News & Views: Series-ly?
Coincidentally (or not?) two new race series launched this week, and the Lifetime Grand Prix opened entries for 2023. Here’s the deal.
Originally, the Dirt Dispatch was a weekly news roundup I wrote for VeloNews. As you’d guess, it covered happenings in mountain bike and gravel that didn’t get full-blown coverage online. I don’t know if this new iteration of DD will end up being so newsy, but I’m also not sure I want it to be strictly op-ed columns.
So, when I noticed a theme in this week’s headlines, I thought I’d try a little round-up. Let me know what you think, and thanks for reading!
Life Time Grand Prix Accepting 2023 Applications
As of December 1, the Life Time Grand Prix is accepting applications for the 2023 series, which comprises seven gravel and mountain bike races and stretches from Sea Otter Classic in April to Big Sugar Gravel in October. To the chagrin of folks like Geoff Kabush (I assume), it appears the application process and criteria will remain the same, making it fairly exclusive. However, field sizes have increased to 35 men and 35 women. The total prize purse is quite rich: $250,000. Applications are due by December 7.
Many industry insiders are crediting my recent post for prompting Life Time to add a wild card event, to be announced January 11. This Substack is also rumored to be in the running for a Pulitzer, but I digress. In all seriousness, it’s nice that Life Time is keeping the race schedule fresh and that it is letting more athletes into the mix. I have to wonder, though, if this long schedule is sustainable. I talked to a number of racers during and after the first year of the Grand Prix, and nearly all of them were pretty fatigued and overwhelmed by the grind. I’m sure it helps to have so much money on the table, but I wonder if there is a way to make the schedule less grueling.
Downcountry Dreams Come True at SingleTrack Series
Speaking of riders who bailed on the Life Time Grand Prix, Stephan Davoust didn’t just go home and lick his wounds after the Leadville 100. Instead, he set about building a series that suited his interests, and those of his fellow mountain bikers who didn’t love the gravel-centric nature of the Grand Prix’s schedule.
The Singletrack Series ties together four existing mountain bike events to offer an overall prize. The 2023 schedule includes: Moab Rocks, a stage race in — you guessed it — Moab, Utah, GJ Rides and Vibes in Grand Junction, Colorado, the Back Forty in Whistler, British Columbia, and the Downieville Classic, in California. Anyone can show up to all four events and contend for the overall. So far, I haven’t seen any specifics on the prize purse or the scoring system.
Here’s my system for evaluating events: Something I’d never spend money on or do, like going on a Carnival cruise, is a 3; a 2 is something I’d willingly do for free, but not pay for — perhaps a beer festival; and finally, there’s #1. All four of the events on this calendar are 1s for me. I’d spend money to do them. I love this series’s emphasis on difficult trails that aren’t pure fitness tests. Also, I think it’s great that the racers themselves are putting in the work to create something cool. From what I hear, Kabush, Ryan Standish, and Evelyn Dong are also helping Davoust get this off the ground.
Now, about the “D” word. Right away, the Singletrack Series positioned itself as a “downcountry” series. (I.e., it’s meant for bikes that are a little burlier than your average XC race bikes.) Well before the Singletrack Series announcement, folks online have griped about this latest MTB category sweeping the bike industry. I agree that, from a marketing standpoint, downcountry is sorta ick. On the other hand, these bikes are awesome. I’ve got a Santa Cruz Blur, and it’s literally all I rode last summer, including a massive stage race in Italy. Also, we’ve seen this before. There was similar hand-wringing around the industry when freeride bikes got popular in the early aughts, and when enduro got popular about 10 years after that. In all of these cases, downcountry included, the technology is meaningfully better, and there are specific events or trails that suit the bikes. So, this might be a step toward normalizing downcountry and silencing the haters. But if you ask me, “crossfuntry” was a better term all along …
The Gravel Earth Series Is Begging for a Pitbull Endorsement
Who better to promote a new global gravel series than Mr. Worldwide, Pitbull?! A boy can dream, right? Anyway, The Gravel Earth Series is combination of six to eight gravel events across Europe and Africa. Six dates are confirmed, including The Rift in Iceland and Migration in Kenya. There is a TBA final event pencilled in for the fall. Like most series, there will be a points system to crown champions at the end. No word on prize money.
I’m usually not one to gripe about how expensive cycling is, though I sympathize when people do. That said, holy wow this series is asking a lot of folks to jet around multiple continents to race bikes on gravel. Obviously, it would be a bit more manageable for someone based in Europe, but still I struggle to see how this series would be feasible for anyone who isn’t endowed with tremendous wealth and free time. Do these races look cool? Definitely. Is it good to expand gravel beyond the States? Of course. Should all of these races be strung together in a series? Let’s see how 2023 goes.
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Digging these posts Spencer!