The Best Strategies for Gravel Racing with Alex Howes and Kiel Reijnen

Learn the “ins and outs” of gravel racing as we discuss everything you need to know with pro cyclists (now turned gravel racers), Alex Howes and Kiel Reijnen. From gear to weather to developing a good start and finish strategy, we cover it all.

Keil Reijnen and Alex Howes

Cycling events are starting to appear on the calendar again. But, in many places, they look a bit different than they did before. Gravel has exploded and we are seeing more people racing – including high-level pros – than ever before.  

Gravel events typically are easier to organize and get far more participants than other cycling events. They offer something for both the racer looking for a result, and the rider looking for an adventure. As our guests today point out, at least in North America, any young rider looking to go pro is going to have to race gravel at this point to get noticed. 

So, today we’re going to talk with two Grand Tour level pros who have become gravel racers later in their careers and discuss the “ins and outs” of gravel racing. Our focus is on the strategy and how it’s different from other forms of racing. But we’ll also discuss weather, fueling, the best gear, and…wait for it…sauna hats.  

Joining us today are Alex Howes, the 2019 US national road champion who is also a professional with EF Education-EasyPost, and retired Pro Kiel Reijnen who now races gravel on the Trek Driftless team. Along with our two main guests, we’ll also hear from physiologist and coach Jared Berg. 

So, put your knobby tires on – just not too knobby, and let’s make you fast!  

Episode Transcript

Rob Pickels  00:04Hello and Welcome to Fast Talk, your source for the science of endurance performance. I’m your host, Rob Pickels. Here with Trevor Connor.

What to expect in this episode

Rob Pickels  00:11

Cycling events are starting to appear on the calendar again. But in many places, they look a bit different than they did before. Gravel has exploded, and we’re seeing more people racing, including high level pros than ever before. Gravel events can be easier to organize, get far more participants and offer something to both the racer looking for a result, and the rider looking for an adventure. As our guest today point out, at least in North America, any young rider looking to go pro is going to have to race gravel at some point to get noticed.

So today we’re going to talk with two grantor level pros who have become gravel racers later in their careers, and discuss the “ins and outs” of gravel racing. Our focus is on the strategy and how it’s different from other forms of racing. But we’ll also discuss whether fueling, the best gear, and-wait for it-sauna hats. Joining us today are Alex Howes, the 2019 US National Road champion, and a professional with the EF education easy posts team along with retired pro Kiel Reijnen, who now raises gravel on the trek Driftless team. Along with our two main guests, we’ll also hear from physiologist and coach, Jared Berg. So put your knobby tires on, just not to knobby, and let’s make you fast!

 

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Rob Pickels  01:34

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Introducing…Alex Homes and Kiel Reijnen

Trevor Connor  02:12Well, this is gonna be a fun episode I think today Rob, because we’ve got, what did you call them two washed up…? 

Rob Pickels  02:18

Washed up pros do gravel man, it’s what everybody’s doing right now.

 

Trevor Connor  02:21

Way to welcome our guests. So I have full respect, these are guys I raced with, or watched them ride away from me in a few races. So we have with us today, Alex Howes and Kiel Reijnen. So welcome, guys!

 

Kiel Reijnen  02:37

Thanks for having us.

 

Alex Howes  02:38

Yeah, I didn’t know I was washed up. I know Kiel’s washed up.

 

Rob Pickels  02:42

Well, you’re washing babies. So I think that that means you’re washed up as a pro rider but –

 

Alex Howes  02:46

That just means I am not washed up. I am filthy.

 

Kiel Reijnen  02:52

So, you really need a bath.

 

Rob Pickels  02:53

Well guys, I’m super happy to have you here, because of this. You both have experienced in the pro peloton, you have experience mountain biking, you have experienced gravel racing, you might even have experience on the track. I love that you have this really wide ranging experience, I think that’s really going to play into our conversation today.

 

Trevor Connor  03:13

Today, what we’re talking about is strategy for gravel racing. I’m sure you guys have noticed this as well. But, it seems like lately, road cycling is becoming a little less common. We’re not seeing as many stage race or single day races. But, it seems like gravel racing is on a rise. There are more and more gravel races, and I think organizers love putting them together, people seem to enjoy them. So, this is becoming a bigger and bigger part of the cycling world.

 

Kiel Reijnen  03:43

I think there’s numerous reasons why that’s occurring. For one, just looking from a promoter perspective, it’s a much easier event to put on. It’s based on mass participation, you’re not looking to close major roads, you don’t need the same permitting, the same number of police. It’s not the same “Herculean task” that putting on a road event is. Then on top of that, you have more and more people interested in this sort of version. I think it’s more accessible for people , hey’re more willing to try it it. doesn’t have as high of a bar of entry as road cycling can sometimes feel.

 

The past, present, and future of gravel racing

Rob Pickels  04:17

Now you guys might have a tainted perspective on this being pros, but how do you feel kind of about the “proification”, if that’s a word, of riders like yourself coming into this that was otherwise an amateur event previously? That was about fun and everything else, but do you see gravel racing becoming more “professional”, more organized? Do you ever see teamwork? What’s the future of gravel a couple years from now?

 

Alex Howes  04:43

The future of gravel?

 

Rob Pickels  04:45

The future of gravel.

 

Alex Howes  04:46

Yeah, I don’t think anybody really knows what that looks like. I don’t know it’s tough because a lot of people are like, “You guys are ruining gravel. I should stay on the road or just quit cycling all together and get fat like all the other old pros.” I don’t know, to me it’s like, I love racing in the US, just period. All my best results have come in the US, and I think a lot of that comes from emotionally just really being in it when I’m here. At the moment, there’s nothing else to really do in the US. If you want to race in the US, you have to have knobs on your tires, you’ve got to get dirty. As you said, road racing is kind of fading away. There’s no tour of, Utah, Colorado, California, name your major road stage race because those are all gone. The race here in the states, it’s gravel, or nothing.

 

Rob Pickels  05:36

On that, do you think that the level of competition now in gravel racing is on par with what you used to see on the road in tour of Utah and these other bigger races?

 

Kiel Reijnen  05:47

It’s a variation on that rate, like to Alex’s point, because this is what’s available now, it’s not just, ex-World Tour riders coming back, that is raising the bar of gravel racing. You also have to think about the young kids who are aspiring to be professional racers. Where are they going to go race? This is their option. When Alex and I were young in our early 20s, there were 10 good continental teams, that many guys made their career on in the US. There were races every month, all spring and summer long, that they could go that were high level races. Most of those events, and none of those teams exist anymore. So, for people who are not 18, and going straight to the World Tour, this the the only stepping stone left. Therefore, they’re coming in to gravel with that level of commitment that they would have otherwise maybe put towards the road.

 

What IS gravel racing?

Trevor Connor  06:37

Why don’t we shift gears a little bit and tell us a little bit about what gravel racing is about? What makes it unique? What is a gravel race? How is it different from other forms of racing?

