Stop us if you have heard this one before, but a gravel race started with a group of friends who got together to ride bikes together. That’s how Michigan’s Barry-Roubaix started and more or less how the Dirty Kanza began its journey to gravel preeminence.

Humble origins are not limited to U.S. gravel races. A decade ago, a Calgary-based club started a group ride every Easter that eventually grew into something much bigger. The ride was not an easy one, with the Deadgoat Racing Team members covering 220km of roads that headed up into the foothills of the Canadian Rockies west of Calgary. “The roads were so incredible that it was worth it,” said Shawn Bunnin about the former group ride.

In 2015, the team decided to ghoul to the next level, and the Ghost of the Gravel was born. “One day in 2015 we decided it had to be a race,” Bunnin said. “But only with the best gravel parts of the route around Water Valley, a cool old western-style town. My friend Erik scouted out a loop in the area, and the rest is history.”

2018 marked the fourth edition of the Ghost of the Gravel race in Alberta. photo: Ghost of the Gravel

2018 marked the fourth edition of the Ghost of the Gravel race in Alberta. photo: Ghost of the Gravel

Water Valley is a small town located about 80km northwest of Calgary that is west of the Ghost Public Land Use Zone that gives the race its name. The organizers have embraced the ghost theme, naming the longer 118km race the “Scary Ghost,” and the shorter 75km route the “Friendly Ghost.” Extending the theme further and taking the route all the way to Casper, WY certainly would have been even more interesting.

A race held near the Canadian Rockies sounds difficult, and according to Bunnin, that’s not false. “The course is hard AF,” he said. “But it’s also one of the most scenic, unique loops in Alberta. You transition between rolling valleys, mile-high forested climbs and beautiful terrain you wouldn’t see on a normal ride.”

The Ghost of the Gravel route is filled with beautiful vistas. photo: Ken Anderson

The Ghost of the Gravel route is filled with beautiful vistas. photo: Ken Anderson

The 118km Scary Ghost route includes a scary 6,800 feet of climbing. The ride starts at an elevation of around 4,100 feet and tops out at more than a mile high near the halfway point of the route. “We start out in the front country with 30km of rolling and fast roads,” said Bunnin about the route. “The really long climbs start next and go over a mile high on three consecutive climbs that reward you with open, banked descents to the river valley. After 60km, the course takes a turn toward sharp, repetitive climbs in the back country that will test your anaerobic capacity and crush your legs as the road turns less-traveled.”

In true gravel fashion, one of the feed zones had beer and bacon. 2018 Ghost of the Gravel. photo: The Ghost of the Gravel has some beautiful vistas along its route. 2018 Ghost of the Gravel. photo: Kunio Tsuyuhara

In true gravel fashion, one of the feed zones had beer and bacon. 2018 Ghost of the Gravel. photo: The Ghost of the Gravel has some beautiful vistas along its route. 2018 Ghost of the Gravel. photo: Kunio Tsuyuhara

This year’s event attracted the race’s biggest field yet, with 240 Ghost riders taking the start for the Scary and Friendly Ghost routes.

Among those at the event was road professional Sara Poidevin of Rally Cycling who resides near the race’s location. With the race held near her backyard, she wanted to take on the climby challenge as a final preparation for Canadian Road Nationals being held this weekend in Quebec. Poidevin, whose Rally teammates include Emma White, won the 2017 Colorado Classic and finished second in the GC at the 2018 Tour of the Gila. She also was the best young rider at the 2018 Tour of California.

Cannondale is one of the sponsors of the Ghost of the Gravel, so Poidevin was joined by Phil Gaimon of “Worst Retirement Ever” fame. Gaimon’s YouTube exploits have mostly taken him to paved climbs, but last weekend, he tried his hand at the ghoulish gravel roads outside Water Valley. Retired mountain bike professional Cory Wallace of Jasper, Alberta shook off his DK200 hangover and raced as well.

Poidevin’s Nationals training went as planned, as she won the Women’s race with a time of 3:57. Sarah Robbins finished second and Shantel Koenig third to round out the podium.

Women's podium: Sara Poidevin, Sarah Robbins and Shantel Koenig. 2018 Ghost of the Gravel.

Women’s podium: Sara Poidevin, Sarah Robbins and Shantel Koenig. 2018 Ghost of the Gravel.

In the Men’s race, Gaimon won with a finishing time of 3:29. He beat out Andrew Davidson (second) and Wallace (third).

Men's podium: Phil Gaimon, Andrew Davidson and Cory Wallace. 2018 Ghost of the Gravel. photo: Ghost of the Gravel

Men’s podium: Phil Gaimon, Andrew Davidson and Cory Wallace. 2018 Ghost of the Gravel. photo: Ghost of the Gravel

Full results for the Women’s and Men’s Scary Ghost races are below.

Bunnin joined others in the gravel scene in pointing out that the Ghost of the Gravel race was about more than the podium finishers. “People come out to this ride to challenge themselves,” he said. “It’s not about the race. Almost every entrant comes back with a smile on their face after a huge accomplishment and great experience.”

