Beginning Aug. 13, an epic 500K and 250K gravel bikepacking challenge will send cyclists along the majestic gravel roads of Quebec’s Eastern Townships on a stunning route. The GBC 500 presented by Argon 18 is an event borne during the pandemic when people needed to stay apart but also needed to satisfy their competitive spirits. It worked, and it was so popular that it is now an annual event by creators Endurance Aventure that is growing in popularity just like gravel biking.
“It’s an outstanding event,” says Pierre Langlois, who participated in the event last year. “It is well organized but it’s made for us to discover new roads, new scenery, local boutiques and to get outside of our limits.”
The event sees participants choose a 250K, or 500K course to be completed over a maximum of five days. It can be done solo or duo as well as a self-supported category. Checkpoints along the way are awe-inspiring. The route on GPS is sent to the participants one month in advance as a racebook, which can also be downloaded for a smartphone.
Want to ride 150K per day for three days and cruise on the fourth day, go for it. Or, go as hard as you want and finish as quickly as possible. It’s up to you.
“When you go out you're not going on your own, we are around but you feel you are going on an adventure,” says organizer Jean-Thomas “JT” Boily of Endurance Aventure, which also operates a bike shop and organizes several other endurance events including triathlon.
“You don't have to volunteer at every corner on the long course like that. But still, you know you have in mind that people are looking out for you. We have a medical team and people on the course to make sure that everybody is safe.”
There are also three categories: classic, robusto, and e-bike. In classic, cyclists use local accommodation along the route and enjoy the 10 food stops along the way showcasing local hospitality operations, the robusto category is self-supported and the e-bike category is open to those using pedal assist.
The course leads you along the most beautiful Eastern Township roads, 85 percent on dirt roads and gravel trails and 15 percent on paved country roads.
“It’s a challenge, not just a race,” Boily says. “You can choose your way of doing it. And so far, we have some elite athletes that want to do a 500K as fast as they can, and also we have people who want to do it in five days. It's really an open challenge.”
The Eastern Townships of Quebec is becoming something of a gravel biking mecca, he adds, and with more and more cars on the roads every year, sticking to gravel is so much better and safer.
“There's nobody on those roads,” Boily says. “So that's a new feeling that people really enjoy around here. Around here in the Eastern Townships, it’s getting really popular. I mean, almost every road cyclist we know has switched to gravel in the last two years, I guess. So, the event is a way to promote the gravel roads, the region, and people keep coming back for sure.”
The journey is an epic 500 kilometres with 6,500 metres of elevation and completing it is a memorable and powerful experience.
Langois says, crossing the finishing was the highlight, for him.
“We were so happy about completing the 500 kilometres,” he says. “We never thought that would be possible.”
Boily says the region is hilly but in a very good way.
“That's what makes it beautiful,” he says. “Because every time you get up a hill you have a new point of view. And there are so many lakes around, so many places to discover.”
For more information on Endurance Aventure's Gravel Bikepacking Challenge go to the event website.