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Apr 19, 2022

Recorded live at the Life Time Sea Otter Classic, we sit down with Michelle Duffy to discuss the 2022 Life Time Grand Prix. One race down, five to go in this season long series across XC MTB Races and Gravel Races.  It will be exciting to see how it unfolds. 

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Automated Transcription, please excuse the typos:

Michelle Duffy Lifetime

[00:00:00] Craig Dalton: Hello, and welcome to the gravel ride podcast, where we go deep on the sport of gravel cycling through in-depth interviews with product designers, event organizers and athletes. Who are pioneering the sport

I'm your host, Craig Dalton, a lifelong cyclist who discovered gravel cycling back in 2016 and made all the mistakes you don't need to make. I approach each episode as a beginner down, unlock all the knowledge you need to become a great gravel cyclist.

This week on the podcast. We're once again, live at the lifetime seawater classic. We're joined by Michelle Duffy. Who's the director of events, brand and content strategy at lifetime, and has been intimately involved in the lifetime grand Prix series. The grand Prix is a season long event series comprising of six lifetime events.

Equally spread between mountain and gravel events that allow professional gravel athletes to battle it out over the year in a unique point series. I think it's going to be a lot of fun to watch and i wanted to make sure that we got michelle on just to talk about the ins and outs of the series and what she's excited about

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Would that message behind us? Let's dive right into my interview with Michelle Duffy . At the lifetime seattle classic

Michelle welcome back to the show.

[00:03:07] Michelle Duffy: thank you, Craig. It's been a while. Yeah.

[00:03:08] Craig Dalton: It's great to see you here at the sea Otter classic

[00:03:11] Michelle Duffy: as well. And the flash is

[00:03:13] Craig Dalton: this the kickoff to the lifetime sort of, I know it's the kickoff to the lifetime grand Prix. Is that your first event

[00:03:18] Michelle Duffy: of the year? We've had a few road running events, but this is the first cycling event off-road event of

[00:03:23] Craig Dalton: the season.

And it's so exciting. Is this the biggest event in the calendar in terms of participation?

[00:03:29] Michelle Duffy: Definitely. Yes. You know, we have. Sorry. We have road running events that are 15,000 athletes, but in terms of scale, 74,000 attendees here, 500 exhibitors, there's nothing compares to that. What year of

[00:03:44] Craig Dalton: this yacht or classic is

[00:03:45] Michelle Duffy: this?

It started in 1991. So,

[00:03:48] Craig Dalton: so I, I remember doing some of the races here, back in the mid nineties, on my

[00:03:53] Michelle Duffy: mountain bike. Oh, I've heard some fascinating stories in those

[00:03:57] Craig Dalton: days. Now the festival, I mean, Just this fascinating intersection of all the disciplines of cycling. It's hard to describe. I mean, if you, you name it, if it's on a bike, it's probably has an event here.

[00:04:11] Michelle Duffy: Absolutely. I mean anything from e-bikes to gravel cross-country mountain bike, dual slalom, downhill and Duro. You name it. It's here. Kids races. We have a little bit of it all here. It's hard to tie it all together. Yeah.

[00:04:23] Craig Dalton: Super cool. Watching the kids on the pump track, and it's just such a good family atmosphere here.

[00:04:28] Michelle Duffy: And I think that was Frank Yohannan's goal. When he started the event really was how are we bringing families? And bike together. So often these bike races, it's hard to integrate your family into that experience, but here you can camp with your family. You can attend the festival, they can learn how to ride a mountain bike on the pump track, and you can participate in a race yourself.

So I think. That's really how this started and what's made it so successful. We have families that have been here since 1991, and now they're taking their kids here and we were going to take their kids here.

[00:05:02] Craig Dalton: Yeah. And the how many booths are here? The festival atmosphere. It's so unusual for consumers to get in front of so many manufacturers from the bike industry.

Yeah. And

[00:05:12] Michelle Duffy: vice versa for the, for the brands to have this many consumers here and there's over 500 brands.

[00:05:18] Craig Dalton: That's amazing. Yeah. It's probably took me two days to kind of visit everybody across the booth

[00:05:23] Michelle Duffy: after, and even still, like, you probably didn't get a chance to engage with them all. Yeah,

[00:05:28] Craig Dalton: that's absolutely right.

