This weekend will see something like a gravel rally in Vermont, as nearly 1,000 runners compete in Rooted Vermont, the event set up and run by Laura and Ted King.
Ted is a former road racer who rode for Cannondale before deciding to hang up his WorldTour wheels in 2016, while Laura, herself a talented athlete, has held leading roles in several brands in the gasoline industry. air. They met in California a few years ago, but when they decided to move east, they found themselves with no excuse to ignore suggestions that they should start their own gravel event.
Rooted Vermont began in 2019 but, like most events, was brought to a halt by last year’s pandemic. This weekend is back, and we caught up with Ted and Laura to learn more about what’s in store for us, how and why they’re doing it, and why a mule is the perfect metaphor for the whole event.
Cycling news: Hi guys, can you tell us about Rooted Vermont and how it came about?
Ted King: We started in 2019 and had a successful first year, with almost 600 people, which was full. We came back from Covid and weren’t running it last year, but we’re back now with a sale of 900. It’s a three-day event, a three-day party, which starts on Friday night and then the Saturday we have an exhibition day with all our sponsors, shake-out outings and pro panels, including a women-specific forum. Then Sunday is race day.
The most important genesis isâ¦ given our history in the sport and the burgeoning aspect of gravel, we had a lot of friends who were like âhey, when are you going to create an event? It was flattering, but it wasn’t until we moved from California to the East Coast a few years ago that it made sense to us. Finding that community and really feeling (pun intended) rooted here was something that I felt was right.
CN: You have 900 runners but how many could you have had if you could give each one a place?
Laura King: Well because of last year we postponed everyone’s registration, then on top of that we were able to open a lottery for 250 more places, and we had 1000 entries. We’ve almost doubled from 2019 and we’ll see how we can achieve that. We are careful not to lose our community spirit, and we are limited by our small town anyway, but as long as we can continue to provide a great experience, we will see what growth is possible.
CN: What is the women’s forum and where did this idea come from?
LC: This stems from our recent women’s clinic, where we have taken in over 100 women to equip them with the skills and mindset to develop their gravel riding. On Saturday’s show day, we have a keynote speaker who is the Commercial Director of Burton Snowboards and one of the senior cycling executives at Giant. Then we’ll have âgenius hoursâ groups, which are discussions led by some executives, including Lauren Stephens, who won Unbound this year.
We have all these women who have so much to offer, but we also wanted it in a format where you get to know other women and not just sit there in an audience. Women are looking for more places to connect and we believe we can play a role there.
CN: How many women signed up and, in proportion, how does that compare to other events?
LC: We are 33 percent women. Typical female participation is around 20 percent, on the generous side. We worked hard on it. I am leading the race alongside my friend Kristen Motley and it is an ambition for us to have an even starting line. In fact, we hope to make an announcement that we will be 50-50 soon.
CN: Where are you trying to position Rooted Vermont on the gravel spectrum, in terms of fast running or slow group racing?
LC: I would say we’re right in the middle. We coined the term âmule protocolâ which means we are as busy with business up front as we are with partying in the back. We have a very competitive field but we are also waiting and celebrating the very last finisher, and we put as much energy into our after-party as we do in the race.
CN: What is the route and the driving?
traditional knowledge: We have two routes, both named after local beers – a 48 mile called Little Sip and an 82 mile called Sip of Sunshine. It’s almost like an arms race in the gravel to make the events longer and longer and longer and longer, but we got a lot of praise for having attainable distances. There is so much gravel in Vermont – probably more than paved roads. Most of them are in very good condition and are used daily by cars, but we also have âclass 4â which is the categorization of unmaintained roads, which are really historic and very degraded roads. This is where much of the separation will take place. Oh, and it’s hilly. There isn’t a big prolonged climb, but it’s just non-stop ups and downs.
CN: What bike setup does this require?
traditional knowledge: The vast majority is on that fast gravel so if you were a really skillful racer you might just get by on a road bike with super wide tires – 34 slicks might be okay. Most people, myself included, would probably choose a gravel bike with 35-40 tires. It’s a mix of slicks and crampons, but it comes down to your skills on the bike. Otherwise a fairly wide range of speeds as the hills are relatively short and steep.
CN: Big names to watch in the field?
traditional knowledge: Ian Boswell is a big one. He recently won Unbound. Adam Roberge is road pro turned gravel pro, Mat Stephens is another former Unbound winner.
LC: I would say the women’s field is even more competitive. We have Lauren Stephens, her teammate on TIBCO, Emma Langley, Moriah Wilson, who finished third at BWR, Jess Cerraâ¦ loads.
CN: Is there a handbag, or something a little more original?
traditional knowledge: I’m a firm believer in having fun and unique prizes that make more sense than a check, so we worked with a craftsman carpenter here in Vermont and he created these beautiful wooden hatchet.
LC: They are magnificent. We also have bottles of maple syrup from our city. We really stick to the Vermont theme for the prices.
CN: Where does the event take place in your life and your career? Is it a labor of love for you guys or a more complete business venture, or somewhere in the middle?
LC: It’s 50 percent of my full-time job, so if it was just a labor of love, it probably wouldn’t be worth my time and energy. I come from a sales and marketing background in the cycling and outdoor industries and we have always said if we wanted to do it, we would do it the right way. I work there all year round and try to make it as professional as possible. We care about our community and are very connected to the community but at the end of the day we spend a lot of time on it and want to make it a profitable business.
CN: We spoke with Ted last year for an article on the future of gravel. How has the gravel changed since then, and has it had the chance to do so? How has the pandemic affected the scene and are we any closer to knowing what gravel is?
traditional knowledge: This is always the big question. 2020 was the year that wasn’t, and back in 2021, Unbound really got the ball rolling. It was apparently as competitive as ever. From the front end of the race it was breathtaking, it was tough, it was tactical. Belgian Waffle Ride was no different. Competition will increase, but this is only a small fraction of the people who participate in gravel events. I think we are still at the start of the gravel curve. Since the pandemic, so many people have bought bikes that did not ride before, and now they are hearing about this aspect of cycling. This is why we adopt this mullet protocol. It is human nature to be competitive so that this aspect takes care of itself while being welcoming, hospitable, community orientedâ¦ I think these are the things that will help certain events live long into the future.