I couldn’t stop thinking about the Gravel Worlds after the race popped up on my radar a few months ago. Gravel racing, an endurance event on predominately gravel and dirt backcountry roads, is super popular among a certain part of the cycling community, so I talked myself into buying a plane ticket to check it out. That, and I’ve never been to Nebraska, so I thought I might kill two birds with one stone.
A day before the race I drove the 153.3-mile course to check out potential photo locations. My course recon went well but out there in the middle of the American heartland I thought to myself, ‘How in the world are people going to race this course if it’s already difficult enough to drive?’ Having now watched the race, I still have no idea how they managed to do it.
Almost all of the 146 starters finished, but their times and their bikes varied a lot. The overall winner finished in eight hours and 23 minutes on a tricked out Specialized. The last person to cross the line completed the race in 21 hours and 41 minutes and they were riding a cargo bike. People also road mountain bikes, fat bikes, single speeds and almost any other kind of bike you can think of.
Regardless of the bike, it was clear that everyone, including myself had a ton of fun. It was one of the friendliest and most laid back races I’ve ever attended. That’s because at the Gravel Worlds there are no finish line cameras and no podiums. Instead there’s just a big party at Peter and Jane Reinkordt’s farm, mandatory pit stops that require everyone to buy a Poweball ticket, pizza as fuel, and amazing small town America scenery.
Don’t get me wrong. The competition was fierce and the roads were brutal (two finishers from the same team I spoke with had five flats combined). But the people are what made the race so unique. The level of support and the camaraderie amongst the participants was amazing. I’m definitely hooked and can’t wait to suffer out there in the Nebraska dirt on my own bike sometime soon.
Stephen Lam is an editorial and wedding photographer based in San Francisco.