Interview: Eddie Anderson about Gravel Biking

11.03.2021

Team Alpecin-Fenix is breaking new ground in the 2021 season. In addition to road cycling, mountain biking and cyclocross, the team also wants to be successful in gravel races. For this purpose, 22-year-old Eddie Anderson was signed up. The US-American is expected to compete in prestigious gravel events such as Dirty Kanza, Belgian Waffle Ride and Barry Roubaix.

He’s already flashed his talent for this discipline in 2019 when he was only beaten by former WorldTour pro Peter Stetina in the Belgian Waffle Ride, finishing second, just ten seconds behind. Anderson is not only comfortable on gravel, but also on the road – which he proved by a top ten result at the 2020 Baby Giro. Alpecin Cycling spoke with the Californian about the fascination of gravel biking.

Why do you do gravel biking?

I have always had a love for the outdoors, exploration, and adventure. When riding gravel, I feel a sense of adventure and connection to nature that I don’t find anywhere else. For me, the gravel bike is a tool for exploration and adventure that reminds me of why I started cycling in the first place – for the fulfillment brought by adventure and exploration on two wheels.

What fascinates you about gravel riding – compared to road cycling?

For me, the biggest difference between gravel riding and road cycling is the freedom to explore uncharted roads and terrain – with a gravel bike you no longer are limited by 25cc tires. Thanks to my Canyon Grail gravel bike, I have found many new, beautiful, and remote roads. Although I love riding my road bike as well, I find it refreshing to hop on my gravel bike and explore quiet and remote roads away from the city.

What do you think are the reasons for the fast growth of gravel racing and gravel biking in the US?

I attribute a few reasons for why gravel riding has become so popular in the United States. First, I think many people are excited to distance themselves from the cars on the streets and ride less trafficked roads. Secondly, I think that gravel riding reminds people of simpler times when they may have ridden a bike just for fun and adventure, without worries, stress, or disruptions. Lastly, I think many people appreciate the more laid-back and relaxed atmosphere that surrounds the gravel riding community. I think gravel racing has grown for these same reasons. It provides participants with a sense of adventure through an “epic” day on the bike. Additionally, the laid back and welcoming environment that surrounds gravel racing is attractive to all types of athletes. Whether you are a top-level racer looking to win, or just an amateur hoping to finish, the event is welcoming to all participants. In this sense, gravel racing connects many different cycling communities, and it is a great way to promote, grow, and foster the sport of cycling.

When did you start gravel riding and why?

I started gravel riding as a way to incorporate more fun and adventurous rides into my training routine for road racing. Additionally, I feel a connection to the outdoors and nature when gravel riding that helps me relax and clear my mind.

Which skills are important for a good gravel biker?

To be a good gravel cyclist, basic bike handling skills are key. It’s important not to tense up and grip the bars too tightly; rather, you find more comfort when riding relaxed and composed. Finally, having good brake modulating skills is important, so that you can slow down fast and effectively when you need to.

What was your first gravel race and what was it like?

My first gravel race was the Belgian Waffle Ride in San Diego, CA. First, I was impressed by the high number of participants at the event, and the great enthusiasm that every racer brought to the race. This enthusiasm helped to foster a warm atmosphere that was fun to be a part of. Many gravel races are about more than just the race; in other words, there is a venue and scene around the event where racers can share stories and interact with brands which nurtures cycling culture. Lastly, I was impressed by the sheer difficulty of the race – at over 200km with a lot of climbing, it was an epic day on the bike that left me totally empty at the finish line.

Is gravel bike training different from road bike training?

I have never specifically altered my training for gravel racing.

What do you think are the physiological differences between road and gravel racing?

I do not think that there are big physiological differences between road and gravel racing, but due to the long duration of the events, it is important to be strong at the end of a five- or six-hour race. In some ways, gravel events could be compared to the one-day Spring classics.

What are your goals in gravel racing and which races will you ride?

This year, I am looking to achieve top results at some of the biggest gravel events in the United States. Some of these include the Belgian Waffle Ride events, Steamboat Gravel, and Leadville 100. I don’t have my official road race schedule yet, but for this year I hope to help the Alpecin-Fenix team in any way that I can and support our team leader(s) at the races. When a personal opportunity arises, I would love to take advantage of that as well, but first and foremost I want to be there to help the team.

Will you also do bike packing events?

I have not planned any bike packing events for 2021 yet, but bike packing is something that I would love to incorporate into my riding in the future. I love the outdoors, and enjoy camping and backpacking during the offseason, so I think bike packing could be a great way to connect my passion with nature even more closely with my love for cycling.

Which is your favorite gravel race in the US and why?

My favorite gravel event that I have participated in is the Belgian Waffle Ride in San Diego, California. Not only was the race route beautiful, hard, and epic, but the atmosphere around the event made it a fun place to be both before, during, and after the race itself. I look forward to participating again in 2021.

What will be your gravel bike of choice for the next season and why?

For this season, I plan to race the Canyon Grail for most events. Not only is the bike capable enough to handle the most technical off-road gravel segments, but it is also fast on the pavement making it a great no-compromise all around gravel bike. I have ridden a Grail over the last two months and am continually impressed at how it handles a variety of terrain including road, gravel, and even single-track trails!
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