Choosing a Gravel Race to Match Your Skills

With a plethora of races to choose from, we highlight several events and detail the strengths they are best suited for—plus how to train for the big day.

Two cyclists climb a gravel road overlooking a valley
Photo: Pulka

The world is awash with gravel races of all types—climbing-heavy or flat and dusty, there’s a race to suit every style of riding.

With so many to choose from, it can be a bit overwhelming to decide which one best fits your abilities. And because of the popularity of many gravel races, it can be difficult to register for the more famous races.

We’ve chosen five races to highlight. These are not marquee events—in fact, some of these you may never have heard of, which means you might actually have a chance of getting in without having to enter a lottery.

Importantly, they represent distinct race qualities: from terrain to altitude to distance. Each of the races was selected because it represents a certain style of gravel race, catering to various types of riders. For example, there are some for those who love to climb, and some for those who don’t. Others are at altitude, and others require more technical skill.

Finally, in an effort to help you prepare for your season and each of these specific events, we highlight key workouts, articles, videos, and podcasts that will help your training and race prep.

Now all you have to do is decide—then ride.

Distance: Michigan’s Coast to Coast Gravel Grinder

Missed out on the lottery for Unbound? Or just looking for something a little less popular? Look no further than Michigan’s Coast to Coast. As the name implies, this race runs across central Michigan from Au Gres on Lake Huron to Ludington on Lake Michigan. The route stitches together fast gravel roads and doubletracks, with sand thrown in for good measure. A full 85% of the course is unpaved. This is a big one, where all-day endurance will be paramount.

Technical: Vermont Overland

The Overland is famous for its sectors of so-called Class 4 roads. These unmaintained ancient public throughways—the pride of many a Vermonter—demand fitness and skill to navigate, giving this race a special adventurous quality. The ups and downs of the open dirt roads are unrelenting, as is the amazing pastoral scenery of rural Vermont. This one is for the climber who also loves a good technical challenge.

Altitude: KowTown Gravel

For a taste of the Wild West, KowTown Gravel offers big views, big climbs, and high-altitude Colorado scenery at its finest. The long course takes in several climbs that each offer over 1,500 feet of sustained climbing. More than 85% of the course is unpaved, much of it on ranch roads, doubletracks, and private ranch land. For those who handle altitude well, put this on the list.

Stages: Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder

If stage racing is your thing, gravel has that, too. The Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder is billed as the “grand tour” of gravel, offering five days of racing, four nights camping, and all the catered amenities you’ll need in between. The race traverses the heart of the Cascades, covering 350 miles of Oregon’s scenic and wild backcountry gravel roads. Though the highlight of the week is the riding, the camp life comes in close second.

Classic: Gravel Worlds

No, not the Gravel Worlds, promoted by the UCI. But, yes, the original Gravel Worlds, which cuts across the rural farmlands of southeastern Nebraska. Celebrating its 15th edition this year, Gravel Worlds is one of the pioneering events in gravel racing history. It represents all that gravel started as, comprising 150 miles of Midwest dirt roads, constant rollers and climbs that add up over the course of the day, and the ever-present threat of summer storms, which can turn pedaling into a death march.