By: Forest Dramis
As a fan of both road racing and cyclocross racing I've always been interested in gravel racing. But for the past couple of years I've always come up with an excuse not to do the Tushar or Rebecca's Private Idaho or one of the other "gravel grinders.". It's not that I was really against gravel events, but the idea of a gravel road race seemed to be the worst of all worlds -- a road race without much drafting or strategy and a mtb race without single track. Not for me, I thought.
But then I heard about the Gravel Pursuit. It was being put on by a friend, it was in my backyard and I had no other races scheduled. In short, I'd finally run out of excuses and so I signed up. Now, after the fact, I'm oh so happy I did.
The Gravel Pursuit takes place on the vast array of Forest Service roads in and around Island Park, Idaho. For those unfamiliar with the area, Island Park is just 30 miles south of the Yellowstone border. The terrain consists of gentle rollers, dense forest, windswept plateaus and incredible vistas. At some points along the course the views extend all the way to Yellowstone; almost enough to make me wish I had a camera with me and wasn't racing. Almost.
Lodging is easy and convenient. The Ponds Lodge hosts the race and pre-race dinner and offers great rooms and cabins. For those looking for a little more rustic sleeping location the Forest Service Buffalo Campground is a great alternative. Just a 3 minute bike ride from the Ponds Lodge, it offers tent and RV sites, bathrooms and showers for the low price of $15 a night. My site was flat, and quiet with only the sound of the bugling elk to keep me company.
Race festivities begin Friday night with a great dinner of pasta, salad and dessert provided by the Ponds Lodge (included in the race fee). Lodge staff was friendly, helpful and made everyone feel at home. During dinner we were treated to a course description from JayP and a visit from a park ranger to provide bear safety information to the riders. While many races take place in bear country, it was great to see that the organizers of this event not only took our safety seriously, but also took the safety of the bears seriously. The ranger gave a great talk on safety, bear spray use, recent bear sightings and what to do when encountering a bear. Though I'm well versed in bear safety, it was great to see this information given to racers.
After a restful night listening to the elk bugle and the coyotes howl, I made the short ride to the start line for our 8am start. Dirt double track and a shallow stream crossing lead to dirt roads and the first challenge of the day, a paved climb. Long and mellow, never exceeding 8% and hovering near 5% for most of the way, this is a great climb to break up the peloton and help establish the group you'll be hanging with the rest of the day.
Dense forests lead to the summit where a fast and fun dirt road descent lets you catch your breath and test your nerves. This descent leads to some fun rollers and flat sections and takes you to AId 1. Aid stations were incredibly well stocked and manned by volunteers both helpful and vociferous in their support of the racers. The next challenge is a long, tough climb on dirt that ascends through pine forests and deposits you on the summit plateau with views to Yellowstone including distant peaks and forest. A long, winding and fast descent on dirt leads to 6 miles of flats to the finish line. (120 mile course details can be found here).
An interesting, challenging and varied course with incredible views in a beautifully wild location with enthusiastic volunteers...what more could you want? Schwagg? OK, let's talk schwagg. A great racer bag with items you actually want, a massive raffle from Salsa, Princeton Tec, Osprey, K-Lite, Crank Bros., HED, GU Energy, Kate's Food, where every entrant got a prize and the coolest trophies around. Custom designed and forged from bronze by artist Lee Kinder, belt buckles for the top 3 men and women in each distance received a trophy anyone would be proud to wear. I know I am! All in all, an event not to be missed. Well organized, well run and a ton of fun. Some people race it. Some people ride it. But everyone had fun and really, isn't that the point?
GRAVEL RACE SETUP
One of the first questions anyone ever has is, "What kind of bike setup should I use?" The second question is generally, "What kind of tires and pressure should I run?" Below you'll find the race day setups of the top finishers. If you have any questions regarding bike setup, shoot us a line and we'll be happy to help out!
