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The inaugural edition of Gravel Locos Pueblo was a success for many parties.
One, for the community of Pueblo — the event raised $10,000 for the Red Creek Volunteer Fire & Rescue Department. Two, for the riders, who managed to finish the race before thunderstorms and early autumn snow swept over the state of Colorado. And three, for Russell Finsterwald and Flavia Oliveira Parks who won the GL150, the 143-mile version of the race.
Finsterwald’s gravel win came on the heels of a MTB win at the Pikes Peak Apex stage race the week before. The 31-year-old has had a busy summer of racing with the Life Time Grand Prix series kicking off in April. He was a late add to Pueblo, but made the short trip from Colorado Springs to get a solid late-season training effort in.
“It’s hard to motivate to train right now, so if you can jump in and get an effort in, it’s worth it,” Finsterwald told VeloNews. “I wanted to get a good training day in and race really hard.”
Gravel Locos Pueblo had smaller numbers than its Texas sibling Gravel Locos Hico, but Finsterwald said that “there were were enough hitters to make it a fun day.”
“But I think a lot of people were tired and didn’t want to race the race hard all day,” he added. “A lot were chilling and then wanted to race the last 40 miles hard.”
Finsterwald was joined on the start by Laurens ten Dam, Ian Boswell, John Keller, Marc Spratt, Nathan Spratt, Innokenty Zavyalov, Alex Howes, Ted King, and Kiel Reijnen
(The latter three all dropped to the 100-mile route.)
Finsterwald said it was a day of pushing the pace and attacking to try and animate the crowd.
“The first 15 mile super slow, like 100 watts slow,” Finsterwald said. “I did a couple attacks to pull out the strong guys and get the race going.”
The major climb of the day arrived around mile 40 and ascended for about 10 miles. Finsterwald said that he came off the descent alone with different groups of three chasing. Eventual second place winner Laurens ten Dam was in the second chase group where “he never quit,” Finsterwald said. “He keeps motoring all day.”
The Dutchman eventually found his way back to the race, and when Finsterwald attacked for the last time at mile 100, ten Dam was the only one who could come along.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” ten Dam told VeloNews.
Ten Dam said that he’d come into the race with a fairly good block of training, which included a “big weekend” at his own event, LtD Gravel Raid, a bikepacking trip, and a few shakeout rides in Pueblo. He also noted a less-than-motivated peloton.
“In hindsight I think the training was pretty good compared to the other guys who didn’t like training any more,” ten Dam said.
“So I knew my condition is not top top, but I was willing to suffer, and I knew if I would suffer for a long time I would make it further than most of the guys and at the end, there were four guys away on a big climb, I was in a group behind them with three guys, we chased back on, and when then the attacks started I managed to sneak away together with Russell, who was clearly the strongest.”
The two Specialized riders sprinted to the finish. Innokenty Zavyalov followed in third.
Flavia Oliveira won the women’s race, crossing the line 16 minutes ahead of Alexis Skarda. Emily Newsom of EF Education-TIBCO-SVB was third, two minutes behind Skarda.
Only six women raced the GL150, and Oliveira told VeloNews “I knew right away that Alexis Skarda and I were going to be having it out out there.”
The two riders come from very different backgrounds — Oliveira is road Olympian and Skarda is an elite XCO MTBer and the current marathon national champ — and are both some of the strongest riders in the gravel scene.
Oliveira said that she opted for a conservative start on Saturday, even as she saw Skarda go with a group of men on the big climb at mile 40.
“I knew it would be a long day if I had burned all my matches trying to stay ahead on that climb, so I had to play smart, or not smart but conservative, because to be honest that’s a long day with a fair amount of climbing,” Oliveira said. “Being new to these long distances, it’s always tricky how your body is going to react.
“I found one person to ride with and the poor guy had the worst draft in the house. It was nice to have company, though. I knew Alexis was up the road with some other guys, but I didn’t know how many or what distance they were doing, so I was kinda racing my own race.”
Newsom, who finished third, also found herself lacking a strong group to work with after stopping for an early nature break.
“When I caught on to the back, the front started exploding,” she said. “I ended up chasing hard, but had to settle for a second group at a slower pace.”
After the long descent following the 10-mile climb at mile 40, Newsom knew she had Oliveira and Skarda within reach. She worked with two other men to try and get back. Ultimately, a bout of “bad luck” with two hours to go left her in a “less than ideal situation.”
“However I’m really proud of myself for not giving up and holding on to third place despite the circumstances,” Newsom said. “The race showed me my form is very good and I’m excited for what remains of the season.”
Meanwhile, Oliveira came back into contact with Skarda at the final aid station around mile 100. The two didn’t link up, and Oliveira and another male companion caught and passed Skarda on a hilly section shortly thereafter. Skarda didn’t come along.
“I just wanted to get done, it’s a long day out there,” Oliveira said. “50 miles is a long way to go. You’re just there hoping your wheels don’t come off.”
Oliveira finished in 7:52:14, putting her in 11th position overall.
Results from all distances can be found here.