 

Alex Howes  06:48

With gravel, it’s this weird hybrid between road and mountain. There’s definitely a handling aspect and there’s, this group dynamics that you’d see in the road. But it’s not the same sort of fast charging peloton that you would normally see. When I think a group riding over gravel, it’s generally one to two lines of riders you’re kind of like cruising along in the double track, when I say cruising, I mean, sometimes you’re like really flying. But, when you’re on a double track versus being 8/10 wide, where you would be in a peloton on a major road. It makes for different drafting dynamic, but it is also similar to the road in that the speeds are higher, and you have a large peloton of riders, which you can usually work with to an extent. So it’s not quite the same sort of Time Trial effort that you would see on a mountain bike.

 

Trevor Connor  07:45

The bike itself is more like a road bike. I personally would say it’s a cross bike, and here’s where you might argue with me, but I actually once asked the tech editor at VeloNews. What is the difference between a cross bike and a gravel bike? He paused for a very long time before he could give me an answer.

 

Alex Howes  07:58

That’s why you don’t have him on the podcast, right?

 

Kiel Reijnen  08:07

Geometry is probably the simple answer. Also, cross bikes, at least when racing UCI races, they’re limited on tire size. So those frames are not built to accommodate whopping big 650-B-40 plus C tires. That said, we are talking about nuances, I tend to think of the gravel races as having a lot of similarity to road races, but everything’s in slow motion. The attacks, pack dynamics, sprint’s, I mean everything is happening half the speed that it went on the road. That changes things. Plus, we don’t have a setup where everyone is on a team of eight riders. That means that tactically the races are less predictable.

 

Trevor Connor  08:49

So what is the typical length for a gravel race? Are these similar to a road or a mountain bike race? Are they longer? Or does it really vary?

 

Alex Howes  08:57

I think in general, they’re significantly longer. The unbound 200 is the one that everybody looks at, and that’s a bit of an outlier, in that it is probably about double what you would see in your average gravel race. But, even 100 mile gravel race, I mean, that’s a huge effort. When you think like, a lot of weekend road races that people were doing, 5-10 years ago. Now, those would be, around 40-50 miles and that’s a relatively long road race. For a lot of people, that would take them, I don’t know, like two, maybe three hours. For some of these gravel races, it’s like 100 mile gravel race over tough terrain, we’re talking seven hour race. I mean, that’s starting to get pushed towards what you would do in like an Ironman. Maybe not quite that far, but yeah, it’s there long, they are hard.

 

Kiel Reijnen  09:09

Yeah, and on the flip side of that, I don’t know of any gravel crits does that even exist aside from like, maybe a short track mountain bike race is probably the closest thing to criteria?

 

Kiel Reijnen  09:51

Yeah, I haven’t heard any. Maybe we should make one.

 

Rob Pickels  10:04

I think that’s the thing, here we go.

 

Alex Howes  10:06

That could be our thing Kiel, you and me. We shine and we can make our own race.

 

Kiel Reijnen  10:11

Yeah, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if bike handeling played a little more of a role in these results. The other thing too, to go back for a second in the distance of these races is everyone who’s kind of getting into the sport are relatively new to the sport, they always talk in distances. Something that we understood is as pros was, the time is kind of the more relevant number. S, tthere are plenty of Grand Tour stages we did that were between 100 and 150 miles, which is a typical gravel, race length. But we’re doing them now at a fraction of the speed, so these efforts, like Alex said, are seven plus hours, maybe for the weekend warrior, it’s 10 to 12 hours. That’s completely different than 150 mile stage of the Vuelta where we might have finished in five and a half hours.

What kind of rider is competing in gravel races?

Rob Pickels  10:56

That’s one of the differences there to Kiel that you’re pointing out is amateurs and pros are doing the same course at the same time. I think in some of these events, maybe there’s different options for length. But if you want to go out and do that 150 mile event length, you’re out there with everyone. It could be their first bike race or their 100th bike race, that it’s a commingled pack, and I think that that’s been really interesting.

 

Trevor Connor  11:18

Well this is something that I noticed in those multi-day mountain bike races that you also see in the gravel races in a strange way, they are harder for the amateur than they are for the pro.

 

Rob Pickels  11:31

Oh, 100%

 

Trevor Connor  11:31

Like my brother did the Trans Rockies. He was taking six, seven hours a day, so he had less time to recover those days. were beating him up. I mean, he was going hard for him for seven hours. Pros were completing it in three hours. So they had much more time to recover, and same thing here. If you’re taking 12 hours to do this ride, and you’re going as hard as you can, that’s a huge day.

 

Kiel Reijnen  11:52

Yeah, I think we’re also getting towards the upper end of the threshold of what’s “raceable”, like unbound gravel. I mean, seven hours is a really long time to race that’s this past weekend, that’s roughly what the finishing time was. It’s really on the limit and unbound sort of just pushes past that limit can even a professional level rider race for 10 hours, or you’re just out there biting at that point.

 

Rob Pickels  12:14

Yeah, it’s a race of attrition, almost more than it’s not who can go fastest, it’s who can kind of go slowest for the longest amount of time.

Gravel racing and the demands it has on our bodies

Trevor Connor  12:21

Gravel Racing does have different demands on our bodies from other types of cycling. Let’s hear from physiologist Jared Berg on what that means.

 

Jared Berg  12:30

From my experience working with athletes who are cyclists and doing the crits or whether it’s a time trial and such there, gravel was a different different beast. It takes that athlete who has really good economy in their physiology. They can get pretty good power, they’re really good at using those long endurance capacity, slow-twitch muscle fibers, they can metabolize fat, awesome, they can do a lot with fairly low lactate. From my thought, it’s not going to be as punchy as a road race or a crit, so do you need that high end capacity? No. Does that mean you need to skip that high end training? No. But it does mean that in that gravel race you don’t need that beautiful power profile where you have a good 10 second burst minutes, flyer power. Then also the VO2 Max, you’re probably great with that you have a good 60 minute Functional Threshold or you can go really hard for 60 minutes, it’d be beneficial. Then also being able to back off just a touch from there and stretch it out for a few hours, which is going to tap into that good fat burning metabolism.

The strategy of gravel racing

Alex Howes  13:42

That really brings us to what this episode is about, which is talking about the strategy of gravel racing. When you’re talking about 7,8.9 hours of racing, I wouldn’t care what anybody else was doing. I would just try to go my own pace and survive. But, you mentioned earlier though that you do use the peloton. So is this like road racing? Is there a peloton? Is there a group dynamics or is this a little more like mountain biking where you’re just going your own pace?

 

Alex Howes  14:10

You absolutely need these peloton. I think goes for pros and people just trying to finish like now because these efforts and races are so long, the more help you can get the better. It is kind of a beautiful thing early on in these races that you have everybody kind of mixed in together and that people that aren’t really at the same level can benefit from a large group of 500 or so riders it can be a little hectic not going to deny that. But being sucked along by that big group early on, really can help a lot. But, at the same time you really do need to kind of keep an eye on what you’re doing. Make sure you’re not overreaching and go and doing a threshold effort for the first hour just so you can save five minutes by sitting in the peloton there. It is a bit of a balancing act.