Interestingly, I talked to a couple of riders who were doing multiple events. They brought a couple bikes down, different disciplines, really making the most of their time here in

[00:05:38] Michelle Duffy: Monterrey. Athletes. I heard some names today in the gravel event that participated in cross-country yesterday. We even have some pretty legit riders that took place in the e-bike race.

So it's, it's always fun to talk to them and see what bikes they chose. Yeah. Uh, I participated

[00:05:54] Craig Dalton: in am I, if I'm going to say it correctly, log Villa. Yeah, I, I should apologize in advance if I'm in articulate. Cause my brain is still rattled.

[00:06:02] Michelle Duffy: I'm with you. It's been a long few days here, fun few days, but definitely zaps the brain.

[00:06:08] Craig Dalton: It was definitely a fun event. And I would say I would characterize it as a bit unusual for the gravel races I've done because it was very single-track heavy, which I appreciated as someone, you know, obviously the lifetime produces a lot of events in a lot of different stuff. Was that intentional to kind of make it a little bit of a different type of event than some of the other events

[00:06:27] Michelle Duffy: on the calendar.

Thai the event, the overall experience of seawater. And it's important to us that all of our events around the country feel unique and also important us that all of our events here at seawater have their differentiators. So definitely was intentional. I know not all gravel cyclists have the best bike handling myself included.

But it keeps it interesting.

[00:06:50] Craig Dalton: Yeah. A hundred percent. So for the listener, it's very single track heavy course. Stunning views across the corridor.

[00:06:56] Michelle Duffy: It's absolutely beautiful here. And after holding the event in October, in the fall, it was amazing to have everyone back together, but being back on the calendar at this time of year, when everything is green, the birds are chirping.

The sun shining. Yeah, it's

[00:07:10] Craig Dalton: stunning. Yeah. You get on these Ridge lines and despite how much my back was hurting, I was still appreciating it and enjoy it. Yeah.

[00:07:18] Michelle Duffy: Yeah. It's it's great.

[00:07:20] Craig Dalton: So I wanted to talk to you about the lifetime grand Prix. We haven't had anybody on the show talking about it yet. It's the inaugural race.

Can you just give us an overview of the series and then we'll get into some more detailed questions? Yeah,

[00:07:31] Michelle Duffy: absolutely. So the lifetime grand Prix comprise is of six of our events. Off-road events. Multidiscipline so, you know, cross country this weekend and we'll be doing. Out in Emporia next. We selected 60 athletes, so 30 men, 30 women who are competing for a quarter million dollar prize purse across the season.

And the breakdown is we'll take their best five of six scores so they can choose to attend only five and assume the risk of finishing the others or we'll drop their lowest score. The point system's pretty. Easy to understand. And it's a sliding scale, 30 points to first place, one point to 30th place, and we'll score it that way across the season.

[00:08:22] Craig Dalton: Gotcha. So many questions. W how, what was the decision-making process look like to decide, to have cross country mountain bike racing and gravel racing in the same series?

[00:08:32] Michelle Duffy: I think it's just totally unique. There's Def there's mountain bike series. There's road. Series. I don't know if we've, well, we're starting to see, you know, the UCI coming out with the gravel series and that's not lifetime events are unique in that.

They're all different. But we're seeing the same elite riders that are wanting to attend a mountain bike race, and a gravel event. And it's not for everyone. Some, some gravel riders are not interested in riding a mountain bike and they're going to come to our gravel events and they'll purchase participate.

Those are scored the same way and all of our athletes will be treated in the same fashion. But when we look at our portfolio, it's like, wow, we, how lucky are we that we have the sea Otter classic and Unbound gravel and the Leadville trail, 100 mountain bike, race, and crushing the Tuscher in Toronto again in big sugar, gravel.

And it goes on. And when we looked at our portfolio, we've been talking about this for a few years and I don't know if the timing was right. As we've seen more and more elites coming it's we've paused and been thinking like we're seeing mass participation grow. We're seeing these former world tour riders, former world champion mountain bike racers coming and participating in our events.

