Fast Talk Femmes Podcast: The Evolution, Controversies, and Future of Female Gravel Racing 

In this episode, Betsy Welch joins us to discuss the evolution and future of gravel racing, shedding light on the obstacles the community must overcome to get there.

FTF Episode 126 with Besty Welch

Besty Welch, a prolific writer for Outside Magazine, covers the sport of domestic gravel and mountain bike racing while also participating in the actual events, offers an insider’s perspective on the sport’s intricacies and the athletes involved. 

In this episode, we explore the evolution of domestic gravel racing and delve into the factors that have fueled its widespread appeal and remarkable growth. Betsy shares insights on some of the sport’s contentious issues, such as the starting conditions for female elite racers, the potential acceptance of UCI involvement in domestic events, and the future trajectory of domestic gravel racing. 

As these topics especially hit home for Betsy, she provides her unique perspective on the professional evolution of the sport for female athletes, highlighting key initiatives that will foster ongoing growth and create more opportunities within the field. 

Catch up on previous episodes of Fast Talk Femmes and subscribe for episodes on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Soundcloud, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts! 

Episode Transcript

Dede Barry  00:05

Hi and welcome to Fast Talk Femme. Our guests on this episode is Betsy Welch. Besty is a journalist that Outside where she writes about cycling for Vallo and Pink Bike. She also loves to ride and some of her favorite adventures are on the single track and her backyard and Elk Mountains of Colorado. Memorable reporting trips include Kenya for the migration gravel race, and France for the inaugural Tour de France Femme Avec Swift. This summer, she took second in her age group at the six-day Breck Epic Mountain Bike Stage Race wearing shorts. Betsy sees the sport of cycling from a wide lens, and in this episode, we’ll discuss the state of the sport in North America, women’s gravel and mountain bike racing, how we can continue to work towards gender parity, and how women can overcome and stamp out misogyny in the sport. Betsy, Welcome to Fast Talk Femme.

Trevor Connor  00:56

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Julie Young  01:38

Hey Betsy!

Betsy Welch  01:40


Julie Young  01:40

Welcome to Fast Talk Femme, and thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule. I am actually amazed at how many stories you right I think it was after the big sugar. Like I Googled big sugar to kind of see what was going on. And I was like swiping left. And all the stories were yours. My finger finally fatigued out. So can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you arrived at this point in covering the sport of cycling?

Betsy Welch  02:08

Sure, I’ve done kind of a few things as an adult career wise. And you know, I’ve been working at outside and writing for Velo for it’ll be four years, this coming spring. And right before that I was a nurse for 10 years. But I was freelancing the whole time. I feel like I’ve been really lucky to have been able to write about my adventures outside for like the last decade. And I came into cycling journalism because I was just riding my bike a lot. I don’t come from a competitive cycling background, but just like a very adventure cycling background, I guess. So However, that said in 2019, my boyfriend at the time signed us up for a bunch of gravel races. And I didn’t really know what that meant, except he said, Hey, we’re really lucky. We got into all these races. So like, we’re going and he actually had a friend who worked at VeloNews and said, Hey, we’re going to all these races. And you know, Betsy is available to write about it. So I did some freelancing that summer I wrote about Unbound, Leadville, that was the first year of steamboat I think. And yeah, those freelance pieces, I guess that went well, because I got offered a job about six months later. And I quit my nursing job because I’ve always wanted to be a full time writer, and then just dove headfirst. And like I said, I had to learn a ton because I wasn’t really familiar with the sport side of cycling, like truly just the recreational part. So I’ve learned a ton and also have seen gravel, which is sort of how I started I’ve seen that totally grow as I’ve grown in this world. So it’s been very fun. Which publications do you work for. So now I’m just I’m employed by outside. And we have velo, which was formerly VeloNews, and pink bike. So I write for those two titles, and sometimes for outside online, but I work just within our company.

Julie Young  04:03

Well, I think you have a really unique position with your finger on the pulse as a result of all the coverage and reporting you do of the sport of cycling. But I also think it’s neat because you’re inside the peloton, too. So you have that inside perspective. Looking forward to this.

Betsy Welch  04:20

That’s certainly a perk of the job is getting to do a lot of the events that I write about, which is really fun. And yeah, it’s definitely insightful. In fact, you know, I think about like sports journalists who cover football or the NBA, you know, they don’t play in the NBA, or play football even. And so it’s really different in that way. I think a lot of cycling journalists also ride

Julie Young  04:43

to a bit it allows you to write so much more vividly.

Betsy Welch  04:47

I think so. Yeah, I definitely think so. Well, kind of back

Julie Young  04:51

to your point about gravel. Just it’s amazing to see how that’s exploded in popularity in such a short timeframe domestically and now in or nationally? What do you think it is about gravel that it’s experienced as explosive growth?

