A Pirate Champion: Alison Tetrick on winning Gravel Worlds

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I am here to tell the tales of voyages in the endless and mysterious gravel roads meandering through corn Husker territory. The views are as expansive as the sea, and the treasures sought are just as valuable. The fact that I have a tale to tell you is a good sign. You know what they say about dead men (and I assume that applies to women) and tales …

The unofficial Gravel Worlds 2017 is complete and I lived to tell you about it. But so did a lot of other people, so I am not all that special. We all just have our own tales. You never know what can happen out in the middle of nowhere, and especially when you are left to your own support, treasure map and devices. We walked the plank together and came out stronger.

Gravel Worlds is an unofficial championship event promoted by the Pirate Cycling League of Lincoln, Nebraska. The race promoter’s name – I kid you not – is Shmitty, so you can’t get more legit than that.

This iconic race has been happening for many years and the exact course is unknown until mere hours before the race. When I wrote my preview of the event, I was in the dark about course details just as much as anyone else. This year’s edition was 244 kilometres (roughly 154 miles) and climbed about 2745 metres (9,000 feet). I heard that although the route changes, the rolling Nebraska countryside never changes.

| Related: Setting sail for Gravel Worlds 2017

After pre-event check-in, interviews and a few beers, it was time to prepare for the race. Our treasure maps and GPS were plotted for the course. The race began in the wee morning darkness at 6 a.m. Lights were required as we navigated the gravel roads into the rising sun. In moments like this, you learn to trust your mates to choose the right line. And this was only the beginning of an arduous expedition.

The entire ride is self-supported, and there were just two official checkpoints with the ability to refurbish valuable rations, like water. There were some other necessary amenities along the way like pickles and doughnuts, as well as oases from local merchants touting fares like BBQ and bars – race and eat and drink local.

All categories race together and the pace was fast from the beginning, and I focused on making each split. We had one hike-a-bike section over a closed road that didn’t apply to us. You know pirates don’t have rules, and closed roads are not pertinent to a pirate’s life, or a gravel grinder. We have permits for that.

The roads were undulating and merciless. Each roller was followed by a consecutive one and it was endless. Thirty-second to one-minute rollers as far as the eye could see. I found myself muttering that the beatings would continue until my morale improved. My morale didn’t improve and the hilly roads continued their beatings. The gravel was pea-sized and fine. Some sections felt like sand, and others felt like tarmac. We cruised through cornfields, and fields with corn, and … you get it. It wasn’t a mirage, but it was really beautiful.

I had my work cut out for me as I squared up against 2016 Gravel Worlds defending champion Kae Takeshita. This gravel phenom had to, unfortunately, sit out the Dirty Kanza 200 earlier this year due to a crash, but she was motivated to return to the battlefield in full force. After finally relinquishing my arms from the lead men’s group and riding solo, I was absorbed by her charging group at about 70 miles into the race. My morale was low, and I was wishing for an oasis of spiced rum, booty (whatever that means) and tropical vacation.

After several mutual searing attacks, Kai and I rode to the finish together. With whatever little bit of energy I had left, I barely sprinted past her to victory at the line, and we both lay in the grass after the grand finale knowing we had nothing left. Frankly, I just think we were happy to not be on our bikes anymore. We both had been through injuries and comebacks this year, and found our place on the gravel roads of Nebraska together.

Crossing that finish meant that I had earned the title of Gravel world champion, unofficial as it may be it still felt good. It wasn’t a belt buckle, but it is a jersey I will cherish. I can’t wait until I get to wear it on the group ride. Rainbow stripes, even with the pirate flag, are as valuable as gold.

Gravel racing brings out an incredible community of pirates and cowgirls alike. It is all-inclusive and fun, and I am happy to be aboard this ship setting off to the next destination of a little treasure and bountiful adventure. I spent the evening reliving the glory from the day with all of the finishers, as well as sharing my loot of IPA and bourbon. After being awarded the rainbow striped and skull and cross bones honour, all drank and were merry.

We began our escapade in the wee hours of the morning and finally finished in the wee hours of the night as we continued to support those venturing in to the X that marked the spot. Maybe a pirate’s life does have a lot to do with gravel races. It leaves you in the morning wondering why all the rum is gone, but then you realize it was bourbon the whole time.

You know what they say, work like a captain, but play like a pirate. See you on some gravel roads soon. Next up, Rebecca’s Private Idaho!

Alison Tetrick is an American professional cyclist currently riding for Cylance Pro Cycling. She won the gruelling Dirty Kanza 200 gravel race earlier this year.

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