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Gravel Racing Our Way

Words and Images by William Tracy

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The origins of the Gravel MOB are admittedly a bit selfish. Maybe we were a little fed up with the prospect of yet another road race, dizzyingly lapping a nondescript office park for nth time. Or maybe we just wanted an event right in our backyard where we could sleep in our own beds the night before. Either way, we just wanted to ride local gravel with great people. But just because this gravel grinder is close by does not mean we made it easy. Far from it.

Taking place in the Ojai Valley, about 15 miles inland from Ventura, California (between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara), the Gravel MOB features about 8,500 ft. of elevation gain over 60 miles, the majority of which takes place off road—including nearly every foot of elevation gain. And even though it takes place in mid-November and the day starts out cool enough, the Southern California sun very quickly makes its presence known; our GU aid stations were well-utilized throughout the day.

The core route remained intact this year, featuring the signature views from Sisar Canyon Road, culminating in a 5,000 ft. peak with mountains on one side and the Channel Islands a steep drop-off to the other—possibly the best photo-op of the year for Salsa’s famed chaise lounge. But a washed-out Howard Creek Trail meant a new descent from the ridgeline via the steep Rose Valley Lake Road, letting the mountain bike specialists show off their handling skills.

At the Mini MOB, Sulphur Mountain reprised its role in one of the most challenging yet rewarding shorter route options of any event. Everyone earned their post-ride tacos.

For us, this event represents what gravel riding is all about: weekend warriors and current and former pros—a handful of former U.S. national champions among them—all mingling together, some showing off their form, others taking a more leisurely pace to enjoy the expansive coastal views. Former cross country world champion Ned Overend chose the former, returning to show everyone how it’s done and earning the first sip of locally brewed Topa Topa beer at the finish.

Eventual winner Ned Overend (left) with defending winner Brandon Baker (center).

Multiple time national time trial champion Dave Zabriskie made an appearance, as did 1990 road champion Kurt Stockton and 2011 road champion Robin Farina. Even current World Tour pro Ian Boswell took a break from his off season to join in. Gravel racing royalty was out in force, too, including several Dirty Kanza 200 winners: Alison Tetrick, Amity Rockwell and Yuri Hauswald.

Ian Boswell (center, red and light Katusha-Alpecin kit) and Amity Rockwell (front, right) listen to the pre-ride talk.

But it’s more than just people who have gotten paid to ride their bikes that make the MOB great. Simply put, the event doesn’t happen unless people show up. And show up they did.  This year, we welcomed 300 cyclists across two rides, with the entire day selling out months in advance. And none of this would be possible without the continued support of our sponsors—Easton, Wahoo, Salsa, Panaracer, Pactimo, Pinarello, Floyd’s of Leadville, GU and GoPro—who help make this day exceed our wildest expectations year after year.