Betsy Welch  05:05

I think there’s a couple things. I think that, you know, first and foremost, it just did a really good job in the beginning of marketing itself as accessible to all. You know, I think a lot of people ride bikes, but if you show someone a road bike and a kit, you know, someone who’s just a recreational cyclist, like that looks very professional, you know, that can look like what like I’m, that’s not me as a bike rider. Same thing for like, you know, downhill or enduro mountain biking, that’s also very intimidating. And so gravel is this thing where, you know, sort of looks like a road bike, but a little heavier, a little slower. And you’re on dirt roads. And so yeah, I think the events did a really good job of marketing that aspect of it, like, hey, you know, um, ride your bike, ride your bike fast if you want. But this isn’t some super aggro, road race. It’s not a technical mountain bike race, everyone can kind of belong here. And of course, like with that was sort of the fun vibe surrounding gravel races come for the weekend, come visit this cool new place, there’s going to be a post race party and a pre race shakeout ride. So yeah, I just think like, from the get go, gravel was sort of like build more as an adventurer, and to come one come all instead of something very exclusive and high level. And I think that drew a lot of people in. And I also think to like, for the competitive side of which that side is growing. A lot of those people have come from other disciplines where perhaps they were a little burnt out with rules and regulations, or maybe they weren’t thriving on the road in the world tour, or in the World Cup, mountain biking. And because gravel is sort of growing from the ground up, a lot of athletes have seen, like a rebirth of their career or have chosen to sort of like launch their career there. So there’s a lot there for a lot of people, which is I think, why it’s so popular,

Julie Young  06:59

I think we are all having this conversation of like, oh, gosh, you know, in the US what’s happening to the road scene. And I mean, to me, it makes so much sense on so many different levels. I know, for female athletes, like road cycling is, in my opinion, and was always very intimidating. And kind of to your point, just really, like intense and aggro. And you know, the races were like you’re either competing or you’re not and gravel is more that you know, various distances and participation, much more inviting. I also the thing I love about the gravel events, and you touched on this, too, is like you go to these cool places, and like you’re camping for the weekend, like it’s the whole experience as opposed to like a road race where people show up in their cars, pull their bikes out race and then jump back in their cars. And there’s just like, kind of a very different experience. Yeah,

Betsy Welch  07:53

really at a gravel race. Everyone is doing it. You know, like at a road race or a mountain bike race, you have the racers and the spectators. When you go to a gravel race, you could stop anyone on the street and be like, which distance did you do? And it’s very likely that they did the event too.

Dede Barry  08:09

I think another piece is also just that the gravel is more and more appealing as there’s more and more cars and road furniture on the paved roads. I think it’s just become increasingly appealing. Like I can remember in the late 90s When I lived in Boulder, Michael, my husband and I trained almost entirely on the gravel. And back then a lot of the road riders were like, What are you doing? Like, why would you do that, and we love getting away from it all. But I think that’s a really common theme now too is that as traffic’s increased and safety on the roads has not been quite as good. And then I think there’s another piece too for race organizers. It is very expensive to shut down paved roads and requires a lot of police support and most places and I think gravel roads can be a little bit easier. While most races they’re not even shut down. They’re open. Because of the nature of the racing. It’s not as necessary to do rolling enclosures or complete enclosures. So I think from that standpoint, it’s really helped the sport grow as well.

Betsy Welch  09:13

That’s a great point. I mean, the reason that there are so many gravel races is because of what you just said. I mean, it’s relatively inexpensive. Compared to a road race. However, it is becoming more of an issue with safety, especially in the races that have the pointy end, you know, where you have people racing for money. And I think we are going to see more gravel organizers having to spend more money on some road closures.

Dede Barry  09:37

Yeah, I would agree with that. That’s definitely true. So over the period of time that you’ve been covering domestic gravel and mountain bike racing, in what ways have you seen things change and evolve for female athletes?

