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Mar 21, 2023

This week we sit down with yet another friend of the pod, Michelle Duffy from Life Time. We catch up on the upcoming kickoff for the 2023 Life Time Grand Prix and some of the changes in store for athletes and fans.

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Automated Transcription, please excuse the typos:

[00:00:00] Craig Dalton: Hello, and welcome to the gravel ride podcast, where we go deep on the sport of gravel cycling through in-depth interviews with product designers, event organizers and athletes. Who are pioneering the sport

I'm your host, Craig Dalton, a lifelong cyclist who discovered gravel cycling back in 2016 and made all the mistakes you don't need to make. I approach each episode as a beginner down, unlock all the knowledge you need to become a great gravel cyclist.

This week on the show, I'm excited to welcome back Michelle Duffy from lifetime to talk about the lifetime grand Prix for 2023. I know this show. Isn't all about racing, but I'm a fan of the sport. I love riding. I love participating in my own way at the back of the pack. But also like following the front of the pack. And I found that the lifetime grand Prix added a lot of fun

to my 2022 fandom. As I was able to follow the battles throughout the year. And even after the season, I was able to relive some of those moments through a YouTube series that lifetime published about the grand Prix that allowed us to get behind the scenes with some of the athletes and see some of the personalities and some of the action and drama we might not have seen.

As a casual fan, the lifetime grand Prix is back for 2023. They've made some tweaks to the number of events you can now drop to events. So I wanted to have Michelle back at the beginning of the season to just talk about some of those changes. To reflect on the action from 2022 and just generally catch up. Michelle puts a lot of energy into the gravel cycling community, and I'm always happy to highlight those efforts.

Before we jump in, I do need to thank this week. Sponsor athletic greens.

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With that said let's dive right into my conversation with Michelle Duffy.

[00:03:23] Craig Dalton: Hey Michelle, welcome back to the show.

[00:03:25] Michelle Duffy: Thank you for having me back.

[00:03:27] Craig Dalton: It's good to see you. I was looking back in my notes and it looks like it was just, just a little less than a year ago. We sat down at Sea Otter, which was the first event of the inaugural lifetime Grand Prix.

[00:03:40] Michelle Duffy: Yes. It's crazy to think it's almost the otter time again.

[00:03:44] Craig Dalton: I know I've been getting the emails and I'm like, gosh, I gotta get my stuff together, and it's exciting to have it kick off.

[00:03:51] Michelle Duffy: Oh yeah. It's like the kickoff of everyone's cycling year. I feel like.

[00:03:56] Craig Dalton: And such a big one at that with all the, the expo activity and the so many different forms of racing going on, it literally does cover like every discipline of cycling. I feel like.

[00:04:07] Michelle Duffy: I, yeah, that's what's so special, like from the industry perspective, mountain biking, road gravelly, everyone's together. Um, so I'm really looking forward to getting back to Monterey.

[00:04:17] Craig Dalton: Yeah, for sure. I thought it would be a good opportunity to just sit down with you again and reflect back on that inaugural season of the Lifetime Grand Prix. Such a interesting series to kind of infuse into the gravel world, and I'm sure you learned a lot along the way. I just wanted to sort of get your basic reflections of the season.

Maybe some of the key moments that you'd highlight.

[00:04:42] Michelle Duffy: Yeah, definitely. And I'm, I'm excited that sometime has passed too. We, we definitely reflected immediately after and during. Um, but now that sometimes passed and we're heading into the new year, it feels. There's been more time to sit back and think about, you know, both constructively, what we would've changed, but also celebrate our wins, which is often hard at times, um, because you're always looking for ways to be better.

But, uh, enough times pass that. I think we have a clearer vision of what went right and wrong and

[00:05:15] Craig Dalton: Yeah. Yeah, and I know, I know from hearing from some of the athletes that you guys were collecting feedback along the way, which was great as well. I know you went into this whole process really talking to athletes, getting a lot of feedback. It was difficult to make a series that was gonna make everybody happy, whether it was the events or the points or what have you.

But it seems like in evidence from talking to athletes, you guys really went out there and just asked questions and got feedback along the way, which is great.

[00:05:49] Michelle Duffy: Yeah. I think in the ideation phase it was easier for us to speak to those athletes that are, you know, in our networks, right? Like, Preexisting relationships. Um, but that doesn't necessarily cover all of the participants that were in the Lifetime Grand Prix. So it was important for us at just over the halfway point, we collected feedback and then, um, at the end of the season, both face to face and through email and phone call, have had many a conversation with athletes and brands and, um, just trying to understand needs.

But at the end of the day, we have. I mean, 75 to 80% of last year's field is back with us this year. So while there were definitely areas for us to, to work through, I also feel like that that's a win. Right. Um, having so many of our inaugural class back.

[00:06:42] Craig Dalton: just to set the stage a little bit, so last year's series was 30 men and 30 women. in the series. The series was, and correct me if I'm wrong here, six events with the option to drop one score.

