The Robidoux Rendezvous may be a new race, but a very generous purse brought some of the best gravel racers to Gering, Nebraska, last weekend. The result was an action-packed race. We’re proud to report that both the men’s and women’s winners rode on Rene Herse tires.

Here’s the report from the men’s winner, Innokenty (Inno) Zavyalov (Mazda Orange Seal):

“After an 11 hour drive I arrived, stiff and swollen—the driving often seems harder then the race—with just enough time for a short spin on the course. The sun setting over the high plateau lit up the sky like a thousand fires, a stunning view. I’ve never ridden here, and it is gorgeous. I had one day to relax and pre-ride the course before a 6 a.m. Saturday race start for the 98.6-mile race.

I’ve had to adapt and learn how to race smarter. For the last two years, I’ve felt as I’m still chasing some elusive fitness that I was able to achieve many years ago. Less watt/kg, much smaller threshold, and overall less matches to burn—all this has taught me many humbling lessons and has made me a more efficient rider. I was very well aware that the big prize purse in this race would bring out some of the best, but God knows I needed the $.

In the race I was quite greedy with my efforts. I did not hit the front much during the first few hours. Legs were feeling quite heavy and tight early in the race. Paradoxically that heavy feeling helped me conserve energy. I had a lot of respect for my competition that day, and I knew I would need every ounce of energy to make the front group, past the vicious single-track climb 60 miles in.

I was not willing to give up extra effort to losses in aerodynamics or poor rolling resistance. I ran with FSA aerobars, a hydration bladder tucked under my Castelli skinsuit, and some very nerdy almost-knee-high shoe covers. So Aero 🤓. I used an aero Wolf Tooth 48t chainring and Rene Herse 44 mm Snoqualmie Pass file treads, Extralight casing on the front and Endurance casing on the rear. And a Lazer Vento aero road helmet.

Going into the race, Chase Wark and I discussed possible outcomes. And made a plan accordingly. What we knew for sure was that, if we teamed up, we had a much better shot at getting on the top of the podium. We work really well together, and it always lifts my mood whenever we find ourselves in the same break-away. Neither of us are phenomenal climbers, or phenomenal sprinters. But we know how to ride hard and how to be gritty!

After seasoned pro Marc Spratt and Trevor Foley, an exceptional triathlete, pushed the pace on the first climbs, I was definitely on the ropes, but still there. Rolling over the top John Frey joined, and it was the five of us. Chase and I did everything we could to soften the group. We pushed hard in the gravel corners, the crosswinds, and the fast downhills—always with the goal of creating any situation for the group to chase one or both of us.

“Approaching the single track, I pushed hard, but I was still surprised no one out-sprinted me for the hole shot. Chase was on my wheel and Marc, in third place, had to put a foot down momentarily. I pushed hard for the next 11 minutes. How hard exactly I don’t know—my power meter was having a fit that day—but I was putting in a big effort. Chase had no problem staying with me, and we crested the top together.

“For the rest of the race, my inner time trialist came out, and we pushed hard, rotating and hitting the turns as fast as we could. It was not a given that we would stay clear, and we decided that whoever climbed stronger on the last big climb would take the win. That way, we would stay together to the finish and make sure the other wouldn’t get caught. When we reached the last steep climb, I pushed hard and opened a gap on Chase over the top. That was that!

We got back to working together and trading pulls. As we were flying down the descent I could pause and appreciate what had happened. It was an amazing feeling to execute our plan and have it come together. I don’t think either of us could have done it alone. And to be able to do that with a good friend makes it that much better.

“As I spend longer in the sport, I become much more grateful for any improvements in race wisdom or fitness. Every season being better than the last is not a given any longer. After all ,I think we are racing to learn how to use our minds and our bodies and explore our potential. In the end, we are all just racing against ourselves.

Congratulations Inno and Chase for an awesome performance.

From the women’s race, Jenna Rinehart (Mazda Orange Seal) had a very exciting race. She reported:

“What a great day of bike racing! Thanks to Robidoux Rendezvous for putting on an awesome event with a generous prize purse. This year we were greeted with perfect weather and a stacked women’s field.

“A couple good climbs shook things up a bit, and current Gravel National Champ Lauren Stephens got a gap on us around 40 miles in. I thought that we might not see Lauren again. I rode in a group with a couple of other women until we hit a section of uphill single-track about 65 miles in. I increased the pace for this 12-minute stretch of trail and was able to get a gap on the other women in my group. A long gravel descent followed, and when I looked up at the bottom, I was shocked to see Lauren just up the road with a few other guys.

I put in an effort and was able to join her group. Five of us rolled together until the base of the last big climb at mile 82. Half way up the climb it really started to pitch up. Lauren attacked and put about 30 seconds into me. One other guy went with her, and I had one guy with me. We could still see them and worked hard taking pulls on some rollers and then a gradual downhill. I noticed we were starting to bring them back, which was super motivating.

With about 8 miles to go we caught them and now it was a group of 4 of us. I tried attacking on an uphill riser with about a mile to go, but couldn’t shake Lauren. It was going to come down to a sprint. There was one loose corner turning into the finish straight and thought my best bet was to lead into the corner and see if I could get a gap around it, as handling is more of my strength than sprinting. Out of the corner I got a gap and gave it everything across the final 100 meters to grab the win!

Jenna rode on Rene Herse 700×44 Soqualmie Pass Endurance tires. Her teammate Marisa Boaz finished 5th (also on Snoqualmie Endurance tires), completing a great day for the Mazda Orange Seal team. Congratulations to all!

Photo credits: Inno Zavyalov (Photo 2); Abigail Wark (all others)