 

Kiel Reijnen  15:01

Also, the amount that you’re saving is a lower percentage than on the road, you may be in a group getting some draft, especially if it’s a headwind sector or a smoother gravel sector. But we’re not talking about the same percentages that we are on the road. First of all, the overall speed is lower, and the distance between riders is sort of inherently a bit larger as well, because you need to be able to see what’s going on in front of your wheel. You can’t be a couple of centimeters from the rider in front of you, and so you know, every inch you drop back behind that rider to see the obstacles that are approaching is a little bit less draft that you’re you’re gonna benefit from.

 

Rob Pickels  15:37

Yeah, I think that that’s an interesting point. I had an interesting experience at Belgian waffle ride a few years back where a guy that I know really similar fitness to me, we were both in the event together. I ended up hooking up with a great group and was in that group for most of the day. I finished, gosh, an hour and a half, at least ahead of my friend. He was like, “How did you finish so far ahead of me?” I was like, “Oh, I was just drafting off this group the whole time.” He’s like, “Man, I rode by myself the whole time. I didn’t ride with anybody.” That’s, BWR and because of the road sections, there’s a faster speed and the drafting plays a little bit more into it. Can you guys talk about the range of terrain that’s out there? We have Unbound, which is, as far as I know, I’ve never done it. But it’s full gravel the whole time. It’s maybe some chunky gravel, you have some other races, like what Rock Cobbler I think in California that has like some single track, but then you have Boulder Roubaix, which is technically a gravel, roads that we would all right, our gravel bike on, but it’s really a road race. How does that spectrum of terrain play into the tactics? Are you behaving differently on something that’s really fast and smooth, then you are something that’s maybe chunky, or more single tracky?

 

Kiel Reijnen  16:52

Definitely, that’s part of the fun of, of this is, there’s a lot of choices to make here. When it comes to equipment, gearing, tires, pressure, all those sort of different courses lend themselves to different setups. I think one of the things that people enjoy and connect on at these events is dialing in those setups. There’s so much tactically that changes during the ride. Like, if you have a mechanical in the first 10 miles, that’s really different than having a mechanical in the last 10 miles. I think for the most part at some point during the day, you are going to be riding alone, and making sure that you know, sort of roughly the terrain that you’re getting into to meter that effort is super important. I haven’t done any of these really climbing heavy high altitude gravel races yet, but I think that’s going to be a whole different animal than something like last weekend that if you ride for 150 miles, you’re accumulating plenty of elevation gain, but it’s coming in short bursts. This average speed is above 20 miles an hour.

 

Alex Howes  17:54

Yeah, this deco as Kiel says I mean, it’s funny, lumping all of gravel together is kind of mistake number one that I think people make, because there’s so much variety there. There’s courses out there that like myself personally, I’d probably be pretty useless on. Don’t tell anybody that you know, Unbound is not my course. But then you get to something like SPT where I can run tires that are smaller than everybody else, and it’s relatively climbing heavy, and it’s at altitude, and it’s a totally, totally, totally different ballgame. Trying to dial in the equipment for every race is step one. Honestly, it’s, it’s one of the bigger steps to make.

 

Kiel Reijnen  18:38

I did a local event here a couple of weeks back, where there was there’s at least an hour and a half if not more of hiker bike. The spectrum is huge. and that’s apart of the appeal. That was one of my favorite events of the year. So far, I really enjoyed it because it was it was different, it was out of the box.

 

Alex Howes  18:55

Because you don’t have to ride your bike as much?

 

Kiel Reijnen  19:00

Especially the equivalent of carrying two children.

 

Ideal equipment for gravel racing

Trevor Connor  19:05

So let’s go back to what you were talking about before, what are some of the equipment considerations? What are you going to look for in the race? How’s that going to impact what equipment you choose to use?

 

Alex Howes  19:15

I would say that the two biggest choices to make for any course are probably tires and gearing. You need the right with tires, something that you need more traction, you need quicker rolling resistance, less rolling resistance, higher volume, lower volumes, and the weight of the tires makes a pretty big difference. I mean, if you look at you know, like a relatively beefy chunky tire versus like something quite a bit faster, weight wise, it can be the difference between a training wheel and a race wheel. Which is you know, anybody that’s been on a crappy set of training wheels versus a nice little race wheels, and tries to go up a hill I mean, that’s a big difference. Then gearing is the next big one in my mind. If you don’t have the right gears, you’re either gonna be blown out the back going down a hill or you’re going to be Kiel running it when you’re going up the hill, walking away.

 

Kiel Reijnen  20:08

Poor paperboy.

 

Alex Howes  20:10

There’s no paperboy when it’s a single single track. That is the other thing, during a lot of the tough climbs and a number of these gravel races, if it’s a nice gravel road, relatively wide open, you might have the option to do a little paperboy. But, in so many of these events, and many of the climbs, there’s, there’s one line. If you don’t have the gear to push up that one line, then you’re the jerk, holding everybody else up behind you, as you’re walking up it.

 

Rob Pickels  20:41

In strategy wise, you got to get to the front of that line, so that you’re holding everybody up when you get to it, pro tip for everyone out there.

 

Alex Howes  20:49

That’s right. That way, you have a group of highly motivated ferocious people to ride with afterwards.

 

Rob Pickels  20:55

Well, when they throw all their ride food at you, you’re gonna have plenty to eat and then they’re going to be bonking. So it just plays into the strategy.

 

Trevor Connor  21:02

That is every mountain bike race I’ve ever done. I pass everybody on the climb, and then they all yell at me on the descent.

 

Alex Howes  21:09

Yeah, it’s quick step in the classics.

 

Rob Pickels  21:11

Perfect, right?

 

Kiel Reijnen  21:12

I think that the other part of the the equipment choice question is, what kind of experience do you want to have? Like  if you want to have the fastest best record you’ve ever set and just see how quick you can do it, that’s a really different equipment setup than, “Hey, I want to ride with my friends. I don’t want to spend a bunch of time on the side of the road fixing flats. I want to take a low risk approach. I want to not have sore shoulders and triceps at the end of the day, as a participant in these events.” There is sort of a choose your own experience or adventure component, which is some of the appeal for people.

 

Rob Pickels  21:48

Yeah, I think that that’s a really great point, like you said, over half the field is probably out there just for the experience, the fun the completion. Oftentimes, our conversation is more geared around peaking out your best performance, your fastest finish. But you’re entirely right, that there’s probably a lot of people that would otherwise want to choose even higher volume tires that are a little bit more durable, and a bike that has a little bit more shock absorption as opposed to just being the lightest, stiffest most aero thing out there.

 

Trevor Connor  22:17

That’s where a gravel race is more like a GranFondo, you have a certain percentage who are there to race and get a result. Then you have a larger percentage that are just there to finish and have the experience.

How does weather effect strategy?

Rob Pickels  22:28

Yep. Now something that’s kind of an experience for everyone is going to be weather. Unless you’re out there a lot longer than someone else, everybody is going to be experiencing the same weather and Kiel, you are telling us about racing down in Texas this past week? How is weather in sort of those intangibles affecting the strategy that you have?

