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Chasing the gravel experience – A year of branching out for Australia’s Courtney Sherwell

Courtney Sherwell has an impressive list of gravel victories in Australia, with a Dirty Warrny win in 2022, victory at the UCI Gravel World Series in Beechworth, Gravelista, in 2023 and this year a win at the new Uncorked Gravel race, but now its time to branch out into the hub of the international gravel racing scene, the United States.

The 35-year-old rider from Bendigo is about to take on her first race of the Belgian Waffle Ride’s Tripel Crown, part of the increasing flow of Australians overseas to up the ante by taking on a new group of races and rivals that include those recognised among the world’s best in the discipline.

“They are leading the way with gravel events in the U.S., and it was just something that, because I love gravel so much and it suits me, I wanted to experience,” Sherwell told Cycling News after a home gravel race, Sutton Grange Winery -Uncorked, near Bendigo last month which she won.

“There is so much participation in the US, and even just the spectators there as well so, I think it’d be really good to get the vibe and experience  … and hopefully also get some good results too.”

Sherwell, is among a group of Australians lining up on Saturday March 2 at the first BWR of the Tripel Crown in Arizona. Also venturing over to the event are the nation’s gravel champion Connor Sens as well as Gravelista and Seven podium placer Cassia Boglio. It is clear that as the lure of gravel racing is growing in Australia, so is the lure to the top players of testing themselves on a larger stage.

The LifeTime GrandPrix series has been a pathway for some, with the likes of Brendan Johnston, Tasman Nankervis and Ella Bloor having taking part last year while Johnston, Peta Mullens and the Australian-based rider from New Zealand Samara Sheppard made it into the series in 2024. Though, the combination of it being difficult to get a spot, and also requiring a long – not to mention expensive – period away however have meant that a number of riders from the nation have followed a different route, Sherwell included.

“So, I did apply for the Lifetime Grand Prix and I did want to be accepted, but unfortunately I wasn’t. But that’s sort of reshuffled my focus a little bit,” said Sherwell who on reflection was happy to opt for the shorter stint required from the commitment to the Tripel Crown. BWR Utah will be held in Cedar City on April 6, and BWR California will complete the set on April 28, with the top pro men and women sharing equally from the minimum prize purse set at $30,000.

On top of the Tripel Crown, Sherwell also plans to ride the True Grit Gravel Epic in Utah and Sea Otter Gravel in California before returning to Australia at the end of April. Though that certainly isn’t the extent of the international ambitions for the rider, who is also at home on the road and mountain bike, as it seems she has gone all in on gravel. 

The results quickly started flowing for the rider once she ventured into the discipline, as even in those races she didn’t win, Sherwell has been remarkably consistent in her ability to deliver near the top of the results sheet. On top of winning the 2022 opening edition of the 246km Dirty Warrny she also came second in 2023 – demonstrating a reliable ability to excel as the distances stretch which is a factor that will likely hold her in good stead in the US.

Sherwell also has proved herself repeatedly in the UCI Gravel World Series, taking to the podium at all three of the Australian events in the series she competed in. Those World Series rounds act as qualifiers for the UCI Gravel World Championships, to be held in Belgium this year, and the Victorian who claimed victory at the first 2024 qualifier in Beechworth hopes to be representing Australia in the elite category at the rainbow jersey race in October.

Then, all going well, the gravel adventure should continue into 2025, with Sherwell hoping to return to the United States once again and try out a whole new set of events. The plan is to take on some of the key races that she had previously been eyeing off when she lodged her Life Time Grand Prix application, but with the benefit of the flexibility to pick and choose which ones.

“I would like to do some of the races within the series, so Unbound and potentially Leadville and Big Sugar looks like a lot of fun as well,” said Sherwell. “So maybe it will be a matter of going into the lottery and hopefully doing those next year – focusing on a different sort of race plan.”

One, that is bound to keep the adventure alive and hopefully also the results rolling.

SOURCE: CyclingNews   (go to source)
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