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Apr 14, 2020

This week we speak with Dean Stanton from Canada's Triple Crown of Gravel, three great events across British Columbia.

Triple Crown of Gravel Instagram

Triple Crown of Gravel Website

This week's episode is brought to you by Cycle Oregon.  Please mention 'TGR' during any registration for a special item.

Automated transcription, please forgive typos.

Dean, welcome to the show.

Great. Thanks. Good to be here.

Yeah. Well I'm really excited to have you on the show. I know you producing three events at least up there this year in the gravel community, but first we always like to get started by learning a little bit more about your background as a cyclist and how ultimately you got into the arduous task of event production.

Well it's a weird and twisted past for that. I started off mainly in triathlons in high school and became an elite professional from 87 to 99. And before I sort of quit racing, I got into coaching at about 97 and then about 2004 I thought, you know, Hey, I've done all these races and helped out and done all this. I'll put on a triathlon and I had no idea what I was doing and to be honest, it shouldn't have been putting one on but did it and sorta went through that and did a bunch of bike races or sorry, no triathlons and then some running races. And then I've always really wanted to put on a bike race and some bike races. And then, you know, at that time around 2009, 2010 the gravel and sorry the grand fondos were sort of taking off.

And then when I looked at the costs of production and everything, I was just like no, this isn't gonna work. So 2013 I was looking at you know, what was going on down in the States and already, you know, dirty Kanza was on the radar and I was like, that's pretty cool. So I went down and did one in the rate race in the States on a, on a cross bike and started writing more gravel at year anyways and then said, you know what, I'm going to put on the kettle medal. And we did. And like 80 people showed up or something. It wasn't very good. And you know, in terms of numbers, but you know, it was great and everybody really enjoyed it. And I am myself ride gravel a lot cause I really enjoy not having the cars and being more in nature. It's kind of a hybrid between say road riding and mountain biking. Cause I think you need some of the mountain bike skills that helps. But it's just, you know, but it's a little bit more easier than mountain biking in some respects in terms of the descending and the assets aren't nearly as steep usually. But anyways, I really enjoy it. I, it's something I've really do more and more of.

Nice. And was that first cuddle metal, was that back in 2014 then? Correct. Yeah. I'm curious, you made mention, and I, I like to have takeaways for other event organizers. You made mention that you thought the cost of production of a grand Fondo on the road was more expensive than a gravel event. Was that from some sort of practical perspective like road closures and things like that?

Well I don't, I'm not sure how things work in the States, but in Canada they seem to love, you know, having everything done to the nth degree. So, you know, yeah, it's traffic management plans, police you know, traffic control people. It's, it's, it's prohibitively expensive to degree to shut any roads down and it gets very, very expensive, very fast. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. Yeah. So that's sort of why I was like, ah, no, not doing it. Yeah.

So you're there in the heart bed of mountain biking up in British Columbia. So that first event was the kettle medal. And I know at this point you've expanded to having three gravel events on the calendar, is that right?

Correct. I sort of that and that's funny cause that sort of grew organically as well as that. I did kettle metal for a couple of years and then I looked on the Island and I was over there anyways. I'm think of Island, which is pretty big Island. And I just was like, I'm going to go and check out some gravel rides. And I just, I realized that there was a real old railway line there as well. And then just worked into a an event over there as well. And that's, we're going now into our fourth year for, I'm the couch and crusher, which is out of Lake Cowichan, which is, it's phenomenal. Some of the riding on the islands as I think some of the best writing in terms of gravel on NBC. I mean, unfortunately most of it seems to be on private property. But yeah, it's, it's really good writing over there

And you, are you able to get permission for the event day to get on that private property?

Yeah, it's just, yeah, it's just a few more steps to go through, but yeah, no, it's, it's, it's really good stuff over there. It's really, it's really nice. I mean, one of the challenges in BC, and I'm not sure you have this in California other places, is a lot of the terrain is very steep, so it's very difficult at times to find a sort of circular route on gravel. A lot of them are sort of like a roots of trees in that there's a main road and then it'll go off and branch up a super steep room and it'll be dead end. And then you get to come back down and, and get to go. So the nice thing about Vancouver Island is it's a lot less steep terrain. So there's a lot more sort of rows that all link up. Whereas other places like Squamish, it's a little bit more difficult than again, most of the roads are all built for logging and logging access. So their forest service roads.

Yeah. No, I think that's common for any coastal areas. Certainly my neck of the woods. You can't, you can't go 10 miles without going a thousand feet of climbing and you've got to pick your roots wisely.

Yeah. So it, you know, and I'm, I'm, I mean I've done some of the rides and I'm just amazed at how these trucks were getting up and down these Hills with logs, bro. You know, like a load of log. I'm just like, no, blows me away cause I'm like, this is so steep. Yeah.

And then the third event is called what?

