There’s no asphalt, no trails and no prizes.

As cycling races go, theAntiEpic 160 might test riders’ expectations as much as their bodies, delivering 168 miles of punishment strictly on gravel roads.

So you might want to bring a spare tire.

The race, on a rolling course east of Monument, is part of a growing niche in cycling called gravel grinders – self-guided endurance races in which riders supply their own food and water and use maps or GPS to follow country roads.

The AntiEpic is an unsupported event, meaning the route isn’t marked and no one is standing by to make sure you’re going the right way or that you remembered your tire patches.

“You need to figure it out and you need to handle yourself,” said race founder Ben Welnak of Littleton, who cited the “satisfaction” of enduring the 168-mile ordeal as its chief reward. Riders might also elect to participate in a shorter, 50-mile version.

His website, ridinggravel.com, offers tips on where to find gas stations to resupply. There is no fee to enter the race, and no water stations are provided. Many gravel racers ride mountain bikes or custom-built bikes with durable tires.

Long a tradition in the mountainless Midwest, gravel grinders have exploded in popularity in recent years, largely as word spread about their camaraderie and laid-back charm.

A 200-mile gravel race in Emporia, Kan., called the Dirty Kanza and the 300-plus-mile Trans Iowa are among the better known.

Although it’s a race, many riders slog it out together, riding two and three abreast on an open road, and shared pain is central to the appeal.

Several bicycle manufacturers, including Fort Collins-based Niner Bikes, have released gravel-specific bikes for the sport.

Welnak, a Wisconsin native and founder of mountainbikeradio.com, a network of mountain biking podcasts and radio shows, is looking to bolster the scene in the Monument area, and he appears to have made a solid start.

Two 50-mile gravel races in fall of 2014 drew about 100 cyclists and raised $1,500 in donations for the Salvation Army. More than 130 riders were expected at the Anti, though 100 of those are slated to compete in the shorter, 50-mile version.

In states without Colorado’s endless miles of premier single track, riding on gravel roads is a way to get miles in while enjoying nature and avoiding vehicle traffic.

“This is how we used to train,” said Jon Severson of Colorado Springs, a Minnesota native who said he rode in his first gravel grinder in Iowa in the 1990s.

But convincing Colorado natives there’s something in it for them has sometimes been a challenge, Welnak said. Most of his pitches draw the same response, he said: “I don’t get it.”

But when they try it, “they keep coming back.”

There’s beauty in Colorado’s less traveled places, and the races also draw attention to other rewarding forms of cycling, such as touring.

“That whole area is really nice,” Welnak said. “The Palmer Divide gets a little more moisture than (Colorado Springs). It keeps the roads in pretty good shape. They’re not too dusty. They’re not too wet. They’re usually pretty good, especially this time of year.”

He adds: “Really, what it comes down to is, it’s just different.”

THE ANTIEPIC
The AntiEpic 160 packed 8,700 feet of elevation gain into its 168 miles. It took nine to 14 hours for most riders to complete.

The AntiEpic 50 featured 2,500 feet of elevation gain over its 50 miles.

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