Before the COVID-19 pandemic swept in and took over our country and forever altered the cycling calendar, one gravel event that was lucky enough to pull off an early 2020 race was the inaugural Shasta Gravel Hugger in remote Northern California.
The first-ever Shasta Gravel Hugger didn’t draw the thousands of racers, attention or controversy of the Midsouth Gravel held later that month in Oklahoma, but promoter Ben Brainard hopes by next March, conditions will be prime to make his unique event an attraction for gravel racers near and far.
While Mount Shasta might be getting gravel press from due to the newly-relocated Grinduro California scheduled for this fall, Brainard has long been dreaming up a mixed terrain event near Shasta. “This event has been in the back of my mind for more than a year, but the final decision to make it happen was towards the end of December ,” Brainard told Cyclocross Magazine.
After some hectic planning over just two months, he got 120 racers from California and Oregon to commit to a brand-new event that offered two distances over little-known terrain.
Think the Shasta Gravel Hugger is just another dry, dusty California gravel event? Think again. This year’s event featured a little bit of everything, including snow. “I built this race around springtime conditions,” Brainard explained. “I wanted it to have a Spring Classics feel. We definitely got that. We have had incredible weather leading up to this event, then a snowflake on race day.”
Spring weather isn’t the only thing that makes the Shasta Gravel Hugger unique. Brainard separates his offroad sections into sectors, Paris-Roubaix style. “In order to link up all the Sectors we had about 50/50 gravel to pavement,” Brainard explained. “So we made Sector signs that had a blip about what you were about to face. The sectors that are on dirt are incredible. While the pavements sectors are necessary, the plus is that there are very few cars on any of these roads.”
“So we made Sector signs that had a blip about what you were about to face. The sectors that are on dirt are incredible” -Brainard
This past March, Andrew Sargent won the men’s overall division, while also winning the 50+ division. The overall women’s winner was Starla Teddergreen, who was getting in some quality miles while preparing for her road gig with UCI Hagens Berman Supermint. Brainard suspects next March, the competition will be tougher, as he expects bigger attendance due to the fact that he has more planning time and increased awareness.
“Race to win or win by riding your first century.” -Brainard
The 2021 Shasta Gravel Hugger will bring two century options, with a 100-mile route and a metric century of 100km (62 miles) through scenic roads in the Shasta Valley.
The Shasta Gravel Hugger is a mass-start fondo-style race. “Race to win or win by riding your first century,” Brainard said.