 

Alex Howes  22:50

This past weekend, you know, it was pretty extreme, it was around 100 degrees, it was a high during the race. It really tempered the ability of riders to jump off the front and make a solo effort of it. Everything is already sort of in slow motion compared to a road race, the heat that we experienced slowed everything down even more. One of the cool things about this past weekend was the promoter, the organizer of the event, implemented a mandatory two minute stop at the two big checkpoints. I think it was a bit of an insurance policy to make sure that no one did anything stupid, you want to make sure riders are hydrated, because it can be really dangerous when you get to those temperatures to be out there that long and not have enough water. But it also meant that we, as the riders, sort of strategize our race around that. Like when when water was plenty, you could take more risk. When it was not, you had to meter your effort a little bit more. It was interesting that the heat made everyone timid in the beginning because they knew it was coming. By the time it arrived, it took enough of a toll that no one was able to make sort of the difference towards the end of the race. I shouldn’t say no one, but it got a lot harder.

 

Rob Pickels  24:02

The heat aspect in gravel is pretty unique because we’re talking about races that are a long distance. For the most part, you’re relatively self supported out there. It’s not like you have an aid station as often as you would like to have it. There are no team cars, nobody’s handing out bottles to you. So you’re carrying, so you have to optimize how much weight do I want to carry with my hydration needs? We know that over those long distances that heat can really weigh on you. It almost seems like heat is going to be more important of a factor for gravel than it is for something like road, or for mountain bike generally cross country races are going to be shorter than what you’re doing in gravel.

 

Alex Howes  24:38

Absolutely. Like you say, there’s only so many aid stations out there in these long races. If the lights go out, you have very few resources to get the ship back on track. If you if you run out of water or you overheat “oof”. I can tell you from many personal experiences, most recently probably being the Belgian waffle ride a couple of weeks ago, not having enough water at the wrong time can absolutely turn your day upside down.

 

Rob Pickels  25:08

Then you know the location we’re talking about, a lot of these races in Kansas, not many trees, you’re not getting a lot of shade or anything. Alex, as you were just talking, the other thing I thought of, too, we’ve talked about speed and how speed is lower in gravel. So you’re going to actually be getting less cooling, say, on a gravel at 15 miles an hour than on a road bike at 25 miles an hour. It seems like a big deal.

 

Alex Howes  25:31

Yeah. And that’s, that’s why I don’t like gravel.

 

Rob Pickels  25:35

That’s why you love gravel!

How temperature effects our racing capacity 

Alex Howes  25:38

That’s why I love gravel. No, it’s it’s a big deal, and it’s difficult to train for that. Particularly for somebody, coming from cold weather like myself. I haven’t gone through the trouble of building my own personal sauna like Kiel has.

 

Kiel Reijnen  25:54

It’s a health center.

 

Alex Howes  25:55

A wellness center. But, there’s definitely things that you can do to sort of help improve your heat adaptation. I’m sure you guys have talked about that at length on on this particular podcast, but it’s worth doing. I always tell people if you can’t go out and get the miles in, get the proper training in, at least make yourself hot.

 

Kiel Reijnen  26:18

I have taken that advice to heart.

 

Alex Howes  26:21

So that’s what Kiel does, and he got third. He was the best Americans last weekend.

 

Rob Pickels  26:26

There you go.

 

Trevor Connor  26:27

Oh, because of your time in the sauna?

 

Kiel Reijnen  26:29

Well, I recently invested in a sauna hat, and I think it’s really upped my game. If you’re limited on training time, the sauna hat is a must.

 

Rob Pickels  26:37

You said a sauna hat, right?

 

Trevor Connor  26:39

I was going to say, I thought I knew everything. What is a sauna hat? Is it what it sounds like?

 

Kiel Reijnen  26:43

Yeah, like imagine-

 

Alex Howes  26:45

Are they like wool hats that you like soak before you get in there?

 

Kiel Reijnen  26:48

Yeah, but it’s better than that, because instead of looking like a hat, it looks more like a cartoonish mushroom top, like mushroom cap. They’re often embroidered, and are traditionally from areas like Ukraine. But, I don’t speak Ukrainian, so I don’t know what’s embroidered on there. There’s a picture of a barrel and a bunch of letters that I can’t decipher. It probably says “Loser” on it, for all I know. But, the idea is to keep a pocket of air above your head so that the hat has to have this kind of like tall peak to it, to trap that air. It’s shockingly effective.

* For reference, here’s Kiel in his sauna hat.

Rob Pickels  27:23I am shockingly surprise. 

Trevor Connor  27:25

We are looking at pictures of this right now.

 

Alex Howes  27:28

What is it supposed to do? It’s just the like don’t catch your head on fire. But you can like totally light your body on fire? Because it’s like insulating, right?

 

Kiel Reijnen  27:38

It’s insulating. Your your head is going to overheat before your body in a sauna. Part of that is because your heads more sensitive, but part of it’s also because it’s the thing that’s highest up in the sauna, because hat temperature is higher up there, it’s experiencing a different temperature than your your legs. So I think it’s mostly about making an effort to even the heat that your body is experiencing.

 

Alex Howes  28:00

So you put like a Ukrainian wool beer cooler on your head to get in the sauna?

 

Kiel Reijnen  28:05

Yeah, and it looks about as cool as you would expect.

 

Rob Pickels  28:09

You could keep a smoothie under that thing. You know, that’ll keep you cool. You could take it down, take a sip every once in a while, and then put it back up there.

 

Alex Howes  28:16

You could also just train that’s an option too.

 

Trevor Connor  28:19

You could do that.

Race day weather surprise: what do you do?

Rob Pickels  28:21

What about the other end of the spectrum here? We’re talking a lot about heat and how that’s playing into the strategy and how it’s maybe affecting the pack dynamics. But what, if you guys show up to a race that’s cold? Or what if you show up to a race that’s rainy? Are you going to go out and race differently? Are you going to kind of attack it the same way that you normally would?

 

Kiel Reijnen  28:39

It does turn out that shearing off your rear derailleur will change the dynamic of the race for you.

 

Rob Pickels  28:44

But then you get running, which apparently is a good thing.

 

Kiel Reijnen  28:47

It’s an option.

 

Rob Pickels  28:50

What race was that? Didn’t you run something absurd in a race like 20 miles or something? Or 100 miles? I don’t remember.

 

Kiel Reijnen  28:57

I believe it was it was roughly 18 miles at Unbound last year because it was the only option.

 

Rob Pickels  29:04

Literally stuck in the middle of Kansas.

 

Kiel Reijnen  29:07

There’s not a lot out there, and I think people underestimate how remote some of these races can be. If you’re out there at the right time, you might see segwaying and the generally cheaps, so like in Unbound it’s a local cheap club that volunteers to go out there and collect bodies. It’s cool, it’s an awesome volunteer effort from them. I obviously I’m very thankful that they do it because they saved my butt. If you’re not near one of those cheaps when you have a catastrophic failure, you can sit and wait and hope that one comes along. Or you can kind of keep moving and a lot of folks especially the weekend warriors are out there with with phones, but there’s not reception on a lot of that course. So phone may not be your saving grace either.

