Pro Tips: How Emily Newsom and Others Plan to Tackle Big Sugar Gravel


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For many runners, Saturday’s Big Sugar Gravel event will mark the end of the 2021 racing season.

The Big Sugar joins Life Time’s off-road event roster for the first time this year, though it was slated to debut in 2020. Located in Bentonville, Arkansas, the event joins a host of other programs as well. focused on cycling in the self-declared “mountain biking capital of the world”. It’s no secret that Northwest Arkansas’ gravel riding is top notch as well.

While the Big Sugar 100-Mile Race Start List features familiar and notable names, lining up for a gravel race in late October calls for a different energy reserve and then a mid-July race. . Additionally, the Big Sugar Course (as well as the 50 mile Lil Sugar Road) does not have the same features as the polished “champagne gravel” of Steamboat Springs. Bike riding skills are required.

Here’s what some of the professional women in the race had to say about the highlights of the season, the gear choices and how they hope to win the race.

Professional pianist, mother and Tibco-SVB rider Emily Newsom is “fully in the off-season training mode.

“I expect me to be strong but not as sharp as coming straight from the race,” Newsom said.

With a victory at the end of last spring at Gravel Locos, Newsom has spent a good part of the summer racing on the road in Europe. She won’t be the only one in Tibco-SVB gear in Bentonville this weekend; her teammates Emma Langley, Maddy Ward and Lauren Stephens will also be in the race (although Stephens goes for the 50 – “I’m in full off season mode so 100 miles seemed miserable,” said the national champion).

Newsom admits she’s coming to Bentonville “itchy for the highest walk, ”and she plans to use the mass starter format to her advantage.

“When it’s a mixed start, it’s always the most strategically beneficial to stay with the front-runners as long as possible,” she said. “Good positioning and handling of the bike will also be crucial given the difficult terrain. This background will favor a solid all-rounder with solid bike handling skills and a good dose of luck.

Moriah Wilson is just one of a few riders who run Big Sugar as a double program with the Epic Rides off-road mountain bike race last weekend. There, she narrowly missed the fifth step of the podium. However, at the Leadville Trail 100, she almost made it to the top with a huge second place finish.

Wilson hopes his fitness on mountain biking on short, punchy climbs will help him through the day. The Californian also thinks that the choice of material will be critical.

“I think there could be a bit of carnage in terms of punctures, so good luck and the right setup could play a big role in how things play out,” she said. “I will be racing my new Specialized Crux with SRAM XPLR, 11-44 with a 40 tooth chainring. I’ll probably use 42mm Pathfinders front and rear, but I could put a sturdier tire up front if it rains before the race.

Gravel privateer Hannah Shell is also preparing her bike for the weather. The Colorado rider selected a 45mm Pirelli Cinturato tire for bite at the front and a 40c at the rear for better mud clearance.

Shell comes to Big Sugar after a podium at the ‘Rad, the other new Life Time event that debuted in Trinidad, Colorado three weeks ago. While this is Shell’s first trip to Bentonville, it is not its first Life Time rodeo.

“This event will be my fourth Life Time gravel race this year,” she said. “I stood on the podium at The ‘Rad and can’t wait to try for the win here. If this is anything like the other gravel races I have competed in, I’m sure it will be difficult from the start, and the technical characteristics of the course will limit the choice.


Wiley C. Thompson

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