Get ready for gravel: Cyclists invited to prepare for the second Bighorn Gravel race with free recon ride on May 6 |

Get ready for gravel: Cyclists invited to prepare for the second Bighorn Gravel race with free recon ride on May 6

Big names and small course tweaks expected for second year of gravel race

The start of the 85-mile Ram's Horn Escape leaves Gypsum during the 2022 Bighorn Gravel race.
Linda Guerrette/Courtesy photo

Co-founder Mike Brumbaugh said this week that last June’s Bighorn Gravel race “far exceeded expectations for year one,” before adding the success of the event itself wasn’t the only surprise.

“The recon rides — we thought we’d get 10 people to show up, and we had 40 or 50,” he said. “We were blown away.” Part of the shock: introducing longtime locals to their own backyard.

“Pete Seibert showed up — he’s born and raised here — and had never been on that road that goes up to Red Canyon,” Brumbaugh recalled. “And he’s an avid, avid biker.”

Ninety percent of last year’s group, comprised of mostly Vail Valley residents, hadn’t been on the opening Red Hill climb of the 85-mile Ram’s Horn Escape route, off-shooting Cottonwood Pass Road just west of Gypsum. Brumbaugh expects some of the same on May 6, when the first recon ride in preparation for the second Big Horn Gravel Race (June 25) rolls out of the Gypsum Mountain Recreation Center at 10 a.m. in a similar direction.

“We were so jazzed to just blow people’s minds on, ‘holy mackerel, I never knew this was here and I work in Eagle,'” Brumbaugh said.

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“You get up on that Red Canyon and it’s radical, man. I think it’s so beautiful,” he continued before explaining the purpose of the recon ride concept.

“So, ‘A,’ show locals what’s here in their own backyard and then ‘B,’ kind of just give people a flair for the course.”

Finally, there’s a mutual benefit the recon ride provides for both athletes and organizers — cultivating confidence.

“We had several people join us on the recon rides who weren’t sure they could do Bighorn Gravel and so, they thought, ‘hey, I’m going to come out and do the recon ride and see,'” Brumbaugh said before detailing how at least a dozen flipped from no intention to pure conviction, etching their names into the inaugural year finishers’ list.

“That to us was the biggest success story we had because we stretched people a little bit and just got them to get outside their comfort zone a little bit,” he continued. “And they slayed it.” 

With the second iteration of Bighorn Gravel just 59 days away, it’s high time for applying storage wax to skis and pedaling the necessary callouses into all the right places. But, even if the bike trainer collected dust all winter, Brumbaugh was quick to provide assurance for those hesitant regarding their fitness to finish either the 50-mile or 30-mile group rides.

“We had people who were really out of shape and in great shape last year,” Brumbaugh said, adding that after the climb, the peloton plans on regrouping.

“It wasn’t a hammer fest. We all rode together and there was a wide range of skill sets and fitness levels and I think everybody left having a great time.”

Participants should plan on 3,000 feet of climbing and bring 38 mm or larger tires for the May 6 event, which focuses on the Red Hill Road and Gypsum Creek Road climbs. While it’s free to attend, an RSVP is necessary to reserve a spot and will ensure riders leave with some schwag in addition to post-workout endorphins. Last year, a Wahoo bike computer, six sets of tires, a helmet and sunglasses were given away and everyone left with a water bottle. At the second, Pinarello-sponsored recon ride on June 10, the bike-brand will bring some of its own riders and prizes as well as the final 20 miles of the course are previewed, including a couple miles of single track on the Luv Connector trail.

Big names, small changes

Mike Brumbaugh (left) and Jake Wells (right) prepare to lead out the inaugural Bighorn Gravel last year.
Leya Nicolait/Courtesy photo

For the most part, the 2023 rendition of Bighorn Gravel will look and feel a lot like 2022. A Saturday expo and packet pick-up is followed by three races on Sunday — Ram’s Horn Escape (85-miles with 10,500 feet of climbing), Little Bighorn (50-miles) and Gravel Curious (20-plus miles) —  where a $10,000 prize purse is up for grabs for the top three finishers in the men’s and women’s open class and prize packages can be claimed by the top male and female single-speed riders and tandem team. There’s 100 free spots up for reservation in the slick and easy on-site van camping, with Dave and Matt Vans serving as the official van partner.

Brumbaugh and fellow co-founder Jake Wells were receptive to feedback from year one, though, and have made some subtle changes.

“We tried to learn from things we could improve upon,” Brumbaugh said. “The biggest area of improvement I think from last year was in respect to food.” More food trucks and coffee options will greet riders at the beginning and end of the event and Brumbaugh said he’s still working on locking in a few other yet-to-be-announced expo plans.

One subtle course amendment was also made to provide mid-race relief after the picturesque — but long — climb up Gypsum Creek Road. This year, both long and short courses will descend from aid station one on 2.5-miles of single track through Mayflower Gulch, eliminating the long-course’s bone-jarring descent down the Powerline trail. From there, the short course, will cruise down Sylvan Lake Road and finish on last year’s route, while the long course will turn right. After riding a 3-4% uphill climb past the state park, the trail connects to where Powerline originally dumped riders off. From there, the rest of the course is uniform to last year. What won’t be identical to 2022, however, is who will be riding it — at least from the front.

“You’re going to be blown away with the number of top-end pros that are coming up for Bighorn,” Brumbaugh teased before revealing a few names inarguably associated with anyone’s whose-who list of off-road superstars. While the directors are understandably allowing athletes to make those announcements for themselves, suffice it to say the Vail Daily’s upcoming elite preview will have a Pro Football Focus feel once those race plans have become official.

“We’re going to have some very legit athletes, and we’re kind of blown away with the inquiries we’ve gotten from the people who want to come and join us,” Brumbaugh continued. “What we’re hearing is this is also one of the best training races for Leadville because you get the altitude.”

The excitement from the elite field promises not to detract from the event’s foundational mission.

“Inclusivity is the big buzz word right now,” Brumbaugh aptly stated before explaining that in this event’s context, that word is most about celebrating riders of all abilities. “Inclusion has to do with, if you’re a human being, we want you out riding a bike and having a good time.”

“Yeah, we’re psyched to have some really top notch pros show up, but what we’re really psyched about is every rider comparing themselves with the man in the mirror,” he continued.

“And I think that’s what the bike does. It levels the playing field, and it says, ‘hey I’m just out here doing the best I can. I leave it on the course today and if I did, I can be proud of that.’ That’s certainly what we want to do with Bighorn.” 

Athletes on a tandem bike compete in the 2022 Bighorn Gravel race.
Linda Guerrette/Courtesy photo

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