 

Rob Pickels  29:54

So we’re talking about wet terrain. and you might not go out and say attack differently, “Like I’m gonna go hard off this Start because such and such.” But obviously equipment preservation is hugely important as you’re demonstrating. Loooking back, was there a strategy or something that you could have employed? Maybe like ride through puddles to wash off my derailleur. What can the riders do to prevent that from happening to them? Or obviously you don’t know because-

 

Alex Howes  30:20

Yeah when Kiel ran his failed marathon, it was dry.Mostly his fault. But, when it’s when it’s colder, it’s nice, and in a lot of ways because water becomes less of an issue. So you can sort of fudge things a little bit, you can get away with a little less. I think when it’s hot, it’s generally better to just err on the side of caution when it comes to water. Just you just bring as much as you can, a lot of times. But when it’s colder, you can be conservative, do the math and “okay, I I need about this much”. Let’s realistically think about this, I probably drink about half of that. So let’s bring, three quarters of what what I might normally bring. You do need to factor in clothes, and clothes kind of come on and off, depending on obviously what’s going on out there if it’s raining on and off, or if it’s super cold over the top of a climb or something like that. So I think that bags kind of come into the fray a little bit more when it’s cold. When I’m training in the winter up here, I bring bags like all the time, but I end up using them a lot in colder gravel races. But as far as moisture management goes, and we’re talking about mud and stuff, it really depends on the type of mud. Some kids straight on and off, and all you really have to do is think about moving your chain more frequently. Chain usually tells you when it needs lube. But if it’s real sticky, there’s not a lot you can do to get that mud off other than pack a paint scraper.

 

Rob Pickels  31:50

Yeah, sure. In regard to that mud, we’re talking maybe the East Coast has a little bit more organic soil that is probably the mud that’s falling off, like you’re talking about Alex. I know here in Colorado, I’m sure in Kansas or whatever, we’re getting a little bit more clay in the soil, and that’s the stuff that’s literally like peanut butter. If you’ve never experienced it.

 

Kiel Reijnen  32:10

It’s shockingly difficult to get off the bike.

 

Alex Howes  32:13

It’s awful stuff. It really is. With that, it’s like it when it’s really sticky and nasty like that, I think it’s generally better to try and clean it off more often than you think you need to. So you avoid a situation where you’re shearing off a rear derailleur, or pedaling along and an extra 150 Watts just trying to move forward because your bike is so clogged up. It can be a little counterintuitive, because you think, oh mud, I need I need a bigger, chunkier tire. But sometimes you’re better off with a smaller tire with better mud clearance. That way, you’re just not as plugged up all the time.

 

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Rob Pickels  32:56

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Start strategy to gravel racing

Trevor Connor  33:25

So let’s shift gears here a little bit and kind of dive into the strategy of gravel racing. So we’ve already established that not all gravel races are made the same, they can be very different, so you’re gonna have different equipment choices. That’s certainly going to affect your strategy. But let’s talk about some of the elements that are a little more common. Also, we’re really talking to people who are actually trying to race the event versus this is just an experience to finish. Why don’t we start with the start? There’s a lot of people in the race, what is your approach? Is this like across race where you need to be off the gun super hard and get that position? Or since this could be a seven hour race, does it not really matter as much? How do you approach the start?

 

Alex Howes  34:09

It really depends on what’s coming directly after the start. You’re not going to have, well, you might have a situation where you’re racing into single track or something like that. But generally, when you look at the course you want to look at what the pinch points are. If there’s any sort of pinch point early than the start becomes important. For something like Belgian Waffle Ride, there’s a single track section early on, I want to say it’s probably like 20 minutes into the race. If you come into that section in 50th wheel, your day is effectively done. You’re not going to probably not gonna see the front group. But, if it’s a bit of a procession, then the start is certainly less important. The start you want to think of it as where’s the pinch point? Where’s the early pinch point? If that comes 50 miles into the race well then that’s going to be your new star.

 

Kiel Reijnen  35:02

Mid south, for example, it was, I think 20 something miles in, there was a section that was really muddy and didn’t have a lot of lines. So everyone knew that was kind of the first point to be at the front. I’m personally shocked at how motivated and aggressive the early stages of these races can be given that they’re seven plus hours long. But I’ll also admit, and maybe this isn’t true for you, Alex, despite the fact that that sort of battle for position early on is something that we should be well adapted for, given our backgrounds, it’s also something I’ve sort of lost the appetite for. Like, going to gravel for me from road, part of that was about getting away from that battle for every inch, and it was more about personal experience. Although you can get wrapped up in the moment for me, the gravel racing kind of the highlights generally don’t land around those those battles.

 

Rob Pickels  35:53

Before the start even starts are you on the trainer? Are you warming up? Or are you just sort of rolling up to the line and letting the early terrain kind of get your legs up to

 

Kiel Reijnen  36:03

I’ve got bad starts man, I’m out.

 

Rob Pickels  36:08

There’s our answer.

 

Alex Howes  36:10

My thought is if you’re looking like something like Unbound, you know, you have 10 hours to warm up for that whole thing. No, there’s no warm up going on there.

 

Kiel Reijnen  36:20

But you know, if you’d asked 10 years ago in the pro peloton, everyone laughed, too.

 

Alex Howes  36:24

I think this is a little different, though. I mean, whose is it worth it to wake up at two o’clock in the morning to pizza and eat some food and then digest and then get on the rollers at 5:15 in the morning for 6 AM start? It’s like come on.

 

Kiel Reijnen  36:40

I could see Pete doing that.

 

Alex Howes  36:41

Yeah, Pete’s probably done that.

 

Trevor Connor  36:43

I think that comes back though, to what you were talking about the pinch point. If there’s a pinch point right off the start, and you need to be in the right position, you might want to think about just having the legs a little bit ready. If the start isn’t that critical, then you’re right, you’re gonna get your warm up in the race.

 

Alex Howes  36:58

I think that, in general, you’re better off using your time just standing on the start line in a good position, lining up early, as they would say, versus spending that time warming up somewhere else. Then getting to the start five minutes before and standing in 197th place or something.

 

Kiel Reijnen  37:18

I mean, on a day when you’re going to expend 7,000 plus calories, is it worth an extra 300 calories to be warm at the start. It becomes a battle of just maintaining, and an extra 20 minutes before the race is an extra 20 minutes at the end you don’t have.

 

Does riding in a group in a gravel race effect your tactic?

Trevor Connor  37:34

So let’s shift to now you’re in the race, you’re in a pack. You said there is a peloton, that you’re often riding in a group, but it’s much slower than road racing. Does that impact the strategy? Are you still using a lot of the same tactics? Are you attacking? Or is it more like a breakaway? Where you’re working together?

 

Kiel Reijnen  37:52

There’s no rules, right?

 

Alex Howes  37:56

Depends on the rider.

 

Kiel Reijnen  37:58

It depends on the rider depends on the race.

 

Trevor Connor  38:00

How do you two approach it?

 

Alex Howes  38:01

Well, I think in general gravel seems to be more attrition than road, so it is sort of similar to a breakaway. Towards the end, yeah, there’s there’s going to be some some riders that hit out in search of the victory. But for the most part, it’s riders coming off the back slowly, whittles down. Writers have mechanicals, they run out of gas, they have bad moments, they don’t have water, whatever. They slowly just sort of filter off the back. Then towards the end, you have 5-10 to two riders that are attacking each other and Kiel’s holding on to the back of that for dear life and then out sprints everybody.

