It helps that we’re believers in their products.”
Although Gravel Worlds does not offer payouts, the allure of the sword and rainbow jersey and rep of the event has helped draw increasingly talented fields each year. Joining the sponsors will be a number of gravel pirates looking to become the newest Captains of the Gravel Seas.
Two-time defending champion Alison Tetrick (Specialized) headlines the Women’s field while going for her third-straight win. One rider expected to give her a good battle is Lauren Stephens (Team Spinstry), who finished second at the Crusher in the Tushar and second overall in the Dirty Kanza 100 back in June.
The Men’s field will see its first new gravel captain since Rob Evans won in 2016 with Colin Strickland (Meteor x Giordana x Allied) racing in Colorado this weekend. Last year’s runner-up Mat Stephens (Panaracer/Factor p/b Bicycle X-Change) has won like every gravel race out there, but he is still looking for his first Gravel Worlds title on Saturday.
Joining him will be, among others, last year’s bronze-medalist Josh Berry (Giant Factory Off-Road Team), local hero John Borstelmann (Panaracer/Factor p/b Bicycle X-Change), DK100 winner Ashton Lambie (Creative Landscaping Cycling Team), Groadio Power Rankings member Thomas Humphreys (Foundation CCB) and Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder wide-angle podium finisher Tristan Uhl (Giant Factory Off-Road Team).
Check back this weekend for results and next week for more coverage of the 2019 Gravel Worlds in Nebraska.