Well, the third event we did for two years was the cow. So the golden ears, gravel Fondo, which was a bit challenging in that one of the cool areas about pit Meadows is sort of called near to the Tri-City area of lower mainland of Vancouver, greater Vancouver. And it has all these dikes in a, technically a lot of that area is underwater, like under sea level, but they have all these dikes that you kind of link up. It just, it became very difficult to train, you know, go through the permitting process on that because I had either nine or 10 jurisdictions I had to go through, you know, and then I'm doing Squamish and I have four or three. It's, it's so much easier. So, so I just kind of went, you know it's good writing and good training, but trying to put on an event on there was really challenging. And so over the last year, year and a half, I was going up to Squamish to do some gravel rides and I said, you know what, we're just gonna move it next year. And that's what we're doing right now. And the numbers are pretty strong and we're pretty excited about it, so yeah.

Great. And that one's called the sea to sky, is that right?

Yeah, the, the, yeah, so in the, I got that name from basically the sea to sky highway, but that's called the sea to sky corridor. It's kind of like, it's pretty steep terrain and I'm not really sure even how they made that road way back in the 50s from Vancouver to school. And we still Whistler and wish there's Whistler's like a world-class resort. It was skiing, but it's also a major mountain biking downhilling in the summer. But that road is just like, I'm trying to remember the name. There's that marathon on the Pacific coast of California that goes through the redwoods and all that stuff. And it's kind of similar to that is very steep terrain. So

On the way to Whistler previous times, and actually up on some fire roads in Squamish, but I was up in a van with a full suspension bike and a full face helmet ready to go downhill.

Yeah. So very different. Yeah. Yeah.

I want to get into some of the details in terms of elevation and the type of terrain for the three different events. But one of the things that jumped out at me on the website was you actually have divisions for two and four person teams, which I haven't seen in a lot of gravel events. Can you talk about, you know, how that works from a practical perspective and you know, what your intention was in, in adding those event categories.

Well I, I kind of really liked the team atmosphere and then I also thought it would be interesting for people to bring out other buddies and friends to do their event with them instead of just all doing it singly. So I thought it'd be really cool to sort of do a team of two or team before, you know, mixed or whatever. And then you give them a slight discount so that, you know, you're encouraging more teams and you know, we, we give out, you know, prizes to the top team, to top team of Ford and we also have a triple crown prizing for all three events. The end of the season at the end last event and I, I I just really liked the idea of it. Yeah, I mean it's funny that I sort of did that second or third year and we've been doing it ever since and yeah, I guess now that you mentioned it, I haven't seen this in a lot of other events.

Yeah, I think it's, I mean I think it's a very interesting dynamic, both from a, from a race organizer perspective, obviously it encourages people very specifically to bring a buddy with them, but also from a racing perspective, having done team events in the past and myself both single day and multi day, it does add a different dynamic because you're trying to get your teammate across as fast as you can and you're going to have different skillsets. I imagine in a gravel event, you know, you may have someone who's a good roller on the flat terrain really coming to the front and dragging their teammate along, whereas you know, their teammate may have other skillsets. It does, I think, create some interesting mentality during the race, which is probably quite fun to race as a team.

Yeah, I mean that's just what we're trying to encourage is just more people to come out, more people to do it as a team, you know, it's combined times. So it's like two people, it'd be the two times together and that that's so thus it, it doesn't make sense for one person to be super fast and the other person it takes longer, you know, because he has, you're adding the times together anyways for the results. So you might as well just try and like you said, both write together and cheer each other on and push each other for, you know, better finish.

And you mentioned it casually that you've kind of cast the three events under this [inaudible] of the triple crown of gravel and you're actually tracking results across three events and providing, you know, accolades or awards at the end of all three events, right?

Yep, that's correct. Yep.

Yeah. Pretty cool. So let's get into some of the, some of the terrain in each of the three events and curious to kind of get your perspective, if you would expect given unlimited resources, if people would change bikes or tires or, or different things about the bikes between the three events or if it's, if it's similar enough that, you know, it's kinda run the same tires in each event.

In terms of the terrain, it's quite different. As I said before, I mean Squamish is somewhat flat. It's got some Hills in it, but nothing major over the long course of the full Fondo, which we were in Columbia is up here. It's about a hundred kilometers also because it's an April 25th and I don't think people are hoping to do 150, 200 kilometers fairly early in the season. So I'm trying to make sure it's not too long for people. It's challenging but not over challenging. But there's definitely some climbs as you get closer to the turnaround area. And the gravel is mostly fairly hard pack. Yeah, in similar to the Island, but a kettle metal has a couple of sections where it's a bit Sandy or softer. So I would suggest going with a slightly wider tire with lower pressures for that one. Although I mean it really depends, right?

