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Big Sugar Spices Up: Pro Riders, Families Flock to Bentonville’s Gravel Spectacular

big sugar 2021Cyclists compete in Big Sugar Gravel 2021; (photo/Life Time Events)
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This Arkansas gravel competition offers 100-mile and 50-mile courses, each traversing some of the state’s most beautiful landscapes.

When cyclists talk about Arkansas gravel racing, two themes quickly emerge: it’s fun and challenging.

“It was really, really, really hard,” said Adam Roberge last year after winning first place for men. “It was a hard day, an amazing course, and nothing more — just a lot of fun.”

The Big Sugar Gravel race returns on Oct. 22 this year, with more than 140 professional cyclists competing. Based in Bentonville, Ark., the course offers elevation gain, loose gravel, and the camaraderie that attracts novices and professionals to gravel riding.

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Riders cross one of Arkansas’ many rivers in the Big Sugar Gravel course; (photo/Life Time Events)

Fitness company Life Time sponsors the event and other cycling races like the Leadville 100 and Unbound Gravel. That’s likely because gravel riding has quickly become one of cycling’s fastest-growing segments. As a result, the events continue to grow — despite the temporary setbacks caused by the pandemic.

Big Sugar has also given a much-needed economic boost to Bentonville.

“Bentonville has been a big, big supporter,” said Kimo Seymour, the president of events for Life Time. “The whole town has just welcomed us with open arms.”

Options for Pros, Rookies at Big Sugar Gravel

Gravel events continue to attract all kinds of riders, from elite-level cyclists to casual newcomers.

Cycling News reported that many U.S.-based gravel riders decided to skip the Gravel World Championships in Italy to prepare instead for Big Sugar.

But it also brings in casual riders like YouTuber KevDoes. In 2021, he called Big Sugar Gravel the “race that tried to break me” in a video that mostly shows the stellar course — and the new friends he made along the way.

“Out of all of the races I can remember this year, this is the race that felt like it was an actual gravel race,” he says in the video. “No massive mud pits, boulders, sand pits — just true gravel with a good amount of climbing!”

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Cyclists crossing the finish line during Big Sugar Gravel 2021; (photo/Life Time Events)

Riders can choose from two courses in Bentonville. There’s the 100-mile Big Sugar, which treks through the “remote and rugged highlands of the Ozark Mountains,” and the 50-mile Lil Sugar, a highland course designed for “recreational cyclists.”

Registration for the event is now closed. However, the weekend of the race (Oct. 21-22) offers other activities for spectators, including an Expo, Farmers Market, and a social ride with cyclist activist Marley Blonsky.

There’s also, of course, the after-party at a local brewery. If you’re close enough to drive to Arkansas, there will be plenty of fun that weekend — on and off the bicycle.

Lauren DeCrescenzo wins the 2021 UNBOUND Gravel

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