Betsy Welch  09:49

That’s an interesting question. I think I mentioned this to you guys before we’re chatting now is one of the things that’s really cool about gravel is I think, because cuz it’s newer, they haven’t had to, like, catch up as much in terms of parity for women. You know, every year there’s a story in the world tour of the women’s race that didn’t get broadcast or, you know, the prize money was so horrible. Here, you know, the Giro Rosa, like people don’t even know what’s happening when it’s happening. But with gravel it honestly I don’t think it’s been anything. But I’m not gonna say equal because less women do events, like that’s just a fact. But in terms of like, the opportunities and the coverage, and the sort of awareness of having, you know, equal focus on both races, I feel like I’ve seen it ever since I started covering the sport. And I’ll never forget, in 2019 when steamboat gravel debuted, I mean, Amy, charity was seen as sort of like, a revolutionary because her goal was parody. And then she had 30% Female entrance, which was like, a big deal, and has now become sort of like a benchmark and a baseline and organizers, they seem to sort of know that they have to make women cycling front and center in terms of coverage, I guess, to as a journalist, I’ve just chosen to cover the sport equally, I don’t think I go heavy, like, let’s say there are other podcasts and websites out there where it’s very women focused. And I’ve just chosen to like, I’m never not reporting on women, if I’m reporting on men, like I sort of I see the sport. I know that, you know, it’s not just men who raised bikes. And so I guess I’ve tried to sort of just normalize that, I would never think to sort of only report on a men’s race, and even little things like, you know, amongst my colleagues sort of starting to normalize, calling these European road races that have, you know, a femme or a women’s, you know, we just call them what the race is. And then you read the story. And you know who we’re talking about, because I think we’re starting to get to a place where, well, maybe not quite yet. But my hope is that we are getting to a place where, I don’t know actually, as I’m saying this, I’m like not sure, do we just want cycling, or do we always want to say women’s cycling, when we’re differentiating? I’m not really sure. But all I know is I think we’re getting to a place where it’s just expected that there are women’s analogues to men’s races, and that the coverage should be that way. And of course, I’m biased. And I think we’re doing a great job, but I’m sure other media outlets, they can’t not cover women’s racing, it’s just not a thing anymore. The

Dede Barry  12:41

other thing is, in most workplaces, gender is a nuanced thing. In sport, it’s a little bit more complicated because of the differences between genders. But I agree with everything you were saying. I was really disappointed this year, though, to see the UCI gravel World Championships, not have television coverage for the women’s race and have it for the men’s I was actually quite shocked by that and disappointed. Absolutely.

Betsy Welch  13:04

I mean, I was there. And we didn’t know until like a day before and where there wasn’t sort of that much conversation about it. And then I’m looking at my phone and like the internet is going bonkers over it. And so I felt like I had to sort of like provide some sort of coverage. But yeah, it was super disappointing. And stuff like that continues to happen. And all I can say is that, like, knock on wood? That hasn’t happened in the domestic gravel scene in a long, long time. So like we are leading in that way. And yeah, it was horrible. But that said the amount of reaction to it means that like, people expect this now, and

Dede Barry  13:46

they’re not gonna get away with it again. I don’t think so. I think that’s pretty clear. Do you see more opportunity and professionalism in mountain biking and gravel for female athletes?

Betsy Welch  13:57

Versus like the road or?

Dede Barry  13:59


Betsy Welch  14:00

I’m gonna say yes. But with a caveat that I don’t know as much about the road. But yeah, I think right now, there still is a lot of industry interest in gravel, or the industry is interested, there’s money. The interesting thing about gravel though is it like doesn’t yet have a development program. Whereas the road and mountain biking do so you can still be a young girl and come up through those development programs and ostensibly then go on.

Dede Barry  14:27

The other thing that I can’t like I can’t put my finger on what percentage of women or men are actually making a good living as a professional mountain biker or a professional gravel racer. It’s a little bit harder because you don’t have the same team structure or minimum wage or anything. So it’s hard to know from the outside because I’m obviously not on the inside circles. So that at this point, yeah,

Betsy Welch  14:49

and I’ll say it’s not something people are really open about. It’s very hush hush. There’s a lot of hearsay. There’s a lot of speculation about how much money people make, but I would feel I’m pretty confident saying that, you know, the pro women, if you take the top 10, say, of the lifetime Grand Prix in the top 10, men’s Grand Prix, like, I’m gonna guess there’s probably a pretty big disparity in how much they’re making. Most of the programmable female cyclists have other jobs, many of the men don’t.

Dede Barry  15:18

Betsy, from your perspective, in what ways? Do you feel like women are still held back in the sport of cycling? Or are they held back? I

Betsy Welch  15:26

knew we were going to talk about this. I’ve been thinking about it. It’s so multifaceted this conversation, I think, because I think there’s like a societal level. You know, it’s, we can’t ignore sort of women’s still in society and the roles we play, which then have to do with, you know, how much time women have how much disposable income to be athletes, stuff like that. But if I sort of narrow it in more on like, women that are already professional athletes, or semi pro, I don’t think that the bike industry supports them the way they support male racers in that’s alluding to what we were just talking about with salary and stuff. I think they have to hustle a little harder, and they get a little less. Yeah,

Dede Barry  16:07

it’s interesting, from my standpoint, when I compare it to running, for instance, like from a participative level, you know, now that I work in the bike industry to like on the bike industry side, I’m seeing the stats every day, right? And yeah, they’re not nearly what running is, although runners face the same societal constraints that cyclists do. So yeah, I mean, I think a lot of that might have to do with the industry and not supporting them while on off and making it welcoming. I think it can be really intimidating for women going into bike shops even or going on group rides.

