Gravel Report: California’s Auburn Dirt Fondo in the Sierra Foothills – Cyclocross Magazine

by Willie Hawkins

This past weekend over 70 riders converged in the Sierra Foothills Gold Country for the 2nd Auburn Dirt Fondo. This event takes place in California’s Sierras and wanders its way through the foothills into the Tahoe National Forest.

When speaking about the inspiration for this event, promoter Kenny Burt says, “Vibes are great and it is nearly impossible not to enjoy the scenery when stoke is so high!”

The ride began at 8 am with a neutral roll out of all the participants.2019 Auburn Dirt Fondo gravel ride. © W. Hawkins / Cyclocross Magazine

The Event

The Auburn Dirt Fondo was designed to be just difficult enough for people to see the real beauty of the region and include aspects of mountain, cyclocross and road biking into one event. The event was permitted under USA Cycling’s Group Ride permit, which meant it wasn’t a race with official timing. That doesn’t mean it didn’t have some big names riding the course, including former cyclocross pro Ben Jacques-Maynes and Ibis Cycles’ founder Scot Nicol.

Scenic views had riders stopping along the course to take photos and admire the beauty. 2019 Auburn Dirt Fondo gravel ride. © W. Hawkins / Cyclocross Magazine

This year all proceeds from the event, totaling over $800, are being donated to help victims of the California Campfire wildfire. Burt is still figuring out where the money will help the most people but he is currently considering the North Valley Community Foundation. Co-promoter Tim Cannard reported that they hope the funds go to help a single family in need.

Rolling out just after 8 a.m., participants faced a 75-mile course with over 8,000 feet of climbing. The first section of the course featured bumpy doubletrack split up by a few gates riders had to hop. This caused the 70-person-strong group to quickly break up into smaller packs. People clung to these small packs up the first climb of the day, a hearty 75-footer that got the legs pumping.

The barriers were a bit higher than UCI regulations at the 2019 Auburn Dirt Fondo gravel ride. © W. Hawkins / Cyclocross Magazine

Immediately after the climb, riders descended a freshly graded dirt road that claimed many victims to punctures and flats. Riders more or less regrouped at the bottom of the descent where the first aid station was located.

The aid station, nestled at the lowest point on course, could not have been at a more optimal location as it allowed riders to refuel and admire a scenic overlook of the river before beginning a grueling 10-mile 3,500-foot climb. At the top of the climb, riders were greeted with an additional aid station catered towards bike support.

Race organizers planned support stations well with a feed station at around the 20 and 55-mile mark as well as a bike support station at the halfway point. 2019 Auburn Dirt Fondo gravel ride. © W. Hawkins / Cyclocross Magazine

Along this upper section of course riders were faced with two steep punchy climbs, some rolling hills, and many scenic views of the mountains and lakes of the Tahoe National Forest. A long descent of pavement and gravel brought riders back to the first aid station and allowed riders to recuperate before heading back up the graded dirt road and the last long climb of the day.

About 2/3rd of the ride took place on forest service roads with the occasional single track and paved road sprinkled in. 2019 Auburn Dirt Fondo gravel ride. © W. Hawkins / Cyclocross Magazine

Riders then faced 15 more miles before seeing the finish line at Moonraker Brewery for a post Fondo reward of beer and burritos.

Looking Ahead

Next year Kenny is thinking about finding some new roads and trails to add, live music, and camping options for those who decide to travel to the ride. One thing he promises won’t change is “the positive vibe from my great community of people and the sheer beauty of this region I’m lucky enough to call home.”

Riders begin the longest gravel climb of the day. 2019 Auburn Dirt Fondo gravel ride. © W. Hawkins / Cyclocross Magazine