[00:06:57] Michelle Duffy: That's right. Yes.

[00:06:59] Craig Dalton: Okay. So looking back at 2022, what were some of the biggest surprises that you found throughout the year?

[00:07:07] Michelle Duffy: Um, I think some of the, the major surprises were just the nuances that go into building a series like this. Um, , you know, these events were preexisting for us. So in terms of operationally executing the series, um, that, that comes second nature to the team. But all of the other nuance that comes with building a series, especially one that kind of grew to be, I mean, I don't wanna use, you know, too premium of a word choice here, but, that did become kind of this revered thing in, in North America in just a year.

Um, there were many a time where we had internal conversations and we're like, okay, what are we building? Like, what can, what can the lifetime Grand Prix be if we, um, focus and invest in this properly? And not just financially invest, but. , you know, that gathering the insights, investing the resources and time, um, to really lay the groundwork to build something that can be huge for American cycling five, seven years down the road.

And I think that was the biggest surprise, just like how much it took off and continued. Uh, think we're still seeing like new. New, um, comers to the series through some of the content that we've created and like the momentum there. Um, but then also just the, the nuance that became a, a bit intimidating at times.

[00:08:44] Craig Dalton: when, when you think about sort of the goals you set out for, uh, for the Grand Prix last year. Were you guys successful in achieving them and what were they? Are you looking to kind of, I know you're looking obviously to foster the growth of off-road cycling in the United States. You're presumably also looking to continue to grow the, the Lifetime brand and those specific lifetime events.

Has it had that type of net effect?

[00:09:11] Michelle Duffy: I think so. Well, no, I, I, I do believe, yes, it has, um, our primary goal with the Lifetime Grand Prix is to create fans. I, I mean, most simply put the word we use internally as fandom, but to regenerate the interest from not. Professional cycling enthusiasts, but people who ride a bike to care about what's going on at the, the front of the pack.

And like, why, you know, why does, why should the journey person care? Um, I think it creating fans creates more professionalism around a sport. And, you know, more professionalism inspires youth to wanna ride a bike, be like x to be like Keegan Swenson or Hailey Smith. And. . If we can create that, if we can create more fans of the sport from a particip participatory perspective and then also inspire more youth to want to stay on a bike, then we're inadvertently fostering the growth of the sport of cycling from a mass participation perspective as well.

Um, and do I think we accomplished that? I think yes, but I think it's a long-term commitment to truly, uh, be able to make change. We did, and I think Keegan says this in the docu-series, like there is maybe in the last few minutes of the big sugar episode, people came up to him who previously didn't know who he was, and they.

he inspired them to get on a bike or they became a fan of him through the Lifetime Grand Prix. And that's, that's what we're trying to create, um, this like symbiotic relationship between math participant and elite athlete coming together in one place, a shared goal. Um, and then with the Doerries, which I'm sure.

Get into at some point. But we did create this six episode docu-series that lives on YouTube. By YouTube because there's no barrier of entry because to create fans, you need to eliminate barriers. Um, that audience has, has grown. We're up and over 350,000 views across the series right now. And, you know, we don't have 350,000 participants at our events.

Right? So they're coming from else.

[00:11:28] Craig Dalton: Yeah. That's amazing. I mean, I think going back for a minute, definitely the structure of the season allowed fans to. , like look forward to something. I think prior to the existence of this type of series, you might see someone do well at Unbound and then totally lose them for the rest of the year. So this was a really nice way as a fan to kind of just start to get familiar with the names and have something to look forward to for that next event in the series.

And definitely for me, like it did accumulate over the course of the year so that everything got more interesting. Post crusher in the tusher to figure out, well, who could possibly win this entire series, and, uh, particularly on the women's side. It was just really exciting throughout the entire year.

[00:12:18] Michelle Duffy: Um, yeah. And, and while Keegan rode away with it for a first, for the men's side, there was also a really tight, um, tight field there going on leading into big sugar. So both for the women's and men's, um, overalls there a lot was riding on that last event, which made it really interesting to follow through the whole.

[00:12:40] Craig Dalton: Yeah, and I think what was interesting with only one potential, um, event to drop at the onset, when I heard that, that seemed totally reasonable. But when you saw injuries and illness come into play and people being forced to drop races early in the season, it really did become, uh, pretty onerous for them to make sure that they did well at every remaining event.

[00:13:04] Michelle Duffy: Absolutely. And that, that did, um, come into play when leading into 2023 and some adjustments we've made.

[00:13:11] Craig Dalton: Yeah, and we can get into that. Since you did mention the, the Call of a Lifetime series, which was super well produced. I mean, just speaking from my own perspective, I very much enjoyed watching it, and I encourage everybody to do so on YouTube because you did get a glimpse at some of the interpersonal relationships of the riders, some of the.

Rivalries that exist out there, and just general insight into the personalities. I know originally at the beginning of last year, um, you were working with flow bikes. I'm trying to do some live coverage. Had the call of the Wild Series also been in the works for the entire year or was that something that happened in lieu of flow?

