1: Nebraska is not flat. 11,000’ of climbing over 150 miles is legitimate, and comes in unrelenting 50 foot servings. A death of 1000 cuts.
2: It is loud. There’s the normal wind noise when riding into the wind, but riding downwind is loud too—40 or 50 high pressure tires rolling at 30mph over the tic-tac covered roads of Nebraska can sound like the amplified sizzling and popping of uncooked bacon hitting hot cast iron.
3: Additionally, a cicada getting stuck in your helmet sounds like you’re being abducted by aliens.
4:The course is not marked in any way—riders must follow a GPS trace. What seems at first like a burden foisted onto riders by lazy promotors turns out to make for a better experience. Course markings are hard to follow at speed and can be easily sabotaged by cranky locals. The Garmin gives ample forewarning of upcoming turns and raises a stink if you do go off course—so there’s no second guessing yourself after a few miles of head-down riding. I like it enough that I may have to start using the GPS even on traditionally marked courses when riding blind.
5: Wear gloves. Your hands are always wet at Gravel Worlds. Before dawn, dew collects on your bars and controls as you ride. After sun-up, the heat and humidity start runnels down your arms and sweat dripping from your wrists, bringing the sensation of a cockpit spritzed with baby oil. I hardly ever wear gloves on drop-bar bikes, but I won’t leave for the Midwest without them again.
6: Despite a distinct lack of dust, visibility isn’t great. Tall corn blocks sight-lines through the inside of (square) corners, and the rolling nature of the roads creates many blind crests. Some riders choose to ride the far left side of the road into these crests to find respite from the wind, or a firmer line. I mostly did not, as I couldn’t shake the image of a 16 year old farm boy trying to jump the family F150 on these usually empty roads. Which is what I would do if I were a 16 year old farm boy in Nebraska.
7: The climbs are too small and the surface is too fast to naturally create selections in the race. After almost 2 hours of fairly brisk riding, I was impressed that a guy on a full “fat bike” was still in the lead group of 50 riders. Concerned, and impressed. Kudos to you, Fat Bike Guy.
8: So instead of selections happening on long climbs, gnarly descents, or rough bits, the selections happen in the feed-zones. No love is lost, no quarter given in the Gravel Worlds Feedzone. GFORT Teammate Tristan Uhl had a rider skip the final feed zone to gain an advantage over him (despite being out of water), making Tristan chase him down , only to later ask if he could have a sip of Tristan’s water after he was recaught. “Just a sip”, he begged– before draining half of Tristan’s bottle. The etiquette of Midwest gravel racing is a work in progress…
9: So, don’t raise an eyebrow at your teammate when he says he is considering carrying 150 oz (9 pounds!) of water on a race that has 11k of climbs and 8 feed zones. He might know something you don’t.
10: Aero-bars are incredibly efficient and useful on the gravel of the midwest. At times, most of the lead group was on the extensions—while in the group! Despite this appearing dodgy as hell, everybody seemed to leave themselves enough space and make good decisions. And I never saw any aero-bar related crashes. No bumps, no turns, no brakes, no problem!
11: The “Don’t be Lame” Number One rule of Gravel Worlds has two noteworthy subsections:
First, excessive cursing will not be tolerated. Which both reminds me of my grandmother, and that I’m in a new place with different sensibilities than the usual (to me) Singlespeed Worlds-type events. And Secondly, any rider who’s previously been suspended for using drugs isn’t invited to the party. And while speaking without cursing doesn’t show the depth of your character to me personally, pandering to ex-dopers kinda does.
The Gravel Worlds crew in Lincoln are good folks, running a good, and hard, and kinda weird event. The next time I’m racing gravel in the flyover states, I’ll be sure to come better prepared.