It is pretty extraordinary for a first time event to sell out. But, with all the best ‘gravel ingredients’ thrown in; a picture perfect location, a bunch of wholesome and fun characters, local beers, and the odd bear too, Ted and Laura King’s gravel race, Rooted Vermont, would prove to be pretty extraordinary in so many ways.
Based on the success of the first edition, you can be sure that Rooted Vermont 2020 will be bigger and better. Registration opens November 1. 2019 was capped at just over 500 participants so we recommend you’re quick to get a spot. This is one party you won’t want to miss.
This new Gravel Craze
Chatting with an older Vermonter over coffee, Ted King suggested that Gravel is now the fastest growing segment in Cycling. “Really?” the gent responded with some surprise and a little chuckle “But we’ve been riding our bikes on gravel roads for decades.”
Settling into this natural playground, a town with more dirt roads than paved, Laura and Ted King found themselves more and more “drawn to the vibe of gravel.” For them, gravel represented “the intersection of everything good about cycling: its inclusive nature, the hunt for adventure, the ability to explore a new place and the … “run whatcha brung” … lifestyle.” From the outset, the King’s felt a strong connection with Richmond, Vermont and its community. That connection led to the name, and in many ways, the development of Rooted Vermont.
The weekend kicked off with a welcome party at Hatchet on Friday eve. This was an opportunity for riders to meet fellow participants over a craft beer or two. Next, the weekend long event continued with a pre-ride ride and expo at Cochran’s Ski Area, near the King’s hometown Richmond. Rooted Vermont finished with a live band and post ride festival following the main event.
Rooted Vermont: The routes
Riders had two distances to choose from at Rooted Vermont. The long course served up 82 miles (132 km) of very fast and ferociously fun hard packed dirt and 8,000 ft (2,400 m) of leg zapping climbs. “Pristine gravel” connected shorter mile-long sections of “Vermont pave,” abandoned Class IV sections of abandoned jeep roads that definitely required some skill and handling. But, true to Vermont’s gravel cycling culture, participants were encouraged to pass them by any means possible. New to gravel myself, I did my research, and highly recommend Ted King’s podcast episode as a result. Navigating these unmaintained roads in the passenger seat of a jeep with a dog on his lap, King highlights the rather surprising, whether dependent and ever-changing terrain of Vermont pave.
The shorter course was more relaxed by comparison and, from my experience, a lot drier too. You could immediately spot those who had traversed the longer route as they whisked past by the streak of dirt splattered up the back of their kit. The shorter 48-mile (77 km) route has more hard-packed gravel on offer, with a fun, supporter lined, Class IV section on the finishing straight. Serving up a 15-per cent climb up Wes White Hill, which both routes climbed, and 4,000 ft (1,220 m) elevation gain overall, there was more than enough climbing to earn your lunch.
Talking of lunch
The catering, and I use the word catering specifically, was out of this world. Rider feedback was pretty darn unanimous on that front. I struggle to name another cycling event that serves up salmon, steak, watermelon salad, and roasted corn, all chased by an ice cold IPA following a race! I felt like I’d walked out of a cycling race and into a wedding reception (still in my cycling gear). And for anyone with a superhuman appetite, there was even more to dig into at the festival area during the post ride party and award ceremony – maple-creemees and pizza laced with maple syrup, local ales, and so much more.
Not that we had to wait until the finish for good food, though. The pit stops were jam-packed with local deliciousness too. Untapped bars and gels, fruit, salty-sweet pretzel nibbles, my mouth is watering just thinking of it. We even got to try grilled twinkies, a local taste sensation that had been signposted with a countdown to the last pit stop, and rightly so!
What a turn out!
With such a mix of people waiting at the start line. I had the opportunity to chat to Gerri, 63 who has been into mountain biking since 1980 and travelled from Northern California to take part. When asked what sparked her interest in cycling, she told me “I grew up in Vermont and that’s what we did!” Of the 539 participants, 143 were women. That’s a whopping 23.3 per cent, a huge improvement to the 15 per cent which is considered a good female turn-out for events of this kind.
“I now wish I would’ve reserved more spaces just for women” Laura King reflected. “If we weren’t truly at capacity, I’d try and let them all in!” King, a cyclist herself, is particularly passionate about female participation in cycling events.
Just a few weeks prior to the event, King held a women’s skills clinic alongside a “10 person mentor team that was a combination ex-pros … and some locals who are doing their part … to see more women on bikes. We had 62 women descend on our little town of Richmond, Vt. for a weekend of skill building and they came from all over the US! The presentations were incredible, and vulnerability was a big component allowing everyone in the room to understand that we all begin in the same place.”
The clinic paved the way for some future gravel riders to fully enjoy the sport. Some even gained the confidence to sign up to Rooted Vermont; a huge achievement given how nervous they were to start.
Rider response was positive as well, says King. “… looking around the room, talking to the participants and mentors I had the feeling that this particular group of women could rule the world!” is just one example of the feedback she received.
The Mullet Protocol
Professional cyclists blended in alongside amateurs and beginners at the start of Rooted Vermont. Game faces on and ready to race, those with their eyes on the prize made their way to the sharp and pointy business section at the front of the race. The flannel shirt, jean-clad casual riders kept the party going at the back. The Mullet Protocol, business at the front, party at the back, coined by the Kings and embraced by all, both physically and metaphorically. For 2020, it has been extended with the addition of two sub categories: business-casual and office party.
Never before have I witnessed, or heard tales of such grand gestures of camaraderie within a cycling event. Individual riders came together and forfeited their own race to come to the aid of others. There was a tale of two bikes, both with mechanicals being put together to form some kind of Franken-bike so that at least one of the riders could complete the course. Then there was the group of young lads who not only won a bike for showing the greatest “spirit of gravel” but gave it away to another rider, a stranger to them all, having heard that she had taken a tumble earlier that day. It’s no wonder this ‘new gravel craze’ is catching on.
Rooted Vermont 2020 weekend kicks off on July 31, 2020. Mark your diaries. Registration opens November 1, 2019, and FOMO is not an option.