Not really being able to get into the action as you had hoped.

[00:13:54] Michelle Duffy: We were focused on both initiatives. So we contracted Shannon with cold collaborative, uh, prior to Sea Otter, and he was out there recording already. Um, actually, , that was our primary focus, and then later in the conversation flow came in and um, we were excited to be able to provide both opportunities. Um, obviously that didn't pan out all year, uh, but the cold collaborative and Call of a Lifetime series was always in the works.

[00:14:24] Craig Dalton: Got it. It must have been pretty challenging that for them to kind of figure out which athletes to focus on. Were they, were they filming across the board with numerous athletes and we only ended up to getting to see a couple storylines just given the amount of time they had for the episodes.

[00:14:40] Michelle Duffy: Um, I think this was a, a challenge and a learning, but can't, I mean, there's no way that we can really storyline across. 60, 70 athletes. So we'll take a, a slightly different approach this year into to mining those stories. But we pretty much got to meet everyone that spent time on camera. Um, the cold collaborative team, we, we trusted, we trust them and, um, put.

Them in a position where they had creative freedom because they are so amazing at what they do. And so they did mine a lot of the stories and really there's a lot of focus, of course, on the front of pac because it was a more consolidated story for us to be able to tell. Um, some adjustments we're looking for towards next year is like, uh, widening that net and ensuring that we're telling the stories of not just those in the top five with the preexisting platform, but you know, mirroring the.

Fully supported professional athlete with the young rider that's still in college because That's interesting for people too.

[00:15:48] Craig Dalton: Yeah, for sure. I mean, across all those athletes, I'm sure there's, last year there was 30 great female stories, 30 great male stories that could have been told,

[00:15:57] Michelle Duffy: Exactly.

[00:15:59] Craig Dalton: but that's awesome. And it sounds like that project is gonna continue through this year.

[00:16:04] Michelle Duffy: Yep, we're, we're finalizing exactly what our content plan looks like and hopefully we can go out with that soon. You know, we, something that was hard for us all years. We were investing all of this time, effort. Energy finances into producing Call of a Lifetime. But there was no product really to show for it until, you know, the end of end of 2022, beginning of 2023.

Um, but this year, now that we've set the, the groundwork, we'll be able to go out with what our, what our plans are. And we are working right now with Shannon on developing something really cool for

[00:16:39] Craig Dalton: Yeah, I think that's, there's an interesting opportunity there. Cause I had, I sort of totally forgot frankly, about like the possibility of a video series and then when you announced it earlier this year, I was super enthusiastic to watch it. But, I would've probably liked to have seen snippets from other athletes earlier in the year, even if it's just on social media, just to get to know them and again, increase my fandom of someone that I wasn't familiar with prior to the season.

[00:17:06] Michelle Duffy: Yep, exactly. And we, we partnered with Mazda and, and have a multi-year commitment with them to produce these athlete vignettes. So we did dig a little bit deeper into six of their stories, and those are available on YouTube as well. Um, shameless plug, but, uh, we'll be digging in and, and telling more stories.

This year, um, whether that's from the Grand Prix perspective or just the community that rallies around the Grand Prix, I think both of those are really interesting and, um, throughout the planning of the Grand Prix, it was important for us to outline like, who is our audience. And I always talk about it in this like reverse funnel where you have your bullseye, that's this person's an avid cyclist and they know who is winning the events.

And then it kind of, the net gets broader, um, from there. But it's important that the content that we're creating doesn't just speak to the preexisting cycling. , um, which I think the series does a really good job of being relatable, broader than that. But if you take that out, then it's like, okay, who, what about the person that rides a bike, but maybe they don't necessarily participate in events?

What inspires them to wanna participate in events? And then it's set further than that. It's like the outdoor recreator. I'm a backcountry skier, but I understand the content that you're producing. And now I'm inspired to get on a bike. And so like they're all kind of working. making someone a fan, but first they need to get on a bike.

And then when they get on a bike, they participate and then they get to meet the athlete. And, um, then they really care about what you're produc.

[00:18:37] Craig Dalton: Yeah, that's true. You know, it's interesting, I was talking to an athlete yesterday and I think one of the challenges, obviously like the, the marquee distance and the professional distance of these races is quite challenging. Regardless of whether it's an Unbound 200 or the climbing at Crusher and the Tusher, they can seem very intimidating, obviously, to the new athlete.

Yet almost all these events, probably all of 'em do have shorter distances, which are. To be more inviting for the recreational athlete to pin on their first number. And I think there's probably an opportunity for all of us in in interested in events to kind of continue to embrace and make sure that audience feels welcome and accomplished for finishing a 40 mile event.

They don't need to do a 200 mile event.