Betsy Welch  16:43

No, I think some of that still exists. I think, unfortunately, you know, there’s a lot of wonderful guys than the world and in the bike industry, but I think a lot of the behavior is subconscious, like they don’t even know how they’re coming across to women in the sport, especially who may be intimidated. But that said, I do think gravel is nice talk mostly about gravel, just because that’s what I’m most familiar with, like it’s doing its damnedest and I noticed that steamboat gravel like, a lot of times, you just feel like you’re in a really male dominated space. You guys have certainly been at events where you’re just like, looking around, like, whoa, I’m one of the few women here but at steamboat gravel, I was at the expo one day, and I was just looking around, I’m like, there’s a lot of women here, like, this is really cool.

Dede Barry  17:31

Is there any advice you would give to leaders within the sport to improve that, like the UCI or USA Cycling? Or people within the industry? I

Betsy Welch  17:42

don’t know. That’s a tough question. You know, it’s like this eternal debate of chicken or the egg like, is it the TV? Do we need to have this women on TV to then drive the interest from the sponsors? You know, or do the sponsors need to put in the money so that then events can be on TV, and I’m never sure like, in what order goes, you know, I think about like other professional women’s sports, and I know, the WNBA has been in the press a lot in the last year or so. And they’ve like huge growth, there’s been in women’s basketball. And I mean, I guess the short answer is, I don’t know, except just like, Don’t make it weird, like women are professional cyclists. And however you treat the men’s sport, that’s how you have to treat the women’s sport and the excuses of sort of like, it doesn’t make as much I mean, at some point somebody has to invest, it’s too hard to sort of just like expect it all to come from the bottom. But again, I will say like, it’s 2023. And if you are not thinking this way, you’re gonna get called out pretty quickly, like the UCI gravel worlds. So I expect to see more opportunity. I will say to that, you know, I don’t know if we ever will have parity at events, for example, and I don’t think that’s anyone’s fault. I think that’s a choice that women are making. And it might not be because they feel unwelcome. There might be plenty of other reasons. So I think we just always need to like, be assessing, and making sure that we are breaking down all the barriers possible. And then sort of celebrating what ends up happening. You

Julie Young  19:13

know, Betsy, just thinking about like, your comment chicken or the egg, and like coverage. I don’t even know if it’s TV coverage anymore. App coverage, I’m not sure. But I have to believe that’s been a huge boost to women’s cycling at the World Tour level just I mean, personally, like it’s cool. You know, you can see those races see that they’re exciting, really relate to those characters and like hear those stories. So I have to believe that’s helped the World Tour athletes a ton thing. It’s so tricky with gravel. I think mountain biking is different because I think that’s easier to cover. You know, it’s more of a contained venue. I think gravels tricky. I remember watching the first World Championship, the gravel world championship last year, and oh my gosh, like I’m a huge fan of the sport and like oh Lord, this is Like I couldn’t watch it, you know, like I was losing interest. But

Dede Barry  20:03

I agree it doesn’t lend itself to television coverage. It’s a great participative sport and not such a good one to watch from your account. But

Julie Young  20:11

I thought this year’s World was great. Like, I thought it was super exciting. I was like holding my breath, like when they were descending to the finish. Like it was just, I was on the edge of my seat. It was so exciting. But anyway, I think that’s kind of a challenge with gravel is getting that exposure, so people can really relate to those characters.

Betsy Welch  20:30

No, you’re totally right. I mean, how do you cover a 200 mile gravel race? I mean, nobody would watch that. And I know that’s front of mind for organizers like lifetime, because they realize that they’re creating this thing. They’ve got this prize purse, they’ve got a very, very professional field, the top athletes in the country, but if no one can see it. What good does that do for the sport? What good does that do for the athletes? So they’ve been creative with just like Instagram Live and you know, stuff like that. So you could kind of see what’s going on. But it’s interesting, too, because so much of the sport is like self marketed by the athletes. I mean, their race reports on their social media are way better than a press release sent out by a race organizer. There’s so many unique things about gravel that do not have parallels on the road, or, you know, in World Cup mountain biking.

Julie Young  21:22

Yeah, they’re living that there are a lot of stories in a 200 mile race circling back you had mentioned about there’s fewer gravel development programs right now. But it’s interesting, our mutual friend Nick, who runs the cycling program at the thaden School in Bentonville, they now have a gravel Development Program, which is cool. And it seems like USA Cycling is now because there’s fewer road races is now using gravel races as their kind of talent ID.