And they're participating in our events because they want to stand on the same start line as the mass participant. It's good for them and their brand to connect with the consumers. They're enjoying the experience of standing on the same start line as the everyday rider and walking through an expo.

These are things that they don't get to do in Europe. And, but what's missing is, you know, a few, a few decades ago, he lost a lot of faith in road cycling and that impacted fandom is the term that we're using internally of, of professional cycling in the U S. People don't care about those professional athletes, but in mass, we're not talking about cycling on ESPN on a regular basis.

And I don't know if we'll get there, but we hope to we hope that this series helps north America reconnect with elite cyclists and these athletes start to become household names. And this is. I don't know, league of sorts.

[00:10:45] Craig Dalton: I think it's a lot of fun. I mean, I think it pushes the rider's technical abilities.

I've always been sort of griping about the ratification of gravel. So I love that these athletes are just going to have to find a different skill set, develop a different skill, set, understand how to ride a different bike. It's fun. Yeah.

[00:11:04] Michelle Duffy: I mean, if you look at our.

The crusher and the Tuscher is a gravel race, but the top riders wanted on a mountain bike last year. Right. So there, I think ratification can happen a little bit, especially when there's more elite riders. So there's more group riding. But the, the technicality of a lot of our courses it varies and it does require a different skillset

[00:11:30] Craig Dalton: for the athletes who require.

Just a lot of thought about the season, right? Preparing for an event like seawater and the cross-country style, mountain bike race is quite different than Unbound at 200 miles.

[00:11:41] Michelle Duffy: Absolutely. And I think we saw a lot of our, you know, more traditional gravel cyclist road cyclist came here and they didn't come off the line the way a Keegan Swenson did.

He was a man with a plan. Like he was out there to win that event and get his 30 points. But we did see a lot of other athletes. Came out here and we didn't have all 30 men and all 30 women. So they scored a few points, even if it was a, it was just survival. Consistency is going to be key throughout the season.

And it was definitely fun to see some of our athletes that were really stretching themselves in a single track cross country event coming out. And they took the challenge on and I think that's really cool. It's they, they're not shying away from the challenge. Some falls out there yesterday, but that was part of it.

And if any of these athletes knew what they were getting into, and I think it's something that excites them, the energy was really high.

[00:12:33] Craig Dalton: Yeah. That's super cool. I didn't get a chance to see the coverage yet from yesterday. I know who the winner is. I'm not going to put you on the spot for race commentary, but how would you characterize, like how the race unfolded?

I know in a lot of mountain bike races, you got to get to that single track

[00:12:46] Michelle Duffy: first. Yeah. What's funny, is that both the men's and women's race unfolded almost identically within the top three. So coming off the line, they they're on this racetrack Laguna Seca, and they hop on. Pretty wide dirt fire road and climb a hill.

And it's just under a mile before they hit double track. So you could see I was in the lead out Mazda vehicle. You could see them fighting for position, especially the traditional mountain bikers. They wanted to get to the single track first, knowing that their bike handling skills were better. And they, they rode, it was pretty decided who was going to be.

In contention about 10 riders deep yesterday on both the men's and women's side. It worked its way down to three writers, deep on both sides with only maybe six miles to go. The women definitely had a bigger group of five there that it was anybody's day. And then Mo Wilson put it down, climbing a hill and it was a risky move for her, but she.

Came you just kind of watched everyone else come apart. And she was the strongest woman out there yesterday.

[00:13:58] Craig Dalton: Yeah. I talked to her a little bit yesterday and she said that last hill made her, made the race for her.

[00:14:02] Michelle Duffy: Yeah, it definitely did. And it was kind of amazing. We have flow bikes doing live coverage and they got it all on drone on the broadcast.

And you could just see the race coming apart and the men's men's wear the same. It was, I don't know if you've talked to Keegan. But as he hit that climb, he went and Russell, Vince or Wilde said the same thing. He just, he gave it his all, but he couldn't stay with Keegan on that,

[00:14:22] Craig Dalton: that, that climb has been part of this Jada classic for 30.