Gabe Klamer • 1st place 120
Fitzgerald's Bicycles, Trek Bikes, Snake River Brewing, Kate's Real Food
Frame Trek Boone 9 (18#'s race day weight)
Wheels Hed Ardennes+ tubeless w/ Stan's valve stems
Tires WTB Nano 40mm set up tubeless w/ Stan's sealant
Pressure Front/Rear 44fr/46r My front tire was down to <20psi at the finish due to it burping on the descent off of Two Top
Pedals Crank Brother's 11 4ti
Any specialty items? Revelate Designs 'Mountain Feedbag', Garmin 510, PrincetonTech 'Push' and 'Swerve' lights, Krieg saddle bag with 2 spare tubes and Pedro's tire lever. Blackburn 'MtnAir' pump stashed inside of my camelback and two 16 gram CO2's
Number of bottles consumed? 150oz's of Kiwi Lime CarboRocket, 50oz's of Lemon CarboRocket 333
What were you drinking? CarboRocket and CarboRocket 333
What did you eat? How much? 6oz's of Tram Bar 'nugs', 2 packages of strawberry banana Power Bar Chews, 1 flask of Rasberry Hammer Gel
How many times did you stop at an aid station? I stopped very briefly (coming in hot!) at both aids to pick up my drop bags. Applied chain lube at aid #2
Did you do any special training or prep for this race? I rode several long gravel rides the weeks leading up to test my gear and to become familiar with my bike. I raced a cyclocross race on the Thursday before which definitely opened me up. This season I have climbed close to 500,000 vertical feet and ridden over 4,500 miles.
What’s one piece of advice that you’d give to someone thinking about racing next year? 'What the mind of a man can conceive and believe, the mind of a man can achieve, with a positive mental attitude' and 'HTFU!'
Anything else that you’d like to add? Huge thanks to Jay, all of the race volunteers, the Ponds Lodge and the city of Island Park for allowing us non motorized weirdo's on their trails for a day.
Eric Balog • 1st place 60
Frame Specialized CruX
Wheels Zipp Tubular
Tires FMB 32c
Pressure Front/Rear 36 psi
Pedals Time ATAC
Special items? SRM with PC8 head unit
Number of bottles consumed? 2.5 bottles, Nuun
What did you eat? Hammer Gel (x5 or 6), 1 Honey Stinger waffle
How many times did you stop at an aid station? None
Did you do any special training or prep for this race? No
What’s one piece of advice that you’d give to someone thinking about racing next year? Tire choice is critical. Know the capabilities of your tires as well as the proper pressure to run. Don’t be like me and build your bike the night before—do a full shake-down in advance.
Anything else that you’d like to add? The course profile made the main descent, which the 60-milers hit twice, appear steep; the director's warning about this stretch of road made it sound loose/washed out/nasty — enough for me to worry about it. When run with tires at the right pressure, it was downright fun. The event is a fantastic excuse to get out and ride some of the most beautiful terrain in the area—roads most of us otherwise would not ride unsupported. The event was clearly put on by and for racers; every detail and need was anticipated by JayP and his crew. I want to send a big thank you to the volunteers who enabled us racers/riders to go out and have fun all day.
Shae Griffin • 1st place 60
Teton Cancer Institute, Sticks and Stones and Kelson Bikes
Frame Trek Crockett
Wheels Hed Belgium on White Industry Hubs setup tubeless
Tires Hutchinson Piranha, 33mm
Pressure Front/Rear 45/45 psi
Pedals Crank Brothers Candy 2
Any specialty items? Suunto Ambit3 Peak
Number of bottles consumed? 5 1/2
What were you drinking? Water, Red Bull and Gu tablets
What did you eat? Gu, Scratch fruit drops, Power Bar Chomps
How much? One package of each listed above and 3 or so chocolate Gus with caffeine.
Any specialty items? Red Bull!
How many times did you stop at an aid station? Twice
Did you do any special training or prep for this race? Just riding with my friends. Also raced Crusher in the Tushar and Rebecca's Private Idaho.
What’s one piece of advice that you’d give to someone thinking about racing next year? Bigger tires for those sharp rocks.
Anything else that you’d like to add? The course was awesome and aid stations were friendly and well organized. I can't wait 'til next year's race! JayP was awesome when I flatted out in the first 5 minutes and he came by to help change my flat in record time. I was frustrated to start like that but he encourage me to just enjoy the day and have some fun!
