As the gravel racing scene builds towards its mid-season crescendo at Unbound, the elite ranks are, once again, dividing into disputes about the illusory “Spirit of Gravel.” This spring, it’s Canadian Adam Roberge that finds himself the villain. His crime? Using basic road tactics to win a gravel race. How dare he?!
Controversy, real or imagined, is the only thing the U.S. mass participation gravel scene seems to produce more reliably than registration numbers (and there are apparently 4,000 riders registered for unbound this year). Often, this debate plays out almost entirely online, unbeknownst to the majority of racers. Unless the Life Time cameras are filming, or bored reporters need something to feed the algorithms.
What the latest “controversy” makes clear, if the 5,000 controversies before that hadn’t, is that the so-called “Spirit of Gravel” is not only imaginary it is also so vague that, when you push it for any specifics, it is completely contradictory.
RELATED: Adam Roberge wins Gravel Locos but was flamed for using actual tactics
Take Roberge’s case. He was accused of not working enough in the lead group, leaving him with the energy for a late attack. Never mind that the lead group included more well-funded former pros LARPing as “privateers” and fully supported riders, this Canadian had the audacity to try and win instead of just letting the result unfold as the Spirit decreed.
Spirit of Gravel spits in its own face / Spirit of Gravel is an impossible utopia
But let’s look at the alternative. As Roberge suggested, if you’re not allowed to work together, then gravel races should be run as a long line of individual time trials. No working together, no drafting, no teams, no tactics. Just pure gravel racing.
Spirit of Gravel saved, no? Well, not quite. The other side of the Spirit of Gravel is supposed to be that it is such a casual, congenial race environment (in person, because that’s clearly not true online after the race) that, unlike the seriousness of road, competitors can meet and befriend other riders while racing. So a TT doesn’t quite work either, does it?
The same is true of most past controversies that have mired the world of Gravel Twitter, some of which are important and others of which are… less so. Gravel opens up the freedom to experiment with new and exciting equipment. Unless it’s TT bars. Gravel is about everyone, pro and Joe starting together as equals. Unless too many pros show up…
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