I mean it depends how big you are, how much you weigh, what kind of bike you're riding. You know, it's interesting, we, we, we started tracking with our registration, what people are doing, what their bikes they're riding, what size tires they're writing. These are all questions we ask at registration and sort of attract that last year and have a lot of interesting stats on. When we first started this seven years ago, I didn't have the stats, but you know, through seeing what people were doing, the vast majority were on mountain bikes. And then there was a few on cross bikes and you know, seven years ago there wasn't even gravel bikes. So it was mostly that. And now the vast majority are 700. See bikes split between, you know, gravel and cyclocross, and then there's six 50 B gravel bikes. But they're not, there's not as many. Like I would say on our stats, over 75% are gravel or 700 see in less than 25% or six 50 [inaudible]. And then one of the other interesting things about mountain biking is we thought there'd be a lot more people in 20 Niners and there's hardly any, it's only like four and a half, 5% of the 27% that are mountain bikes, the vast majority are 26 inch or six 50 [inaudible].

And are you tracking the tire width the people are proposing they're going to ride on? Yeah.

Yeah, we, we ask them, you know, is it 26 inch, six 50 [inaudible] 29 incher and then hybrid bikes, we just assume that 700 seen road bikes. So we have about 4% rode bikes to try and attempt it on that. Even though on a lot of them you're very limited on what size you can go. And then hybrid bikes, you know, you can usually get a bitF , you know, wider. Most of the people in hydro bikes and mountain bikes are usually doing the 50K or the medio size fondos in is the longer distances. Most of them were on cross bikes and ugravel bikes. And then there is some people, a few on mountain bikes.

Yeah, I wouldn't be surprised if your proportions of 700 C versus six 50 B being 75 25% are pretty common around the country. I find that six 50 it's a little bit out of the norm. It's certainly not the majority, majority of what I see as well. So that's, that's not too surprising over there.

And the other thing is, is, you know, I've noticed that it seemed like there's a tendency for people to try to go with one buy instead of to buy. But I've, I've noticed that most of the people in our long course on gravel or on to buy instead of one by, and it seems like more six 50 [inaudible] have of one buy in most of the 700 seat or two by, but I mean it's sort of open on that.

Yeah, no, I think you're probably right. I think this six 50 [inaudible] wheel set probably is attractive to someone who has experienced mountain biking. Therefore they probably have experience running one by Sarah. It kind of tracks and correlates together, I would imagine.

Yeah. I mean the thing that I've noticed riding my gravel bike as opposed to my mountain bike in which is, is just that if you're on a one by, I feel like you're going to run out of gears a bit in certain places in some of our courses cause you're not going to have those tighter steps, but also the ability to go into a big chain ring and just go a bit faster and some of the downhills if that's what you want to do. But it just seems a bit limiting to me. But

Yeah, it's all, it's all a personal choice here in the gravel world for sure. Yeah. So Dean, can you let us know what the dates are for each event and when registration's open.

Okay. well registration is all open for all of them. As of right now, they've all been open as of early December kettle met and sorry for start off, the first one, sea to sky gravel. Fondo is on Saturday, April 25th and it's in a Squamish Valley. And the next one is the couch and crusher on June 7th on thanker Island in Lake chin. And the third one of the triple crown is the kettle medal on September 26th Penticton to Colona. You have the logistics on that one is a bit interesting in terms of all my other events that sort of same start, finish that one. To be honest, the first year or two was a bit of a logistical nightmare trying to figure out how to have a start and finish in two different locations that are, you know, 180 kilometers, a hundred kilometers apart and having to bus people in, truck people in a truck, all the bicycles and yeah, that, that, that was a bit challenging, but we've kind of got it pretty small sorted now.

But yeah, that was trying to figure out, Nick people have to check in on the Friday to load their bikes into the, you know, semi trailer to, to drive it down Friday night so that we unload Saturday morning so they can start the race. Cause we didn't want to load and unload in the morning. It just is too, too much time consuming. So it's easier to just unload, get people, get on their bikes. And then we shuttle people from Penticton, this start to the people doing the media to shoot Lake. And then from shoot Lake they ride down. And that, that, I don't know if you've ever been to Penticton or Colona the interior, but it's kind of an interesting area and that you think of BC and you think of monster trees and all that kind of stuff. But it's very different. It's kind of like Napa Valley North in a way. It's, but more in different because it's got really big lakes and like huge lakes. It's got you know, very dry, warm terrain. There's orchards, there's wineries, there's this old train. So it's, it's very scenic. Very beautiful. And it's yeah, it's interesting.

Yeah. Penticton is gorgeous. I have been up there for iron man many years ago and it's certainly a place where, you know, you could bring your family up for a vacation and everybody in the household going to find something to do. It's, it's great. There's, I just as you said that the lakes are amazing and the mountains have a slightly different character than other parts of BC, so I'm not surprised it's a popular event for you.

Yeah, and I mean I, that was our inception, you know, first event, but I just, I feel like it's, it's just a really awesome way to tee in this season for us, for our triple crown. And you know, it's just, Oh, we get a lot of people in from Alberta because there's sort of, it gets colder there earlier than Vancouver and BC and they're sort of ending, their season is September eight, late September. So it's kind of a good sort of end to finish for us.

Yeah, that's awesome. Well, I'll make sure to put a link in the show notes to the registration site and make sure people take a look at that. And I wish you the best of luck this season. I can't wait to hear more about it at the end of the year.

Great. Okay. Thank you.