[00:19:23] Michelle Duffy: Exactly. Yeah. And that's the Grand Prix is so amazing and uh, we were already seeing more elites coming to the events and that kind of inspire the Grand Prix, right? It's like this is happening, people are making a living off of participating in these events and we can ignore the fact that it's happening or we can create something.

produces good for the mass participant as well, because at the end of the day, the, the paying customer or a mass participant like that is the ethos of the event. That's the person that's one supporting the events in the business that we're creating. They're supporting the communities that they're visiting, and we, we can't get, we can't let the Grand Prix distract us from like what the actual heartbeat of the event is.

And that'll be important for us this year in storytelling as well as like, This is happening at the front of the event, and that's super special. And let's let you peek behind the curtain and understand that, you know, Sarah Stern felt a ton of pressure going to all of these events the same way. You probably put a lot of pressure on yourself going to these events, but, but it's different.

But you can relate, um, But also what about the community that's making up these events? Because that is what the elites are coming to be a part of. It's not the in, it's the inverse for some, some are now coming to some of these events because the elites are there, but the elites wanted to come to be a part of the mass participant experience.

Um, so it'll be really important for us to, I mean, never lose focus of that. That's our north.

[00:20:54] Craig Dalton: Yeah, it's been interesting as some of the announcements came out around the changes of for Unbound and the professional and the rules as they apply to the Mass Start and Arrow bars, how clearly you guys were conscious of the fact that. , just because you're making a decision for the professional athletes doesn't mean that same decision should apply to the recreational athletes, specifically around the idea of arrow bars.

I thought that discussion was quite interesting.

[00:21:23] Michelle Duffy: Yeah. And look like there's no right answer to a lot of these things because the space is evolving and gravel cycling while it has existed for. At, well, it's existed forever. You could always ride on gravel, but as a quantifiable sport for 15 plus years, you know, going on 20 years now, that's still new.

It's junior, like the game of basketball has existed for over a century. Um, so we're still in this like new phase. The athlete, the professional. , you know, we've been trying to listen and make decisions that are the best decisions for the safety of the athlete and the integrity of the event. Um, that doesn't mean it's the solution for everyone right now.

And as we were going through, what does, you know, arrow bars or no arrow bars and all the, like the drama, um, surrounding the elites as they're figuring out what it means to be an elite in the sport. is the person that's coming from Alabama that's gonna take them, you know, the maximum amount of time to complete 200 miles, and they're gonna ride majority of the event out there solo.

And they need to have the ability to be in comfort positions just for them to get across the finish line. And that's always been a part of the experience. So while we were having a lot of internal debate and external debate, when we stepped back and thought about it, it's like, well, who's to say? if they're, I've always stood really strong in like, no, they're coming out here to experience the mass participant experience, and that's why the elites started to come.

At the same time, they're making a livelihood and we need to ensure that in order for them to continue to make that livelihood, we're providing. an experience that, you know, someone taking them out with arrow bars in the first seven miles doesn't make or break the paycheck that they bring home. That's not the case for everyone.

So if we separate these two starts, it allows us to ensure that the integrity of the event for those that are racing for their livelihood and their paycheck , um, we can isolate that experience.

[00:23:41] Craig Dalton: Yeah,

[00:23:42] Michelle Duffy: And, you know, we made the joke like, we're gonna get you the heck outta Dodge, but like, let's get the. out of there, and then we can provide the same experience we've provided for 16 years to everybody else.

[00:23:54] Craig Dalton: yeah. And I mean, obviously it's up to each individual rider to make good decisions around when they should be in arrow bars. That's the challenge, right? Like some, it's like they're perfectly fine if you're out there by yourself, but cornering and doing the things that you shouldn't do in Aerobars, that's just, people just need to make good choices there.

[00:24:11] Michelle Duffy: Yeah. Agree. And, and there's other events in our portfolio that remove, we are removing the use of Arrow bars in general, an event like Crusher has never allowed Arrow bars because you climb up and you descend and there's never a time that you're on flats and should be in arrow bars in that event.

[00:24:28] Craig Dalton: Yeah. The other thing that obviously you've had to grapple with is just, uh, the women and men starting together or separate. Do you wanna talk about like, the thought process behind how that's panning out this year?

[00:24:42] Michelle Duffy: Yeah. I mean, continuing to, to listen. I think there. I mean, there's been a couple years now of debate on what is the right, the right way to approach at a mass participation event, the start of the women to ensure that they have a level playing field. Um, our approach is varying, depending on course, uh, speaking for, you know, sea Otter and Schwam again, and Crusher, for example.

Women do have their own start. , but for an event like Unbound, they've always been in with the masses and there's just a huge difference between the field sizes and um, that many people rolling out of Emporia as well as from a media coverage perspective. It's super challenging. Um, To cover and we, I think, have done a very good job of making a cognizant effort to ensure we assign a team specific to the women.

However, to give that like equal playing field from a media coverage perspective, a safety perspective rolling out of town, and then also an awareness of where the competitors are. For Unbound, the women will have their own elite women will have their own separate. two minutes after the elite men and eight minutes before the masses.

