First gravel cycling national championships coming to Western Nebraska

March 20, 2023, 4:47 p.m. ·

Nic Tapia / Robidoux Rendezvous

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USA Cycling will bring the first-ever gravel national championships to the panhandle this fall.

The 131-mile-long race will take place in the Gering-Scottsbluff area on Sep. 9, with cyclists traveling past state landmarks like Chimney Rock and Scotts Bluff.

Brenda Leisy, director of the Scotts Bluff Area Visitors Bureau, said she applied for the championships after a chance meeting with a USA sports representative, who recommended she reach out to cycling.

“This entire experience was because I was at the right place at the right time,” Leisy said. “Usually, I'm a day late and a dollar short, but, you know, it just worked out this time.”

Leisy said she received a proposal from USA Cycling in a matter of days. The organization’s director of national events, Tara McCarthy, became sold on the location after driving through the area herself.

“It's exactly what we want,” McCarthy said. “It has elevation change. It has all the different landmarks riders will get to experience. Cattle ranges. It's beautiful.”

McCarthy said up to 2,000 participants will arrive for the race, drawing cyclists nationwide to Nebraska.

“I think people, when they hear Nebraska, might not envision what Scottsbluff and Gering and landmark country is all about,” McCarthy said. “They are going to be blown away when they get there.”

McCarthy said gravel cycling itself has surged in participation in the last decade. Some cyclists see gravel cycling as a safer alternative because gravel roads usually have less vehicles on them. McCarthy said the gravel cycling community can also be more inclusive.

“It's less about the competition in some regard and more about the ‘I'm gonna finish this mileage,’” she said. “So, there’s almost like a marathon vibe to it.”

The competition includes a junior division with cyclists as young as 11, as well as an older division. McCarthy said some older cyclists compete into their 90s.

USA Cycling will split a $60,000 prize between the top five racers in the men’s and women’s divisions. The top three in each race will also qualify for the world championships in Italy this fall.