Forest Dramis • 2nd place 60
Frame Giant TCX Advanced
Wheels Stan's NoTubes Iron Cross, tubeless
Tires Specialized Trigger 37mm
Pressure Front/Rear 43/45 psi
Pedals Crank Brothers 11 4Ti
Any specialty items? Lezyne Energy Caddy, Suunto Ambit 2S, Pedros saddle bag with 2 tubes, tire lever, two 16g CO2
Number of bottles consumed? 2 tall bottles and Camelback vest
What were you drinking? Gatorade, Gu Energy tabs
What did you eat? How much? 4 Gus, 1 prior to the start, Powerbar chews
How many times did you stop at an aid station? None
Did you do any special training or prep for this race? Bought wider tires for my 'cross bike
What’s one piece of advice that you’d give to someone thinking about racing next year? Just do it! Whether you're racing for the win or just out for a ride, it's a great course to challenge yourself on and beautiful place to ride.
Mark Linares • 3rd place 120
The Hub Bicycles
Frame Niner Air 9 carbon with rigid fork
Wheels Easton EC90 XC
Tires Tubeless Schwalbe Thunder Burt 2.1 (I do not like this tire, very fast and light but way too squirrely in anything other than road or bullet proof single track. (I used it at Leadville, a mistake and thought it would be better hear but it was not.)
Pressure front/back 25/23 psi (a little on the hard side)
Pedals Crank Brother's 11 4ti
2 X 16 oz bottles with two Endurolytes Fizz in each, grape flavour.
2 X 100oz Camelbacks with Accelerade. (Only drank half of my last one after aid two)
2 X Handlebars
2 x EFS gel flasks
How many times did you stop at an aid station? I stopped at both aid stations. Probably 90 seconds aid 1. Probably 3 mins at aid two, ate the pickle and had a piss( my 7th of the race, yes I was counting) just to confirm that cramping has nothing to with being dehydrated.
What’s one piece of advice that you’d give to someone thinking about racing next year? My advice. For the 120( 118 on my Garmin) Although you may think that it will be a fast race, being no single track etc etc. It is not. I was thinking I should average 15mph. I was for the first 45 miles but then the course slowed down a lot. Between miles 50 and 90 it is pretty slow with a very challenging double track straight out of the second aid station. Thank god I had MTB I was in the 32t for 20 mins. Also don't underestimate the road climb after 20 miles or so. I went too hard up that.
Kris Quandt • 4th place 120
Frame Salsa Fargo (steel)
Wheels I-9 hubs laced to 32 hole DT Swiss XMC Carbon 29 rim. Tubeless with extra Stan's
Tires WTB Nano 40c (they measure a little narrower, 38ish)
Pressure Front/Rear 45-50psi (I use the hand squeeze test method for best accuracy)
Pedals Time Atac Carbon 8 (run them summer and winter with zero issues)
Any specialty items? Nuclear Sunrise feedbag for snacks, Revelate Designs Mountain feedbag for bear spray, Garmin 510 mounted with a BarFly mount.
Number of bottles consumed? I used 2- Zefal Magnum bottles which hold 33oz each. I think I finished 4 bottles during the race.
What were you drinking? 1 bottle always had water the other had Skratch Matcha Green Tea (The larger bottles delude the sweetness so it is easier to get down when the stomach is not happy).
What did you eat? How much? I carried Kate's Bars x3, Cliff Blocks x2, EFS Liquid shot x2 and a stick of jerky (Just in case the space food was not doing it for me). I ended up eating 1-Tiki Kate's Bar, 1-Margarita Cliff Block and 2 bottles of EFS Liquid shot. Probably not as much as I should have eaten but I was able to push the pedals.
Any specialty items? Quick hand full of BBQ potato chips at Aid 2!
How many times did you stop at an aid station? 1 quick stop at each to fill water and mix Skratch drink mix.
Did you do any special training or prep for this race? Besides taking part in 2 other gravel races this summer, DK200 and Rebecca's Private Idaho, I spent as much time in Teton Valley, ID riding gravel roads. I rode the middle 60 miles of the course a month before the race.
What’s one piece of advice that you’d give to someone thinking about racing next year? Get a Salsa Fargo or Cutthroat and ride as much gravel as you can. Most important is to know that taking part in these events is a personal journey, make it what you want. If you want to race...Great, if you want to push your personal limits and have fun...EVEN BETTER. As JP said the event is designed for everyone to Pursuit their own challenges.