Uh, an event like Big Sugar or the Rad we're still evaluating, but that very well could be a mass. A mass start there.

[00:26:08] Craig Dalton: yeah. I think it's super interesting and a lot of event organizers I've spoken to this year. Are just playing around with different models and I think to your point, a lot of it will be course dependent. A lot of it will be just affording tens of minutes with the women having their own isolated experience, cuz obviously once.

The rest of the mass participants start several minutes before. Eventually there will be intermingling and there will be the same types of drafting opportunities that have been in the sport forever for the women. But I do think it's meaningful that the women will be able to understand who is ahead of them, who is behind them at that moment in time in which integration happens.

And then most of the women athletes that I've spoken to kind of acknowledge that, you know, there's a strategy around drafting with men, and sometimes you're gonna get in over your head and you're gonna go too hard. But that might be an investment in your strategy to get ahead early on in the race and then plug away on your own while others will roll the dice and play the strategy a little differently.

[00:27:11] Michelle Duffy: Yeah, exactly. And. , um, I think through, through the Grand Prix. I hope and, and believe that it has also deepened the field, um, of women out there. And if you look at an event like Big Sugar, we saw more women riding together at big sugar. Granted, there were points on the line, and so a lot of them did stay together.

But I mean, there was a pack of nine women in places, you know, two through 10 working together for, for much of that event. And, um, we haven't seen that at a, at a lot of events. Usually the women are dispersed, so I think their strategies are changing as.

[00:27:55] Craig Dalton: Yeah. Yeah. And I, yeah, I mean, and all this comes into play in the background with the points of the Grand Prix in general, like how they need to ride, how aggressive they need to be on a, on a particular day. I do imagine that you'll start seeing athletes just really taking a lot of risk because they've got nothing to lose.

Like you think about Page. Big sugar, like she had nothing to lose at that point, to roll the dice and go long in solo and see what happened.

[00:28:22] Michelle Duffy: Yeah, exactly.

[00:28:24] Craig Dalton: Yeah. As you look back to 2022, and I know we've drifted a little bit into 2023 already, but were there any sort of favorite or surprising moments that stood out for you?

[00:28:34] Michelle Duffy: Yeah, I mean, you just touched on one, but, uh, Paige on Weller and Brayton Langs wins at Big Sugar and Schwam again, I. Love the underdog dark horse story. Um, PA both Paige and Braden were, I mean, transparently were fringe riders for us in the selection process going into 2022. Um, There were a few team members, myself included, making cases for each of them as to why they should be selected.

And, um, they were, they were both dark courses and, um, it was really, really special for not just myself, but members of our team to see those two take a win. You know, Braden being the youngest male in the field last year and an up and coming talent, you just love to see and hope that it inspires. The other individuals riding in his age range, where it'll often we see drop off on the bike, um, you know, if they can, you know, see what he's accomplishing.

Maybe it inspires them to keep riding or those young riders that have looked up to him. And this year we have even younger riders as part of the Grand Prix. And then someone like Paige coming from a running background. We dug into, into her during the application process and saw, you know, she was fifth at gravel world on a borrowed bike and , she was doing some eSports on Swift and, um, there was potential there we thought.

And to see that come to fruition for her was really, really special.

[00:30:10] Craig Dalton: Yeah, and super cool. I had her on at the end of last year just to see her be afforded the sponsorship support to really lean into it and not have to, you know, do double duty between her work and the hospital is, it's great to see.

[00:30:25] Michelle Duffy: Yeah. Agree. I mean, I think that's the case for, for both of those two, honestly, that those wins for both Braden and Paige. I think. Um, Allowed them, the opportunity enabled, helped enable them to have some of the sponsorship opportunities that they have this year,

[00:30:44] Craig Dalton: Yeah.

[00:30:45] Michelle Duffy: and it switched things up. We were talking about the same few riders all year because that top three was kind of interchanging, so that was cool

[00:30:53] Craig Dalton: Yeah, absolutely. So as we talk about 2023, what are kind of the major changes that have happened kind of structurally in the Grand Prix that we should be aware of?

[00:31:04] Michelle Duffy: Yeah, I think our goal with the Grand Prix, is to keep things simple so that people can follow it. Um, you know, no slight to, to the world tour, but it can be hard to follow things like the Tour de France because if you're not ingrained in the sport, it's like how many points did they get? And what does this Jersey mean

Um, our goal is really to keep things simple so that, you know, those that are new to following cycling can follow it and, and. Still the goal this year we evaluated our point structure because right now it's just waterfall point structure. Um, your points are the inverse of your place. So last year we had 30 men and women.

So if you finished first, you got 30 points. If you finished second, you got 29. And so it flowed. So this year we decided to keep the point structure the same. Um, however we are. , uh, looking at 70 athletes, 35 men and 35 women. So an extra five men and women. Um, I think we're gonna stay at this number. Uh, I don't, you know, next year's I hope isn't gonna be 40 and, and so on.

