Race report: At Rooted, mullet protocol is more than marketing
The Vermont race reached its goal of gender parity on the start line. ‘We strive to walk the talk at Rooted.’
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Eight hundred riders from 42 states and eight countries descended on the town of Richmond, Vermont, last weekend to participate in the three-day gravel festival, race, and ride called Rooted.
Founded by Ted and Laura King in 2019, and co-directed by Laura King and Kristin Motley, this year Rooted was proud to announce it had achieved its goal of gender parity on the start line. It also boasted a non-binary podium and a podium for para-athletes in addition to traditional men’s and women’s podiums.
Rooted’s race winners included Katie Kantzes, 35, from Austin, Texas, who took first place in the 85-mile, 9,500 feet of climbing Sip of Sunshine course in 4:41:19, and Adam Roberge, 25, of Prevost, Quebec, who took the men’s title in 4:11.51. Em Bhoo, 32, from Alexandria, Virginia, took the long course win in the non-binary category in 6:16.28.
Hannah Raymond, 36, from Longmont, Colorado, took the female win in the Para-Athlete category with a time of 6:05.18, and Christopher Smith 46, from Dedham, Massachusetts, took the men’s Para Athlete win in 8:32.32.
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On the Little Sip course, which was 49 miles and 4,300 feet of climbing, Samantha Fox, 29, from Richmond, Vermont, won the women’s title in 2:37.45. The top men’s finisher was Mike Morse, 37, from Salem, New Hampshire, with a time of 2:35.35. Quinn Schoff, 24, from Essex Junction, Vermont, placed first in the non-binary category with a time of 3:02.56.
The courses were heavy on climbing, with sections of steep and bouldery class 4 road, and an uphill singletrack finish after blasting through a wall of soapy foam courtesy of the folks from Vermont’s Rasputista.
Roberge said the men’s Sip of Sunshine race was decided on a section of steep fourth-class road with chicken-head gravel surface. According to the former road racer, the relatively short course distance — 85 miles versus 100 or 200 — “allows a lot more guys to be in the mix, so you need to go hard from the beginning. Rooted can get very strategic. It’s such a fast course. The race played out in the technical sections.”
But the course wasn’t the only highlight for Roberge. He also praised the post-race meal of pulled pork sliders, salmon and pork poke bowls, and maple creemies.
“Rooted still feels like a race, but everything about the event is about enjoying yourself,” said Roberge. “It was well-organized, and the course was close to perfect. I hope more Canadians will cross the border in the coming years to participate.”
Pratt Racing’s Samantha Fox, women’s short course winner and a Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering, and University of Vermont lecturer in design engineering in the bioengineering program, said she signed up for Rooted so she could hang out with a bunch of other riders in a fun environment. She chose the short course because she didn’t have time to train for the long one.
Fox was an instructor at Rooted’s women’s clinic where she taught pace lining and other race techniques. “Rooted provides progression,” said Fox. “You can come as a total newbie, and leave the clinic with skills. You can show up at Rooted and you know people, you aren’t alone. There is no other race event where that is the case.”
Fox is passionate about getting more people into cycling, especially women and gender-diverse individuals. “If someone is looking for skills, I’m happy to be a mentor,” said Fox. “But I want to be someone people can think about when they have questions. I want people to know they can reach out to me.”
Inclusivity is a booming buzzword. But at Rooted, business in the front and party in the back and being welcoming to all isn’t just a gimmick or slogan. More than 100 people welcomed the last place finisher, New Hamsphire’s Joe Sykes, who completed the course in 10:43.18. He crossed the finish line with the crowd chanting “Joe, Joe, Joe!” and cowbells clanging.
“For me, that was the goosebump moment,” said Laura King. “It’s not just about the race and the ride. The party is just as important.”
SRAM provided mullet haircuts for willing participants, including Ted King. Cannondale set up a slip n’ slide. And there were two podiums — for those who won the race by being fastest in men’s, women’s, non-binary, and para categories, and the mullet podium for those nominated by fellow riders for exemplifying the spirit of gravel.
This year there were 40 nominees for the mullet podium. Winners included Mike Geehan from Houston for his selflessness and community service, Vermonter Ian Boswell, Rooted’s Sip of Sunshine 2021 winner who rode the short course this year and stopped repeatedly to assist other riders with mechanicals and flat tires. He also pulled creemees all weekend.
Matt Wilson, brother of Vermonter Moriah Wilson, a gravel racer who was recently murdered en route to a race in Texas, was also on the podium. It was Matt’s first gravel race. Matt and his dad rode Rooted in honor of Mo.
“I cried and smiled more this weekend than ever before,” said Matt Wilson. “Seeing the community in action, being there, I understood, I felt why Moriah was so fond of and excited to be part of it. The community that Ted and Laura and Kristin are shaping with the Rooted race and in gravel in a larger way highlights the fact that relationships and friendships and loving each other and supporting each other is what life is really about.”
In addition to honoring Mo Wilson at the start, race organizers also acknowledged local rider Willem Jewett who died from cancer in January 2022. His wife, Ellen, hosted an aid station at their home in Ripton at the midpoint of the longer course with live music, and a freshly built singletrack trail in honor of Willhelm that was part of the race route.
“Community is what defines Rooted,” said Motley. “We have teams from all over the country, and there are pockets of community throughout the event, and throughout the race. Riders who come here learn the Rooted way of building community, and we learn community from people who come and participate.”
“We’re here to support and cheer on each other; we want Rooted to be both an event for elite riders and an event for the people,” said Motley. “A lot of races do one or the other. But most people who ride Rooted come for more than just a start line. People come to gravel to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves. At Rooted, it’s important to us that everybody feels like it matters they showed up.”
To that end, Rooted sponsors a women’s clinic months in advance of the race/ride, hosts a party at a local restaurant on Friday night, and they have an all-day expo on Saturday with extensive programming. The layout encourages people to talk to each other, and to hang out. It sets the stage for pros and newbies to interact.
“A lot of women and people who are traditionally underrepresented in cycling feel like they don’t matter,” said Motley. “We try to create programming and craft courses and talk about what we offer in a way that we set a standard for inclusivity and give each other the gift of it mattering.”
“When a celebrity like Ted King or Ian Boswell serves you ice cream, it’s memorable and a big deal,” said Motley. “It flips the hierarchy, and it’s a great reminder that regardless of your experience, everyone has something to learn and something to teach. Elite athletes need community in the same way someone new to cycling also does. We strive to walk the talk at Rooted.”
For more information on the Mo Wilson Foundation, mowilsonfoundation.org