With timed segments, Stuckey’s Gravel Roll events seek to balance pro cycling with gravel’s adventurous roots.
In May 2022, more than 200 cyclists lined up for The Valley of the Giants, the first of three Stuckey’s Gravel Roll events planned this year. Participation had already nearly doubled from the event’s inaugural race in 2021.
The race involved 94 miles of riding through beautiful Georgia countryside and more than 10,000 feet of climbing. As the race started, event founder Rob Evans noticed an interesting pair of riders: a professional cyclist in full Lycra next to “a guy in shorts and a T-shirt with a city bike.”
“That juxtaposition sums up what we’re trying to create,” said Evans, who founded Cycling Quests to create and manage events like the Stuckey’s Gravel Roll.
With his lengthy background in competitive cycling and event management, Evans believes that cycling events could use more inclusivity.
Many non-professionals want to participate in races without feeling the pressure to compete against elites. With timed-segment races similar to enduro events, Evans said gravel racing has the potential to attract new riders to the sport.
“What we want to do is bring it back to friends getting to enjoy the experience without feeling like they’re holding each other back,” he said. “I think our format for events really gets us back to that.”
Gravel’s Past — And Future
Stuckey’s Gravel Roll will have two more events this year: the Pecan Shaker on Oct. 1 and the Bird Dog 100 on Nov. 5.
Like The Valley of the Giants, which took riders past the enormous tulip poplars and red oaks of Chattahoochee National Forest, the following two events are named “to create a sense of attachment,” Evans said.
Riders of the Pecan Shaker will experience the famous pecan orchards of Georgia (during harvest time). Evans named the Bird Dog 100 for Bird Dog County, famous for its hunting dogs (and the cemeteries devoted to their memory).
For Evans, planning the events for Stuckey’s Gravel Roll represents a culmination of years of experience with bike racing. He sees significant potential for gravel to bring new riders to cycling.
He said that road racing and mountain biking cultures often feel intimidating to newcomers. Similarly, the lack of cars on gravel roads makes people feel safer.
“I kept hearing this thing: ‘I’m doing a race.’ Even when it’s a supported cancer ride with friends looking at scenery,” Evans said. “That stuck with me for years. A lot of people want to feel a sense of accomplishment without being competitive.”
That understanding led Evans to the idea of timed-segment races, a longtime trend in enduro racing. For those unfamiliar, timed-segment racing means some portions of the race add to the overall time — and many do not.
It’s a contrast with the majority of gravel races, which simply time the entire distance. By adding untimed segments, the race creates more opportunities for riders of different skill levels to interact with each other and the environment.
“I purposely put fun scenery like natural springs or creeks in between the timed segments,” Evans said. “Nothing makes me happier than seeing people do the things I told them they could do. It’s exactly what I wanted.”
For Evans, gravel racing allows riders to reconnect with the carefree spirit that brought so many to cycling in the first place. He recalled stumbling into gravel riding at just 14 years old. He asked his granddad about a nearby road and was warned against riding it. Being a teenager, he did it anyway.
“I remember thinking, ‘I’m here — I might as well keep going,'” he said. “It was a sense of exploration that started the gravel movement and got you off paved roads. Even for pros, sometimes you have to let your hair down.”