As I approached it, I remembered it from decades

[00:14:29] Michelle Duffy: ago. Well, w R M cross country mountain bike race was UCI sanctioned before this year and it, but it wasn't prior to that. And it used to be a longer loop cross-country style, mountain bike, race, and we wanted to get back to that. Let them let the riders see beautiful Salinas valley.

And I think that. They got to experience a little bit more of that and got those traditional climbs in those traditional views. And we only saw them, it was a two lap race. So we just saw them at the halfway

[00:15:00] Craig Dalton: point. Yeah. Yeah. No, I think it was a really fun course too. Yeah.

[00:15:04] Michelle Duffy: As the writers. Yeah. Loose and loose at times, but overall and fairly good.

[00:15:11] Craig Dalton: There's a lot of people hitting the whoops and saying, wow, that kind of stuff, which is great to see. Yeah. Let's talk a little bit about the selection process. Not necessarily like how it went down, but you seem to have selected a lot of diverse writers. I know we've got former Olympians on the women's side.

Like Andrew and Amber Neven who know, not known for mountain biking or gravel racing at all, but

[00:15:38] Michelle Duffy: coming right

[00:15:38] Craig Dalton: off the Olympics. Yeah. Yeah. Which clearly, like she's a phenomenal talent. And then as I know, you've got some track people on the men's side as well, some of the traditional mountain bikers, some gravel riders.

So what, what did that look like? And it must have been fun, hard, but.

[00:15:54] Michelle Duffy: It was hard but fun. That's a good way to describe it. We weren't sure what was going to happen in the inaugural year. Like, are we going to get enough writers to fill the field? Is it going to be fast amateur riders and just hitting the refresh button on the application and watching the names that float in.

We had over 200. Elite professional cyclists, that applied to be a part of the lifetime grand Prix that does make the selection process really challenging. And I mean, we're learning a lot, but this felt like the best way for us to do it this year with no year over a year learnings, yet to do an application, let's find out who is interested, who is telling us that they want to take on this challenge.

They want to. Our goal again, is to grow cycling. Who's going to be a great ambassador for that. And we looked at race resume and those that we thought would be really competitive, like who truly has a challenge, a chance to be in the top 10 throughout the season was really important. And then just who is going to inspire people to follow the sport.

But I think we have a lot of really amazing humans that do a lot of amazing things off the bike to.

[00:17:07] Craig Dalton: Yeah, I think it's going to be really fun. It's so cool that you have flow bikes doing the live coverage. So regardless of where you are, get on flow bikes, you can watch the series unfold. And I think we're going to see some of those just human interest stories about, you know, who's skilled on the mountain bike who hate, you know, who's having counseling and I

[00:17:23] Michelle Duffy: hated mountain bikers had their day.

And, and that was amazing to see. I mean, some of the lesser talked about names within the lifetime grandpa. We're finishing in the top five. And I loved to see that. I don't think there was that many surprises in the top three. But, but there also, there was no one's been talking about Alex wild and he's been due to have his day and it came for him yesterday.

He wrote an amazing event. Like I loved seeing that. I loved seeing Evelyn dong, who finished in fifth on the women's side. She hasn't really been talked about as a favorite of the lifetime grand Prix. And she was up there with the women all day. Yep.

[00:17:56] Craig Dalton: Yeah. I think it's going to be interesting transitioning eight weeks from now to Unbound 200 mile race.

Definitely different skillset. But I imagine if you've got a top five here at. You've got a little extra motivation in you. Maybe like you didn't feel like you could be competitive at the 200 mile, but now you're saying, well, I've got a bunch of points in the bank and I got to go

[00:18:16] Michelle Duffy: for it. Exactly. And we think, I think there's consistency is really going to be important.

And as long as you score a bunch of points at the front, Showing up and Unbound is so interesting because the finisher rate is low. But I think now what's going to make that event interesting is there's more motivation to finish. So you might be having the heck of a day out there and normally pull the plug.

But getting to the finish line is super important for you because you can still finish in the top 20, because inevitably we're going to have some writers that are going to DNF, and we do have some writers that are opting out of it. Yeah.

[00:18:58] Craig Dalton: Yeah, it's really interesting. I imagined as a professional athlete, just trying to figure out how to manage the diversity of races that you have to tackle.

And I don't know if we mentioned this on air, but you can drop one, one event through the season.

