Triathlon goes gravel — USA Triathlon announces Gravel Tri Series

It's like off-road triathlon—but different.

Photo: Stellafly/Tris4Health

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Capitalizing on the boom in gravel cycling and racing, USA Triathlon today a first-ever gravel triathlon series — which includes a brand new gravel tri national championships.

“Gravel cycling is growing incredibly fast and the multisport community is positioned to take advantage of this trend by providing athletes with new and unique race formats and disciplines,” said USAT CEO Rocky Harris in a press statement.

The series will include eight races — a mix of new events and gravel tris that have been around for years, like Ugly Dog Gravel Tri in Michigan. It will start with the Jersey Gravel Triathlon in May and include races in California, Michigan, Texas, Idaho, and Colorado, as well as a national championship race at the Ozark Valley Triathlon in Arkansas on June 3. (The series does not culminate in the national championship; it is simply in the middle of the series.)

Qualification is not required for any of the races in the series or for the first-ever national championships. Participants will get special recognition from USA Triathlon and it will count toward their USAT ranking. USAT is also likely to grow the series and events in the future, as interest demands. Most of the events are expecting around 200–300 athletes in their gravel triathlon — in addition to athletes in the other races they offer.

The hope, from race directors and from USAT officials, is that gravel tri offers both an easy additional entry point for beginners and a new adventure option for long-time triathletes.

What is gravel triathlon?

Good question.

“It’s kind of a marriage of the two,” said David Schwartz, the head of Ready Set Go Adventures, which will host the first race of the series, the Jersey Gravel Tri, in conjunction with their off-road race and other events that weekend.

Unlike off-road triathlon, which can be highly technical, gravel triathlon is contested typically on dirt or gravel roads or paths—making it easier to jump into from a technical standpoint. Additionally, because of that lower barrier to entry, a wider variety of bikes can be used if you’re just getting started: hybrids, mountain bikes, cyclocross bikes, occasionally beefy road bikes, and of course gravel bikes.

USAT’s newly developed rules for gravel triathlon ban time trial bikes, fixed gear bikes, and aerobars of any kind. And, unlike gravel cycling (which is still developing a lot of its rules and processes), the rest of the rules and structure for a gravel triathlon already exists in the form of regular triathlon rules.

Perhaps Schwartz’s story is the best illustration of why and how gravel triathlon is now catching on.

Schwartz has hosted off-road triathlons for years, including the USAT off-road national championship, but he also started riding gravel cycling events with friends over the last couple years. His company then expanded to add three gravel cycling races. And now, he’s adding a gravel tri on the same weekend as his off-road tri in New Jersey. But unlike the technical off-road event, the gravel event will be accessible, he said, and made up of 82% unpaved roads and trails. He’s also already exploring a location to add another gravel triathlon in 2023.

The appeal of riding mixed surfaces (another way to describe gravel cycling), he said, is that it’s a fun adventure that’s also accessible to both new and experienced athletes.

“It really returns to the fun and the challenge and the uniqueness,” he said—i.e., the spirit of triathlon.

The USAT Gravel Tri Series

May 15 Jersey Gravel Triathlon Hewitt, NJ
June 3 USAT Gravel National Championship Fayetteville, AK
June 18 The Theoi Donnelly, ID
July 23 Ugly Dog Gravel Tri Chelsea, MI
July 31 Stagecoach Gravel Triathlon Steamboat Springs, CO
Sept. 10 The Gravel X Triathlon Folsom, CA
Sept. 25 The Dirty Mitten Middleville, MI
Sept. 25 XTERRA Laguna Beach Laguna Beach, CA
Oct. 23 Brick House Triathlon Navasota, TX

See the full series announcement on USAT’s gravel triathlon page.

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