Betsy Welch  21:50

Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I mean, of course they didn’t. And Bentonville is an exception, but maybe not for long. I think other schools, especially schools that have like well established Nicor programs, maybe that already have a race in their community. I could see more youth stuff in those types of places. And yeah, I’ve spoken to Brendan quirk multiple times and it is definitely in USA cycling’s, you know, 2024 25 plans to have Junior and collegiate gravel racing. And nationals was a huge success last September gravel nationals. So I think they sort of went big with that. And now we’ll start, you know, kind of building in a way backwards, like going to the kids, because it’s one thing that gravels growing and gravels there’s a ton of opportunities. But you know, as of yet, there’s no Olympic gravel race, and who knows if there will be but if kids start riding gravel, then maybe they will want to try the road to or try mountain biking. So you know, the crossover possibilities are really vast?

Julie Young  22:53

Well, and I think it’s just more fun for kids. I mean, I think the road is a tough sell for kids. And plus, like the safety as parents buy think the dirt is so much fun. And like personally, like for me, my gravel bike is like, I think my favorite bike I love my mountain bike too. But it’s like the Swiss Army knife. It’s such an adventure, some tool like Oh, I’m going to little pavement, a little dirt road, some single track. And I think for kids, like that’s so fun. Yeah,

Betsy Welch  23:21

totally just make the races a little shorter. And I think kids get psyched on sort of like whatever seems fun and what their friends are doing. I mean, look at the success of Nika. And that’s just getting kids on bikes in general, like some may raise, some don’t. But it’s just riding bikes with your friends, I could see that with gravel, as long as they don’t give them sort of suffer fest distances when they’re young.

Dede Barry  23:45

So interesting. My son is 16. And he’s been racing, mostly in Canada on the gravel, a little bit in the US. But there aren’t a lot of kids showing up to the races. So I think that the development programs are going to be really key to getting more kids out there. He raised his what the elites and it’s really interesting because of kids that do show up are usually pretty serious. So like he did the UCI gravel worlds qualifier here in Canada, and I think three or four of the top 10 were juniors or like, in his case, he was you 17. So there’s serious kids that are actually doing it up here, but there’s just not a lot of them. In fact, they didn’t even have a junior category. And at most of the races that he’s done, there hasn’t been a junior category. And often he’s one beer and wine and things that he’s not old enough to receive on the podium. So I think yeah, they need to shift things a little bit to make it more welcoming to kids for sure. But that said like he has a ton of fun and loves to go out and thrash with his bodies.

Betsy Welch  24:48

But that makes me want to ask you a question. Didi like does he follow the Grand Prix? Does he know who Keegan Swenson is? Does he cry and watch unbound on Instagram?

Dede Barry  24:59

He’ll look at the Rose Waltz and maybe read a story here or there. But now he streams the pro European road races mostly, and cyclocross. He really enjoys watching. From my standpoint, I don’t think there’s a big attraction to watching the eight hour gravel races, but I do like watching the results too. Yeah,

Betsy Welch  25:18

it’s just interesting, because I think he’s probably not alone in that he loves racing gravel, but he’s watching road racing. He’s watching other disciplines. And yeah, it makes me wonder if gravel will ever truly become like a standalone at that level, because at Worlds, you know, it was mostly road pros. Yeah.

Dede Barry  25:40

But I think like from his standpoint, it’s also very compelling to be able to line up with everyone and not have to race within a specific category. And you really get to measure yourself against like a full peloton and kind of test yourself against a full peloton. Because I think a lot of times the races are age restricted or gender restricted. And that’s not always a good thing, right? Because sometimes you can push yourself a lot further when you have more competition around you.

Trevor Connor  26:14

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Julie Young  26:41

I wanted to ask you, Betsy about the starts at gravel races, because it’s a pretty hot topic and get your take on whether the elite female should have their own start. And I know it’s kind of some races are doing that. And most of the races, like the elites are all starting together males and females. But to me, it certainly changes the dynamics of the race. Like that doesn’t seem like there’s much opportunity for tactics when females are starting with the males. It’s like who can hold on the longest. What are your thoughts on that?

