Adding further fuel to suspicions that gravel is the new black(top), 3T have just announced the launch of the Jeroboam Gravel Challenge: a new endurance race in Erbusco, Italy.
The inaugural Jeroboam Challenge is set to take place this May, and three routes have been confirmed with the longest, the Jeroboam, topping out at 300km and almost 5000 metres of climbing. There's also a 150km Magnum option, and a 75km Standard - this latter will take a race format, so while it's the shortest distance it will be hotly contested.
The event takes place in Italy's beautiful Franciacorta region, in the foothills of the Alps in Lombardy, on 20-21 May. Entry is open to all comers, priced €45.
Franciacorta has an extraordinarily varied pastoral landscape bordering on the beautiful Lago d'Iseo, and is renowned worldwide for its wine. Viticulture is mostly based on small estates specialising in the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc grape varieties. For international travelers, it's easily accessed from Bergamo's Orio Al Serio Airport (BGY).
All three distances start from the town square in Erbusco. Here's what the organisers have to say about the challenge awaiting riders:
"The Jeroboam 300 is a true epic at 300km and nearly 5000m elevation gain - not for the faint of heart! To begin with, the route traverses the Franciacorta vineyards, over undulating hills on beautiful gravel roads. As it heads north, it moves into the rougher and tougher mountains. The gravel and dirt tracks get narrower and rockier - some stretches may be barely ridable.
"Turning west, it loops round the top of beautiful Lago d'Iseo, offering stunning vistas. On the west bank, things don't get any easier, with some even steeper ramps on the way back south to the finish in Erbusco. There you can join the celebrations, if you have any energy left for partying. This is a unique chance for elite endurance riders to boast that they completed the first edition of the Jereboam 300 Challenge.
The Magnum 150 covers much of the same terrain but omits some of the high mountains to the north-west - obviously not so demanding as Jereboam 300, but at 150km still a tough endurance test even for hard riders.
There is nothing standard about the Standard 75. You start on the same roads as the longer distance events, winding through the Franciacorta vineyards and the beautiful landscapes of the Northern Italian Lake district. It's flatter than the longer events, but the gravel is just as tough and the views just as stunning. What's more, this one is actually a race, so the action is sure to be fast and furious."
The challenging terrain looks an ideal test for the increasingly popular breed of ride-anywhere gravel bikes. As luck would have it, event sponsors 3T have recently launched their own version, the 3T Exploro LTD - it seems a safe bet we'll be seeing one or two of those tackling the course come May.
Finally, a note on the course names for the Jeroboam Challenge. Booze buffs will have spotted already that each distance is named after a size of wine bottle, with the distance corresponding neatly to the bottle capacity: a Standard is 75cl, a Magnum is 150cl, while a Jeroboam weighs in with a blackout-guaranteeing 300cl.
"Franciacorta's most delicious sparkling wines are available in this bodacious size," explain the organisers, "and the prospect of a glass or so of the Nectar of the Gods at the after-party in Erbusco should sustain you on the road, whichever distance you choose!"
Anyone completing the 300km Jeroboam distance will certainly have earned a bottle or three. Get the full details of the event and enter at www.jeroboam.bike.