 

Kiel Reijnen  38:41

In an ideal world.

 

Trevor Connor  38:42

Or running with his bike trying to keep up.

 

Alex Howes  38:44

Yeah, it could go many directions for Kiel.

 

Kiel Reijnen  38:48

It has gotten many directions for Kiel. I think Alex is right though, the race almost happens sort of like backwards. It’s a filtering down to that front group that occurs rather than riders sort of taking off from it until that very, very end.

 

Alex Howes  39:03

I think a large part of the reason why that happens is because of the way the peloton is shaped. If you think of like racing and criterium, people who’ve done like a hard criteriums, you know what that’s like you’re in one line, and your just whipping around the course. The further you are back in that line, the harder it is at every sprint. In gravel racing, you’re sort of in one to two lines most of the day, just because of the way the roads are. There’s only a certain number of good lines on the course. It’s kind of strung out to say all day, and so you get this elastic effect, the further you are back in the group, and so it’s sort of like racing a slow motion criterium for most of the day. So the further you are back, the more accelerations and efforts you need to make. I think that’s why you see guys just sort of dropping off the back.

 

Kiel Reijnen  39:58

There’s also an expectation that once you’re inside that group, whatever size it may be, that you are contributing. The group itself only maintains the momentum if people are rolling through. Do the moment half the folks in that group start sitting on you lose momentum. It’s not like road racing, where you can say, “Well, I’m sitting on because my teammates up the road, the breakaway,” or “My sprinters off the back with a mechanical and I’m waiting for him to catch up.” It’s more primarily individuals, and so everyone has a responsibility once they’re in a group that’s rolling to contribute.

What is a good strategy with conversing and using your energy?

Trevor Connor  40:35

But knowing that it’s mostly raced off the back, are you considering that when you’re in the group? Are you sizing up your competition and trying to figure out how to get them to waste more energy, to wear themselves down so that they they do pop off the back? Are you just focusing on race in your best race, conserving your energy, so you can make it to the end?

 

Kiel Reijnen  40:56

They seem eager to do it on their own.

 

Alex Howes  41:00

I mean, for myself, personally, and I think I probably speak for Kiel as well-

 

Kiel Reijnen  41:04

-and all the rest of the washed up.

 

Alex Howes  41:06

Well, with where we’re at fitness wise and skills wise, we don’t want to be on the front any more than we have to. But that said, we don’t want to be behind the guys who don’t know how to ride bikes very well, when it gets technical. So it’s this sort of balancing act throughout the race where you’re trying to hang back and conserve energy as much as you can. Then, making small moves to get in front of, less technically inclined riders at certain pinch points. Then, hoping that conserves enough energy throughout the day to where you can start making big moves towards the end.

 

Kiel Reijnen  41:43

Right, because there’s such a range of skill levels and ability levels, even within that, that “fast front group.” There might be a triathlete in there who’s just able to sustain 350 Watts all day long, which is not my thing. There may be a rider who’s incredibly savvy, picking the right line, maybe they have a mountain bike background, and they’re just really nimble on the bike, they’re not going to hit those rocks and get flats. They’ll always be at the right place the right time, but they don’t have the same engine. Those different skill sets can all kind of come together in this one group, even though they’re different skill sets, everyone is in that race still when it gets down to the the pointy end. Knowing which riders have what skills becomes important, because you need to know which wheels you can trust to drag you back to the group, if you get dropped, or which wheels you can trust the technical sections. There is just this huge range of abilities.

 

Trevor Connor  42:41

So it sounds like this is not a chess game, like you see in road racing. This is much more of a long race, it’s going to take a lot of energy. You’re doing a mix of saving energy, but also keeping it safe and knowing which wheel to be on when. When to be in front of guys who can’t handle themselves as well. But you’re not thinking multiple moves ahead and how to drop somebody or when to attack. It’s much more, how do I get to the finish as safely and wasting as little energy as possible?

 

Alex Howes  43:12

Yeah, I mean, it sounds lame when you put it like that. But yeah, that’s pretty much it.

 

Kiel Reijnen  43:15

Less heroic. If we were less tired during the race, we have like the brain capacity to start thinking about strategy. Three steps ahead.

 

Alex Howes  43:23

I do think that if you look at something like Paris – Roubaix, which I think a lot of people compare,  Roubaix to gravel racing. You have these big attacks and big moves through like the forest Arenberg and stuff, where you can really split the group up and make a big move. Cobbles are relatively uniform, relative to some of the stuff that we see in gravel. I know I’m gonna get like, totally chewed up on that by some of my fellow pros, but they are. I mean, I say that, like the cobbles in Roubaix are gnarly. I mean, there’s potholes all over the place, and they suck. But in gravels, certainly, for something like Unbound in general, like we have less bike than we need for a lot of the technical sections. So we’re sort of out there under biking. Equipment preservation is pretty key, actually. The idea of really putting people under pressure through a technical gravel section, a lot of times ends up biting the person trying to do that, biting them in the face. Because they end up you know, flatten themselves out, or, or tanking it because they’re on a bike that probably undergone for the course. So a lot of it just comes down to self preservation throughout the day. Keeping your bike in one piece, keeping yourself in one piece, staying hydrated, and just trying to conserve energy. Then the real race doesn’t really happen until the end, and that’s where the more sort of road tactics come into play. That’s where you’re really sizing people up, making a strategy. But before that you probably have 90 miles that way least maybe maybe 170 miles or so, of just trying to get through it, where the real sort of tactical stuff happens.

 

How does your strategy change after being hours into the race?

Trevor Connor  45:07

So let’s go to that point in the race, you’re six hours in, you’re in that group of five to 10 riders who have survived in the front. Now, what’s your tactics? What’s the strategy?

 

Alex Howes  45:18

I mean, that depends on the rider, depends on the race. For Kiel and myself, we both want to get to the finish line with as few people as possible, and we want to get to the finish line with them. I think both of us are relatively confident in our sprints, things obviously change at the end of a long race. If I were to go out and like off the couch, sprint, Ian Boswell and Peter Stetina, like, I’d probably beat him. If it was a 200 meter sprint, I’d probably beat him by like 170 meters. But then at the end of a long race, like steamboat gravel, I had to work for that.

 

Kiel Reijnen  46:01

We’re there riding zone two the entire time, and Alex has been at threshold for four hours.

 

Alex Howes  46:06

Yeah, exactly. I mean, in that race in particular, I had to attack just end up getting to the finish line with them. Like I went away on the flat to get a gap before the big climb, because I knew they would just smoke me on the climb. That was definitely getting towards road tactic territory.

 

Trevor Connor  46:24

I gotta say the this is completely off topic, but the worst race in my life ever was Canadian Nationals 2010. I ended up in a breakaway with Piner and Dominic Rolla so the two of Canada’s best sprinters this was not a steady breakaway. This was just attack after attack where they would just keep dropping me and then I would have to time trial back up to them, tried to hold their wheel for five seconds before they attacked again, and we did that for like 20 miles.

 

Alex Howes  46:54

Sounds about right.

 

Trevor Connor  46:57

For those of us with no sprint who just like to go steady pace, it’s yeah.

