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Ep. 152 – The Big Peach Ride + Run Podcast Big Sugar Gravel Race Recap

The Big Peach Ride + Run Podcast is hosted by Big Peach Running Co. Director of Marketing, Dave “D2” Martinez. The racing fun continues with “D2’s” longest race of the year, Big Sugar Gravel! This is the final event of the Lifetime Grand Prix Series, and it features a lot of professional cyclists and amateur athletes.

Hey Friends!

My weeklong trip to Bentonville, AR, continued after the Little Sugar Mountain Bike Race. One of the benefits of my job is the ability to work remotely, which I did the following day after the race. I found a coffee shop at a unique building called The Ledger, an office/workspace with an outdoor ramp to run or ride your bike to the top floor. There was a Specialized Bikes experience center on the ground floor with bike mechanics and a very cool-looking setup. Monday was a recovery day from the bike, but I walked a bit, as Bentonville is very pedestrian and cycling-friendly.

Tuesday was a day of exploring on the bike. I checked out several local off-road trails that intersect with the greenway, blocks from the center of town. I stumbled upon a path that took me to the Crystal Bridges Museum. While the actual museum was closed on Tuesday, the grounds were open to cyclists and pedestrians. I already had scheduled to visit on Wednesday so I could tour the grounds and check out the many sculptures on the 35-acre property. By the way, the museum is free to the public once again, thanks to the Walton family. I always feel like I need to visit and learn something about the places that I visit, even if I’m there for a race. Help balance things out.

Crystal Bridges Museum

Wednesday started out with an easy 6-mile run. Since my marathon was coming up, I needed to remind my legs how to run. It’s all part of tapering, but I had to be careful not to overdo it, especially with a couple of bike races thrown in. I spent much of the afternoon at the Crystal Bridges Museum, specifically at the Frank Lloyd Wright house. I have always been a fan of his work, and during high school and college, I was interested in going into architecture as a profession. With shakeout rides on Thursday and Friday, I also had to check my bike and make sure it was ready.

Thursday was the first gravel shakeout ride with pro Lachlan Morton, who’s ridden in a few Grand Tours, including the Vuelta de Espana and the Giro d’Italia. I managed to ride alongside him for a few seconds and exchange a few words, which was very cool. If you’re not into cycling, think of it like tossing a football around with a quarterback from the NFL. The ride had over 100 riders and eventually was broken up into two or more groups. The pace was fast, faster than what I had anticipated, especially for 30 miles. I couldn’t go into Saturday’s ride feeling already cooked.

Friday was the other shakeout ride, which was a lot bigger than the previous days. There were several rides happening and leaving from the town square. Considering the Big Sugar Gravel expo was also in the town square, it was full of cyclists and a lot of energy. Our group had about 300 riders; at the front, we had Keegan Swenson and Alexy Vermeulen, two of the Grand Prix Series points leaders. I made sure to dial it back a bit and ended up in the 3rd group but was able to regroup at the halfway point of this 15-mile ride. On the way back about 2-3 miles from the finish I ended up riding with another cyclist and struck up a conversation and found out he was Griffin Easter, also a professional cyclist competing in the Lifetime Grand Prix Series.

Post-ride, there was an athlete meet and greet where we got autographed trading cards and a chance to speak to the pros. All of them were very nice. While I’m not one to get star-struck, I also have difficulty talking to professional athletes as I’m not a die-hard fan or completely familiar with their professional resumes. I spent the rest of the afternoon checking out the expo, getting some free swag, and learning about new bike brands and products before returning to wash the bike and prep for my big race.

Saturday morning came quickly with a 5 am alarm. Breakfast was oatmeal and coffee. I was fueling with Tailwind in a hydration pack and had two bottles of water with extra Tailwind for aid stations. I also had some Skratch Chews and Untapped Waffles. I always crave something solid on these long days. We would have great weather with morning temps in the low 50s and highs in the 70s. I decided to wear a short-sleeved jersey and deal with the chilly morning temps rather than carry an extra piece of clothing for eight or more hours. While I had no real expectation of my finish time without knowing exactly what the course was like, based on my training rides, I expected over 8-9 hours, including any stops.

The course has chunky gravel sections, and while the climbs are not steep, they are long, which also means some fast descents on loose and sketchy gravel roads. I saw at least one person crash ahead of me on a downhill, and there was one bumpy downhill section with water bottles spread across the road that had been shaken loose. I’ve heard the course described as “death by a thousand cuts,” and I agree that there are many areas to cut, puncture a tire, or even break a bike part. I lucked out and survived unscathed. There are two fully stocked aid stations and two water-only stations, although one of those did have bacon and whiskey. One of the fully stocked aid stations (mile 74) was at a brewery where you could grab a beer and hot dog. As my legs were starting to cramp up a bit, I passed on any alcohol.

Overall, I had a great race, and I’m proud of my effort, finishing in eight hours and forty-nine minutes. Lifetime puts on a great event, and Big Sugar Gravel is by far one of the best ones in the Grand Prix Series. The day finished with a “Rave” party. I’m unsure how anyone had the energy to dance, but I did not. LOL! If you’re into gravel, this is a race you must do. I’d love to go back and do it again, but the 12-hour drive from Atlanta is a drawback. Listen to the podcast for full details on my race. Bentonville, you did not disappoint. I can’t wait to visit again!