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Gravel Miami proved Florida gravel may be flat — but it’s not easy

Pros Hannah Shell and Brennan Wertz win the south Florida gravel race while hundreds of others enjoyed the sunshine, sea birds, and camaraderie.

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The 2022 gravel season is making its way out of winter hibernation.

Gravel Miami started and ended at the Miami Brewing Company. The lychee sour was delicious. (Photo: Conte’s Bike Shop)

Last Sunday, two VeloNews editors headed to two very extreme versions of February gravel racing.

While Ben Delaney plastered his bike in snow, grit, and mud at the Old Man Winter Rally, mine only acquired a fine layer of limestone dust at Gravel Miami. Ben had to bulk up in layers of warm things; I was able to ride scantily clad in a jersey and shorts. Elevation gain? I’ll raise my 81 feet to his more than 5,ooo.

Related: 76 degrees and sunny? Gravel Miami has that on tap

BrittLee Bowman, Cynthia Frazier, and Alison Tetrick before the race. (Photo: Betsy Welch)

At Gravel Miami, gravel pros Hannah Shell and Brennan Wertz (Scuderia Pinarello) won the 100-mile version. Nearly 250 riders enjoyed the 36-, 50-, and 100-mile courses that carved a track through wetlands and grasslands on the eastern edge of the Everglades.

Alison Tetrick, who finished third in the 100-mile race, said that she saw two alligators.

Although the course was pan-flat by gravel standards, it was still rife with challenging two-track sectors and gate crossings. The day began in a dense fog that left handlebars coated in moisture.

A gate crossing early in the race led to an early splintering. (Photo: Conte’s Bike Shop)

Shell, who nudged Cynthia Frazier and Alison Tetrick to the second and third steps of the podium in a sprint finish through a sandpit, started the day under a bit of duress — the 30-year-old left a thru axel in a rental car and had to borrow a bike slightly larger than what she normally rides. At one point riding alone with Tetrick, the two missed a turn and had to chase until they caught the two women leaders with 30 miles to go.

Shell said the race’s elevation profile belied its difficulty.

“It was very hard,” she said. “There’s no recovery ever. I got caught out big time.”

Anthony Carter, Wertz, and Mari Holden represented the Scuderia Pinarello. (Photo: Betsy Welch)

Wertz, who recently finished second at the Low Gap ‘Hopper in California, also had a challenging day. The 25-year-old flatted 25 minutes into the race when he hit a fist-sized rock that slashed the sidewall of his rear tire. He used a plug, two CO2 cartridges, and two tubes before a stranger with a hand pump was able to help him seat his tire. He was sidelined for nearly 20 minutes before he got rolling again.

“I thought, ‘I’m just gonna have a day and see what happens,'” he said. “I figured at that point the race was over for me. But I figured, hey it’s a beautiful day, I don’t get to ride this type of terrain very often, so I’m just gonna enjoy it.”

Eventually, Wertz said he caught up to the second chase group.

“I got back into the zone. I started seeing people from the beginning of the race again and just put my head down. It was definitely a bit of a time trial,” he said.

Florida Gravel Biking has over 2,000 members. (Photo: Betsy Welch)

For local riders, Gravel Miami was a chance to prove two points: one, that there is gravel riding in south Florida — and all over that state for that matter. I met a dozen riders sporting different club or team kits proudly boasting the outline of the peninsular state. Second, the gravel racing in Florida is just as hard as anywhere else, in its own flat, humid way.

What the race didn’t have to prove is that people are still flocking to ride or race their bikes off-road, share food and beverages after, and enjoy the scenery along the way.

Full results can be found on the Gravel Miami website.

The author carefully rides a line through a very slick spillway. (Photo: Conte’s Bike Shop)

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