Betsy Welch  27:12

This is a great one that I can say I’ve truly seen evolve in just a few years. I think if you asked, Well, I think I did. I asked the pro women this question, you know, let’s say three years ago, and it was very split into thirds, like, yes, I want our own start. No, I don’t or I’m indifferent. And I think if you ask that question, now the pro women’s peloton is going to lean mostly towards yes, we want our own start. And I think you sort of identified why they want to race each other. When the starts are mixed. There’s like, I mean, the starts are just chaotic and horribly dangerous and stressful. And I mean, that’s something in itself that you could train for all year is like how to do one of those starts. And they really disadvantage sort of like the diesel engine, you know, the women who don’t have that, either mental or physical capacity to just, like, go so hard at the beginning. And then yeah, it does become a question of just bopping along from men’s group to men’s group trying to hold fast wheels. You may not see any other women, you know, and I think as the sport professionalized as and as the field deepens, which it has, the women really want to race one another. The other thing is, not having women starts makes it really hard for organizers to cover a women’s race. I know I’ve seen the temps where they’ll have one car following the women in quotes and one following the men but often that car following the women, it’s just like one woman, or you know, and then the second woman could be 20 minutes back with another group of guys and so it like, from a coverage standpoint, it really doesn’t work. And so I think yeah, for all those reasons, women have changed their tune and I tend to go with what I’m not at the pointy end, so I’m not going to be in the same situation. So I tend to sort of go with whatever they want. But I do think it will help advance the professional side of the sport. You know, I think it’s a different conversation if you’re just talking about the mass participation side of things which has been largely left alone those are still masked arts mixed but it’ll be interesting because lifetime has been experimenting with it a little bit this past year. And next year like you said, all of the races will be separate starts obviously nationals worlds anything UCI and it’ll be interesting to see what other races experiment with it. I think we will see other like middle tier or you know, races that have enough pros, you also have to have a deep enough field. That said, unbound is going to be a tricky one, because the women will finish slower than the men. That’s fine in itself, but it’s just like that’s a long De so, you know, women were sort of like, oh, it’s gonna suck it Unbound, but they’re also sort of like, that’s okay. It’s, you know, it’s our race. So I think it’s still in a trial phase, I guess. But I’m excited to see it big sugar was great with the women’s start, and the women loved it. The finishing times are so much tighter to

Julie Young  30:19

Yeah, I can totally understand that though. These long gravel events where you don’t have the big fields, you know, you’re lining up with like, five, and you’re covering this. That’s rough.

Betsy Welch  30:29

I think nationals was tough, because that was, I think it was 120 miles, maybe 130. And the field was pretty small, like 20 women. I think in some of the Grand Prix races, there’s 50, which is quite a difference

Julie Young  30:46

somewhat related us gravel racers, and you can correct me, but seems like they’re not super excited to have the UCI getting involved in gravel. But it does seem like in one year, UCI gravel World Championships has grown in prestige. I mean, I just think personally for me, like watching it last year, and then watching it this year, just like the number of high level athletes that drew and just the excitement of the event was totally different. But it does seem like it worlds like there is a team dynamic in play. And it seems in the US like it’s more that privateer. But do you think as the UCI World Championships, continue to grow and prestige that will then kind of facilitate more teams, I guess in the US, as opposed to a bunch of privateers.

Betsy Welch  31:32

This is also a question that gets batted around every year. Like are we going to see more teams and gravel? And And certainly, yes, worlds? Yeah, I mean, the guys, and the women actually sort of tried to race as a team. And it was very, like different for all of them. That said, I don’t think it’s going to be like some dramatic shift. I’ve actually talked to a lot of the riders about this. And they say there just aren’t the numbers to support teams, you know, you kind of see it. I mean, over the years, there have been a few sort of attempts at that type of thing. But then again, I mean, that’s been sort of ostracized in domestic racing. Like, that’s not been cool. When that’s happened. I mean, that said, Keegan, for example, has a quote, teammate, and very openly, you know, has someone working for him in a way often? And that’s been okay. But like, you know, a team of six or, you know, what’s the lowest number to make a team? I don’t know, is for a team. I suppose that could happen. But I just don’t see, like gravels big, but it’s not big enough? In my opinion. Yeah.

Julie Young  32:42

I mean, I have to believe even a team of three to four would be advantageous. Yeah,

Betsy Welch  32:47

I think you’re right, I think you’re right, you know, there would be sort of the typical spirit of gravel debate, and everyone would have to hash it out on social media. And, you know, first say, No, this isn’t cool. And then of course, come around to it, which is sort of like what’s happened with the UCI in USA Cycling, you know, a couple of years ago, you would have had boycotts of this type of thing. And now, you have people realizing like, Oh, we’re professional gravel racers, we should go to professional gravel races.

Dede Barry  33:19

Personally, I think if there continues to be more money in the sport, the only way it can go is that direction towards you know, teamwork and team team structure. I think that’ll probably increase every year, as long as the you know, the money and the opportunities are increasing. And it’s a growing sport.

