A new one-day gravel race in Finland called FNLD GRVL (pronounced ‘Finland Gravel’) has been announced for later this year – the brainchild of Canyon-SRAM pro rider Tiffany Cromwell, her partner, Finnish Formula 1 driver Valtteri Bottas, and Amy Charity, race director of SBT GRVL.
The event will take place on Saturday 10th June with a choice of three distances, giving options for both experienced cyclists and those new to gravel, with all of them starting and finish in Lahti and a total prize purse of €20,000.
The racing is part of a wider four-day event running from 8th June to 11th June, which will incorporate both entertainment and even a bike expo, with official bike partner Canyon offering on-course aid stations for the race.
Valtteri Bottas Canyon
‘The idea stems from SBT GRVL [pronounced ‘Steamboat Gravel’], which has been a large cycling event in Colorado since 2019,’ says Charity, co-founder of that event. ‘Tiffany had participated in our events early on and invited her partner Valtteri to race too. We began talking about how Europe doesn’t have something right now that looks like this style of racing and how can we bring some of the great experiences that we have in the US over to Europe.’
Cromwell races a mix of road and gravel for the Canyon-SRAM team and the 2021 edition of SBT GRVL marked her gravel-racing debut, finishing eighth on the 144-mile Black Course. One year later, she won SBT GRVL’s 100-mile Blue Course. ‘I love road,’ she says, ‘but I’m somebody who has always liked to have an additional stimulus. I like to have different things to be able to do as opposed to only focussing on one discipline.’
In Colorado, Bottas won his age group in SBT GRVL’s 60-mile Red Race, which led to the pair speaking with organiser Charity about the European gravel scene.
‘The pair felt strongly that there’s some great gravel roads over in Finland,’ Charity says. ‘We went to test them out ourselves back in August last year. They are phenomenal. I’m excited about what we have in store and taking a lot of what we’ve already learned and developed in Steamboat to Lahti.’
An hour away from Finland’s capital Helsinki, Lahti is no stranger to hosting sporting events, including the Red Bull 400 and the annual Lahti Ski Games, with the upcoming Ironman 70.3 World Championships also taking place there in August. As such Cromwell envisions it as a welcoming space for a gravel race to thrive while also focussing on sustainability. Lahti is aiming to be a carbon neutral city by 2025 and was the European Green Capital in 2021. FNLD GRVL received support from the town governor to put on the races.
‘The spirit of gravel’ is a tagline that has been repeated often enough over the years to almost be tongue-in-cheek at this point, but it remains a reference to gravel’s welcoming feeling and community focus, something Cromwell doesn’t want to see lost.
‘I think what’s so great about gravel is that it’s so inclusive,’ Cromwell says. ‘We have categories for everybody: men, women, non-binary people. There aren’t really any “rules” to the extent that the history of road cycling has, such as certain distances, and I think that’s where gravel has always been much more equal.
‘These are all the things we want to bring to FNLD GRVL. The US scene has been exploding for a long time now. We’ve seen it come to Europe, and obviously [cycling’s governing body] the UCI has become involved, which people have mixed opinions about, but the European scene is still very different as it’s growing. There are some gravel races, but they’re more focussed only on racing and not the whole experience.
‘Gravel racing is serious, but at the same time, it’s fun. You can finish your race and have a beer with everyone at the end, you can bring your family, there’s something for everybody.’
Cromwell, Bottas and Charity have big plans for the event, its date in June coinciding with the midnight sun. The phenomenon occurs due to the tilt of the earth’s axis, where almost constant sunlight shines on regions above the Arctic circle during the summer, mostly impacting northern Finland.
There will be three routes, the Forest Route at 40km, the Lakes Route (77km) and the Midnight Sun Route, which is the longest at 177km. Riders will be able to bring their own nutrition or stop at rest points dotted around the courses. Cromwell will be racing the 177km route, with Bottas participating in the 77km route due to it taking place in the week between the Spanish and Canadian F1 Grands Prix.
‘We’re pitching the 177km event as the blue-riband event,’ Cromwell says. ‘It’s the one that all the top professionals will be racing. We have an equal prize pool, so even if an amateur wins, they get the prize pool as we’re not separating pros and amateurs, There will be age group prizes through our sponsors for all the races.
‘At the end, we really want to create a place where people can go down to the harbour in Lahti, where we will have food trucks and beverages, music concerts, games, floating saunas, just a nice place to hang out. It will be a race, but it’s so much more than a race.’
There will be ShakeOut rides too – mixed and women’s only group rides before and after the event – from the local Kaiwa coffee shop, which Bottas is part owner of.
‘A key aim would be to increase more on the women’s participation side and keep growing there,’ Cromwell says. ‘I’d like to get better coverage of gravel racing too, then hopefully there will be more gravel races in Europe. I’d love to see gravel stay serious as it’s developing, but still have the spirit of gravel where it’s a place for everybody and it’s more than just a race. It’s a whole experience.’
You can register for FNLD GRVL here.