“Gravel grinders” are a hard-to-define but growing category of bike race in which riders pedal mountain or cyclorcross bikes on fire roads or double track (or some combination of the two) over long distances.
There are many Gravel Grinders around the country. In the Mid-Atlantic, Iron Cross in Pennsylvania and Southern Cross in Georgia have gained a level of cache among hardcore racers, but neither of those, nor any other race in the region, can match the attendance figures of Richmond’s upstart Monster Cross.
Started by local race promoter Mark Junkermann three years ago, registration for this year’s Monster Cross (at Pocahontas State Park on Sunday, February 24) is already well ahead of last year’s. The 2013 event drew about 600 riders from nine different states. Junkermann said, if trends hold, this year he could have 700 sign up for the 50-mile sufferfest. Over the 50 miles, the course gains and loses between 2,500 and 3,000 of elevation. It’s hillier than you might think, but it’s no mountain beast.
“It partly depends on what the weather is like between now and then,” he said, explaining that if it’s a mild winter, people tend to ride more and feel like they’re in race shape by late February.
As for the popularity of Monster Cross, Junkermann said, “I don’t know a bigger one anywhere.”
He attributed that to “luck.” Part of it is the calendar. Another part is location. “Northern people are just itching to get on their bikes out of the snow,” he said.
This year for the first time, there’ll be a beer garden, provided by Center of the Universe Brewing, and on the Saturday before Monster Cross, Junkermann has added to trail runs a 5K and a 15K race. Click here for registration info.
And if you’re wondering about that video above, that was from last year’s Monster Cross. You never know who you’ll run into out in the Pocahontas woods.