[00:19:10] Michelle Duffy: Some, some athletes are choosing to drop one event. Some actually were injured leading into sea Otter. And so that's their drop of this season. And. Then some are going to do all six and they get to drop their lowest performance.

You have Pete Stenton unfortunately broke his wrist yesterday and he rode, he finished it in 21st, yesterday. So he got some points and he's hoping that this is the event that he can drop. Definitely equipped to be a top contender throughout the season, but it was to his benefit that he attended the event yesterday and still got something.

Yeah. And

[00:19:45] Craig Dalton: the, the Leadville 100 is on the docket as well. Right. So another just sort of unique, you know, has its own skillset required. High, high elevation.

[00:19:57] Michelle Duffy: Yeah. One could argue. That Unbound gravel 200 is the most intimidating event because of the mileage. But then you look at an event like the Leadville trail, 100 mountain bike race, which is at high elevation and requires a ton of climbing.


[00:20:11] Craig Dalton: Super intimidating for any athlete tackling that

[00:20:13] Michelle Duffy: one. Although it's interesting because crushing the Tuscher is the event prior to that. And there's a lot of climbing at that event and it is also at elevations. It's kind of a good prep leading in crushers, the only mountain top finish in gravel and there they spend most of their day climbing at that race.

[00:20:31] Craig Dalton: That's what I've heard. What's the, what's the time difference a gap between those two events and it's exactly a month. Okay. Yeah. And lentils after

[00:20:40] Michelle Duffy: crusher. Yeah. So the order seawater obviously is this weekend. First or second weekend in April and we have eight weeks until Unbound, gravel and Emporia. And then after that we have six weeks, so crusher four weeks, and then we get on this four week cadence.

[00:20:57] Craig Dalton: Yeah. It's going to be interesting to see the climbers, how they fair and Leadville versus Unbound. Just fascinating to me the whole thing.

[00:21:06] Michelle Duffy: Yeah. I, I'm really excited to see some individuals that are just so. Talented within their discipline, have the opportunity to rise and have an amazing day like we saw yesterday, but then also excited for these athletes that are just going to be chipping away every week, landing themselves in the top 10.

And and who that will be like, who from yesterday are going to be consistently in the top 10 for the rest of the

[00:21:32] Craig Dalton: season. Yeah. And I think that the existence of this series and all the capital on the line. Is also providing a lot of motivation for athletes that didn't get selected this year to show themselves and say, Hey, you missed out on me.

Yeah. Look at me.

[00:21:44] Michelle Duffy: And, and I, I love that. I mean, it's, it was really hard to make the decision and especially knowing, you know, you have to put your business hat on because we are hearing from some athletes that this has changed their year. I mean, it's, we're occupying a lot of their schedule, but.

They've been able to sign sponsors that they hadn't prior. And we've gotten that feedback from multiple athletes, which was part of, part of the goal is to help them be able to do this as a full-time job, but as we're making the selection, you know, that those that you're not selecting are not getting that opportunity.

And we had do have a handful of athletes that are going to be showing up at a lot of these events and saying, Hey, actually I did deserve to be here. I'm finishing in the top 30. All of the events within the lifetime grand Prix. And that's amazing because this is not a one-year activation for us. This is a long-term long-term things.

Yeah. Yeah. And I think,

[00:22:40] Craig Dalton: I mean, you still have the opportunity to win any one of these races, regardless of whether you're selected for the lifetime

[00:22:45] Michelle Duffy: grand Prairie. Exactly. Yesterday, it just so happened that the top three were all also lifetime grand Prix athletes, but I don't foresee that happening at Unbound gravel.

I mean, you have someone like Ian Boswell, the raining. And Lauren D crescendo. They're not doing the lifetime grand Prix. But I expect to see them performing really well at Unbound gravel. Yeah. You've

[00:23:07] Craig Dalton: got people who focus on the Leadville 100 as their jam. That's the

[00:23:11] Michelle Duffy: one they want to win. But I think that's, that's, what's going to help keep it really honest because there's going to be varying goals at these big events.

