On Saturday, May 14, some 1,500 riders descended on the tiny town of Hico, Texas for the second edition of Gravel Locos. The race was highly anticipated, with a stacked start list, and its position on the calendar three weeks before Unbound Gravel makes it of particular note, as well.
However, the homicide of Moriah Wilson some days before the race cast a somber, yet supportive, tone on the day and changed many riders’ reasons for toeing the line.
Marisa Boaz of Iowa and Jasper Ockeloen of the Netherlands won their respective races in the GL150 distance. Eight men sprinted to the finish behind Ockeloen, and his countryman Ivar Slik took second. Sarah Sturm and Jess Cerra rounded out the women’s podium.
Jess Cerra and Sarah Sturm at the start of the race.
“Where to start?” Cerra said when asked about the day.
“I feel like my teammate Brennan [Wertz] said it really well in our group chat — ‘this is a time when we all need to take care of each other.’ I felt like that’s why we all showed up this morning because we wanted to be there for each other and we felt like it was the best thing to do. We all heard the message from Mo’s parents and felt very strongly about honoring that message. I don’t think any of us really wanted to race. We wanted to do it for her. It was emotional.”
Laura and Ted King listening to race organizer Fabián Serralta read the message from Wilson’s parents.
We know that Moriah would want the event to carry on, for her compatriots to test their limits, as she would have been alongside her friends on the race course. We hope everyone feels her passion and support as they chase their own dreams. Her spirit will be there with you all, while training and on every race day.
Ian Boswell overcome with emotion.
The first eight miles of Gravel Locos are always neutral. Today, the beginning of the race was anything but.
Brennan Wertz, with pain on his face, as Thomas Dekker reaches out a hand to Boswell.
Sturm, with arm outstretched.
“When I was putting on all my stuff this morning, I told myself to play it by ear,” she said. “Unfortunately I’ve dealt with this type of tragedy before, and you have to be really present with how you’re feeling. I knew I wanted to start and be around everybody because in some ways it’s healing to cry and grieve with your family, which is the cycling community. So, I knew I wanted to line up and I just started pedaling. I don’t know, no part of me was in race mode. At one point, I did think, Mo would totally want me to race. But I just couldn’t do it, I just wanted to go ride today.”
Riders approaching the Bosque River crossing at mile 8.
Before the race began after the neutral rollout, everyone stopped for another moment to acknowledge Wilson’s life, and her absence.
Although the race began at the river, riders would suffer from intense heat and dry conditions all day.
Pete Stetina leads a group through the dust.
“In the beginning it was pretty slow, a big group stayed together,” Ockeloen said. “It was very very hot. Everyone was scared of the heat, I think. Just before the first feed zone, there were some steep hills and it was the first action where you could make a difference. But because we decided to wait together in the feed zone everybody came back after. The race really started after the second feed zone. We started attacking.”
“The last 20 miles was attack, attack, attack,” said Ryan Standish (not pictured). “Everyone was having a day.”
Standish and Kiel Reijnen cross the line 5th and 3rd in the sprint, respectively.
Reijnen said that the final group of eight also struggled with a head/cross wind during the final 20 miles, and riders were fatiguing quickly as attacks were not sticking.
“I don’t think I was the strongest one there,” he said “I was just able to play the card I had, which is a sprint.”
Sturm ultimately finished second on the day, but said it was a need to get out of the heat that turned her ride into a race.
Marisa Boaz, the women’s winner.
“Just like everybody I wanted to dedicate my ride to Moriah. That was my focus today. It was pretty hard, obviously the heat was a really big factor. But honestly it was a very emotional ride.”
Ockeloen was thrilled with his win in the first of three races that the Dutchman will race in the U.S. However, in lieu of a full race report, he chose to acknowledge Wilson on social media the next day.
“Even though I didn’t personally know Mo, I was shocked. The ceremony this morning before the start was emotional. It made me realize how important it is to enjoy and give love to the people you love every day.
“During the race I forgot the emotions and got sucked into the race and the battle for the win. I felt strong but didn’t expect to reach the finish as first solo. It was then that I realized that a normal victory salute was inappropriate on a day like this. I then decided to take off my helmet and pointed upwards.”