Um, but the intent for that change is the drop off that occurred throughout the year. Um, by the end of the season, we had just over 20 men and 20 women remain. . And so our, our goal is to have, you know, a, a deep field and ensure that it's, it's deep across every event. So that extra five on each side, also just based on demand, uh, felt like the right move.

And then additionally, instead of six events, um, we are going to have seven, one of which we called the wild cards. So Grand Prix athletes applied for the series before we revealed what that seventh event will be. And noting that our intent is that our events do. So next year, um, in 2024, I don't, it may not just be the wild card event that rotates.

We may switch up all of the events. Um, you know, we'll probably have a few, like an Unbound and a Leadville and a big sugar that would remain. But we could see some of the other events, uh, switching up each year. Um, but one will remain a wild card in which athletes don't know what it will be. and, um, they can drop two events instead of one.

And this was something, this was a decision that we made after overwhelming feedback in our surveys around, um, some of the challenges. And you mentioned it earlier in the call with injury and sickness. Um, Were forced to drop out even if they weren't prepared because maybe they, uh, flattered and dnf at an event and that still counts.

But then they got sick and had to miss an event. Like they're pretty much out of the points now because they have two zeros on their scorecard. So allowing them the ability to miss two events for everything we're hearing is like athletes intend to come to just about every event. Um, but the other thing that it does allow, , and this is important, is understanding that our season is demanding and it spans from April to October and it is the primary focus on, on the calendar.

But there are other events that, um, there's either sponsor obligations to attend or just like for the health of the sport. It can't just be lifetime events that these riders are attending. So, Hope and obviously expect that athletes are showing up to, to at least five and, and hope they come to more than that, but it does allow if there's a conflict with another event them to go and attend that event as well.

[00:34:51] Craig Dalton: Yeah, like everything, I think it's just gonna be interesting to see whether it, it, you know, in many cases this past year, it would've allowed, you know, like Payson or someone who had to miss two events to be competitive in the standings, having missed those two events. But for athletes that it were healthy throughout the year.

If we start seeing strategy around dropping an event, knowing that they have to, you know, they're, I think with the exception, Unbound and maybe crusher that have their own very specific skillset, maybe that is required for them. You know, whether some people just opt out of one or two of those just saying, Hey, I'm not a climber.

It's not worth burying myself to try to be competitive and crusher because I have these two drop races that I can apply.

[00:35:36] Michelle Duffy: I do think that's true, and I kind of view that as like the negative to having the two drop events. But I think it's the right move. We believe it's the right move. Um, just for like the health of. The athlete. What we also don't want to happen is an athlete feel like, like Pete, he wrote on a broken hand at Sea Otter because he knew that like with his wife expecting there was a chance he was gonna miss another event.

So it was really important for him to finish that event. Um, whereas like knowing that there could have been two drops, like we don't want an athlete, Hannah Otto, she. Unbound consciously. Like she didn't want to bury herself at Unbound. And then she followed concussion protocol, but felt the pressure to it to participate in, um, schwa again, because otherwise she'd be out of the series and she did not, you know, enjoy the experience out there.

And it was probably premature. Would she have made a different decision had we. allowed two drops last year maybe. And I think that's something that's also really important I didn't touch on is the, just the overall health of the athlete. And we heard that too in the feedback like there's pressure to show up and race sick because you, you could have only dropped one event.

So I think this change will, I mean, it's seemingly well received. The negative is. You know, athletes that aren't good on a mountain bike, and so they're just gonna drop two mountain bike events and or like, not wanna bury themselves like you said. So they're gonna skip unbound and let Bill. That's, we hope that we don't see too much of that, but risk like those, that those that were in the top 10 pretty much were consistent in their attendance across the whole series.

[00:37:24] Craig Dalton: Yeah, I think it strikes the right balance. I mean, obviously we'll have this conversation a year from now and we'll see how it came to play, but I don't suspect, to your point, like the people at the front end of both categories, they're not gonna make, they're not gonna drop things willy nilly. In fact, I was speaking to a professional athlete yesterday and they were like, look, if someone was hyper-competitive in the Grand Prix and did not do un.

There may very well be an asterisk in their victory at the end of the year to say like, but they didn't do this one thing,

[00:37:55] Michelle Duffy: Yeah. Yeah, I agree. I think just looking at, at the overall scorecard and talking to many of the athletes, it's like, well, of course we're gonna show up to all of the events. Like that's our intent. Because if you can knock off a. A bad day, a 10th place that could make or break your odds of being in the top three.

[00:38:15] Craig Dalton: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. You mentioned the expansion of the rider numbers from 30 to 35 in each category. Um, super cool to see. Did you see like a different profile of athlete, whether it be different nationalities or what have you start to come to the table this year? Cause I understand, and you commented on this earlier, that, you know, the first year it was the first year, people didn't know.

It seemed like it was gonna be a great idea, but I did talk to a few athletes. Well, I just dunno how it's gonna pan out. I already had my schedule figured out, so I didn't, didn't apply. Just curious like what this year's application looked like and, and what were your takeaways from it?

