A man in a van: Introducing the CyclingTips Endless Gravel Summer
In 2019, CyclingTips is taking to the gravel roads of America in a custom VanDoIt van, taking a deep look at the sport of gravel riding, grinding, racing. Behind the wheel will be Marshall Opel — let’s call him our chief gravel correspondent — who will provide updates from the road, plus as much pre-ride coffee and post-ride beer as CyclingTips fans can handle. We asked Marshall to pen an intro to the project.
When CyclingTips asked me if I was interested in spending seven months living out of a van chasing gravel cycling events around the United States, I thought about it for about four seconds, then I said, “Yes.”
Last week I picked up my rig from VanDoIt, an adventure van build-out company based in Blue Springs, Missouri, and drove it West to the Sea Otter Classic, my first stop on what we’re calling The Endless Gravel Summer. It’s a season-long project/journey to get a unique taste and feel for the burgeoning sport of gravel riding in America.
Of course, riding bikes on gravel roads isn’t new, but a widespread love for the genre is. It all changed a few years ago when gravel events started popping up like zits on a teenager. A combination of dwindling interest in traditional road racing, cyclists/car related accidents, and perhaps most notably, major equipment advances all made gravel the cool “new” thing. We love it, you love it, and so we wanted to get up close and personal with all things gravel.
Where will you see the CyclingTips Endless Summer Van?
Our gravel events calendar kicks off in California, a state well known for its fabulous road riding, at the Sea Otter Classic this week. It was here in California where events like the Belgium Waffle Ride and Grinduro helped put gravel riding on the map for a much wider audience. I’ll visit the well-known Grasshopper series in Northern California before heading to the Waffle Ride outside San Diego in early May.
The rig and I will slowly make our way East hitting events in Colorado before the granddaddy of them all, Dirty Kanza, in early June. I’ll loop back to Colorado via South Dakota for the Gold Rush Grinder then it’s on to the Moots Ranch Rally and Haute Route events before taking a short break in July for the Tour de France. I’ll pick things back up in August for some more Colorado events like the Steamboat Gravel Stage Race and Fort Collins Gravel Fondo before continuing East for the Overland Ride and Ride the Ridges.
That’s the plan, anyway. We’ll be keeping an eye out for up-and-coming events, stuff that hasn’t hit the national radar. If you think we should visit something, don’t hesitate to reach out. The van and I are on Instagram, and you can message us any time.
Who am I?
My name is Marshall Opel, I started out as a young road bike racer in Montana. Plenty of our races involved gravel roads and I remember swapping up to the big (in air quotes) 25mm tires for such occasions. I found a bit of racing success as a junior racer and went on to race in Europe for both the junior and U23 National team. In college, I spent summers leading bike tours in Europe and found major satisfaction sharing the sport. I also realized how much there was beyond racing.
My next “real” job in the bike industry had me on the road for 40 weeks in the first year. I pulled a trailer around the U.S. that housed an espresso machine and handed out coffees by the hundreds at cycling events. In other words, this isn’t my first rodeo.
Last summer, my friend (and Katusha pro) Ian Boswell and I recorded a daily podcast at the Tour de France called B-Fast w/ Boz. I was travelling solo in a borrowed car, sleeping in the woods, even on a park bench one night. As luck would have it, I met Caley Fretz, editor-in-chief of CyclingTips, when he came by for an interview with Ian. I jumped in with him for some of the Tour, and he must have seen that I don’t mind picking up and moving every day, that I love cycling, love meeting new people. So this project evolved from there.
Over the winter, the CyclingTips crew and I put together a season-long calendar of mixed surface rides spanning the country. A core group of brands was assembled to help support what we’re calling “The Endless Gravel Summer” — Niner, Mavic, iKOR Labs, VanDoIt, and Sportful. You can check out their stuff (I even have some demo gear) anywhere I park up.
This trip is a look at this ultra fast-growing segment of riding, from the inside. We’ll host rides and pro rider events, and we’ll always have a cooler full of beer and a thermos full of coffee, ready to share.
If you see the CyclingTips Endless Gravel Summer van at an event this season, please don’t hesitate to come by and say hi. I’ll have coffee brewing in the mornings and cold beers ready at the finish. Check out our schedule of events for the season. Drop me a line if you’re in the area and want to ride!
See you out there.
|Super Skaggs||April 27, 2019||Sonoma||CA|
|Belgian Waffle Ride||May 5, 2019||San Marcos||CA|
|Wildhorse Gravel||May 11, 2019||De Beque||CO|
|Epic Rides – GJ Offroad||May 17-19, 2019||Grand Junction||CO|
|Dirty Kanza||June 1, 2019||Lawrence||KS|
|Gold Rush Gravel Grinder||June 8, 2019||Spearfish||SD|
|Moots Ranch Rally||June 14-15, 2019||Steamboat Springs||CO|
|Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder (TBC)||June 19-23, 2019||Bend||OR|
|Takelma Gravel||June 29, 2019||Takilma||OR|
|Crusher In Tushar||July 13, 2019||Beaver||UT|
|FoCo Fondo||August 4, 2019||Fort Collins||CO|
|Secret Groad / Leadville 100||August 11, 2019||Boulder||CO|
|Steamboat SVT||August 17, 2019||Steamboat||CO|
|The Overland||August 25, 2019||Reading||VT|
|Ride the Ridges||September 7, 2019||Cabor||VT|
|Pisgah Monster Cross||September 14, 2019||Pisgah||NC|
|Stetina Prospect / Peacham Fall Fondo||September 21, 2019||Peacham||VT|
|Grinduro||September 29, 2019||Quincy||CA|
|Epic Rides – Oz Trails||October 11-13, 2019||Bentonville||AR|