So. We've started to see lots of front of pack riding in a pack and coming down to a sprint finish, which is also amazing because this gravel community is about building community and comradery. And, but now that we have both all this money on the line, do the lifetime grand Prix and other athletes that are not participating and maybe have their own incentives with their separate brands.

Seeing how the races unfold this year. I, I am predicting will be different because every point matters for the grand Prix athletes and those that aren't in the grand Prix. I have something to prove. And so I don't know. I don't know if we'll see as much. PAC riding sleep miles

[00:24:06] Craig Dalton: in the days, coming up to the event here, you signed up a pretty big sponsor.

[00:24:11] Michelle Duffy: Yes. We now have a presenting sponsor in Mazda. They we've been talking with them since late fall of last year and they just launched an off-road vehicle, the Mazda CX 50. And as they were doing their research, they, they view the cyclist as a target consumer for them. Okay. They also just, I mentioned earlier, amazing humans doing amazing things.

That's what we've been spending all of our time, talking to Mazda about that's something that they want to be a part of. They're not interested in the super salesy tactics. They're more interested in like content reconnecting and connecting with, with this consumer base. And they're really passionate about the outdoors.


[00:24:51] Craig Dalton: is it a sponsorship just for the

[00:24:53] Michelle Duffy: season? They are the presenting sponsor of big sugar gravel now. They're signing. It's a two or three-year deal. I shouldn't know that, but my brain's not firing, but they're on for multiple years with us. And then they've also become official sponsors of all of the events that are in the lifetime grant.

But yeah, that's

[00:25:09] Craig Dalton: super exciting. Yeah. It's just great to see money coming into the sport to support a series of this

[00:25:14] Michelle Duffy: nature. If you read any interviews from chemo, Seymour, our president of events early on, he actually called out auto is one of the industries. Departed from supporting cycling. After just, you know, a few decades ago of a lot of brands are moving themselves from this sport and Mazda has done some things locally in California in a smaller scale.

Just I think outside of that region, people weren't really aware that they've been slowly starting to get their feet wet in dirt and mountain biking. And to see an automobile company come back and believe in us and believe in this series. It says a lot for us as well. Like this is, we're doing it. Like this is going to be big.

We have a really big brand that believes in us, our events, our athletes, our participants, our community. Yeah. It's super

[00:26:06] Craig Dalton: validating and great to see. Thank you so much for all the time. I know it's been a

[00:26:10] Michelle Duffy: super long week. Thank you. I'm glad we could connect and chat and talk in person better than zoom.

[00:26:17] Craig Dalton: Yeah, absolutely. And I look forward to just watching the series on full. Again, a reminder to the listener. You can watch these events on flow bikes. You can follow them on social media. There's all kinds of great way to get access to what I think is going to be a great journey and a lot of fun stories throughout the year.

Particularly as we have two or three events behind us, we're going to see who's in the lead who needs to catch up. Does it change their race tactics to try to get a win when they're behind?


[00:26:45] Michelle Duffy: so much fun. I'm excited to see how everything

[00:26:49] Craig Dalton: unfolds. I, for one hope that it comes down to big sugar. I

[00:26:53] Michelle Duffy: do too.

Let's keep it. Interesting. Amazing.

[00:26:57] Craig Dalton: All right. Get some rest. Good to

[00:26:58] Michelle Duffy: talk to you. Thank you. Thanks Greg.

[00:27:01] Craig Dalton: That's going to do it for this week's edition of the gravel ride podcast. I hope you enjoyed learning more about the lifetime grand Prix series from Michelle. I know as a fan of the sport, I'm excited to just watch and see how it unfolds. Next up for racing is Unbound. And I think that's about seven weeks out.

At this point and you can go over to lifetime's grand Prix website to see the current standings of athletes and see what's coming up next in the calendar beyond Unbound big, thanks to our friends at the feed for sponsoring this week's episode of the gravel rod podcast. If you're interested in connecting with me, encourage you to join the ridership, just visit

That's our free global cycling community. You can connect with myself and hundreds of other athletes from around the world and just. Chat about your love of gravel cycling and all things bikes. If you're interested in supporting the podcast, ratings and reviews are hugely appreciated as well as any financial contributions via buy me a gravel ride.

Until next time. Here's to finding some dirt under your wheels