Adam Roberge won the physical battle at the Gravel Locos 150 last weekend in Hico, Texas, but in the process he reopened the gates for arguments about pack racing and road tactics becoming more prevalent in gravel racing.
As uneven terrain would be expected in alternative off-road racing, the definition of “gravel spirit” was not hard and firm but Roberge found himself criticized for employing road-like tactics in relatively large races. the group stays together to fight for the finish.
“I feel that I was singled out unfairly for using a tactic that all cyclists employ to one degree or another,” Roberge said on Instagram.
“Like any sport, Gravel requires a mix of physical, technical and tactical skills. Suppose we choose to assess physical and technical ability only. In that case, we could set up a gravel time trial (which I did not compete against), but when we participate in a mass start race, victory requires a mix of physical, technical and tactical talents.
“Competition is about growing together, and the more we challenge ourselves using all our tools – physical, technical and tactical – the better we become.”
Saturday’s showdown in the Lone Star State became a slugfest for riders honing their last-minute setup for Gravel Untied in Emporia, Kansas on June 4.
On the final lap of the race, having covered a dusty 155 miles behind him, Roberge cruised away from the large pack of competitors to score his first win in three tries at the La Loca course. A little over 30 seconds later, Paul Voss led a group of 10 riders across the line for second place, with Ivar Slik filling in behind to take third place ahead of Alex Howes.
Gravel Locos Hico is where Roberge started his gravel career three years ago, and he had mixed emotions about his win, calling it “really great”. However, days after the win, he took to Instagram to discuss issues relating to race tactics and how riders may or may not share the workload within the group, saying he was “reluctant to address these issues” but “in recent days, issues it has reopened, and I fear it will impact my career and reputation due to the one-sided arguments depicted”.
“Using tactics and strategy doesn’t conflict with what makes Gravel unique. It doesn’t undermine maintaining a tight-knit community or prevent someone from befriending a competitor. I expect my competitors to do everything in their power to top me on race day,” wrote Robert.
“In my opinion, doing everything in your power to win is not against the ‘pebble spirit.’
“During my gravel career I have encountered situations where I was subjected to verbal intimidation, riders talking to my sponsors behind my back and manipulation of group dynamics to hinder my chances of winning, to name a few examples. These actions, to me, are totally against the spirit of gravel, yet often go unnoticed.”
In a lengthy statement, Roberge recalled the race from the road nationals of Canada where he “carried most of the group’s workload” because he was not confident in the technical finish for the group. He later noted that in Gravel Locos he happily “took on less responsibility” because he was confident in his late move to win.
More and more riders speak of improving road racing tactics in gravel events, as the field develops with former road pros and the back of the course tends to be flat and invites riders to stick together.
A race like Gravel Locos had exploded with top talent in just its short lifetime, due to being geographically and chronologically next door to Unbound Gravel. The elite men’s course is filled with riders who used the 157-mile gravel grinder as a setup for Gravel Untied, including reigning 2022 champion Untied Slik, 2021 champion Ian Boswell and two-time champion Ted King (2016, 2018).
The seven riders who crossed the line in the last 16 will face off in two weeks at Unbound as part of the Life Time Grand Prix, including Roberge, Alex Howes, Brennan Wertz, Dylan Johnson and Laurens ten Dam. Second place Voss, who won the Traka 200, eliminated jet lag after winning the UCI Gravel World Series 3Rides event in his home country a week ago.
Payson McElveen was caught in the crash with 5km to go and was diagnosed with concussion and separated shoulders. Defending Gravel Locos 150 champion Jasper Ockeloen also dropped, but managed to finish 1:22 in 13th place.
Untied Gravel will implement new rules this year in the 200 mile event regarding grid positioning and starting for elite men and women, and will no longer allow aerobars or bar extensions for elite riders.
The engagement rules don’t address tactics across miles of prairie or dusty dirt roads, but many events have strict guidelines on mechanical assistance, navigation and time segments.
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