Betsy Welch  33:37

Yeah. And if that’s the case, like these race organizers, the non sanctioned ones, I mean, they’re gonna have some real challenges to face. Because if you all of a sudden have this professional sport with swelling numbers, and you’ve been able to manage that, in addition to your 1000s of participants, I mean, it’s going to require a separate day of racing, closed roads, like we said, you know, USA Cycling at some point is going to need to be putting on races sanctioning races, it will change things more than we’ve seen it.

Dede Barry  34:10

Yeah. And I mean, I think increasing speed means increasing risk, which it’s all going to happen if the sport continues to grow. Betsy,

Julie Young  34:18

this is a bit of a hypothetical question. But if this is the trend, do you feel like female athletes have more financial opportunity remaining private tears or transitioning to a traditional team format?

Betsy Welch  34:31

That’s a great question. And my first thought is they would have more opportunity being privateers because they’re like cobbling together different contracts and, you know, with different sponsors, you know, that said, if we look at the World Tour and new rules about minimum salaries, and you know, a lot of the teams that have both men’s and women’s squads, how there’s matching salary, you know, if there’s that type of pressure, I Guess you could see salaries driven up. But I have to say that I bet the private tier is going to be the most appealing still for women as the sport currently is.

Julie Young  35:09

I mean, it just seems that if you’re a really scrappy go getter, I mean, you have direct control. And I mean, I just think of like Pete Stetina, for example, like, he seems like he is really thrived under this model as compared to being on the World Tour. Yeah.

Betsy Welch  35:23

And under the privateer model, its results. And so it’s like, you know, do you have a podcast? Do you do other events? You know, how many followers do you have on social media? So there’s more ways to add value. And I think, you know, when you’re on a team, some of that goes away. But then with that goes, probably the financial opportunity, too. It seems like

Julie Young  35:45

most of the domestic pros have been pretty content, staying stateside for their racing, I don’t hear of many of them going abroad, do you think that will change and domestic pros will start adding international races to their calendars,

Betsy Welch  35:58

I’ve been starting to like ask around a little bit about this, because after gravel worlds became really apparent that that’s a different kind of racing in Europe. And our worlds teams were some of the best from this kind of racing. But, you know, up against the world tour riders, maybe they had some disadvantages. But that said, they’re not in a hurry to spend a bunch of time in Europe. You know, most of the domestic pros are in the lifetime Grand Prix. And that’s seven races over seven months, and you need to be healthy. And you need to train for each of those races where they’re all very different from one another. So just doesn’t leave a lot of time. That said, I think they will try and capitalize on a European race or two if it fits, but I don’t think you’ll see a ton of that, because yeah, the focus is this series here.

Dede Barry  36:52

It’s been really interesting over the last two years, because I think prior to that, the World Tour cyclists that had moved into gravel racing were sort of at the end of their career, or maybe out of a contract and looking for an opportunity to extend their career. But in the last two years, we’ve seen some big riders like Matthew Vanderpool, who found our Casa Nila dama, take the start at gravel worlds, which I think is really exciting. And it’s really up the game like by tail Muharraq, just you know, so many of them showed up this year, which was great. And I’m curious, like, Do you think we’ll see more Europeans competing, especially in the US races going forward? Because it seems like at the moment, the prize purchases are better in the US than in Europe, at least from what I can see from my vantage. I’m not sure what kind of start money is available in the US versus Europe. But what are your thoughts on that?

Betsy Welch  37:45

Well, I think the tricky thing for those people is that they would like to come to the US and raise gravel. But same reason our pros aren’t going over there like they are in the world tour. I mean, I talked to Casia in Bentonville. And she’s like, this is really fun, but like, I’m not going to become a gravel racer, you know, I’m road racer, and yeah, worlds was great, it fit on the calendar, big sugar happened to work out for her too. But you know, these are sort of like end of the season. Fun things for these people. However, there is like another tier of European racers that maybe aren’t in the world tour. Or we’re, I can’t remember how many international riders there are in the Grand Prix this year. But I think there’s at least five men, five women who aren’t from the US. And that says a lot because like, again, seven races over seven months, like it’s a huge commitment. I think most of them learned from last year series, they’re gonna have to spend the whole time over here, or you know, most of it. So that part’s a little tricky. And I’m not sure how it’s going to shake out, but I don’t think people like wow, or Matthew or cause Yeah, are gonna like change their program. I think they’ll do gravel race when they can, because everyone thinks it’s so fun. It’s the greatest thing about worlds like everyone was like, that was so hard. And that was so fun. Yeah,

Dede Barry  39:08

well, it looks like a great course, too. I mean, I was watching on TV, and I have no desire to do unbound. But when I saw that course, for Worlds, I was like, I would have loved to race on that course. Like it just looked amazing. So on that note, you’ve covered a lot of races, you’ve actually competed or participated in a number of gravel races. What do you think some of the best domestic and international gravel events are from your vantage, I mean,