 

Alex Howes  47:02

I don’t know why they were attacking you.

 

Trevor Connor  47:04

They weren’t attacking me, they were attacking each other. Apparently, they had some sort of beef. They were completely after one another, and ended up beating both of them because they were so intensly watching one another they didn’t notice when I just rode away from them.

 

Kiel Reijnen  47:16

Yeah, knowing everyone’s weakness. It can make a big difference in the end.

 

Trevor Connor  47:24

Let’s continue with that group. So it’s like a road race, you’re getting into the finish you’re just attacking or

 

Kiel Reijnen  47:32

Or hanging on for dear life?

 

Finishing Strategy

Trevor Connor  47:33

Either or. Does a more sophisticated strategy come in here? Or is it really just who’s got the most left in the tank?

 

Alex Howes  47:41

I mean, there’s, of course there’s strategy there. Who has the most in the tank is definitely a huge part of that. Riders that are fitter and have more on the tank, they’re gonna have more room for error when it comes to making move, they have more moves to make and such. I think it’s strange with gravel at the moment because right now, most of the best riders were not great tactical riders. I don’t know if that a nice way to put it, or a mean way to put it.

 

Kiel Reijnen  48:11

They were all just stronger than us, put it that way.

 

Alex Howes  48:13

Well, they’re they’re just strong riders. Ian Boswell was super strong racer. He’s a hell of a climber, huge engine. Stetina, the same. Tom Strickland’s a bit of an outlier there in that he was really good Red Hook racer, but I think his knowledge base when it comes to just that sort of those final moments, and of race tactics still relatively limited. You look at the way he won most of his Red Hooks, he was solo, went away early, and he just stayed away. There’s not a ton of riders that have that “cagey” background, had to win by basically just being crafty or lucky. With that, it definitely changes the tactics of how things play out towards the end. I think this is all going to change in the relatively near future. I mean, we see a lot of riders currently coming in from Holland, and then for talking professional level racers, of course. Then we’re gonna see more and more Europeans. With that you’re gonna see riders with stronger racing background. When I say racing, I mean, not just telling it, lining up the bike races, I mean the actual art and craft of racing. So it’s all in flux at the moment. It’s going to it’s going to change quite a bit, I think.

 

Kiel Reijnen  49:31

As we’re seeing more and more talent showing up at these races, for example, last weekend, I think less than half the front group was American at Gravel Locos, sort of shocking. Hico, Texas is a long way from where I live, imagine if you’re coming across the pond to get there. But that’s the appeal of these races. It’s drawing folks in and as the of pointy end of the race is made up of more and more people who are fractions of a percent, away from one another in terms of their engine size. That front group will be bigger and stay together longer and longer into the race. It will start to be we’ll see more road racing like tactics in the finals of these races. Which, as Alex pointed out, probably plays into our strengths. But the downside of that, too, is that it will be a bigger and bigger fight to be in that that front group in the middle parts of the race.

Where does bike handling skills come into play?

Rob Pickels  50:24

To take this in a slightly different direction, it sounds like obviously, the engine is hugely important in determining the finish. Do bike handling skills ever really come into play, or do you just need to have a minimum amount that you’re able to stay with the group? Does the best bike handler in the world have an advantage? Or is that really not factoring in the gravel?

 

Kiel Reijnen  50:44

I had hoped it would play a bigger role, honestly. I don’t think it’s irrelevant at all, but I do think that it’s not generally determining the outcome of these races. There are key moments where it maybe matters, you might save yourself a flat, if you don’t make that mistake, but bike handling is not the determining factor.

 

Rob Pickels  51:02

You got to think at least at the front of the field, everybody, there’s pretty experienced. Even the worst bike handlers are probably pretty good bike handlers. Maybe further back in the field, maybe at some point, it starts to make a difference. But I can see at the front, the pointy end, that it doesn’t factor into much.

 

Alex Howes  51:18

I think the bigger factor over just like pure bike handling ability is knowing what your ability is. You have riders that you know don’t. They think they’re a better bike handler than they actually are? Maybe I’m looking at Kiel right now, I don’t know. They go in too hot to certain sections, or they want to put pressure on other riders, and then they end up flattening out. I can’t laugh a Kiel too much, because I that’s exactly what I did to myself, last year at Belgian Waffle.

 

Trevor Connor  51:47

Well, it’s all good. Kiel’s got a really good looking hat.

 

Kiel Reijnen  51:49

Well, it’s also us trying to play to our strengths, right? I think Alex is absolutely right, that we’re under biked. But if you know that handling is maybe some something you might have an advantage on in the people around you in the race at that particular moment, your inclination is to push it to get an advantage because I’m not going to get it on the climb. So you push it into that sector and it generally ends up costing you more than it gains Also, when you have a turn every, what 10 miles, you can rip into a turn on a gravel turn, I might get three bike lengths. So what? Where you gonna go? Like, there’s still 20-30, 40-50 miles left to race, and the next corner is not for another 10 miles. It’s not the same as when a road race enters a downtown circuit, and there’s seven turns within one mile. Each time you sort of accelerate through those turns and get a little bit of a gap, it starts to take energy other riders behind you, it’s definitely not as much of an advantage to push the limits in those moments than I thought it would be.

 

Rob Pickels  52:50

Yeah when I was Belgian Waffle Ride, which is one of the last big events so that’s why the one I keep bringing up. I use my bike handling skills actually to under bike compared to people around me. I was on tubeless 28-C tires, I had some pretty deep aero wheels, because I knew that my weakness was going to be like on the climbs on the roads, just keeping up with people that had more power than me. Then I could easily hang in the group on the off road sections, even though I was running road tires, I wasn’t trying to push it. I was just trying to be comfortable and stay with people so that when we got back on the, road back to my weakness, that I was then able to keep up pretty well there.

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What suggestions do you have for people trying to get into gravel racing? 

Trevor Connor  54:02

There is one final question I want to ask you guys, which is, let’s talk to the person who’s listening right now who wants to get into gravel racing, and they actually want to go and race the event. But they’re pretty new to this, what suggestions do you have for them?

 

Kiel Reijnen  54:18

Invest in tires.

What a new athlete needs to do to prepare physiologically for a gravel race

Alex Howes  54:21

I will go back to the equipment thing here I guess first. The first thing is, as pros we get asked a lot okay, “What are you running?” Okay, I’ll buy I’ll buy two of those, and I’ll just try that. My advice is always if the pros are running 38s, you should be on the 42s. If pros are on 32s, you should probably be on like 35s. Gearing wise you always want a couple extra teeth in there relative to what the pros are running.

 

Alex Howes  54:45

Tactically, again, it’s knowing what your limits are.

 

Kiel Reijnen  54:49

Know thyself.

