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Highlands Gravel Classic

Race Report by Colleen Maher


• 67.6 miles

• 4,850 elevation gain

• 95% gravel with slippery climbs, chunky descents, and plenty of mud

UCI Gravel World Series (a podium finish qualifies riders to compete at the UCI Gravel World Championships in Belgium in October)


The few days leading up to the Highlands Gravel Classic Race just outside of Bentonville, Arkansas, were filled with rain, making the recently graded roads on the course something to be reckoned with. Groups were pre-riding and sharing tips about the most treacherous descents. The organizers even sent out an email the night before about specific slippery climbs, chunky downhills, and sharp turns to be cautious of. Luckily, every race I’ve done this season has been a mud fest.

I didn’t have the opportunity to pre-ride the course, but I have ridden gravel in the North West Arkansas area before. I knew it could get chunky and sharp (there’s no Champagne gravel there). Luckily, living in Western North Carolina, I have various types of gravel to ride and test my equipment on.

Knowing the course was likely to be on the rougher side, I wanted my equipment and bike setup to be something that would make a smoother, but still fast, ride and not take an excessive amount of energy from the rest of my body. Since a smoother bike setup will conserve energy, I can now use that energy to race.

I chose to ride my Enve Mog because I’ve found that it somehow does create a smoother ride out on rougher gravel.

I wanted my wheels to be nimble, responsive, and light. I chose to run my Gulo Composite wheels GGA 38’s because they are just that. The first time I rode these wheels, I was impressed with how nimble and responsive they were. I felt like they were going exactly where I wanted, and I could feel the connection to the ground, all while somehow being a very smooth ride.

I put Specialized Pathfinder Pro 47 tires on the wheels. Overall, they have great rolling resistance and puncture resistance. I like the center slick and just a small amount of knobs on the sides. Having some chunky gravel in WNC and doing single-track riding on those tires, I knew they would be a good fit for the Northwest Arkansas gravel.

Colleen Maher riding towards the finish

Colleen Maher at the finish in 1st place

Bike Check

  • Bike: Enve Mog, 49cm
  • Wheels: Gulo Composite
  • Tires: Specialized Pathfinder Pros, 47
  • Groupset: Sram Transmission with Force/RedXX SL 10-52 cassette and derailleur
  • 50T tooth chainring
  • Seatpost: Darimo


Even though this was part of the UCI Gravel World Series, it was a mass-start event. One of the challenges of this type of start is trying to keep an eye on the other women you’re racing against amongst a sea of hundreds of men, all jockeying for positions and riding aggressively.

The first 10 miles were fast and rolling, and then the move happened from the men to create separation, and I was the first woman from that group to get dropped. Another woman did shortly after, and we rode together for the next mile, slowly picking up and adding the other women who got dropped to our group. At this point, I knew we had regrouped with some really strong competitors, but I could not be positive if the 1-2 riders I noticed missing were in front or behind us.

Almost as soon as we regrouped at mile 11, we went to a shorter and slightly chunky descent. It was there that I noticed my descents would be a strength in this field, as a small gap opened. We immediately went into a sustained climb. I settled in momentarily, anticipating the group would quickly get back together because of how punchy everyone was riding the rollers. But climbing mountains is different from climbing hills…

I checked behind me, and there was a good size gap. In fact, I couldn’t even see anyone behind me. I knew the rest of the course was rolling after this sustained climb, with one really steep climb at the end. I recognized that descents and sustained climbs were my bread and butter for this race. I put my head down and decided to make this gap stick.

Still not sure if there was a rider or two ahead of me, I was riding as if I was only 10 seconds away from catching the ‘leader’ and only 10 seconds away from being swallowed by the group behind me. It was so muddy, I could feel my drivetrain struggling to turn. I skipped all the aid stations and sacrificed some precious water, pouring it on my drivetrain while riding, trying to clear it up. The last 3 miles, I put in a heavy dig because I was not going to be caught at the end after all the solo work of the day, and I wanted to catch anyone who might have been lingering out front.

That is how I accidentally time-trialed solo from mile 11 to the finish. With almost a 20-minute gap, I snagged first place and qualified to compete at the UCI Gravel World Championships in Belgium in October.

Colleen Maher at the finish

Colleen’s New Jersey