‘Rio Grande Gravel’ brings gravel racing to the Big Bend

Payson McElveen and Colin Strickland ride their bikes during Red Bull Rio Grande Gravel at Lajitas Airport trails near Terlingua, TX USA on 2 March, 2021.

MARFA — On November 13, cyclists will descend on Cibolo Creek Ranch for Rio Grande Gravel, an event billed as “the hardest 100-mile gravel race on the planet.” The event, hosted by Redbull, was designed by Payson McElveen and Colin Strickland, two rising stars in the up-and-coming sport. 

Gravel racing combines multiple cycling disciplines for thrill seekers who want to combine the speed of road racing, the unpredictable terrain of mountain biking and the physical endurance expected of triathletes. Interest in the sport started to heat up in the early 2000s as a 200-mile race called Unbound Gravel attracted athletes from all over the cycling world. 

“My favorite aspect of gravel riding, as opposed to road riding, is the ability to go explore the countryside,” Strickland explained in a promotional video for Red Bull. 

Strickland — who hails from Johnson City in Central Texas — is no stranger to the countryside of Presidio County, having once scouted a route along Pinto Canyon Road. In November, Rio Grande Gravel competitors will have a chance to explore the Chinati Mountains from another angle along the backroads of the Cibolo Creek Ranch, a luxury resort about halfway between Marfa and Presidio. 

The remoteness, elevation extremes and relative inaccessibility of Cibolo Creek to the general public provides a dramatic backdrop for athletes hoping to put their skills and equipment to the test. The race will consist of a series of 10-20 mile loops that require over 10,000 feet of elevation gain, all in the unpredictable late-fall climate of the high Chinatis. For more information and to register, visit https://www.redbull.com/us-en/events/rio-grande-gravel/