The front range foothills town of Nederland, Colorado is named after a Dutch mining company that operated the Caribou mine in the late 1800s. Funnily "Nederland", or "Netherlands" in English, means low land. The town was given this name because it sits almost two thousand feet lower than the high elevation mine and was a better place to mill the mined ore. The town has also been throwing a gravel bicycle race since 2021, and there is literally nothing "lowland" about it. The main event is the 70 mile Tungsten Course, named after a nearby ghost town and once prosperous mine, and is a beast of a ride featuring 8,000 feet of elevation gain over an absolute roller coaster ride of various terrain including hellishly steep grades, washboarded descents, rocky singletrack, rockier double track, breathtaking views and cool mountain air. It is truly "mountain gravel" at its pinnacle.
Fellow Alchemist Ryan Bennett and I signed up and raced the Tungsten course together, although I use the term "raced" a bit loosely.
The race started at 7am which always means not ideal sleep, an early wakeup, and trying to cram in hurriedly made coffee and a snickers bar on the drive to the start, listening to the Tour de France stage commentary to get hyped up. Bennet met me at the starting paddock and we agreed to hit the start hard and hang on the the front of the pack up the first paved climb out of town and onto the gravel. Our strategy worked great, as we pinned it out of the gate with the lead group and got ahead of 200 or so riders so we had mostly open roads for the first fast gravel descent. At the bottom of this first section there was a short bit of probably the only flat road on the whole course before climbing up Sugarloaf mountain and the southern part of the Switzerland Trail, which is an old rail road grade that used to service the mines as well as provide tourists transportation to the incredible views of snow capped peaks and green valleys all around us. The grade is never that steep, but the terrain is so rocky and rough that it might as well be as you bounce along through puddles and over rocks, crisscrossing the double track looking for the perfect line.
Fortunately the race was spread out by this point so it never felt crowded or intense, just a long solid grind, which turned out to be the theme of the day. At the top of this section was a road climb followed by a short gravel climb, a rolling downhill, and a wickedly steep washed out downhill on Sawmill Gulch. This would be really sketchy in a bunch, but was okay to take cautiously. My race rig also features a dropper post, so using that along with the magical stopping power of modern disc brakes got me safely down the gnar. A looooooong road descent and the only real recovery of the day was followed by some slightly sketchy single track and then some wicked steep switchback ascending up Sunshine Canyon led us to the first rest stop. I got dropped off Bennet's wheel on the Sunshine steeps, and I rolled into the aid station at Gold Hill to find him eating bacon and being prodded to do a Fireball shot by the Sram support crew. I already felt pretty bad, and figured why let him suffer alone. Fireball, skittles, water bottles topped off and we were on the move again. More ripping descents, more hour long grinding slogs uphill fighting cramp pain and not being able to hold anyone's wheel eventually led us to the next aid station, where our arms where twisted into drinking more Fireball. My legs had never hurt this bad before, but I could somehow keep pedaling, so how could this make it any worse.
Loaded up with water for the last climb, I got dropped before the climb even started. Bennet had graciously or foolishly waited for me on every hill until now, so I grinded on alone at a snails pace, trying to will away cramps (didn't work) and just keep grinding. Over the last hump and down one more ripping descent back into town and the finish line, cheered on through the chute by my amazing family and friends hollering and ringing a cowbell. I survived! And lucky for me, the post race had a sweet festival atmosphere with bands, food trucks, beers and vendors displaying their wares. The highlight for me was my 18 month old daughter clapping for me at the finish line, followed by ice cold water and mini Cokes provided by the race organizer. Last, but certaintly not least was the Alchemy crew set up under a big tent to greet us with Colorado Kool-aid for a job well done, or, I guess a job done to be more accurate.
As I write this a week later, my legs still hurt, my bike is still dirty, and I can not wait to sign up again next year! See you on the start line!
-Philip Harwood, Alchemy finishmaster, paint booth operator, and gravel racer enthusiast