Inaugural USA Cycling Gravel National Championship will debut in Nebraska on September 9
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In September, USA Cycling (USAC) will award the first stars and stripes jerseys in gravel. And the governing body will be writing a few big checks, too.
USAC announced Thursday that the inaugural USA Cycling Gravel National Championship will be held in Gering, Nebraska, on September 9. The small western Nebraska city will also host the event in 2024.
A never-before-seen prize purse of $60,000 will be split equally between the top five finishers in the elite men’s and women’s races.
After years of serving gravel in a largely supportive role, the Gravel National Championship will be USAC’s very significant stepping out into the discipline.
“Over the last five years, the explosive growth of gravel has energized American cycling,” said USAC CEO Brendan Quirk. “Our involvement in the past 18 months has mainly focused on the support of gravel event organizers through sanctioning events such as the Grasshopper Adventure Series, the Rule of Three, and Rasputitsa. We’re now proud to join the list of ever-growing gravel events in the United States.”
The inaugural national championship will serve as a qualifier event for the 2023 UCI Gravel World Championships in Veneto, Italy, October 7-8. The top three finishers in the elite men’s and women’s events will automatically qualify for the world championships, where they will be supported by USA Cycling.
Additionally, age group race winners will automatically qualify for their respective categories for the UCI race.
In terms of how it’s structured, the Gravel National Championship will bear some resemblance to USAC’s other national championship events. For example: men, women, and non-binary racers will have their own races in each age group and category.
However, the governing body has taken some important cues from the gravel events that have come before it, namely that men, women, and non-binary racers of any age group or category will all be racing the same distance.
According to Tara McCarthy, the director of events for USAC, the promotion team is finalizing the details of the race courses, but it’s likely that the elite/open riders will race a distance of 130 miles with 6,000 feet of elevation gain.
“This will also be the course for most masters age groups,” McCarthy said. “We are finalizing distances for para athletes, older masters, and juniors with input from the racing community. There will be no category restrictions, only citizenship and membership requirements similar to our other national championships.”
One restriction, however, is that aerobars will not be allowed.
Big prize money in the offing
In another historic first for USAC, elite riders will have a chance to compete for a $60,000 prize purse, which is the largest single-day cash prize in American gravel.
First place men and women will each be awarded $12,000, second place $8,000, third place $5,000, fourth place $3,000, and fifth place $2,000.
According to Quirk, the prize money will not be diverted from USAC’s membership dues or grassroots programming, but rather come from entry fees and sponsorship.
He also said that the success of offering such a big single day prize could influence other national championship events to come.
“The strength of participation is what drives the entry fees, which is what drives the quality of the race experience. And a great experience is what drives participation. Ideally, it’s a flywheel for growth and for creating stable event economics. What works for the for-profit event promoters is just as valid for us.
“If this works as we expect for gravel nationals, in a couple of years we’d consider doing the same for both our Mountain Bike National Championships and our Cyclocross National Championships.”
USAC is collaborating with Aaron Raines, the founder and director of Gering’s popular Robidoux Rendezvous gravel race, to design the gravel nationals courses. At least 90 percent will be on gravel roads through rolling terrain near the Scotts Bluff National Monument.
The USA Cycling Gravel National Championship has been well-received by some of the top U.S. gravel riders, including Lauren De Crescenzo, who has won events like Gravel Worlds and SBT GRVL and took part in the inaugural UCI Gravel World Championships in Italy last year.
“There’s not much we can take credit for as Americans in the history of cycling. But gravel cycling has its roots deeply embedded here, and because of that, I see the USA Cycling Gravel National Championship as the natural progression in the development of our sport,” she said.
“The course has equal distance and prize money and represents what a true American gravel race should be. I would love to see an American win a World Championships, solidifying our place on the world stage, and in the process, grow our sport. A proper qualifier with USA Cycling backing is a huge step in making that happen.”
Registration for the USA Cycling Gravel National Championship will open on Friday, July 14 at 10 a.m. MST. Riders must be USA Cycling members with a domestic racing license to register.