The Leaders of Gravel: Dominique Powers’ Medium Format Portraits

This series is a look at the women pushing gravel cycling to be better than it already is.  I photograph them to share their stories, their outlooks, their experiences. 

With my hatchback stuffed with cameras and stands, camping gear, more cycling kit than I could wear, and my bike on the back I created this project. I put 3000 miles on my car over a month traveling around the country, connecting with these women in parking lots and trailheads, trekking through woods and up mountains. When I pulled up at the start line of SBT GRVL for my first bike race it was with many of them toeing the line as well.

Through every conversation, I learned more about them and the world of gravel that I’m falling so deeply into.  I shot against a backdrop to single out, raise up, and celebrate these icons of the sport.  Our time shared in this space I created sacred because of its intention.

What is more special than to create a moment, and then capture it?

This sport is a sum of its parts. These women are only some of the incredible athletes, leaders, mentors, and role models who are pushing it forward and expanding its horizons.

In its newness is potential.  Potential to be shaped and let grow and flourish as it will.  There is a yearning for inclusivity, diversity, fun.  The open start line calls to us, but how do we create the access to get people there?  With no rules and regulations, how do we celebrate the untamed?

We all see a future brighter than the one we live – what will we do to get there?

There is fierceness in our desire for change, and passion in how we approach the issues with the traditional cycling scene that are unfolding with each race, event, group ride.  With so many new races popping up athletes are now given the choice to put their money and presence where their intentions lie.  There are choices between adventure and competition.  Podiums matter to some, but collective group rides are important to others.  It ultimately is in the hands of the event coordinators to set the tone for the space they are creating, and the cycling community to show up to those that are welcoming.

“Having this platform to bring more people into cycling is what makes me excited about gravel. If we continue to create distances that work for people they will have variety in what they’re able to do. I love that every race director gets to chose what they think the rules are, some races are supported, some aren’t, you’re really able to define what you like.” – Amy Charity

“How do we continue to open up the doors for other folks to feel like they can show up and be a part of this excitement in the same way I get excited? I see this being the opportunity to create change, to welcome people that normally wouldn’t be [here]. We all start somewhere and you just have to give people the opportunity. I think that we’re starting to get there and a lot of people are starting to think – how do I do it, how do I start, give me the chance, let me ride your wheel, help me understand. It’s building trust.” – Krystal Salvent

“I try to always build on the community aspect of bikes, that’s what really made me fall in love with it, more than the act of riding itself, was just all of the people that I met through bikes. So if I can help use my place in the bike world to give opportunities for more people to join the community that is where my place is.” – Amanda Schaper

“I started wearing jean shorts while riding as a reminder that I’m choosing that this is supposed to be fun and not tied to my self worth, if I lose it doesn’t matter. The cool thing about gravel is that it’s all-inclusive, you can do this as a bucket list item or you can do crazy-ass LeadBoat, or race it, or ride it with friends.” – Sarah Sturm

“Gravel by necessity ends up happening in rural off-grid places which aren’t really safe for lots of marginalized folks. If you want to go on a bike pack on minimal maintenance roads you’re not near cities usually, that’s a piece of it that we don’t talk about. All of a sudden I’m in the middle of Trump country and I don’t know if I’m safe. All it takes is one person to make it a bad situation.” – Rachel Olzer

“My dad loved riding bikes and being outside. He got that taken away from him and that is something that I think of every time I get to ride. You get to feel the pain in your legs and the burning in your lungs. Remembering it’s not something that everybody gets to do and it’s something can be taken away at any moment is the reason that I do this. It makes being out there in a headwind easier knowing that this is something that is a privilege to do. Ride for those that can’t or can’t anymore.” – Iz King

“You can’t say that cycling is for one type of person.” – Kathy Pruitt

“I bring my whole self [to cycling]. A sense of fire too, I’m not very shy about wanting to be fast and wanting to be competitive, being able to bring all of that to rides I’m on and be unabashed about that- being fast doesn’t mean you have to be an asshole. I bring… not enough snacks. I like to think about what cycling has brought to me- what am I returning to it? I feel like I have gotten way more from it.” – Maude Farrell

“We just hosted a 100 person women’s clinic in Vermont and seeing the transformation that happens in peoples life over a weekend is so much bigger than just the bicycle, it’s the self-confidence, finding their identity, connection with other people and community. I’ve come to realize it’s so much more than the bike, the bike is just the tool for all those things. If I can play a small role in helping facilitate that, that is so much more longer lasting and meaningful than my competitive days. It’s one thing to open more spots for women but it’s important to step back and look at what is actually going to get more women on bikes- you need to equip them with the skills and confidence.” – Laura King

“I think that gravel offers this unique experience to connect to the land that you’re riding through. It’s so important to tell that story and educate people about the land and why it’s worth protecting, enrolling [cyclists] as advocates for the land they’re rolling through. Gravel has the potential to tell that story really well.” – Sarah Swallow

“I play a lot of weird mental games with myself, whenever my legs hurt I acknowledge that my legs are hurting and look at it objectively. This is a sensation and it’s not necessarily bad. Pain or effort is not a bad thing to feel, this is good. Fun is fast. Because then when you’re miserable you can remind yourself, fun is fast, gotta have fun. Sometimes all it takes is two lines of a song on repeat.” – Amity Rockwell

“The idea that representation matters in this last year and a half is huge. I think it matters to have my face out there because there aren’t very many people who look like me [in cycling]. My mom came here from another country and because of that she tells me ‘you are American’. For me to be a second-generation kid to go back to my mom and say ‘no but we’re ‘Asian-American’. It matters that people that look like me are out there. For a lot of first-generation people they don’t want to think that, they just want to blend in.” – Amanda Nauman

“I think it’s going to blow up pretty soon here, it has been blowing up for a few years. My first gravel race was 2015 and no one was doing it. I see it getting faster and bigger, I think it’s going to take over the road race scene, it’s more accessible. It’s more friendly- people are a lot friendlier at gravel races. I think people like the friendlier atmosphere, and if you want to take it seriously you can. “ – Lauren De Crescenzo

“We all get to share the experience regardless of where you finish. That is where we get the inclusivity and more people that want to challenge themselves. For some it’s winning, for some it’s finishing, for some it’s getting to hang out with their best friend. And I think that’s the best part.” – Ali Tetrick

“It’s not just inclusivity for women, it’s inclusivity for all… When I think of an inclusive start line I see not just women, but BIPOC, trans/femme, non-binary, para-athletes, all shapes all sizes. I think gravel is the space, the challenge is making sure that it’s communicated as a race director, that you’re welcome here.” – Kristi Mohn



We’d like to thank everyone who took part in this series and we’d also like to commend Dominique Powers for pulling this together for The Radavist!