Gòmez-Villafañe, Swenson Take Inaugural Valley of Tears Gravel Race

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TURKEY, Texas (March 9, 2024) — In the heart of Texas, amidst the sprawling landscapes of Hall County, the inaugural Valley of Tears Gravel Race saw a triumphant debut with over 600 participants descending upon the small town of Turkey, tripling the population on the day. The Fairly family, overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, doubled the prize purse to a whopping $52,000 just a minute before the race commenced, setting the stage for an electrifying event.

As the mass start kicked off the 115-mile course, riders encountered challenging terrain, particularly the initial 18 miles fraught with sandy stretches. The intensity of the race was palpable from the outset as early splits occurred due to a top 10 rider’s crash, causing significant disruptions.

Notable contenders in the women’s race faced setbacks, including Emily Newsom’s valiant effort to bridge back after a crash which damaged her rear derailleur. Newsom was forced to chase while only being able to shift between her big and small chainrings, finally catching the leaders after 20-mile solo effort. Geerike Schreurs was also caught up in the crash but wasn’t able to continue after a race-ending handlebar snap.

Keegan Swenson navigates his way through the Limestone Pits. Photo by Alex Roszko, courresy Valley of Tears Gravel

The riders then faced 15 miles of grueling conditions, including the extremely rocky Limestone Pits, which forced most of the leading riders off their bikes. Over the next 6 miles, the men’s race fragmented into three clear groups: Keegan Swenson and Chase Wark led the pack, followed closely by Brennan Wertz, Tobin Ortenblad, and Finn Gullickson. Trailing them was a cluster of 12 riders, which included Ted King and Alex Howes.

As they reached mile 20, the competitors embarked on a 10-mile gradual but grueling ascent up the Rails to Trails path through the Clarity Tunnel up the Caprock. The climb proved to be pivotal, with Swenson and Wark solidifying their lead, boasting a 1-minute advantage at the base of the climb and extending it to 1’40” at the summit. Meanwhile, the trio of Brennan, Tobin, and Finn maintained a 50-second lead over the third group at the peak.

Keegan Swenson and Chase Wark trade turns putting in the work to increase their lead. Photo by Alex Roszko, courresy Valley of Tears Gravel

Keegan and Chase worked well together for next 30 miles and by time they got to the Tampico Tundra they had 5 minutes over the chasers, who never really organized nor worked together cohesively. Three miles into Tampico Tundra, on a short punchy climb, Swenson rode Werk off his wheel and soloed the final 20 miles, despite challenges like mishandled feeds and equipment malfunctions.

Ultimately, Keegan Swenson manages to breakaway, and soloes the last 20-miles to the finish. Photo by Alex Roszko, courresy Valley of Tears Gravel

Swenson’s tenacity propelled him to a remarkable victory, crossing the finish line with a commanding 5-minute lead over Wark, while Gullickson claimed victory in the group sprint for third.

In the women’s competition, a compelling duel unfolded between Sofia Gòmez Villafañe, Jenna Rinehart, and Emily Newsom.

Sonia Gòmez-Villafañe works her way through the Limestone Pits. Photo by Alex Roszko, courresy Valley of Tears Gravel

Going into the Rails to Trails path, Villafañe and Rinehart had a 3-minute lead over Newsom. Despite the setback from her crash and mechanical issues, Newsom showcased remarkable resilience, eventually rejoining the lead after the climb and descent from the Caprock back into the Valley.

However, Sofia’s decisive attack in the Tampico Tundra proved decisive, propelling her to a dominant two-up sprint finish victory, with Rinehart securing second place and Newsom valiantly clinching third just 1’38” behind Villafañe.

Against the picturesque backdrop of Hall County, the Valley of Tears not only tested the physical limits of its participants but also showcased the unyielding spirit and camaraderie inherent in the world of gravel racing.

Overall Men’s Top-10 Results

PlaceNameOverall Time
1Keegan Swenson4:49:41
2Chase Wark4:55:27
3Finn Gullickson4:57:47
4Brennan Wertz4:57:48
5Adam Roberge4:57:49
6Julien Gagne4:57:50
7Alex Howes5:01:22
8Jack Makohon5:01:22
9Nathan Spratt5:01:23
10Tobin Ortenblad5:02:41

 

Overall Women’s Top-10 Results

PlaceNameOverall Time
1Sofia Gòmez-Villafañe5:40:02
2Jenna Rinehart5:40:05
3Emily Newsom5:41:40
4Marisa Boaz5:55:53
5Danielle Ravnikar6:03:34
6Terry Casey6:05:04
7Erin Reedy6:16:50
8Victoria Herring6:52:20
9Candace Matthies6:53:47
10Jessica Martin6:59:25

 

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