He added, “Word is starting to spread about our course. It’s so unique, riders and racers alike come to test their fitness or experience the route.”

Stay tuned for the 2019 Ghost of the Gravel to see if Poidevin can convince her Rally Cycling teammate Emma White to try her hand at gravel and if Gaimon can get his Cannondale mates Tim Johnson and Ted King to try their hands at the friendly endurance challenge.

Women's Results: 2018 Ghost of the Gravel

1626Sara PoidevinRally Cycling3:57:46
2170Sarah Robbins4:25:01
3172Shantel Koenigredbike4:31:19
4167Gemma HamiltonWildhorse Cycling Club4:32:05
5169Caitlin CallaghanHardcore CC4:46:58
6177Jay SmithVelocity CC4:51:53
7171Heather MagusinERTC4:53:59
8160Selina CampbellTCR Sport Lab5:02:19
9129Erin WilsonRMCC5:12:35
10168Andrea BunninCycledelia5:16:19
11164Rosalind Damer5:21:40
12108Jenn Prochebicisport5:28:53
13161Danielle MeunierERTC5:48:54
14175Jackie Campbell5:50:28
15173Janelle KendellTCR Sport Lab5:57:58
16176Kelly MacGregorERTC5:59:42
1717Kendra FergussonWatt Riot Cycling6:02:01
18119Tiffany BakerERTC6:09:11
DNF174Alison JonesDeadgoat Racing

