As a journalist who covers gravel, I am fortunate to be invited to countless events — large and small, near and far — every year. It’s very hard to choose, and sacrifices are always made.
Truth be told, I needed a break from the UCI gravel worlds chatter, and I always find the greatest respite in huge mountain landscapes where the scenery dwarfs all human drama. The San Juan mountains of southwestern Colorado are just the place, especially with thousands of aspen trees aglow, snuggling up to the snow-capped mountains.
While the date for next year’s Telluride Gravel Race is yet to be announced, I can assure you that this event is one to put on the ever-lengthening list. Especially if steep climbs, long descents, stoked volunteers, and Mother Nature are of interest.
Pete Jaeschke of Bootdoctors Telluride serves up pre-ride bacon.
True to its location, the Telluride Gravel Race couldn’t help but sneak a bit of skiing into the bike race.
From the venue at the base of the Mountain Village Gondola to the set of Wagner skis awarded to both male and female winners, the event honored the shoulder season between riding and skiing most appropriately.
Riders on the neutral roll-out from town. Notice the frosty tips on the willows on the valley floor. Temps barely crested freezing at the 8 a.m. start.
The event featured two race distances — 85 and 45 miles, with 10,000 and 4,5000 feet of climbing, respectively — and both took in many roads and sights that were important characters inTelluride’s mining history.
One example is the Ames hydroelectric plant, one of the first commercial systems to produce and transmit alternating current (AC) electricity for industrial use.
More than the human history of the region, though, nature was the real attraction of the day.
This year’s inaugural event was small — due to permitting issues, the race was capped at 75 riders. Next year will have space for up to four times that.
We rode up Ilium Road and did a loop around Trout Lake. I think the photos can do the talking.
After Trout Lake, we had a fun singletrack section on the Galloping Goose Trail. The ‘Goose’ is named for the special trucks that ran on rails carrying passengers and freight on the Rio Grande Southern Railroad lines from the 1930s to the 1950s. The 17.6-mile railroad grade trail runs from from Lizard Head Pass to near Telluride and includes gravel paths and singletrack.
Alex Howes, unable to travel to Italy for UCI gravel worlds for bureaucratic reasons, chose to spend the day on a course more akin to the gravel that we’re used to.
True to form, the Telluride Gravel Race had it all in terms of road surface — this section on Hastings Mesa was particularly smooth and fast … albeit mostly uphill.
Aid station shenanigans greeted us around mile 65, as did homemade bone broth, bacon, tequila (or so I heard) as well as more traditional nutrition and hydration options.
While the organizers have not determined a 2023 date yet, the scenery will be spectacular no matter the time of year. We got very lucky with a rain/snow/sleet-less day on October 8 — inclement weather definitely could have dampened things.
One rumor that might be of interest to the uber endurance set is that the gravel race will fall on the same July weekend as the climber-friendly Telluride 100 MTB race.
Fun fact: Wilson Peak, a 14,023 foot “fourteener” outside of Telluride is the mountain on the Coors Light can.
Flat bars actually weren’t uncommon, and some of the descents had me wishing for a mountain bike.
In fact, the final descent of the long course, off the top of Last Dollar Pass at 10,500 feet, is long, rough, and steep. There are a few undulations at near the bottom before the course drops you onto the bike path back into town.
It’s not often that I win a gravel race, and I’ve sure never won a pair of skis. Needless to say, I was stoked. Rainbow jerseys come in all forms.