What do you do when you’re a newly-minted UCI continental road race team and all the road races are cancelled? Vancouver’s latest all-women’s race team, InstaFund La Prima, headed off the beaten path. They loaded up into vans and headed to the Rockies for the Fernie Gravel Grind.
Far from racing, and even from a standard road team training camp, hitting the gravel offered up a new opportunity, and perspective for the team.
“Starting in 2020, gravel was going to be a part of our program anyways, but very race focused,” says InstaFund La Prima founder Isabella Bertold. “So we had the infrastructure (ie. Factor Vistas). When everything got cancelled, the Vistas allowed the riders to unplug, and took stress and pressure off of them. Which is essentially the difference between a road race trip, and a gravel trip.” In Fernie, the shift between pressure and unplugging became the focus. “During a road camp, we are always evaluating rides/ power numbers, and on a gravel ride day, it’s about connecting with nature on the mountain.”
Even the team’s trip itenerary reflected the new goal. Instead of objectives and race strategy, the invite to riders said simply: “This is the most chill, relaxed thing you will ever do in your professional road race career.”
But, as much as you can take the road team off the road, you can never quite take the race out of the racer. With the Fernie Gravel Grind switching to a COVID-safe virutal challenge format, the team’s stoke on the local trails inevitably turned to thoughts of Strava, and crowns.
“We rode Paige’s Draw x Morrisey Ridge, which is a virtual course in this year’s Fernie Gravel Grind. It was meant to be a chill gravel adventure, but instead (over beers) we grew the idea of taking the QOM segment for ‘The Wall,” recounts team rider and coxwain for the Candian national rowing team. “Carter’s dad Gerry “Nukes” Niewesteeg got involved, and suddenly we had a plan for a full lead out train into the segment setting up Gabby Traxler to do what she does best—climb.”
Carter Nieuwesteeg is the organizer behind Fernie Gravel Grind. Also a racer himself, spending more time in Fernie than usual with his own mountain bike calendar cancelled, Nieuwesteeg was stoked to have the InstaFund team show up in town.
“It was really, really cool to have the team come out here and experience what Fernie’s got going on. The team was blown away by the whole experience which really validated why I think the FGG has so much more room to grow,” says Nieuwesteeg. And, after spending much of his winter preparing for an event that was now on hold, he says seeing the team stoked provided much-needed confirmation that his event was on track. “For a moment I thought I might just be some crazy doing these rides, but no, people really do enjoy them. So much that they would come back again with friends.”
For the Santa Cruz racer, who usually spends his summer much like the InstaFund La Prima racers do, travelling around the country, it helped refocus his unusual summer.
“It reminded me of how lucky I am to have grown up in this part of the world. Even though we were on a pretty tight schedule and didnt spend a ton of time around town, I know just their presence caught a lot of local mountain bikers attention and people are already talking about gravel for next year.”
InstaFund LaPrima was building momentum into the 2020 season. Based on a successful debut season results and a strong roster, the team earned UCI continental status in just its second year. The squad was signed up for races across North America, and aiming for Europe.
The team still has plans to race, if possible this year. If not, look for InstaFund La Prima on back on the roads in 2021. And, if you want to check out Fernie’s best backroads for your self, keep an eye out for the Fernie Gravel Grind to make it’s real-world debut after a very successful virtual event this year.