Betsy Welch  39:33

one like immediately comes to mind just because it’s so exotic and incredible. But the migration gravel race in Kenya was like a real career highlight. For me, that’s a four day gravel stage race in the Maasai Mara, which is where all the big game are in Kenya, and I got to go to the first edition of it, and that’s a cool race that you know, has a backstory of trying to help grow East African cycling. So that was really special. Last year. I Have to go to the Traco which is in Gerona, Spain. I mean, and I kind of went with the assignment of is this the unbound of Europe? And that was fun to see the similarities and differences. And the answer is kind of Yes, it is. But let’s see in the US I love the grasshopper adventure series in Northern California. That’s one of the longest running race series in the country that way predates the word gravel, those are more like mixed terrain, sort of you better pick your bike well, because sometimes you’re gonna want a road bike, and sometimes you’re gonna want a mountain bike. I’m a big fan of Leadville. I know it’s not a gravel race, but I think it’s an iconic bike race in this country. Yeah, I’ll think of something else, I’m sure.

Dede Barry  40:42

Yeah, there’s just so many great events out there now. I think that’s like, definitely one of the attractions of the sport as well, just being able to kind of see the backroads and the countryside in different places, and kind of a less intimidating environment.

Betsy Welch  40:57

Yeah, that’s sort of like, hey, where do we want to go on a vacation? Let’s see if there’s a gravel race.

Dede Barry  41:02

That’s you, I want to just come back to how hard it can be for young women and women in general getting into the sport of cycling. But what’s your advice to young women getting involved in the sport who feel intimidated?

Betsy Welch  41:13

I think I would say there are so many race organizers out there who are doing initiatives who do have special whether it’s training programs, or initiatives for women, I would say to seek out those, you know, maybe you really want to do Unbound, but maybe that’s a little like, huge for your first race. So there are so many small grassroots events in the country, like everywhere, you know, seeking out events like that, where they likely have, you know, whether it’s a discounted entry, or the grasshopper adventure series that I just mentioned, they have a mentorship initiative at one of those events. Yeah, and I would also just say, and this is, you know, like, just sort of advice from my heart and having been a young woman. I mean, we were all young, you know, just like, be confident and ask questions. And people generally respond. Well, I think sometimes people don’t know how to help if they don’t get asked. And so I would always say, just ask, one of the sweetest messages I ever got an Instagram was from a like a college student. And she just said, I think what you’re doing is so cool. I hope maybe to be a writer or a pro rider. And yeah, I mean, now there’s a dialogue, and I would have never known. So I think largely the bike industry is full of really good people. So yeah, sort of figuring out who is maybe approachable and then and then approaching them.

Dede Barry  42:45

That’s good advice. You know, speaking

Julie Young  42:47

of that, grasshopper mentorship, I have some young athletes I coach that are going to do that. And I think that is a great program. So I guess for the listeners that wouldn’t be familiar with this. It’s they match up like Nika kids, typically Nika girls with local pros, and they ride one of the events together.

Betsy Welch  43:07

And that’s something that’s really repeatable, right? Like, that could be done at any race, really, which is cool. I’m actually on the board of the Mariah Wilson Foundation. And one of our big goals is to have a mentorship initiative where we pair you know, aspiring young athletes with seasoned athletes, and not just athletes, like nutritionists and mental health professionals and stuff like that. So again, I would say to there are programs out there like that, you know, Nika has grit. And there’s other girls initiatives too.

Julie Young  43:43

When I think of just again, kind of contrasting road cycling with either mountain biking or gravel. I just feel like there are so many more that I just am thinking locally where I live like there’s so many group rides that women’s groups are putting on for like Wednesday night mountain bike, or, you know, there’s so many women doing gravel rides like and it’s it’s really inviting, you know, people just want come out, come ride with us. And I think that’s just such a big part that helps the growth a sport. Yeah,

Betsy Welch  44:11

that’s a good point. Local bike shops are also a great resource for meeting people or, you know, figuring out which group ride is the nice people on it.

Julie Young  44:23

That’s it. Thanks for your time today. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation.

Dede Barry  44:26

That was another episode of Fast Talk Femme. Subscribe to Fast Talk Femme wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcasts. Be sure to leave us a rating and review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on Fast Talk Femme are those of the individual. As always, we’d love your feedback, and any thoughts you have on topics or guests that may be of interest for you get in touch via social. You can find Fast Talk Labs on Twitter and Instagram @fasttalklabs, where you’ll also find all of our episodes. You can also check them out on the web at For Betsy Welch and Julie Young, I’m Dede  Barry. Thank you for listening!