[00:38:53] Michelle Duffy: Yeah. Well, we had more applications in year two than year one and more qualified applicants. And I don't, I don't mean to, um, that as a, any, uh, derogatory, uh, towards the VA first year's applications, but in year one there was a lot of. either jokes, , some, some people that were, I don't know if they were joking around or, you know, just not in contention.

Um, at the everyday cyclist, you know, some applicant applications that said things around, like, I've applied for the Leadville lottery four times and this is, you know, just another opportunity for me to, to apply. Um, there was also a lot of, uh, like sub. Applications that came through in the first year. And of course there were dozens of elite applications that came through because look at the depth of field.

I think in year two what we saw happen is elites, many, many of them, um, that live here in the US and Canada, but then also internationally. And then we had to make some hard decisions around like equal athlete, um, athletic ability. Someone lives internationally versus domestically. And we do have an international field this year with riders coming from, you know, South Africa and Australia and um, Canada and a few other countries.

But, uh, those that were like fringe , we, I, we did prioritize domestic, um, because. you know, our, our hope is to create some, some heroes here in the us.

[00:40:42] Craig Dalton: Yeah, that's interesting. Sometimes it's easy to forget that lifetime is a business as well. And you know, growing an international audience only has certain value to you guys versus domestic audience.

[00:40:55] Michelle Duffy: Yeah, and it's actually like we talked about that at length because. Having all of these different countries represented would be really cool. But beyond the business piece of it, it's like the health of cycling fandom in Europe is doing just fine. But if you have a bike race in Europe, like. And you can get access to the downtown of a major city and you have tens of thousands of people show up to cheer 'em in and they're lining the streets.

You have a bike race here and it's like, look at like road cycling. They're far and few between. There's barely any fans that show up. And so the goal, like we're, we can't lose sight of the goal and that's to make sure that we're converting people who live here into fans of the sport. Not even. from a future participatory perspective, but just in, you know, to become fans simply.

[00:41:51] Craig Dalton: Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. One of the things we didn't dig into was the addition of that wildcard event and what that wildcard event ended up being. Can you talk about which event you selected and why?

[00:42:05] Michelle Duffy: Yeah, we selected an event in Trinidad, Colorado going into its third year called the Rad Dirt Fest. Um, it is a gravel event. The distance is 110 miles, and it's a high altitude, gravel, gravel race. Um, the difference between this and like a big sugar beyond the altitude is it's, uh, big long climbing miles and.

It's fast gravel, . It's, you know, champagne gravel, as they say. It's, it's almost like road in many ways. It's not very technical at all. Um, we. . There's a few reasons why this became the Wild Card. Part of it is schedule because our 2023 event calendar is already planned, and we wanted to give some breathing room between events because some of our events kind of stack up against one another.

For example, like Tahoe Trail, mountain Bike Race is the week after Crusher and the Tusher. Um, so getting from Utah to Tahoe, and coming right off of Crusher, like that just wasn't super viable. So if you like go through the list, there's also like some Northwood events that we have, like lut in 99 er, but they're already going up there for Schwam again.

So wanna be mindful of travel costs because while it's not expensive to stay in cable, Wisconsin, it's expensive to get there, and um, to have someone, to have a rider go up for loosen as well, like that's just a big. , it has a big impact on them and travel. The travel expenses to do the series are super high.

So those were factors as well as like we do care deeply about the communities that these events are taking place in. And Trinidad is a community that. is up and coming. I kind of view it as like an Emporia many years ago with a completely different personality. It's a hidden gem right on the border of New Mexico.

It's funky, spunky, artsy down home. Like if there, if Lifetime was capable of producing a grassroots, gravel event, the Rad Dirt Fest, is it? And after seeing the. Elation out of athletes after Schwam again, which is like a good down home mountain bike event up in northern Wisconsin. This feels like the gravel version of that.

It's just, it's truly like an endearing, eclectic place. And the vibes are good and the just, it's a, it's such a fun event. Um, our team actually says it's like one of our favorite events in the portfolio. and then selfishly, like, I hope the event grows . I'll just be be honest about that. Like we're into the third event, uh, third year and, um, that wasn't the deciding factor at all.

But I really do hope that the event grows because I really will. Even Trinidad as a community, they're, they're being heavily invested in right now, just from people moving out of Denver. But, um, hopefully they can, they can keep up, keep up with that. They've been a boomer bus town, but they're really focused on outdoor.

[00:45:16] Craig Dalton: Yeah. It's a town that listeners of the podcast may be familiar with because we had, uh, local one Del Roka on who. Developed the original Trinidad Gravel field guide and put down some amazing routes down there, and came on the podcast just to talk all those things about the community. So I do think it's really interested and, and I'm excited to see that event grow as well, and hopefully just contributed to that town and that community in the same way that Unbound has contributed to Emporia.