 

Alex Howes  54:51

Yeah, knowing what your limits are early on, and sort of trying to find the balance between going hard and staying with the group, so you get that Eearly advantage, you can finish an hour and a half ahead of your buddy. Also just knowing when it’s time to kind of pull the parachute and ride your own race. You know, I think one of the best ways to sort of pace yourself early on in training, you get a get an idea of what your threshold is. And he’s sort of pace yourself off of that a little bit, you know, if you’re, if you’re doing 15 Watts above threshold for the first 20 minutes. First of all, that’s a great effort. And you should probably, you know, change your threshold. But if you’re overshooting that, significantly, you’re doing something wrong, and you’re setting yourself up for a long, hard day of riding by yourself out the back. But if you’re 20 Watts below threshold, you’re probably in a good spot, and you keep hanging on to that group, as long as you can, I mean, really, the longer you can be with a group, any group, the better.

 

Kiel Reijnen  55:49

My advice is going to come with a little bit more of a view through a macro lens, which is that for the people who are maybe intimidated to try their first event or want to get into it, but they’re not quite sure how the bar of entry is so much lower at these events than it is for road race, where you’re sort of required to show up and decide what you know, what category are you and you know, do I know how to ride in a, quote unquote, peloton and to understand pack dynamics Am I gonna be able to handle my bike at those speeds, this is so much more of a an arena where you can choose your your own experience. And so, you know, if your goal is just to finish the event and have a good time, you can make equipment choices, and do the training that will get that outcome. If you’re looking to have a quote unquote, fast day and, you know, be competitive, you know, there’s different criteria for that, what you’ll find at these events is it’s a very inclusive community, we want new people to show up we want people to share these experiences with and so even if you don’t have the experience, they’re going to be people there at the event during the event, we’re going to offer assistance to help you along to see you through to make sure that you have a great first experience. And you know, of course, if you’re going to do a 10 hour 100 mile ride, you want to practice riding four or five, six hours before you go. But I don’t think that you need to be training, you know, 20 hours a week to just be able to do these events, there are a lot of people that are coming to these events with limited experience. And you’re going to have that camaraderie.

What a new athlete needs to do to prepare physiologically for a gravel race

Trevor Connor  57:24

So that’s a great way to sum it up, we’re gonna finish up by offering suggestions to athletes new to gravel racing. But before we do, let’s hear, again, from Jared and his thoughts and what a new athlete needs to do to prepare physiologically for an event like this.

 

Jared Berg  57:38

You want to be thinking about a gravel race, I mean, there’s typically longer I mean, I feel like gravel races are gonna wear it anywhere between two hours plus all the way into, you know, these 200 mile gravel races. So you’d really need to be thinking about how you handle your bike as as you fatigue, how you feel, how your musculature in your physiology feels, as you’re taking on this, you know, bumpy or terrain with these more rigid bikes, you know, and then even thinking about what you should be doing with tire pressure and such in order to, you know, not adversely affect your physiology, those are things to think about, every cyclist needs to be doing strength training, right. And then when you become into a gravel ride, I mean that that low back needs to be really, really developed, that neck needs to be strengthened and comfortable. And it needs to be loose and have good flexibility and always be healthy. Right, we need to have good comfort in our shoulders and strength there. So just in general strength training, stability, training, functional strength, you have to be incorporating these things and be, you know, be thinking about that I feel like a strength training that can be done after a long ride can be highly beneficial and helping you tune into, you know, keeping your body healthy. While you’re out there even riding longer and harder in these races. I really try to work hard with my athletes on the idea of, you know, we get out for these long rides, right. And I want them to always feel like they have the ability to sort of hit that sweet spot hit that race intensity that they might be using in that race towards the end, you know, go they do a four hour ride, they’re gonna do the last 3040 minutes strong, right? We’re gonna do that they need to actually really be thinking about good nutrition, good pacing and that long ride so they can hit that last 30 or even 60 minute piece that I’m asking him to at that race pace. That’s definitely you know, one of the strategies that I use.

 

Trevor Connor  59:30

Okay, well, Robert, are we ready for take homes?

 

Rob Pickels  59:33

I think we’re ready for take homes.

Gravel Racing Take Homes

Trevor Connor  59:34

So the way this works is we each get one minute to basically sum up. What do you think is the most salient point of this episode or the one thing that you really want our listeners to take away from the show? So who would like to go first?

 

Kiel Reijnen  59:49

All right, I’m up. The takeaways bias on a hat. Listen to Alex’s coaching advice, hydrated in the heat, try an event if you haven’t, and we look forward to seeing you out there.

 

Trevor Connor  1:00:00

I will go next Alex, we’re gonna give you the last word on this one. So my suggestion as somebody who is probably built for gravel racing and never done this is, it does seem like racing is changing. We aren’t seeing as much road racing as much stage racing, as we used to see you’re seeing more gravel races, more grand fondos. This is a really from everyone. I’ve spoken to a really fun, exciting way to race. And if you haven’t given it a try, you should. And with that I’m planning on giving it a try this summer. Rob, what’s your take home?

 

Rob Pickels  1:00:34

Yeah, every gravel race or gravel event, depending on how you want to look at it is different. So I think that anyone getting into this at the beginner level, you know, do so conservatively, be a little conservative with your equipment, be a little conservative with your pacing, be a little conservative with your food and your water, go out there and learn and experience things. And as you do that, then you can start to make the decisions, you know that maybe you’re going to increase your performance. But if you’re jumping into an event for the first time, and you’re really trying to absolutely maximize arrow and rolling resistance and everything else, you’re probably going to be on the edge of failure. And that is a common occurrence in gravel. So get out there, try it, do it experience and have fun while you’re doing it. And worry about the pointy end. Once you have a little bit more, a little more time under your belt.

 

Trevor Connor  1:01:22

Alex, last word is yours.

 

Alex Howes  1:01:24

I think that gravel is everywhere in the US right now. So there’s kind of no reason not to try not to get out there and you know, participate in the local event. The barrier to entry is relatively low. It’s a ton of fun speaking personally here. But before you go, like couple small points, like know the course at least get an idea of what you’re in for, you know, big chunky, gravels smooth, fast gravel lots of climbs pan flat like like, what is it? Where are the aid stations? How are you going to take care of yourself out there, make sure you have enough water enough food if you do bring enough water enough food, try and remember to drink it like don’t drink and eat it don’t get so wrapped up in the race that you completely space to eat and drink everything you’ve brought. I have seen that happen before and just have fun with it. Like we said that it’s the pointy end is the pointy end. That’s where the serious stuff happens. Sometimes it’s fun to be up there. But a lot of times it’s it’s fun to just sort of get through these things. Have your own adventure. And I can promise you that if you get through some of these bigger events, it is going to be an adventure worth talking about.

 

Trevor Connor  1:02:28

Thank you guys really appreciate having you on the show.

 

Kiel Reijnen  1:02:30

Had a good time!

 

Alex Howes  1:02:31

Thanks for having us.

 

Rob Pickels  1:02:32

That was another episode of Fast Talk. Subscribe to Fast Talk wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcast. Be sure to leave us a rating and a review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on Fast Talk are those of the individual. As always we love your feedback. Join the conversation at forums.fasttalklabs.com to discuss each and every episode. Become a member of Fast Talk laboratories at fasttalklabs.com/join and become a part of our education and coaching community. For the always alternative Alex Howes, Kiel, bike racing should contain running Reijnen, and Trevor, maybe this gravel thing isn’t a fad after all, Connor, I’m Rob Pickels. Thanks for listening

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