One of the things we love about gravel is the unregulated, anything-goes Wild West nature of equipment in the sport, despite some indications this fake news is slowly becoming true. With four major titles on the line, it was fascinating to see four dramatically different bikes win the overall titles in the hills of Kansas and mountains of California’s Sierra.
Mat Stephens Gets Aero
“All we are is dust in the wind,” sang the band Kansas. Mat Stephens, hailing from Dallas, Texas, was determined to cheat the rules of Kansas and escape the wind, opting for the 3T Exploro “aero gravel” bike, and topping it off a set of “clip-on” aerobars.
Ride your bike for nearly 11 hours in attempt to win the Dirty Kanza 200 and aerodynamics could make a difference. Could it have been the difference between his first place and Jake Wells’ second, just 1:43 behind?
Skeptics might say it was just legs, but legs are what have to push the body through the wind. We’ll never know.
Tetrick Starts with a Clean Slate
Last year, Ted King won the Dirty Kanza on the Cannondale Slate, a unique bike with a Lefty suspension fork with 30mm of travel, and 650b/27.5″ wheels.
Wow! What a day @dirtykanza! The longest distance I have ever ridden on my bike was 122 miles. And that was 3 years ago! And today, winning the premier gravel race in the USA at 206 miles. Exactly, why do they call it the #DK200 when it should be the the #DK206! Anyway, super humbled by the small army this took to orchestrate to scheme all the perfect equipment (@cannondalepro @lezyneusa @speedplaypedals @camelbak @cylancecycling @chamoisbuttr @sugoiapparel @gravelcityadventure)! We did it! And to the best support crew in the world, he is only one but seems like 10,000, @crwines! I have never fought cramps for so long or talked to myself in such lunacies. Congrats to the pure champion and 2x winner @amanda_panda_ for a hard fought and tenacious race. #pandapower is alive and well! #finishstrong #gotyourbak #gravelgrinder #bringthegreen #cannondalewomen #dirtykanza #cycling
Tetrick opted for the same platform as the one we tested in California, adding a few personal touches including a SRM powermeter, and Schwalbe G-One tires.
After beating two-time winner and defending champ Amanda Nauman by just five seconds, one can’t help but wonder if the suspension could have made a difference for Tetrick.
Decker Doubles Down on the Mountain Bike
After winning the Lost and Found 100-mile gravel race in his first attempt last year, Carl Decker said he had to consciously ride to “make [his] equipment last all day.” He opted for Schwalbe G-One tires on his Giant TCX, which he said is on the “lighter end” of the gravel tire spectrum, and said he was riding “as if my tires were made of wax.”
After inspecting the new 2017 Lost and Found gravel course on his motocross bike, Decker opted for his mountain bike this year after seeing all the erosion damage from the heavy winter rains.
Using a rigid fork but fat 29er mountain bike rubber and road pedals, Decker could use his downhill skills (and wheelie habits) to his advantage in terms of both race results and camera time.
Pairing fat tires with a flat handlebar on his XTC Advanced mountain bike, the result was the same. Decker defended his title and once again leads the Lost Sierra triple crown.
Saturday's #lostandfoundbikeride was pretty bony after a heavy winter in the Lost Sierra. The new course was rocky, rough, and raw. So after some deliberation, I decided a good-old-fashioned Balloon Tired bike might be a good idea. To finish first, first you must finish–as they say. The race was long and hard–as it always is. But I made the mid-race selection, joining 4 especially worthy adversaries. And I began to suspect as we rolled back toward Lake Davis that the race was mine to lose. At a particularly rocky stretch of road, I played my last card. I went for broke to open a small gap 40 minutes from the line. And then I soloed for all I was worth. And then I both finished and finished first, winning my second Lost and Found and taking the driver's seat for this year's #lostsierratriplecrown Later, while tipping into my second celebratory beer in the finish-line parking lot, I'd remember it was my birthday. I've had a lot of birthdays. And I have won a few races. But I can't remember having ever won one on my birthday. But I'll remember this one. #xtc
Decker is no stranger to going against the grain in choosing an advantageous bike for the course. In Utah, Decker famously opted for his full suspension mountain bike to win the summer cyclocross race in Deer Valley, much to Jonathan Page’s chagrin.
Katerina Nash Crosses Over to Win at Gravel
Katerina Nash, after winning bronze at the 2017 Cyclocross World Championships, showed on Saturday once again she’s pretty good at riding a cyclocross bike. Despite lining up for her first Lost and Found gravel race, she took her trusty Orbea/Ibis cyclocross bike to Lake Davis.
The same bike survived the tire-piercing rocks of Bieles, Luxembourg, and she figured it could do the same in the Sierra.
This weekend is all about another exciting new event for me. Gravel racing hasn't been part of my calendar before but my bike is ready and I'm heading to #lostandfoundbikeride for 90+ miles by Lake Davis. Thanks to @motomathis my Orbis got a few additions; extra gears with XTR cassette and some @maxxistires 40c Ramblers. With limited lodging in this area I would typically be camping but not this time! I'm very excited to check out @nakomaresort which is rumored to be the ultimate base for any activity while visiting the Lost Sierra. #sierratriplecrown #feedyouradventure @clifproteam
Sure, she swapped her tubulars for Maxxis Rambler 40mm tires, and added a wide-range Shimano 11-42 cassette out back, but did it make a difference? Like Decker, Nash has shown she can ride any bike in any race and finish with a top result.
It’s interesting to see the cycling legend but gravel racing newbie take the most traditional approach in terms of equipment. See Katerina Nash’s bike in cyclocross form in our profile from CrossVegas.