In its second edition, Big Sugar Gravel welcomed 915 riders to Bentonville, Arkansas. The stage was set for seasoned gravel riders to face off against WorldTour pros like EF Pro Cycling’s Lachlan Morton and Emily Newsom and Bora Hansgrohe’s Jordi Meeus. A warm morning greeted riders at the start line, with a high of 85 degrees set for the afternoon, a major difference from last year’s stormy conditions but the dry weather around Northwest Arkansas and Missouri left many exposed rocks throughout the route, creating rough and dusty conditions on course.

Russell Finsterwald and Paige Onweller emerged victorious in Bentonville to earn the neon Big Sugar Gravel trophy. After the race, Finsterwald, 31, described the day bluntly, “The best way to sum it up is that it was a dogfight out there. Everyone was racing for that top spot. There were a lot of places to move up in the (Life Time) Grand Prix.

” A lot of us were just going for it. It’s the last race of the season, there’s nothing to lose out there. It was full gas all day.

“I looked two hours in and we averaged 330 watts and was like, ‘It’s on today.’

“I just held on, had a little bit left at the end and threw in a solid attack.”

Keegan Swenson pulled away early in a bid for another win in the Life Time Gran Prix series.


Onweller described herself as a ‘dark horse’ in an interview the night before the race. The 33-year-old from Grand Rapids, Michigan races for Abus Pro Cycling and crossed the line in 5:33:05. When asked what changed for her to earn her first major gravel win, Onweller said “Having the confidence to push the hills and just to know that I deserved to be in the front. Before I always had a little bit of doubt, I usually I don’t want to go down the descent first and slow down everyone behind me.

“My approach was a lot different today. I said ‘I’m going to drill the hills because I know I’m strong and minimize losses on the descents.’ But during the race, I could descend a little better and kept the gaps. I just kept pushing along.”


Onweller crossed the line minutes ahead of her closest competitor.


Racers set off at 7:30 in the morning under partly cloudy skies and a warm breeze. By mile 20 there was a split of 16 riders with many favorites making it into the front including Finsterwald, Peter Stetina, John Borstelmann and WorldTour pro Jordi Meuss. At the first checkpoint, 38 miles in, EF rider Lachlan Morton and Howard Grotts held a gap of 30 seconds over the rest of the pack but Meuss had been caught out with a flat tire.

55 miles into the race came together with a lead group of 12 riders as the wind began to pick up and the riders began their return south.

Between there and the final checkpoint at mile 73 John Borstelmann went solo but was reeled into the lead group of 8 riders.

EF Pro Cycling sent a competitive two man squad consisting of Alex Howes (r) and Lachlan Morton. Emily Newsom of EF Education Tibco SVB went on to earn a second place finish in the women’s race.


A southerly wind began to pick up and further split the group into the final selection of overall Life Time Grand Prix leader, Alexey Vermeulen, Russell Finsterwald, Keegan Swenson and last year’s winner Adam Roberge.

On the final climb with two miles to go Finsterwald made his move and split off, holding a 25-second lead over Keegan Swenson and Adam Roberge to the finish. Notably, Finsterwald raced an S-works Crux rather than the new Diverge STR Specialized unveiled before race day.

Finsterwald (center) was a presence in the lead group throughout the day.


Ruth Winder took command of the women’s race early securing a 7-minute gap over a chasing group of 10 riders early. A determined Ornweller rallied a chase group to cut the gap in half by the first checkpoint at mile 38. By mile 73 Ornweller emerged solo with Emily Newsom and Alexis Skarda 4 minutes behind.

In the final 10 miles, Ornweller’s lead increased as Newsom dropped Skarda in a battle for second place.

At the line, Ornweller rolled through solo with Newsom 6:39 back and Skarda over 12 minutes in arrears.


A dusty and triumphant Paige Ornweller along with her trusty Ventum GS1.


1 Russell Finsterwald Specialized Off-Road 6:21:22
2 Keegan Swenson Santa Cruz htSQD 0:25
3 Adam Roberge Jukebox Racing 0:31
4 Alexey Vermeulen Jukebox Racing 1:20
5 Nicholas Roche ‘Privateer’ 2:50
6 Alex Howes EF Pro Cycling 3:43
7 Brennan Wertz Pinarello Scuderia 7:37
8 Peter Stetina ‘Privateer’ 7:44
9 John Borstelmann Abus Pro Cycling 8:17
10 Cole Patton Orange Seal 8:58



1 Paige Onweller Abus Pro Cycling 5:33:05
2 Emily Newsom EF Education Tibco SVB 6:39
3 Alexis Skarda Santa Cruz htSQD 12:37
4 Rose Grant Juliana/SRAM Pro Team 9:36
5 Lauren De Crescenxo Cinch Elite 17:14
6 Maeghan Easler United Cycling 17:34
7 Sofia Gomez Villafane Specialized 17:37
8 Whitney Allison Bike Sports 17:39
9 Sarah Sturm Specialized 17:49
10 Savilia Blunk Orange Seal 17:59


View the results of all 915 riders at


Race photos: Life Time

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