[00:45:45] Michelle Duffy: Yeah. Juan has kind of been that, um, steer head in that, in that community and, and showing people. These roads, you can go out and, and utilize them with your bicycle and, uh, you know, the big hu hunting culture around there, but how are we celebrating outdoor rec? And they've also just brought in really great figureheads for their, like, economic development and, um, outdoor recreation, et cetera.

So I, I, I'm excited to see how that town.

[00:46:16] Craig Dalton: Yeah. On that, on that decision to make the Rad Fest, uh, the wildcard event. You mentioned the many things that kind of went into that. One of the kind of things that have been hanging over the Grand Prix for a few years is just this balance of mountain bikey gravel racing. How are you guys trying to strike that balance?

Because obviously adding another pure gravel event into the series isn't making it any more technical for the mountain bike cruise.

[00:46:45] Michelle Duffy: Yeah, it's not, and that could change in 2024. Um, I think it's important to note that like this is an off-road series surrounding mass participation events and some of the like super technical type courses that have kind of been thrown our way. It's like, well that doesn't necessarily always cater to the mass participant.

And that's the most important thing is that we're marry. This series with mass participation events. So like that is one factor. The second is there's seven events, so there's gonna be an off kilter there between mountain bike and gravel, but um, that can change every year. And maybe we'll see more mountain bike in 2024.

Um, I think that there's a good chance that we will, but, for this year. I mean, it's an off-road series. I, I think there's so many sensitivities and I totally respect all of the elite athletes. So I say this tongue in cheek, but I'm also like, you guys get over it. Like this is the lineup and it's gonna be a good time.

And I mean, yeah.

[00:47:58] Craig Dalton: I think one of the most exciting things that you've revealed in this podcast is just the notion that 2024 could look a lot different.

[00:48:06] Michelle Duffy: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I think that's like part of the, the freedom that we have because we're playing within the confines of like all of these events are, are lifetime events and it's, you know, the same team working on the production of the event and the Grand Prix, and it gives us the ability to be flexible now.

five years down the road, are we ending up in a structure that it doesn't have as much freedom because this thing's so established that it has to be the same events? I don't know the answer to that question, but um, we're still in test phase and that's what I think, you know, earlier I said we've had time to celebrate some of our wins.

I think that. So important, like early on we definitely received some, you know, there was like tension and criticism and like welcome all of it from, you know, athlete and fan alike. It's also so important to remember and like communicating even to our teams that are on the frontline, like. , these are humans putting on the event.

And we're humans that are really just trying to, and supported by a company who is also just trying to make a difference. Like the Grand Prix is not a revenue driver for our, for our company, but we're trying to align ourself with like positive change in cycling and there's gonna be growing pains with that.

Um, but I don't even view them as growing pains. Right. It's like they're just, it's a developmental. Of, of establishing something that hopefully changes the face of North American cycling. And you know what? There's a couple more series on the calendar this year, and I think that's really rad. I, I don't wanna attest that to the Grand Prix, but I think it's super cool to see that other groups are thinking in the same way, whether that's like happening on the road with the N C L, whether that survives or not.

But they're trying. And you have the group that's putting together a true mountain bike series around the country and like all of these different things are gonna start to create more fans in, in the us and that's super cool. It's, we're really, I feel like everyone in, in the cycling space right now, like what a cool time to be involved in, in.

[00:50:17] Craig Dalton: Yeah, a hundred percent. Like I think we all need to be thankful for Lifetime's involvement in this series and everybody else who's putting energy into North American cycling because agree, like. I think we're in a great place in terms of the equipment and the joy that gravel bikes can bring to athletes.

I think there's plenty of great events out there in the world, but it takes a lot of energy and financial commitment to make these events happen and you guys are putting a lot of money behind this series and investing in growing fandom in the United States, and that's amazing because I think we do need more fans of racing.

I'm quick to acknowledge like this podcast is definitely not about the front end of the pack for the most part. Well, I certainly enjoy talking to the professional athletes and learning how they get into the sport at the end of the day, like it's really the, the mass participant that gets me most excited cuz that's certainly where I sit in these events.

Um, so it's super cool that you guys continue to invest and I appreciate you taking the time and just walking me through last year and this year and hopefully we get to see each other in a few months down in Monte.

[00:51:20] Michelle Duffy: I know we will. Thank you,

[00:51:23] Craig Dalton: Thanks, Rashelle.

That's going to do it for this week's edition of the gravel ride podcast. Big, thanks to Michelle for joining us and bringing us up to speed on the lifetime grand Prix. We are now just around the corner from the first event in April. And I'm excited. As I'm sure some of you are to watch the action.

Down at the seawater classic and kick off another year. Big thanks to athletic greens and AIG one for supporting the podcast. Simply visit athletic gravel ride. And you can get that free one-year supply of vitamin D and B12. If you're interested in connecting with me. Please visit the ridership. That's

Or if you have a moment, ratings and reviews are hugely appreciated in the podcast game, it really helps with our discoverability. Until next time. Here's to finding some dirt under your wheels