Men's Results: 2018 Ghost of the Gravel

PlaceBibNameTeam Time
1700Phil GaimonCannondale3:29:29
2200Andrew DavidsonThe Lead Out Project3:31:07
3683Cory WallaceKona Factory Team3:31:27
4616Evan Bayer3:38:38
5241Isaac Niles3:39:52
6619Trev WilliamsSpeed Theory Cycling3:44:27
7632Shawn BunninDeadgoat Racing3:44:59
8674Robin BaillieHardcore CC3:46:36
9680Kyle YaschukNuovo Nord3:47:13
10768Clayton ParadisPedalhead Race Room3:47:27
11664Peter KnightHardcore CC3:47:47
12464Jeff KowalenkoPeloton Racing p/b Hyperbia.ca3:50:50
13224Stephen MundyPRW3:52:56
14791David Yexleybicisport3:53:05
15766Devin ErfleDeadgoat Racing3:54:10
16630Jamie Lambbicisport3:54:56
17753Cornelis SinkeCyclemeisters/Bow Cycle3:54:57
18778Ryan YoungTerrascape Racing3:55:41
19223Jakob ClaffeyERTC3:57:03
20313Paul MartinCyclemeisters/Bow Cycle3:58:06
21641Thomas EbbernRMCC3:59:05
22210Jason Proche4:00:37
23644Kurt McGrathHardcore CC4:01:59
24201Dougal Owenbicisport4:04:35
25499Chris Wallace54 Blue4:05:15
26765Geoff ClarkDeadgoat Racing4:05:15
27771Erik BakkeDeadgoat Racing4:05:29
28742Michael BrewsterCyclemeisters/Bow Cycle4:06:10
29238Craig DeBellefeuilleCyclemeisters/Bow Cycle4:07:19
30662Mason KendellTaco Tuesday Racing Team4:09:24
31565Ari Sarantis54 Blue4:09:26
32684Nick LynemCranked4:10:02
33670Matthew Brown4:10:52
34663David Stanford4:12:36
35640Daniel HagenHeadwinds4:12:47
36758Dion ClarkCyclemeisters/BowCycle4:14:32
37515Josh DenisonMEC Calgary CC4:14:42
38780Jay Grozellebicisport4:14:43
39646John ChambersDeadgoat Racing4:15:52
40734Gary Chambers4:15:53
41502Franky ThibaudeauVelocity CC4:16:38
42769Lonn BateDeadgoat Racing4:16:52
43306Lampros AntoniouPeloton Racing p/b Hyperbia.ca4:16:59
44637Ryan HamiltonWildhorse Cycling Club4:18:52
45657Cody Shimizuredbike4:20:34
46606Justin FortnerRide 524:20:44
47767Kyle HusbandDeadgoat Racing4:20:44
48643Andrew YoungIndependent4:21:06
49741James JanzenIndependent4:21:13
50513Roderick MacAlisterBow Cyclist Club4:21:43
51505Darryl HeidebrechtPedalhead Race Room4:21:45
52609Jamie WeikumCyclemeisters/Bow Cycle4:21:49
53749Andy Wiese4:22:52
54652David PercyDerrick Draughters4:23:08
55763Tim BresznyakDeadgoat Racing4:23:49
56722Darren Pettybicisport4:23:54
57615Aaron FalkenbergPRW4:24:17
58659Ken YoungRide 524:24:18
59631Tom MaierHighwood Cycling4:24:19
60647Jeff Hehn4:24:58
61642Daniel Redelinghuys4:25:51
62737Jeffrey BradleyTeam WynRepublic4:25:51
63779Trevor Robertsbicisport4:27:22
64237Charles BougieRMCC4:29:57
65673Bryon Howard4:30:05
66784Arlin PachetPaYo Racing4:30:34
67782John Merrettbicisport4:30:39
68678Jon Arne EnevoldsenCyclemeisters/Bow Cycle4:31:39
69628Aric HartleyCyclemeisters/Bow Cycle4:32:47
70435Greg NicholsonERTC4:33:09
71723Mark FedoroshynBow Cyclist Club4:33:14
72786Anthony SchneiderPaYo Racing4:33:49
73688Brett Smith4:34:01
74732Michael Collins4:37:28
75611Rory Carrollredbike4:37:53
76309Michael WaldhuberPeloton Racing p/b Hyperbia.ca4:37:58
77756Guy CoteDeadgoat Racing4:38:05
78731Daniel ChanCyclemeisters/BowCycle4:38:20
79608Darren EngelsDeadgoat Racing4:40:14
80601Gavin Marcinkowski4:42:19
81651Eric Zilinski4:42:29
82689Adam ZekryBicycle Cafe4:42:53
83441David BurdonCyclemeisters/Bow Cycle4:44:16
84373Jack VanDykbicisport4:44:29
85450Jeremy KitsonCyclemeisters/Bow Cycle4:46:14
86757Stephan Chudleigh4:46:31
87770Todd WilsonRide 524:47:25
88672Elliot Spronk4:47:55
89797Glenn Mcelroy54 Blue4:48:30
90677Tom BastableNorco4:48:30
91747Marc Affeld4:48:48
92649Ross Stirling4:50:20
93755Ryan TwaRide 524:51:41
94639Brock CampbellBike Doctor Detours4:51:42
95743Shawn Arnold4:53:38
96449Cody GordonCyclemeisters/Bow Cycle4:54:01
97443Arpad SoosMEC Calgary CC4:54:14
98604Jeff NazarchukRide 524:54:51
99661Matt Bootsman4:55:12
100625Jon Mawer4:56:05
101735Doug Johannson4:57:11
102669Tobi Linder4:57:37
103660Brett Zagozewski4:58:53
104790Daniel Peters4:58:53
105752Jack Meenaghanbicisport4:59:23
106600Ken LewisCABC4:59:29
107775David Dyck5:01:17
108687John ChurchillTCR Sport Lab5:03:09
109420Colin BellingerERTC5:05:49
110429Andrew LinklaterERTC5:05:49
111777Shaun Halvorsen5:07:02
112624Greg McKeeBike Doctor Detours5:07:22
113788Brian Tuffs5:07:25
114798Aryeh Rosenberg5:09:10
115603Cam LirondelleCABC5:09:17
116422Kunio TsuyuharaSynergy Racing5:09:20
117607Benjamin Thomson5:09:49
118627Tony JacksonCrave5:11:00
119623Adam Chalkley5:11:00
120636Don Finley5:11:37
121621Dennis Lawrence5:11:37
122744Gordon ClayholtElitewave5:11:50
123740Craig Borgland5:14:13
124738Sean Anastasiadis5:15:07
125658Stephen FormstoneKokanee Redbike5:16:19
126671Roger Clemensredbike5:16:27
127654Paul Provencher5:18:46
128655Vern Iskauskas5:18:47
129789Andrew Anastasiadis5:18:59
130795Sina Kazemi5:21:21
131764Steve HulseCafe Roubaix5:21:40
132686Clark Damer5:22:49
133685Cory FaganTCR Sport Lab5:23:10
134665Darrell JonesDeadgoat Racing5:24:15
135305Albert NguyenERTC5:25:06
136675Yan Paquin5:25:24
137727Mark Bennett5:32:09
138773Vincent LaarveldTaco Tuesday Racing Team5:37:41
139613Nathan Roberts5:43:46
140635Eric Camm5:45:41
141633John SantosMEC Calgary CC5:47:15
142648David JaegerERTC5:52:57
143638Daniel Tegart5:55:27
144745Paul PivalCafe Roubaix5:56:18
145760Christopher Roy5:57:34
146746Jason SimmonsTaco Tuesday Racing Team5:57:58
147610Michael Barge5:58:13
148792Eric LiongMEC Calgary CC5:59:24
149724Gerry Mccuaig6:05:17
150618Joshua KupschNuovo Nord6:08:09
151679Guy Stuart6:41:26
DNF442Michael BeauchampPeloton Racing p/b
DNF561Liam RourkeHardcore CC
DNF605Adam Pugh
DNF617Russell Cork
DNF634David CookDeadgoat Racing
DNF650Mark RyanHardcore CC
DNF656Mike SarneckiKokanee Redbike
DNF725Scott SissonsTaco Tuesday Racing Team