Gravel 101 with the women's Voler Factory Gravel Team
March is Women's Month and there's a new gravel team made up of 3 women you'll want to follow this season. Meet the Voler Factory Gravel team.
We chatted with Victoria Rainbolt, the team’s director and racer to learn more about the trending gravel scene and get a few pointers on what to expect and buy if you’re thinking about jumping into the gravel grind.
Zealios: We’re so excited to meet the new team! The Voler Factory Gravel team is part of the also men’s Voler Factory Racing team, but this is the women’s first year. How’s the start of 2020 going?
Victoria Rainbolt: The team is off to a great start for 2020. We had an awesome team camp, our kits are absolutely incredible (we’re kind of obsessed :D), and the race line-up is one that we couldn’t be more stoked about.
Z: How did the annual team camp go?
VR: Team camp was a blast! It was actually the first time all three women from the gravel team met in person. We had all been talking on a regular basis for months prior, but there is something so special about finally being with each other in person. And the location could not have been better. We held camp in the Bay Area, just a few miles away from Mt Tam. You can’t really beat being nestled in the Redwoods.
We had sponsors join us for camp too, and one of the highlights was a series of talks about hydration and nutrition by Tim Fleming, who runs Endurance Performance Training Center in Mill Valley, CA. Endurance is a best-in-class, science-based performance studio that looks at things like VO2 max, lactate threshold, and other quantifiable performance indicators to make unique-to-you recommendations about fueling, hydration/electrolytes, and training to take your racing to the next level.
Z: We were bummed to miss the camp. We’ll have to get down there next year!
Gravel riding seems to be the new up and coming bike sport. Why do you think gravel has seen so much attention and growth recently?
VR: Oh geesh, so many reasons. I’ve thought a lot about this. A big one is that it offers a whole new experience.
As someone who used to do road races and crits, a lot of times those events can feel like a “hit and quit” experience. You get to the race, kit up, race, maybe take a podium picture or two, and leave.
In gravel, you’ve got a lot more happening. It depends on the event, but chances are there is something else besides the actual riding. It could be waffles and beer at the end of the ride (Belgian Waffle Ride), avocado toast at some aid station 50 miles into your ride in literally the middle of nowhere (Panoche Gravel Grinder), or vendors set up the day before the event with people just as eager to talk about the sport as you are (Dirty Kanza).
Victoria taking a couch break at the Dirty Kanza event
Another aspect is that in road racing there’s really just one winner. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but in gravel you get a sense of accomplishment just for finishing the damn thing. It creates this positive feedback loop that keeps you coming back.
Last but not least, gravel is just fun. Road is fun too, and I still love it, but gravel is totally different. It’s an adventure every time you get on your bike. You can do the same trail or fire road three times and I guarantee each time it’ll bring something new. Gravel also takes you into beautiful, remote areas which is such a thrill.
Thinking about joining the gravel movement? Victoria shares a few pointers on what to expect and gear to grab before you jump in.
GREAT GRAVEL EXPECTATIONS - WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE
The biggest thing is being prepared and a lot of that comes down to your planning and equipment choices. With gravel, you really do need to be self-sufficient and willing to deal with the demands of so many different obstacles. For example, you might spend 12+ hours in 95F heat and should plan accordingly (I always bring a tube of Zealios zinc sunscreen in my handlebar bag). Equally, you might face hail, rain, and snow, and you should have what you need to withstand those conditions. You can get through pretty much most of the demands that gravel can throw at you, as long as you plan accordingly.
As far as self-sufficiency goes, remember that gravel can put you into remote situations. For example, if you have an issue on a trail in the middle of nowhere, you need to know how to take care of yourself. You might get lucky if another rider passes, but you can’t always bet on that.
GRAVEL EQUIPMENT - WHAT YOU NEED
As far as equipment goes, tubeless tires are worth it and bring along enough hydration and nutrition. You’ll probably want a hydration pack (I am a big fan of Orange Mud 2L Endurance pack). Make sure to also factor water stops into your route to make sure you always know when your next fill-up will be.
Depending on the nature of the events you’re drawn to, gravel has it all from randonneur-style (like Dirty Kanza XL, where you are responsible for you) to semi-supported (think: Dirty Kanza 100 and Dirty Kanza 200) to very supported (think: Belgian Waffle Ride). Whatever your preference, it’s probably worth investing in a frame bag or two to stash the essentials like extra sunscreen and chamois cream.
GRAVEL TOUGH - POST RIDE RECOVERY
Gravel riding is tough and after a long day of riding it’s important to recover so you’re ready to go again!
All of the ladies on the Voler Factory Gravel team have full-time jobs on top of a lot of training, so we have to be really proactive about recovery. After a ride, our go-to recovery nutrition is a scoop or two of Herbalife protein powder mixed with some milk, water, or even in a smoothie.
Michelle Hance on the team says, “During big training blocks for long gravel races, it’s important to recover well and I’m excited to have this product on my shelf to help me! Shower, stretch/foam roll, apply Race Relief, and be ready to do it all again!”
We also make sure we’re fueling appropriately pre, during, and post-ride (this is especially true for Larissa as she is currently breastfeeding her 5-month-old daughter!). That means eating well, bringing enough food on our rides, and re-fueling within a reasonable window after a ride.
Zealios: These are great tips. You’ve got us thinking we should join the #bikedirt arena.
What races are the teams headed to this year?
VR: We’ll be hitting all the big ones: Mid South, Nova Eroica CA, Belgian Waffle Ride, SLO Ride to Hell, Dirty Kanza, SBT, Leadboat, Rebecca’s Private Idaho, Mammoth Tuff, Mountain to Meadows, and Big Sugar.
Z: Those are the big ones! Is the team accepting new members?
VR: Recruitment for the women’s gravel squad is extremely competitive. The Voler Factory Team is a small group of men and women handpicked by our team manager, Philip Mooney, in conjunction with the team captains. If you’re a high-level cyclist who wants to race with us next season, don’t just send in a race resume. The only way to join is to meet and introduce yourself to the folks on the team.
You can follow the Voler Factory Gravel Team at @volerfactorygravel